By Danae Hutson—As someone with the ability to lurk around the galleries I have witnessed educators using the unique learning environment of a museum to create amazing gallery writing experiences. Others just seem to fizzle. So what gives? In the learning evaluation of Object Stories—From the Middle, we found that proximity to art objects does increase students’ mastery of certain writing skills, e.g. increased use of detailed description. Using actual objects provides an advantage in teaching writing skills, as does viewing the art first hand.
It’s undeniable to see the art in person rather than online. To have the students talk with each other and then the docents share information too, the story came through. The students were surprised with what they had learned.
—George Damas, Cadre B Teacher, Alder Creek Middle School, May 2013
Art has a power that cannot be captured in reproduction. There is a benefit to writing around objects, and authentic objects enhance experience, which is reflected in both written and oral storytelling. What we have found to be the most crucial element is object selection. But while helping students to select ideal objects with the potential for meaningful stories is crucial, it is also tricky. Here are reflections from successful gallery learning experiences:
- Allow students agency to select objects that speak to them.
- Starting out with something they have chosen helps students find personal meaning and significance. This experience grounds them, making orienting themselves to Museum objects easier.
- Use objects as bridges.
- They can be the bridge connecting the individual to something larger.
- They can bridge the classroom to the Museum; with Online Collections educators have the chance to introduce, integrate, or follow-up work with selected art objects.
- They can bridge lessons and skills. Returning to an object and working on different pieces of the writing assignment may change the relationship of the student to the object over time, enhancing their observations and narrative-making, and scaffolding the development of writing skills.
Note: Provide some structure for the story, don’t make students guess everything.
This is a great way to tie in Common Core skills and visual analysis strategies that encourage students to read an image and formulate their thoughts based on what they see before going deeper into what they feel. Beaumont student writing sample:
in response to Julian Alden Weir’s Flower Piece, 1882
Some objects have known stories (e.g. a story from myth), or lend themselves to certain types of storytelling. Close observation and a little bit of research are integral to finding the best storytelling approach.
While this list is by no means complete, incorporating student selection, supporting continued meaning-making using the object as a catalyst, and facilitating student acquisition of skills are the threads that continue to run throughout great writing experiences in the Museum.
This student selected New England Road by Childe Hassam, to write a vivid story incorporating poetic metaphor and simile. It serves as a great example of how a student can use what they see to craft a rich and meaningful story.
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