The Barnes Foundation Education Department explores engagement strategies for English language learners

Museum educators, docents and teaching artists participated in a professional development workshop facilitated by Patricia Lannes at the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes is a historic organization that has traditionally been perceived as exclusive, inheriting and sharing Dr. Barnes’ specific methodology of teaching and displaying art.

The Education Department has begun taking a new approach. In order to becoming more welcoming and less of an institution only for the “initiated”, the they decided to train their staff, docents and teaching artists in new ways of engaging Philadelphia students who also happen to be English language learners. The goal was to marry the old and the new.

Most of the workshops concentrated on looking at the assets a newcomer contributes to their adopted home and at the best ways to offer an enjoyable learning experience in an inviting space. This meant incorporating Barnes’ interest in color, light, line, and space into strategies that use the students’ background knowledge and prior experience, through modeled activities or open-ended questions which secure students’ success and participation.

Participants explored effective pedagogies and strategies, and learned about some of the basic principles on the role of the docent as facilitator. They practiced approaches which emphasized the importance of naming and pointing, the relevancy of the senses and the facilitator’s body language, the need for patience and wait-time while developing listening and speaking skills, the value of repeating the same vocabulary with different works of art, and the comfort derived from small group activities. The workshop ended with a discussion on what participants could change in their own practice so that they can offer a welcoming and valuable learning experience to the young immigrant English language learner.