Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Training Day on Working with Secondary to Post-16 Audiences Aisling Serrant

Last month we attended a training day on working with audiences of secondary school age to post-16. This was organised for us as part of our HLF Skills for the Future Traineeship but was also open to anyone working, or aspiring to work, in the museum sector. We always enjoy these training sessions, not only as a chance for us to learn from some of the education experts who work at the Oxford University Museums and wider Oxford museums, but also because many of the same volunteers and staff from various other museums return time after time and it’s great to have a chat to them and find out about their museums and what they do there. 

This training day hosted a range of speakers and topics. We were welcomed by Janet Stott, Head of Education at the Oxford UniversityMuseum of Natural History who gave us a background of what sorts of groups we were going to be talking about and what factors play a part in their education. Andrew McLellan, Head of Education at the Pitt Rivers Museum, detailed their secondary education programme showing us some sketchbook resources which were produced to help inspire visiting GCSE art students when creating their own sketchbooks. Chris Parkin Lead Education Officer at the Museum of the Historyof Science also gave us an interesting insight how they integrate formal post-16 learning into their provision.

Andrew McLellan, Head of Education, Pitt Rivers Museum

We had an interesting session with Helen Ward from the Ashmolean where we were introduced to how technology can be used effectively in museum sessions. We were given iPads to explore two of the apps regularly used by the Ashmolean education staff. The first was ‘Pic Collage’ which allows the user to easily take and layer photos allowing students to get creative, but in a slightly more unusual way. We had the background of a room preloaded onto the app which we could then decorate by layering on various Ashmolean treasures which had been photographed in the museum. We also used ‘Talking Heads’ which allows you to take a picture of something in the gallery and record your own voice to it. I once observed a secondary school session where Helen used this with the painting ‘Miss Orovida Pissarro.’ I could see how the group were instantly engaged. In a very short space of time, what felt to the students like they were just playing around with a bit of fun technology, was actually allowing them to think in depth about a painting and even start to make a character profile for the subject. The overall message was that to engage with this audience it is key to talk to them in their own language, and providing opportunities for digital work does just that.

Helen Ward, Deputy Head of Education, Ashmolean Museum

From this point the focus shifted a little to dealing with what can be the challenges of working with this audience. A session which I found really interesting was Sarah Lloyd’s, of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Her theme was classroom management and it really struck me how experienced Sarah is in dealing with these groups. I was really glad she shared some of her insights with us. One tip I will remember and try to use myself is that the main reason a group may start to cause a problem is because the session you are leading for them is not pitched at the right level – too easy and they will soon become bored but too difficult and they will find it hard to engage with the subject, both potentially leading to disruptive behaviour. Sarah said that when she starts a session she usually has a simple task or discussion which allows her to assess the previous knowledge and experience of the group. She then has two slightly differing trajectories for the session that she can go along, one slightly more advanced, so she can pitch to the perfect level for the specific group in question. This is probably something all Education Officers do subconsciously to some extent, but hearing it put forward as a technique made me aware it is something I could consider doing more explicitly in the future.

Sarah Lloyd, Secondary Education Officer, Oxford Natural History Museum

Our last talk was from Neil Stevenson our Project Coordinator who has a lot of experience working with secondary pupil referral units. He again gave us some scenarios, many of which he has encountered himself. They were all very difficult situations and there were a few times we were unsure of what would be the best route to take. However talking it through with Neil helped, we got some good advice and we also realised that there may be times in your career when something happens and you don’t really know what to do. It’s ok to have those times and you just have to use your experience and training to make a decision about what you feel is best for that specific situation.

Neil Stevenson, HLF Skills for the Future Project Co-ordinator

Secondary and Post-16 audiences are often ones which people starting out in the sector may feel more nervous about working with, compared to say working with primary age children. But the training day gave us some great knowledge and tips and made us feel confident not only in working with this audience, but in using a range of varied and interesting techniques when doing so.

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