Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rising to the Challenge

Yesterday, Jen and I (Mary H.) gave a very different (but very fulfilling) kind of tour. We worked with a group of college-aged kids with special needs, who functioned at a 6th-8th grade level. When we heard about our audience for this tour, we also heard that they had been studying a bit of Art History, and that they wanted "an industrial and contemporary" tour...what this means exactly, we still aren't completely sure. We used these guidelines to the best of our abilities and created a "Technology & Innovation" tour, which included 16th century Milanese armor, Monet's Arrival of Normandy Train--Gare Saint-Lazare, Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day, Seurat's Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Bonticou's Untitled wall relief, and Richter's Woman Descending the Staircase.

While Jen has a background in special education, she has only worked with younger students, and was fairly nervous about working with this population. I had never worked with special needs students before, so needless to say, it was an adventure for us both.

We had initially planned a "brilliant" activity that involved splitting the students into two groups, and having each group present one painting to the rest of their classmates. Upon explaining this activity to one of the group's chaperones, our idea was quickly and politely rejected. The chaperone thought it would be best to stick with a more linear tour, and to cater to the short attention span of the group.

Our flexibility and improv skills proved invaluable during this tour. After a slightly-too-long discussion of the armor, we adjusted our timing and realized that the most important thing was picking up the pace and keeping the students engaged. We were pleasantly surprised by the group's insightful comments about the Caillebotte and Seurat pieces. One woman raised her hand and said, "Look at the people...they're walking together, but no one is talking to each other." I saw Jen's face light up, knowing full well that the woman's comment was the perfect segue to Jen's discussion of Caillebotte's lonely Parisian boulevard.

The tour ended with a lively discussion of the group's favorite celebrities in front of Richter's painting, which ranged from Faith Hill and Jennifer Lopez to Miley Cyrus. I must admit that when I asked for words that they associate with Jennifer Lopez, I was silently praying that the word "booty" did not come up. Luckily for us, the group found JLo's singing voice much more memorable than her derriere.

Overall, we found this tour to be a great success and a fantastic learning opportunity. Essentially, "We are rockstars." -Jen

(Written by Mary H. & Jen)

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