Docent Educator Logo

Flexibility Demands a Written Plan

Any good realtor will tell you, “The key to success is location, location, location.” A good teacher understands that the key to success in the classroom is “flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.” Flexibility, however, is only possible with a good written plan undergirding the lesson. If you don’t have a plan, you aren’t really being flexible, you are simply flitting around; you are winging it and depending on chance. Being flexible is not the same as being spontaneous. Flexibility implies that you know what you’re doing and have the mental agility to achieve it from a new or different direction.

Like classroom teachers, docents, too, find that a good lesson plan leaves them free to select appropriate artifacts and exhibits and to change their selections as circumstances change. The following is a sample lesson plan used with paintings and sculpture at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Although written for use with a specific museum’s collection, the plan’s flexibility makes it adaptable for use in other museums and with other disciplines.

The Group

  • third graders

The Theme

  • color is part of the artist’s language

The Goals

In the cognitive domain: each student will leave the museum knowing that —

  • an art museum has many different kinds of art expressed in different media;
  • an artist uses a special “language” to speak to us;
  • and colors have meaning, and an artist uses color as one way of expressing ideas and emotions.

In the affective domain: each student will leave the museum feeling that –

  • his or her ideas are worthwhile;
  • an art museum is a pleasant place; and
  • he or she would like to return for a future visit.

The Behavioral Objectives (Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy)

Knowledge — by the end of the lesson, each student will identify red, yellow, and orange as warm colors, and blue, green, and purple as cool colors; and distinguish between a painting and a sculpture

Comprehension — by the end of the lesson, each student will name at least one color that symbolizes the same thing to most people; and find a color in paintings and/or sculpture that means the same things to most people

Application — by the end of the lesson, each student will tell how he or she thinks an object in a painting would mean something different if it were a different color; and tell how a picture in warm colors would be different if it were in cool colors (or vice versa).

Analysis — by the end of the lesson, each student will tell why he or she thinks the artist chose the colors he or she did; and tell why he or she thinks the artist chose to make a painting rather than a sculpture

Synthesis — by the end of the lesson, each student will use color transparencies and an overhead projector to create “pictures” that represent ideas or emotions; and tell what media and what colors he or she would use to produce an art work at school or at home that represented an idea or emotion

Evaluation — by the end of the lesson, each student will choose to “be” a specific color and tell how he or she would feel, walk, taste, smell; and choose to “be” a painting or a sculpture and tell why he or she chose that type of art.

The Lesson

An introduction with the whole group seated in a circle will include the following concepts:

  • an art museum has many different kinds of art expressed in many different media

Where are we? What will you see here? What is the difference between painting and sculpture? Have you made art?

  • an artist uses a special “language” to speak to us

How do you know what I’m saying? How can we find out what an artist is saying?

  • colors have meaning and an artist uses color as one way of expressing ideas and emotions One of the ways an artist speaks to us is with color. Show colored squares of warm colors. What have you seen that are similar in color to these? If you could touch these colors, would they be i Repeat activity with cool colors.

Sometimes, we use colors to mean special things. If I say I’m blue, what do 1 mean? Show a red stop sign shape with the word “Go” written on it. ”What’s wrong with this sign? Red often means danger or be aware. Besides stop signs, what have you seen that uses the color red to tell us to pay attention ?

Dividing the whole class into smaller groups reinforces the goals of the tour, giving children greater opportunities for individualized attention and participation. We are going to divide into smaller groups so we can talk with each other better. When you get a color handed to you, go stand with the guide who is holding the same color. You will be in her group. That guide will take you around the museum. Together, you’ll look at both paintings and sculptures, and explore ways that artists speak to us using colors.

The Gallery Tour

  • The Window at Nice, by Raoul Dufy

Which colors seem coolest in this painting? Which colors seem warmest? Where would you like to be in this painting? Why?

  • The White Line, by Sam Francis

Which side of this painting would you rather be on? Why? What do you think the white line is for? What do you think the artist wanted us to think about when we looked at his painting?

Transition: As we move to the next gallery, pay close attention to the colors you see. Which colors do you see most?

  • Seated Buddha

What makes this work of art a sculpture and not a painting? At one time this sculpture, which seems to have very little color, was brightly painted. This very important man wore red robes. Can you think of some -other important people who wear red clothes?

  • Japanese Ink Stone and Stationery Boxes

Explain the purpose of these boxes. If you owned these boxes would you use them everyday or mostly on special occasions? What makes you think they may be special? What other special things have you seen that are gold in color?

Transition: Our next stop will be in a room that is painted red and gold. When you see it, hold up your hand

  • The Good Shepherd, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

What time of day do you think it is? How do the colors make you feel? If the artist had used lots of yellows, reds, and oranges in this painting, instead of blues and purples, how might the feeling of the painting change?

  • Woman in a Green Hat, by Kees van Dongen

The artist chose to paint this woman using some unusual colors for her face. What do his choices tell you about this woman?

Transition: If you could choose a color to be, what color would you choose? Walk the way your color makes you feel.

Follow-up Projects

Ask students what colors they would use to make a “happy” picture or a “sad” picture. Then, using color transparencies and an overhead projector, have each student create a “picture” that represent an idea or emotion that they explain.

Next, have each student drape a colored cloth over their shoulders. Have them tell how that color makes them feel, walk, and sound.

The Conclusion

All groups should return to the original meeting place where one docent will read a selection from Hailstones and Halibut Bones, Mary O’Neil’s book of color poems for children. Ask students to tell what colors they saw that were warm; which were cool. Were there any colors that you liked most? In what painting or sculpture did they appear? Why did you like it best? Challenge students to look at the many colors they will see on their way back to school? What colors do they see most?

Though this lesson was prepared specifically for paintings and sculpture in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s permanent collection, the goals and objectives could be applied in any art museum. In other types of museums, historic homes, zoos, and botanical gardens, the basic idea remains the same — create goals and objectives first. Then, find objects and exhibits within your collection that are good examples, and that help children meet the objectives. Flexibility in choosing objects (and in guiding conversations) is possible when lessons are built on a solid base of goals and objectives, because when you know what you are teaching a shift needn’t throw you off the mark.

Jackie Littleton, Associate Editor

Littleton, Jackie. “Flexibility Demands a Written Plan,” The Docent Educator 7.2 (Winter 1997-98): 6-7.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *