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Putting Evaluation First

How do you know you’ve given a successful tour? Do you wait to take stock until the class has rolled away in a cloud of diesel? No one bumped into the Henry Moore and sent it crashing into pieces? Little fingers didn’t stray and leave prints on the family portraits? The leopards didn’t make mad, passionate (and very noisy) love in front of the kindergarten class? While these are all indicators of success to some degree, there are other keys to tour success in museums, historic sites, zoos, and science centers that start at the beginning.

If a tour is to be more than entertainment, if knowledge is to be transferred, docents might do well to take a page from a classroom teacher’s lesson plan book. Behavioral objectives, sometimes called performance objectives, are key components of a teacher’s lesson plan. Combined with Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, a tour plan that starts with objectives has a better chance of reaching a successful conclusion.

By definition, a behavioral objective has three parts: student (or visitor) behavior, conditions of performance, and performance criteria. In other words, a behavioral objective is a clear description of your expectations for the student. It identifies the skill or knowledge to be gained from the lesson, the action the student is able to perform to indicate that he or she has gained the skill or knowledge, under what circumstances, and how well it is to be done.

For example, a historic log house tour might include this behavioral objective: While viewing the main room of the log house, the student will locate and identify fuels used by the original occupants for heat, light, and cooking.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

  • The ability to recall information, as demonstrated in the sample objective, is termed the Knowledge level. Knowledge is the most basic of the thinking skills identified in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Also at this level, in addition to locating and identifying, students might be asked to remember, memorize, or recognize data. At this level, the instructor might ask a student to describe something he/she has seen. Questions at this beginning level usually begin with who, what, when, where, or how.
  • The next level of thinking, which Bloom describes as the Comprehension level, asks students to interpret data, to translate it from one medium to another, or to organize and select facts and ideas. The instructor might ask a student to describe something “in your own words” or to retell a story or event. A behavioral objective that evaluates a student’s comprehension in a zoo tour could be: In an oral discussion, the student will compare and contrast the characteristics of domestic house cats and the lions in the zoo’s African Plains exhibit.
  • At the Application level, students solve problems or apply information, facts, rules, and principles to produce some result. A question at this level might begin: “How is…related to…?” or “Why is…important?” At a nature center, a behavioral objective that allows the student to “complete a scavenger hunt during which time he/she will classify at least 5 plants as gymnosperms or angiosperms” is evaluating at the application level.
  • Students working at the Analysis level are able to separate a whole into its component parts, to show how something is put together, and to identify motives. An instructor could ask students to describe the parts of something, to outline or diagram, or to compare and/or contrast objects. In an art museum, an analysis level behavioral objective could require: “After examining irregular shapes in a painting, the student will explain what he/she thinks the shapes represent.”
  • At the Synthesis level, students do just the opposite of analysis — they combine ideas or objects to create something new or predict outcomes. Students may be asked “What would happen if you combined…?” or “What do you think would happen next if…?” A history museum behavioral objective at the synthesis level could say: “The student will work with a team of his/her classmates to rearrange the museum exhibits in chronological order on a blank floor plan of the museum.”
  • At Bloom’s highest level of thought, Evaluation, students make decisions, form opinions, and make judgments. They can resolve controversies or differences of opinion. At this level, they are asked “What do you think about…?” and “What criteria did you use to form your opinion?” In any museum, a behavioral objective that requires the student to select the object or exhibit he/she likes best and defend the choice has reached the evaluation level.

Once behavioral objectives are written, developing tours becomes a simple matter. Each objective guides you in selecting artifacts, exhibits, and activities that allow the visitor to achieve the objective. And, evaluation is just as simple, because with behavioral objectives to guide you, you can easily see if your visitors accomplished what you set out to teach.

Jackie Littleton, Associate Editor

Littleton, Jackie. “Putting Evaluation First,” The Docent Educator 6.4 (Summer 1997): 6-7.


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