Docent Educator Logo

Rubrics: An Evaluation Alternative

The very idea of being evaluated seems to create anxiety among members of a decent corps. It is especially uncomfortable when evaluation is perceived as a judgmental process. The challenge, then, is to create a method that defuses these concerns and provides docents with a useful and positive tool with which to assess and fine tune their touring techniques. A well-conceived evaluation plan provides docents with both guidance and validation. To this end, consider developing a rubric that serves as a framework, and which clearly outlines the museum’s standards for the content of docent-conducted tours and the criteria to be evaluated. The criteria are familiar; it is the format that is new. By using a rubric to present the tour criteria succinctly and in a structured form, a greater objectivity can be applied to the evaluation process. Docents know, at the outset, what the museum’s expectations are in its tour program.

A Rubric Defined

A rubric is an assessment method that is an excellent choice when performance-based skills and a demonstration of abilities are being evaluated. “Rubric” is a Latin word meaning “red clay” which, in ancient times, was used to identify something important. As an evaluation tool, a rubric…

  • clearly identifies goals, objectives, and expectations
  • outlines criteria for varying levels of proficiency
  • records the completion of tasks and measures qualitative standards
  • offers evidence of improvement over time
  • provides an understanding, in advance, of how an evaluation will occur.

A rubric provides guidelines for improving skills, is useful for demonstrating competency, and stimulates personal growth. Classroom teachers have been using rubrics as a means of assessment for over 20 years.

Constructing a Rubric

In constructing a rubric, the first consideration is the components to be evaluated. A grid is then developed with the components listed in the left-hand column. The next step is to determine the ideal for each component. These are listed in the far right column. The intermediate stages of proficiency are then inserted into the middle columns moving from left to right as complexity of each component increases.

Putting the Rubric to Work

In our museum, to introduce this new assessment method and to prepare docents for evaluation using the rubric as a guide, a refresher course of four weekly half-day classes was scheduled and the rubric distributed and explained to the docent membership. The course focused on applying the rubric to the evaluation process, using one of the museum’s popular permanent collections as the gallery where the tours for evaluation would take place. Class work specifically addressed how to prepare a thematically-based tour, first by breaking it down into its various components and then reconstructing it into the basis for a tour plan. Written materials and homework assignments supported each session’s considerations. The education staff served as mentors, coaches, and, sometimes, cheerleaders while providing guidance, support, and encouragement.

The Evaluation Process

Following the refresher course, docents prepare for their one-hour demonstration tours by submitting a written tour plan to the education department. Such tour plans must contain a theme:

  • goals and objectives; a greeting and introduction;
  • questions, information, and internal summaries; transitions; and
  • a summary and conclusion for a tour of five-to-eight works.

Individually, each docent meets with the education curator responsible for evaluation in order to review, critique, and strengthen the tour plan before the demonstration tour is scheduled. In the end, the docent’s delivery style and ability to read the group and employ flexibility are the only remaining variables.

The Tour

Observations of docents’ demonstration tours for certification were scheduled for regular “public highlight” times. In addition to the walk-in public, docents invited friends and other docents to participate, ensuring a responsive group that was sensitive to the docent’s goals and objectives. The positive and supportive environment this generated furthered the probability of a successful outcome.

Follow Up and Follow Through

Following each tour and using the rubric as a measure, a discussion between the docent and the evaluating curator continued the evaluation process by identifying the strengths and weakness of the presentation. The tours provided participants with an engaging, enlightening, and enjoyable experience. The principal benefit of this process is that our docents are thinking about and discussing art in new ways and are feeling empowered as they put their newly acquired skills into practice.

Docent Date
  • Introduces self
  • Welcomes group
  • Inquires about the group
  • Takes charge of group
  • Discusses museum rules
  • Describes what will happen during tour — length of time, where, why
  • Invites divergent thinking; no “right” answers
  • States well the concept of what will be explored, what should be learned (goals), and why
  • Contains big ideas that are rich in structure but with useful parameters
  • Maintains focus throughout the tour
  • Develops, and is revealed, in the course
  •  Chooses appropriate number and variety
  •  Organizes good flow through the galleries
  •  Remains related to theme throughout the tour
  •  Interrelates with other works in tour plan to elaborate on defining theme and to construct meaning
  • Asks “open-ended” questions
  • Avoids cognitive questions
  • Uses procedural questions
  • Gives visitors time to respond
  • listens lo everyone and acknowledges responses
  • Asks follow-up questions to enlarge upon responses
  • Asks progressively higher-order questions
  •  Weaves inquiry throughout at appropriate times
  •  Relates to theme
  •  Relates to work being discussed
  •  Advances theme
  • Reviews what was discussed at a specific stop on tour
  • Keeps tour on track
  • Leads into transitions
  • Connects what was learned to theme
  • States transitions at appropriate time to keep group engaged
  • Tells group where it is going next
  • Tells what will happen next and why
  • Relates to theme
  • Signals tour is ending
  • Thanks visitors for coming and invites them to return
  • With adults, discusses benefits of museum membership
  • With students, distributes free passes
  • Restates theme
  • Asks what is remembered best
  • Summarizes what was learned
  • Places new skills/ideas into context
  • Reminds visitors of big idea they take away with them (objective)

Katherine Darr has been the associate education curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, in Boca Raton, Florida, since 1998. Prior to that, Ms. Darr served as a docent for six years at the Museum ofArt, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Before joining the museum’s staff where she worked for ten years as assistant curator of education. Ms. Darr has also been a consultant for the education departments of other area museums, including The Graves Museum of Archeology and Natural History in Dania, FL, and The Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, which is a museum of black history.

Darr, Katherine. “Rubrics: An Evaluation Alternative,” The Docent Educator 12.2 (Winter 2002-03): 14-16.

Leave a Reply

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