Why you feel scared of leading art discussions (and what to do about it)

Leading tours and educational programmes that are based on discussion, inquiry and interaction can be a scary business. Both for you and for your participants. And if you're about to take your first steps, it might seem really daunting. However, do remember that any concerns you have are perfectly normal and you’re not alone (we’ve all been there and had to start somewhere). Take it one step at a time and with time, practice and guidance, it will get easier (I promise!). In this post, I’ve summarised the most common fears and concerns about leading discussion-based programmes that I’ve heard

How to Facilitate Effectively Wearing a Face Mask

In some countries, educators, guides and creatives are back to teaching and facilitating discussions about art and objects in-person, whilst others are looking to return shortly. In many institutions and organisations (e.g. museums and heritage centres), this will only be possible behind a mask. So, how can you facilitate effectively with a face mask on? How can you still communicate clearly and create an atmosphere where everyone is happy to contribute? And what extra strategies can you employ to ensure engagement and interaction?  This post was inspired by a creative brainstorming session in my membership group The VT Membership. We

What is Visible Thinking in the Museum?

I found out 10 years ago that many museum educators and guides were struggling to meet the demands of leading inquiry-based programmes – sometimes the training was too brief, too confusing, or just too complicated. I wanted to simplify the process and increase the engagement factor for both facilitator and audience. In 2011, I discovered the magic of Visible Thinking and have since developed ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum‘ – a method that uses thinking routines to help question formulation and structure, along with facilitation techniques, collaborative learning and museum education practices. The result is ‘inquiry made simple’. A easy-to-follow process that allows

Thinking Routine of the Week: Zoom In

The thinking routine 'Zoom In' asks people to observe part of an image closely and develop a hypothesis or interpretation. More of the image is revealed and we are asked again to look closely and reassess our initial ideas in the light of the new information. The process is repeated until the whole of the image is revealed. By only revealing part of the image, we need to pay close attention to details. This fires up our curiosity about what the image might look like as a whole and encourages us to act as art detectives looking for hidden meanings

Tips & Tools: Positioning on Guided Tours

How often do you think about how you position yourself on a guided tour? And how you position the group too? It can make all the difference! YOU: Before introducing an object/artwork to someone on your tour, see it properly for yourself. Look at it from a variety of difficult angles (as your participants would) and see what is easy or tricky to see from each position. Find the best spot to position your group so that they can all see well (and hear you too!). Literally, you should stand in a good position to reduce the strain on your body

Thinking Routine of the Week: Parts-Purposes-Complexities

Parts-Purposes-Complexities is a thinking routine developed by Project Zero's Agency by Design research group. It is a wonderful routine for guiding inquiry into all sorts of things: artworks, historical documents and, my personal favourite, with objects. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This routine is for looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. It encourages participants to slow down, make detailed observations and to look beyond the obvious We discover it on Day 2 of our 'Visible Thinking in the Museum' training. ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ You can use any sort of object for this activity - precious, non-precious, household, broken or brand new. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There are 3

Learning to Look: Slow Looking

3 Hours One Painting Jennifer Roberts, a professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, asks her students to select a painting from a museum and then go and study it. For three hours. Noting down their observations as well any questions they might have along the way. How can there possibly be 3 hours worth of details to notice in a single painting? To explain the reason for the exercise, Roberts gave an example from her own experience – studying the painting A Boy With a Flying Squirrel at length. Roberts noted that it was 9 minutes

Learning to Love ‘Boring’ Objects

As museum and tour guides, we want participants on our tours to look closely at objects. However, research has shown that the average time spent viewing artworks or objects is generally short. We also know that every museum has its superstar objects and that some objects get far more attention than others. So, how can we get visitors interested in these less popular but still fascinating objects? How can we engage them with ones that may seem a little 'boring' or 'mundane' at first glance? We use objects on guided tours with people of all ages to create connections to

Tips & Tools: Using Notebooks on Guided Tours

In praise of the humble notebook... I have hundreds of tips and tools in my head that I could share with you, but today I've decided to share my go-to and most simple tool - the humble notebook. A notebook, you say? But that's not very exciting... Well, when my three children were small, we used to go off to museums, galleries and places like the zoo armed with a small notebook and a pencil. I just told them that whenever they saw something they liked, they should make a note of it however they wanted - either with a drawing


If you've been looking at the details for my upcoming live 'Visible Thinking in the Museum' training on 20-21-22 April, you may be wondering if it's worth the investment. Here's a reminder of why I think you should attend:- 1. YOU'LL UPDATE YOUR SKILLS INSTANTLY: we all need to update our 'toolbox' on a regular basis to keep up-to-date with the latest methods and techniques. 2. YOU'LL BECOME PART OF A COMMUNITY: It’s much easier to be creative in your practice when you’re around like-minded people who share similar enthusiasms and passions. 3. YOU'LL MAKE FRIENDS AND FUTURE COLLABORATORS: Not only