Tips From an Outreach and Museum Presenter of Woodland Indian Programs
Students between the ages of 11-13 are less likely to participate in front of their peers in a school or field trip settings (unlike elementary students). This is a time in their lives when they are trying to conform to what’s “cool,” which usually means their perception of what adults act like, and participating may be seen as “childish.” They are also attempting to establish themselves socially, and feel that just one embarrassment will destroy their social lives for the rest of their days (did I mention the drama and changing hormones). Even high school students are more receptive to participation when compared with the 11-13 age group. High school students are more likely to be “comfortable in their own skin,” and feel as though they have already firmly grounded their “reputations.” They have a better sense of humor than the 11-13 range, knowing that a little, non-personal humiliation is all in fun. Some high school students will volunteer because they like to stand out ‘” which may be a part of their popularity. This is less likely among 11-13 year old school groups.
DO NOT put an 11-13 year old student on the spot in front of their peers. You may embarrass this child, which could be disastrous.
DO feel out your audience. Ask for willing participants, and be specific about their role. Or, if the role is to be a surprise, hint at it in a smart way to still get the right participant. For example, say sometime like “I need a stylish young man, who doesn’t mind standing out and setting new trends” when you have a role for a man to wear a native style kilt. You will get the child best suited for this job, and not the child who may feel humiliated.
You are still in control, even when students share the stage. It is up to you to sum up, just by quick observation of their behavior and manners, which students to pick. Being completely random in picking students means you have lost control. Picking the right students for the right jobs is in your capability, and helps define a successful program. Picking the wrong students will only take away from your presentation, as you waste energy on disruptive participants. In small participation roles, have students answer a question right (or thoughtfully) and reward them by helping you. You control the outcome of each program you conduct.
Tip: When many students point to a student who is raising their hand, observe the energy of the situation and consider the role you are asking a student to play. If you cannot afford for the student to horse around, and the students and volunteers are very loud and disruptive in their voting, do not pick this student. This student most likely will do what he or she thinks will please the audience (disruptive), not what they were told to do by you. However, if the role is minor and short, consider picking this student. I know this sounds like a bad idea but the child who is being voted for is the crowd favorite. Most likely, he or she is popular with their peers (who consider this student to be a “leader” among them), and therefore has social power. When their “leader” is participating, they want to pay attention. Like politicians and community leaders, these students have influence. Students popular among their classmates can be great instruments in teaching your field trip group.
DO customize your museum tour or program to meet the needs of the 11-13 age range. If your presentation relies on a lot of participation, you may want to review each participation role and get rid of the ones you might define as “too childish.” Possibly have the tour or program rely on more verbal interaction (question & answer), on-the-move interpretation, and information and a few interesting facts that are usually presented to older students. This will say to this age group “If you listen, you will learn things older people know.” That is a preteen’s main goal – to feel older. And be sure the language and delivery is age appropriate. You don’t want to talk down to 11-13 year olds ‘” they will not respond to that. They want to be treated older, and you have to do that without talking over their heads.