The Inquiry Approach


Why are more museums using
inquiry techniques in the galleries?

"Understanding how visitors learn has become a matter of survival for museums." — George Hein, Progrssive Museum Practice

Guess who's coming to the museum?
Every day you open your doors and the world pours in hoping for something out of the ordinary. So the big challenge for museum educators and docents is to:

  • Connect directly with a diverse audience
  • Create a comfort zone where art-virgins and aficionados can talk
  • Accommodate visitors of all ages
  • Make the most of limited time
  • Set the stage for repeat visits, membership and support
Brief Encounters become Indelible Experiences
Inquiry-based conversations help you meet the challenge because they:
  • Make unfamiliar objects and ideas approachable
  • Encourage visitors to use what they already know to connect with the art
  • Invite discussion, opinions, exploration and fascination
  • Help visitors draw their own conclusions about the meaning of the exhibit
  • Make the museum, its contents and staff more accessible
  • Give visitors the motivation and confidence to return

More About Inquiry

Laurel's book, Classroom Confidential is one of my most valued teaching resources. I refer to it often in the development of professional programs and highlight it as a must read for all teachers interested in incorporating inquiry based teaching into their practice.

Lisa Mazzola
Assistant Director, School and Teacher Programs
The Museum of Modern Art

Laurel has written extensively about the value of inquiry which she describes "a brain-friendly, give-and-take-ish way to pursue learning that stimulates thinking, talking, puzzling, risking and debating. Participants construct meaning for themselves by interacting with others and they're often triumphantly surprised by their discoveries."

"Inquiry is the opposite of those didactic monologues where large shipments of information are delivered to listeners who are apparently 'learning'. In reality, many simply gaze in the approximate direction of the speaker and silently refuse delivery."

Free Online Resource

Click here to read Laurel's entire chapter on inquiry: Great Teachers Don't Take No (or Yes) For An Answer — Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling

Download a printable PDF version

Get the Whole Picture
The chapter Great Teachers Don't Take No (or Yes) For An Answer appears in Classroom Confidential: The 12 Secrets of Great Teachers by Laurel Schmidt. It is available in Paperback and E-Book at (ISBN 978-0-325-00660-4 / 0-325-00660-1 / )