Many of you may be familiar with the term “free choice learning”. For those of you who aren’t, it doesn’t mean a free for all – in our learning programmes it involves providing carefully managed opportunities for pupils to follow their own interests and enthusiasms within the structure of the session. Free choice learning acknowledges that we all build our understanding by incorporating or adapting prior knowledge and that motivation is the key to development.
To give you one example, in the Primary programme we’ve swapped worksheets with sketch books, which allows each pupil to choose what she or he wants to research and record rather than obliging all of them to fill in the same gaps on a printed exercise. The result is that the children concentrate better, they absorb and retain more information and they produce a personalized resource that the teacher can build on back in school.
At the heart of every session is the collection and the building, and we’ve been making much more use of both since we conducted our review in 2006. The fact that we are accessing more objects and using all the gallery spaces has really tested the team’s planning and communication skills. When several sessions are happening simultaneously in the museum with general visitors around, and an independent group turns up unannounced it is a real challenge to keep everybody happy, but by being adaptable and working together we’ve shown that it can be done!
I’m really pleased to see how learning has become much more collaborative across the museum, with more colleagues from collections and conservation coming forward with ideas for involvement rather than waiting to be approached. We’d like to develop closer links with the Visitor Services Assistants too and I’m looking forward to working on that with our new Head of Visitor Services who joins the Museum in the New Year.
Another change is that we are increasingly blurring the boundaries between learning, public programmes and community engagement, with family learning and parental involvement at the centre of a more holistic approach. Schools and colleges are being encouraged to become part of inter-connected learning communities that involve a wide range of organisations and services including museums and galleries. We already playing an important role in Manchester’s developing learning communities and we hope our influence will continue to grow.