Minneapolis Institute of Art Introduces ESL Tours

JennaRose Dahl works as Distance Learning and Digital Literacy Coordinator for the MN Literacy Council, and she also volunteers as a tour guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). JennaRose says she has long thought about how to make the museum more accessible for English language learners.

One big step toward her goal: initiating a partnership between Mia and the literacy council, with literacy council staff training volunteer tour guides on how to work with English language learners. To begin the process, Mia hosted a 2-hour training for interested guides on communication strategies when working with non-native speakers. Next, JennaRose and Mia staff collaborated to create eight tours based on common units in ESL classroom curriculum: clothing, housing, work, transportation, food and more. They also designed a tour highlighting items in the museum’s East African collection, so that students from this part of the world could see art from their home countries on display.

JennaRose says, “We tend to focus, for good reason, on practical, survivalist content in our ESL classes. In the grand scheme of everything our learners have to learn, art can seem superfluous, but in truth art is a text that learners can do a close reading of. We use visual thinking strategies on our tours, and engage participants in effective communication and critical thinking, but bigger than that, we welcome them into our community.”

As the final step, Mia hosted a field trip in February for students from the Open Door Learning Center – Arlington Hills to give the guides the opportunity to put their training into practice. Students went on the new tours with tour guides, with teachers and Mia observers following along. At the end of the tours, the students and observers gave guides feedback on their tours, including suggestions for ways to improve for future tours.

Mia Director Kaywin Feldman wrote, “Art is essential… [It] allows us to explore what is fundamental about our shared humanity in an increasingly complex time. Art is vital to the development of critical thinking and communication skills, literacy, global understanding, and empathy.”

The tour guides are excited to host more tours for ESL learners, and interested teachers can fill out the form here.

They can select either grade level, and make a note that the tour is for adult ESL learners, and can request specific tour themes.

Email JennaRose at [email protected] with questions, or for ideas for other ways to enrich the experience, such as scavenger hunts or artmaking.

Andrea Echelberger, ESL Training Coordinator Minnesota Literacy Council