A teacher is pointing at an object on a table and sitting with two pupils.

Through various programmes, we want to train arts savvy teachers for the future: teachers that will engage with museums throughout their careers, inspire their pupils and foster meaningful, impactful engagements with the arts.

Many trainees last experience of a museum was when they were at school, or during the one hour of arts in their training, so we know that unless we embed the arts into training, they will not pass on these experiences to pupils. To foster a love for using the arts, and prove its worth, we embarked on a three year actin research programme, which, we are proud to say, has been shortlisted for a National Creative Learning Guild Award for Higher Education.

For the last three years, we have been working with two academic institutions, York St John University and Leeds Trinity University, and teacher training SCITTs, on action research to ascertain how teaching trainees’ object learning skills during their initial teacher training ultimately influences their classroom teaching and learning.

Our action research question was: ‘how can developing object-based learning skills during primary initial teacher training influence the trainee’s approach to classroom teaching and learning?’. We are looking at skills, knowledge and confidence, models and approaches, and short and long term impacts. We tested how much object learning training has an impact on classroom practice and whether there is a set of ‘killer’ questions to use for object learning in a classroom.

A teacher is pointing at an object on a table and sitting with two pupils.

Training teachers for the future using our collections.

Each year, we have hosted 300 second year ITT primary students (150 from each university) for three and a half hours at Leeds City Museum. They handled objects, developed enquiry questions, and tested those questions on objects behind glass. We recorded confidence levels before and after, seeing rises of confidence across the board: 83% reported rises in confidence in subject knowledge and modelling, with 30% reporting a significant rise of 3 levels or more.

Trainees reflected on the half day training, saying, ‘objects can be used across the curriculum and not just in history’, ‘object learning is a lot more valuable / effective than I thought’, ‘it gets the children to ask questions and start their own discussion’, and ‘it has shown me how to use a hands-on approach and the importance of talking about the object’.

A smaller cohort spent a further seven hours at Leeds Discovery Centre on best practice object training, planning a 45 minute classroom workshop. They then practiced their new skills with pupils at a local primary school, reflecting back on their practice every step of the way. These students saw huge rises in confidence, skills and reflective practices. They all had concrete ‘lightbulb’ moments:

‘I had the opportunity to see a real-life Egyptian make up palette. This reminded me that these are real objects and will have been used day-to-day by someone. The fact that it was something that we can relate to now reminded me that these were real people… I really enjoyed the workshop and exploring the objects. I thought it was really inspiring in terms of my teaching and was useful as I was unaware that schools could loan objects!’

‘Having access to the WW1 box and looking at each item, I was incredibly eager to find out more about each object, who owned it and what it was used for. This was a moment I realised that even I (someone who struggles to find history exciting) was getting excited through the mystery of an artefact’.

The trainees conveyed passion, curiosity and creativity to the pupils they practiced with, and all the trainees in the focused group reflected on how the pupils had reacted differently to object engagement than other focused activities. We hope they will go on to influence thousands of pupils in their careers.

By Kate Fellows, Head of Learning and Access at Leeds Museums & Galleries.