A Cup Of Flour And A Pinch Of Salt
(Adapted from a program presented by Mary Bonnell for the National Association for Interpretation National Interpreters Workshop, 1998.)
A docent’s job is 50% giving accurate factual information and 50% delivering the information in a manner the audience will remember – or interpretive skills. Developing and leading great interpretive programs is a lot like making a batch of chocolate chip cookies! Follow these simple steps to bake up a great program.
Every good cook begins by pulling out the recipe, gathering all the ingredients, and getting the oven heated. In other words, begin planning the interpretive program by gathering information about the audience, planning a type of delivery program and topic, and thinking over the “big picture” of the entire program. This one aspect involves a whole set of issues such as writing themes, using tangibles and intangibles, and developing universals — which is all food for another meal. But do think about these ideas: What is your most memorable program ever attended? What made the program interesting and entertaining? What stood out about the presenter? With the oven pre-heated, it is time to look at the ingredients.
The Dry Ingredients
2 1/2 c. flour
Flour is like information. Flour is always the most abundant ingredient by volume in chocolate chip cookies. Eaten alone, flour is “dry and not very appealing without other ingredients to sweeten it up. Similarly, there should be a generous amount of research and information in your interpretive program, but it takes more than a bunch of information to make an interpretive program great.”
2/3 c. sugar and 2/3 c. brown sugar
Sugar is dry like flour, but it does taste better alone than flour tastes. Sugar is the sweeter, more appealing information or “gee whiz” facts. These facts are so astonishing, incredible or relevant that they tend to be memorable. Scattered throughout a program, “gee whiz” facts make information sweeter. But beware! Do not create a “sugar overload” for the audience – too many “gee whiz” facts can quickly make the recipe too sweet. Well, the dough is edible now, but hardly delicious.
1 tsp. salt
“Take all your information with a grain of salt.” Make every effort to use only fresh, relevant, and accurate information. Do not assume that because something is in writing or because someone else said it, it is true. Do the homework and check facts. In the end you feel more confident with the group and when someone doubts, contradicts, or disagrees, you can “take it with a grain of salt.”
1 tsp. baking soda
Without baking soda, the best combination of ingredients will still be flat and heavy like a brick. What makes interpretive programs rise to the occasion? The docent’s genuine enthusiasm works every time! Bring enthusiasm to every program. A small amount, even if it cannot be seen, makes a BIG difference in the final cookie.
Vigorously still all the dry ingredients, or facts (50% of a docent’s job) together. While the mixture is made up of many vital ingredients, the result is hardly an appealing gourmet delight. Is this a great program to deliver and digest? It just does not stick together. That is where the other 50% of the job comes in – the delivery skills.
Bind it All Together
1 tsp. vanilla
Vanilla extract sure does not taste good, but the aroma is irresistible. Try to appeal to a variety of senses and learning styles in every interpretive program–participants will find the program more memorable and stimulating.
Eggs add richness and help bind the crumbly and separate dry ingredients together. Likewise, having a theme or central idea that carries through the entire program will help pull all the information and main ideas together. Themes are complete sentences, provocative, and give the audience something to think about. It is the message that each participant will hopefully take away from the program.
Well, a 14-year-old would probably eat the dough now, but it is still a little clumpy.
2 sticks butter
Two large eggs are not enough to bind the batter together, but fold in some butter and the mixture becomes smooth and rich in texture. Providing transitions between main ideas help the audience relate together all the different things they have learned and prepare for the next discovery. Transitions can be accomplished in many ways such as through questions, activities, stories, biofacts, etc. Without transitions, the main ideas of the program seem unrelated and difficult to remember.
While the dough is now completely edible and delicious, it just is not a chocolate chip cookie without —-
12 oz. chocolate chips
Chocolate chips are the tangible item that defines a chocolate chip cookie. Chocolate chips are a real substance whose look, texture, and smell can be recognized and understood by almost everyone. Use a tangible object to carry the audience to greater meanings that have relevance, meanings that may not be as easy to define or recognize. Give the participants something simple but with meaning to key into. Use familiar props and ideas to transport the visitor to greater meanings and action.
1 c. nuts – optional
Some like nuts in cookies while others do not. Have enough prepared material on hand that is not part of the essential ingredients to the main program so you can switch gears, meet the needs of individual participants, or fill time as necessary. A story, obscure fact, game, or related current event can be just the right “extra” at certain times without being a part of every program.
Well, all the ingredients are in place and the result sure looks good, but is it?
The Final Analysis
Bake at 375 degrees F until golden brown
Baking the cookie blends all the flavors and adds the crunch. Programs need to be baked as well. If the information is new, practice it several times. Find small groups with whom to practice activities. Talk over the final plans with a friend. See if there are any last minutes changes that might make the program more comfortable in its delivery.
Taste the final result
Only after eating a cookie can one be sure that there is not too much flour or baking soda or determine whether the batter needs more sugar. Evaluation is the test for an interpretive program. Evaluation can be formal or informal. Ask the audience what each most liked about the program or ask summarizing questions at the end to see what they learned. Look to see if there are smiling faces or questions from them for more information. If the first cookie tastes good, then asking for another is common or whipping up a whole batch is irresistible. If an interpretive program stands up to the tests, then visitors will ask when the next program is or go to the library or search the Internet for more information. Use the taste test to make any adjustments before the next presentation and remember– eating too many cookies can make one sick!
So before developing and delivering every interpretive program, remember the chocolate chip cookie recipe for a delicious blend of content and technique sure to please even the hungriest appetite.
Bonnell, Mary. Making Chocolate Chip Cookies: A Delicious Blend of Content and Interpretive Technique. National Interpreters Workshop Proceedings: National Association for Interpretation, 1998.
Hershey’s chocolate chip bag (recipe).
Leahy, Christine. A Recipe for Success. Golden, CO: Jefferson County Open Space, 1994.