Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon Inspires Art Institute Docents with Interpretive Approach

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon Inspires Art Institute Docents with Interpretive Approach

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon

When SESP professor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon delivered the Nordenberg Invited Lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, museum docents learned how to use the interpretive discussion techniques emphasized in her three books. An expert on interpretation and discussion in education, Haroutunian-Gordon spoke to 150 docents and 50 staff members about how to encourage children to interpret works of art.

Her talk, entitled “The Art of Interpretation: Finding One’s Deepest Point of Doubt,” gave docents background for using discussion to encourage school-aged children to form their own analyses of art. According to Haroutunian-Gordon, the purpose of interpretive discussion is to form a question about meaning and make progress toward resolution. Beginning with the theoretical foundations, she also explained techniques for the three phases of discussion — preparation, leading and reflection. 

Interpretive discussion focuses around “a shared point of doubt,” according to Haroutunian-Gordon. She applied the method to a painting by Nicole Eisenman to illustrate the use of basic questions, clusters of questions and follow-up questions in interpretive discussion. Her talk was intended to assist the docents as they begin their work this school year of encouraging children to develop interpretations of art for themselves.

Haroutunian-Gordon is the author of three books on interpretation: Turning the Soul: Teaching through Conversation in the High School, Learning to Teach through Discussion: The Art of Turning the Soul and Interpretive Discussion: Engaging Students in Text-Based Conversations. The third book will be published in spring 2014 by the Harvard Education Press. She is also the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, and is co-editor of special issues of Teachers College Record and Educational Theory on the topic of listening — an interest that grew out of her research. 

Haroutunian-Gordon is a professor at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. For 22 years, she was the director the Master of Science in Education Program, a position from which she has just retired. An educational philosopher by training, she is a past president of the Philosophy of Education Society. She has conducted research and written about topics related to philosophy of psychology, philosophy of mind, music education, teacher education, and the philosophy of education. Prior to her career at Northwestern, Haroutunian-Gordon taught sixth grade for five years, then earned a PhD at the University of Chicago and was a member of that faculty.

“Over a long and fruitful career, Haroutunian-Gordon has explored the philosophy and practice of interpretive discussion through a dynamic program of scholarship and teacher education,” writes Brandeis professor Sharon Feiman-Nemser in the foreword to Haroutunian-Gordon’s newest book. “She has conceptualized the intellectual foundations of interpretive discussion, elaborated its distinctive pedagogy, studied its patterns and impact on teachers and students, and designed unique systems for inducting others into this powerful educational practice.” 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/8/13