Teachers Connect
Jul 9, 2019

Considering VTS

Implementing Visual Thinking Strategies may challenge your long-held instructional practices. How might your teaching change if you adopt VTS? How might the VTS approach transform your students’ experiences and attitudes? Finally, how might VTS support close reading of disciplinary texts (i.e., science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts)?

41 Responses to Considering VTS

  1. Kristin A says:

    The biggest challenge in working with VTS will be allowing students to respond without guiding them toward a “right” answer, but this concept is paramount in the quest toward getting students to think more creatively. Embracing this practice will hopefully help students to understand that in art, like in so many other aspects of life, there is no “right” answer. One of the struggles I have in the classroom is getting students to operate in a creative space where they are directing their own learning and not relying on specific step by step instructions. Its extremely difficult for many students to create art without a guidebook. This is an area that I’m constantly thinking about in the classroom. How do I get students to be more independent thinkers? I believe that VTS will help students move toward using more imaginative and risky approaches, and breakdown the idea of right and wrong.

    Visual Thinking Strategies will support close reading in that it draws students attention to the details of a work. Students can learn this skill in reading through first experiencing VTS in narrative artworks, but then transferring these skills into text.

    • RosaMaria Gamble says:

      Thank you for your post. I have the same challenges with my students where they have trouble being more creative with their responses, if I do not give them a step-by-step format. I am hopeful the new conversations will improve their self-confidence and they will be more comfortable to be creative.

      • Monique W says:

        Not arriving at the “right” answer will indeed take some adjustment for the students and the teacher, but I am hopeful that other students will come forth and finally say ‘I have an answer too’.

  2. Allen says:

    Implementing Visual Thinking Strategies will change my teaching by pushing me to remain neutral about the responses I get from students. I practiced this today and caught myself saying “Yes”, or “I agree”, even though I knew not to say those things. Using VTS will give my students a chance to discuss art with their peers, and to help them practice building on each others thoughts by agreeing or disagreeing with one another. VTS can also help with close readings by showing students that you need to look at things, texts or pictures, and think about what you are looking at. What is the author really trying to say or do with the text they wrote.

    • Maria Chamorro-Beckenhauer says:

      I agree. Remaining neutral will be a challenge for me too specially at the beginning of the school year. Later in year may be I will be more wise and have more experience as facilitator.

  3. Stacey W. says:

    I think that by using the VTS practice, my teaching may become less teacher focused and more student centered. It will be a challenge for me not to give immediate feedback and be impartial in listening to student responses but I think it may also foster a more collaborative and/or accepting/tolerant classroom. Students might feel more willing to take a risk in speaking in front of the class because they know their answer will be validated. If using VTS consistently throughout the year, I think it would help students apply those same strategies in reading and writing because they will become accustomed to justifying their answers. Students may get used to taking their time to really look at/read something rather than rushing through. Using the phrase, “What more do you see,” will encourage students to read text again.

    • RosaMaria Gamble says:

      Thank you for your post! I will have the same challenges at the beginning but I am very excited that it will become student-centered. I also believe it will help the students be more confident and their self-esteem will improve.

  4. Jessica A. says:

    How might your teaching change if you adopt VTS?
    While facilitating a practice VTS discussion today, I felt quite liberated. I wasn’t planning for the discussion to go in a particular direction or have a learning objective beyond facilitating a discussion. If I were to use VTS more regularly, I imagine I would feel this liberated feeling more often and enjoy listening to my students’ creative ideas.
    How might the VTS approach transform your students’ experiences and attitudes?
    Students would probably feel more encouraged to speak in class due to the validation they experience during VTS. They would probably become accustomed to the practice of building meaning together and be more open to future class discussions.
    Finally, how might VTS support close reading of disciplinary texts (i.e., science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts)?
    The skills of observing and finding evidence would easily transfer to close reading exercises, especially with English language learners. I could see first doing several VTS discussions with various images and then referring back to those skills once we started readings. Practicing first with images would help students build confidence with reading.

    • Lindsay Heider Diamond says:

      I appreciate the use of the words “finding evidence” because VTS seems like such a path of discovery, for both teacher and students. The evidence laying down possible tracks but not adhering to anything other than perhaps the next discovery. “Liberated” as well is a term that I doubt is heard much within the educational system. What a gift to give to both teachers and students – an open ended way of connecting, listening, giving, receiving – communicating.

    • Allen says:

      I agree that using VTS will show students that they matter and that their thoughts are relevant. Keeping the conversation neutral might give them the confidence to speak more in class. Plus the skill of critical thinking will help students to make more sense of what they are learning and incorporate it into their knowledge.

  5. Lynn Zinder says:

    When the classes come to me the routine is to come in, sit on the carpet and be ready to work. I think I will put up a picture or painting at the beginning of class and as they are seated, I will let the students observe the painting. When everyone is settled I will then begin the VTS questioning. I feel that once this routine is established the students will become comfortable with this new method. I think that after implementing this strategy, students will feel more comfortable voicing their opinions because there will never be a right or wrong answer. Students will feel good about themselves because their ideas will be validated. I also plan to choose paintings that are appropriate for the time of year, match up to historical events, or holidays. VTS can support close reading of the disciplinary subjects by using the same inquiry method to go over a reading in socdialstudies or language arts, a math problem or a science problem.

    • Colleen says:

      I love the idea of using pictures that will match a theme of the day/time of year or event. This will help hook your students into the days work. I agree that once students get used to doing VTS, more voices will speak up, because they will realize that they “can’t be wrong”

  6. Cindy says:

    These two days have me considering how I teach and how I start each period with my students. After having a rough year last year, I knew I needed to make some changes. I will start several class periods a week with a VTS with a visual. I am really excited to implement this! I think it will help the students grow in several areas of their school life. It will help them focus, learn to be respectful towards one another, to observe, think, use their voice without fear of criticism.
    Using VTS in other subject matters, the teacher might focus on one part of the lesson and then open it up to the specific VTS questions. This would engage the students in deeper thinking.

  7. colleen says:

    I really enjoyed trying VTS today. I think that by using this strategy often with students they will become better “thinkers” in my content. It forces them to dig deeper and have evidence for their opinions. In social studies, the big push is to be able to read historical documents, make a claim or judgement about it and then justify your claim with evidence from the document. I often use visuals in my class and think these 3 basic questions will help facilitate good discussions. These three questions can also be used for non-traditional pictures, like political cartoons for me as well. I also like that it forces me to listen to all that my students are saying in order to model paraphrasing, as well as help those who may not have understood the response.

    • Cindy says:

      I like your ideas where you can implement the VTS in other content areas. I, too, am looking forward to seeing how the students react to the strategies and how they can impact other classes. I am also looking forward to enjoying VTS as a facilitator today…I’m pretty nervous!

  8. Gayle K says:

    When I adopt VTS into my classroom, I feel my way of teaching my students will make me a better teacher. Using VTS will force me to be more attentive to my students’ responses. I will have to learn a new way of multi-tasking; listening, rephrasing, keeping the ball moving, etc.

    The VTS approach will transform my students’ experiences and attitudes as it will force them to look harder at the work and develop their thoughts. Right now when students complete their weekly warm up art critiques, students write the bare minimum and many times do not complete their thoughts. I write many ‘question marks’ and ‘see me’ on their papers. Using the VTS will allow for those students who are not strong in writing complete their thought process verbally. Also, I am sure after many exposures to this style, when the students have to write an artist critique they will be able to (in so many words) spit out their thoughts with a beginning, middle, and end.

    VTS will support close reading of disciplinary texts in other subjects curriculum by allowing the student more time to look and think abstractly. Someone (I think it was Addie) said today that ‘I have never heard of an English teacher say once you have read it once you are done’. In ALL subject areas there is multiple visits back to the original texts/image/source, as many times one can miss something. Having teachers (in all subject areas) conduct the VTS approach, they will probably see more student interest and involvement in the subject/theme/task.

  9. Alexandra Cheshire says:

    Adopting VTS would change my teaching in many different ways. First, it would help me remain more neutral to student ideas and interpretations of art. Secondly, the question “what do you see that makes you think that” would allow for more student driven learning and interpretation rather than teacher lead learning. Lastly, it would most likely lead to me learning new ideas and ways of thinking by doing more listening and letting the conversation go where it may rather than always having a predetermined idea for the direction of the conversation.
    I’m not very familiar with close reading strategies, but based on the close reading we did on Monday, I would imagine that the VTS questions could be applied to each paragraph in an art history text. Students could write down the main idea of each paragraph by answering “what is this paragraph about” and then two or three points that answer “what supports this idea in the paragraph.” Perhaps the “what more can you say about the work” could be applied then to the work as a whole after reading the entire work.
    I will definitely have to practice the VTS Strategies with my students to become proficient. However, I will definitely use it to incorporate more student lead conversations. I think the concepts used could lead to some rich conversations and help students gain a deeper level of understanding of some of the artwork we discuss in class.

    • Niya Robinson says:

      I agree that giving the students the opportunity to respond to the second question of VTS will give them a sense of leadership and ownership. Often times we take over as teachers and we never give them the opportunity to freely express who they are.

  10. Colette says:

    Adopting and implementing Visual Thinking Strategies may present some challenges initially. As with any new practice, strategy or technique there are factors to be considered if the desired outcomes are to be achieved. They include but are not limited to; knowledge of your students’ abilities, learning styles or preferences as well as the age group. Based on my experience today with VTS, I am convinced that if I can implement with fidelity, it would have a significant impact on my instruction. Using the questioning techniques, I believe I would have to be much more deliberate in my listening, paraphrasing and being objective in my responses to the class. My students’ experiences and attitudes would also be affected since the approach promotes a sense of validation of individuals’ responses or input throughout the lesson rather than you’re correct or incorrect. This validation would also lead to increase participation over time as well as a growth in my students’ self confidence. VTS is a strategy I would use to help my students close read word problems. By following the steps (the questions) my students would be able to dig deeper into the problem in order to make meaning of what the problems are portraying and then strategize on their varying approaches to solve.

    • Paula Smithson says:

      I agree that it is a process that would grow over time and along the way we will see different students bloom at different times. I also agree that it takes a concerted effort to listen to the variety of comments. It really helped me to concentrate on paraphrasing to remember and absorb what was being said. It will definitely take practice.

  11. 1. How might my teaching change if I adopt VTS?

    I have been struggling with the fact that we have been trained to keep our opinions of the artwork to ourselves. I get so excited about artwork and sharing it with students, that I often exclaim for example: “This is an amazing artwork and I can’t wait to share it with you!” But after having a more detailed conversation with Ashley, I get it! I will now make a cognizant effort to change how I ask questions and practice VTS in a more meaningful way.

    2. How might the VTS approach transform my student’s experiences and attitudes?

    In my experience, students love to talk about art. Students love storytelling, and I have spent a lot of time sharing famous works with students and telling my own stories about my experiences seeing works of art. Now that I have been exposed to VTS, I will organize my lesson plans a little differently. Overall, VTS is a magical teaching approach, and students will eat it up. It takes time and practice, but once a teacher feels confident with their own delivery and presenting of the concepts, it is well worth the effort.

    3. How might VTS support close reading of disciplinary texts?

    When students can relate a visual artwork to say, text relating to the visual artwork, their comprehension becomes stronger. With effective VTS delivery, students will learn that VTS creates a culture of listening. It also teaches students that learning takes time, and that each students’ ideas and contributions are valuable for the whole. Effective VTS delivery also teaches mindfulness and the importance of looking at and appreciating the detail.

    • Gayle K says:

      I like how you responded to the questions in this blog. I feel the same way. I can not wait to use the VTS approach in my classroom.

  12. Paula Smithson says:

    Practicing the V.T.S. strategies today was enlightening. It was akin to being engaged in the construction of the book forms. Learning the process by doing and receiving immediate feedback made the components clearer.
    I know it will affect the students in a positive way. When we speak about art work now they are engaged and excited about the visual aspects or the process we will be learning. I can see V.T.S giving them control of the reigns where they will find art to be inspired by.

    The thought provoking aspect of V.T.S. allows for interdisciplinary ideas to be discussed. The students are then shown that ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere and they will begin to look for it.

  13. Lindsay Heider Diamond says:

    I think that by adopting VTS into my class and curriculum, there could be more room for exploration of narratives in their own personal art. The images we would discover through might inform and inspire my students and spark their own creativity and imagination. I might consider how I lead into projects and use this as a starting tool, to get minds flowing about ideas and possibilities. Once excited about ideas, I have found that my students are more apt to listen to technique and conceptual aspects of the teaching. I think it has the possibility of making their projects fuller, richer, more unique and possibly more self reflective.

    I think that my students will appreciate that they are being listened to, that in a school that is academically rigorous, there is room for contemplation and questions that create more questions, with no ending or right or wrong. I see this as being possibly very refreshing for them and like a needed “free time” for their brain. Like using different aspects of the brain.

    Close reading is not something I am very familiar with but I believe that when students are given space and time to contemplate, reflect, feel accepted and heard, they grow in confidence. So perhaps the support would be tangential, meaning that the students would be more apt to truly investigate, poke around and ask more questions of any content that is put before them, allowing them to navigate themselves to a deeper understanding.

  14. Lindsay Elcano says:

    Adopting Visual Thinking Strategies into my teaching practice would enhance student thought. I love the idea of the teacher being limited to only asking three questions or paraphrasing a thought for clarity. I think that students hearing their own voice in their classroom is important for their growth and this introduces a possible way to practice that. In second grade students are working on sharing their voice and taking turns without having to raise their hand, but recognize who needs or wants to speak in the room. VTS would be an excellent way to further their practice with this. In addition to all of the positive aspects I listed, I think using VTS would support close reading. If we projected an image of a book/text/short and analyzed it using the practice of VTS before reading the students would be exposed to much of the vocabulary that may already be in the text. Also, the students may feel a visual connection that they might not have received just reading together.

    • Lynn Zinder says:

      I think it will be a challenge at first to give each student their own voice. At times in my classroom students , during discussions are impulsive and shout out their thoughts. I think I will have visuals made of each of the three questions so students become familiar with wordage.

  15. RosaMaria Gamble says:

    Coloring book pages, tide t-shirts and crochet stitches will be transformed to a new-style or art class as soon as Sra. Gamble reaches the classroom in the school year 2019-2020. Using the visual thinking strategies, the students will observe Faith Ringgold’s Self-Portrait Quilt and the synergetic VTS dance between students and their new teacher, will begin. By answering the question: “What is going on in this quilt?” the students’ ideas and thoughts will elaborate a new discussion where I will become a facilitator more than a lecturing teacher. Paraphrasing, acquiring patience for my students and compassion for myself (the temptation to give an art history class will be there at the beginning) will be at the forefront of my challenges to overcome in this coming school year.

    • Lynn Zinder says:

      I want to come to your classroom!! I love Faith Ringgold and have done paper versions of her art work, however I would love to use fabric and fabric pieces to create artwork. Let us stay in touch so I can see what your class creates.

  16. Monique W says:

    Implementing VTS Strategies will change teaching with the emphasis on students driving the communication and teachers waiting as they make ‘aha’ discoveries. Another major change is less of the teacher voice and stamp of approval.

    Being intentional in the pursuit of active listening, paraphrasing and remaining neutral gives much needed fuel to what might have been a dry, empty tank. What an excellent confidence booster.

    By embracing multiple perspectives and interpretations (not arriving at ‘the right’ answer), both student and teacher are left desiring more.

    • cindy says:

      Monique, I agree with everything you write here. I am looking forward to seeing those “Aha” moments also!

  17. Maria Chamorro-Beckenhauer says:

    Today, I was able to learn more how Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) works when implemented correctly. VTS is designed to use a sequence of carefully selected fine art images to engage students in facilitated discussions through the use of open-ended questions beginning with: What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find? Teacher is a facilitator. Teacher paraphrases
    students’ responses, actively listening, validating individual views, demonstrating language use, and reinforcing a range of ideas.

    How might your teaching change if you adopt VTS?
    Students enter school at the different levels of language acquisition. At the beginning of the school year, I have to modify the questions and use turn and talk strategy so students have a change to share their ideas with his peers in preparation to have more reach discussion and engagement.

    How might the VTS approach transform your students’ experiences and attitudes?
    This methodology has many benefits for my language learners. It builds community, equity, builds self-confidence because their views are validated, and students feel safe to share their ideas because there is no wrong or right answer. When teacher repeats new words and restate students’ ideas and models the correct use of language it builds language fluency.

    How might VTS support close reading of disciplinary texts (i.e., science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts)?
    Visual Thinking Strategies can be used to have discussions about the setting of the story, characters and mayor events in the story in the close reading activity. The questions and conversations promote critical thinking and help to boost self-confidence. The same approach can facilitate the discussions through the use of open-ended questions in science, social studies and math.

    • Stacey W. says:

      I have several language learners in my class as well. Vocabulary acquisition through VTS is also a benefit. I can see how this method can encourage students to use academic vocabulary as I paraphrase using it.

  18. Niya Robinson says:

    Adapting VTS is going to be the first process modeled in my class this school year. However, keeping that in mind I think that my biggest challenge is going to be the time component with the 3rd grade clases going to a 3 way switch. Administrators are already expressing the importance of cutting things off in order to get everything that is expected implemented in that scheduled block. In order for VTS to be successful it is important for students to have the time to speak and process their thoughts. So this is going to challenge me to be mindful of time and routine. Working with a large population of ESOL students VTS is sure to build students confidence and vocabulary. The paraphrase portion is going to give me the opportunity to speak back to students in a different way which allows them to hear more words being used. When working with this population of students visual aids are a must and so the process is just an added bonus. VTS supports Close Reading because it allows multiple opportunities for students to view one image in the same setting. Students are constantly referring back to the image when their peers are responding and when they are sharing as well. Overall the VTS process will benefit teachers and students in many different ways when implemented properly and consistently.

    • Alexandra Cheshire says:

      I like the way VTS can be used in your situation to introduce new vocabulary to English learners through paraphrasing. This, along with the visual element, makes language learning so natural and engaging!

  19. Wendy Cresswell says:

    I don’t think VTS challenges my teaching practices because I believe in integrating art into the curriculum and using strategies like this to teach my kids, but I do think it can change my teaching. I think the paraphrasing and neutrality aspects of VTS will encourage more students to take risks and participate more in group discussions. The routines used for VTS and close reading seem similar to me. If a teacher uses the VTS routines with the class so they know what to expect, and also throw in the interaction with the other students through the discussions, I think VTS would enhance close reading.

    • Erica says:

      I agree with you on the value of paraphrasing and neutrality; it could open new doors for kids who cannot risk being “wrong.”

  20. Erica says:

    How might your teaching change if you adopt VTS? I was unaware of VTS until yesterday, but did something similar with my Art 1 students. I will definitely adopt this model for introducing new works.
    How might the VTS approach transform your students’ experiences and attitudes?
    Being able to look with being steered toward right or wrong answers is definitely freeing. I think it gives the students a sense of ownership in the discussion.
    Finally, how might VTS support close reading of disciplinary texts (i.e., science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts)? Looking, looking, and more looking! Teaching students to take the time to actually see, whether pictures or words, will increase overall comprehension across disciplines.

    • Stacey W. says:

      I agree that it might give students a sense of ownership in the discussion. I am hoping that that sense of ownership will transfer to their writing as well.

  21. Beth says:

    I think and would hope that adopting VTS would create a culture of openness and a growth mindset in the classroom. My hope is that it would encourage all students to share openly, and learn to have conversations with others where they see and appreciate different things.

    I think VTS would support the close reading of texts by teaching students to go deeper into a reading after their first pass through it. It could also encourage more pair and share conversations where students compare what they learned from the text.

  22. Shawanda says:

    How might your teaching change if you adopt VTS?
    My teaching will change in how I respond to students’ responses to the questions asked during the VTS process. Maintaining neutrality will be challenging.

    How might the VTS approach transform your students’ experiences and attitudes?
    This approach will be new for students but rewarding! I see this strategy as a non-threatening low anxiety way to scaffold critical thinking and vocabulary building.

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