Teachers Connect
Jul 14, 2015

Institute 1: Paraphrasing

Bertram Russell said something like, “in all things it’s healthy now and then to hang a question mark on what we have long taken for granted.”

When a group of special education students were taken to the Albuquerque Museum for the final field trip during the research phase of Art, Books, and Creativity, they were escorted by a docent who told them “facts” about a particular painting.  He was sure he knew everything there was to know about the piece of art. The students sat in stony silence.  They had spent the year using the VTS questions and this was not the way they looked at art.   I intervened in the docent’s presentation, asking the students the first VTS question.   They studied the painting and then eagerly raised hands to comment. One by one they spoke, listened to their peers observations, and played off each other in a symphony of thoughts and evidence. The docent was astonished that this group of special needs children could discover elements in the painting he had never noticed in all his years of giving tours. Through VTS questioning and paraphrasing, the teacher of this class had honed these students’ observational skills, which would serve them for years to come.

Although the use of paraphrasing may present a challenge initially, what do you believe will be gained in your classroom or setting by using these questions? What do you think will be some personal challenges in using paraphrasing?


29 Responses to Institute 1: Paraphrasing

  1. Katie Cushman says:

    Through the VTS questioning process, a child really learns to look at a piece of art through his or her own personal lens. There is no “correct” answer as each observation is validated through paraphrasing so each child learns that his or her opinion is just as important as everyone elses’ opinion. The freedom to express one’s opinion is created in this questioning and observation method. The children also learn that there are many many ways to look at art.

    In the beginning of using this process, I think it will be a challenge to simply restate and not embellish with an enthusiastic comment.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      As an embellisher myself, I agree with you – I had holes in my tongue! But I realized that as soon as I gave up thinking about what I had to say to “help” the child, my job as the “re-stater” got easier. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Madeleine Brooks-Kenney says:

    I think the open, nonjudgmental nature of the questions will lead to greater student participation and confidence in the validity of their thoughts and opinions. Hopefully this will spill over into analysis of texts, math problems, science activities.The paraphrasing would require me to really focus and keep the threads together which can personally be a challenge as my thought process easily ricochets in multiple directions.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      Multiplicity of thought is truly a challenge. At first the students apply the questions in a teasing manner to math and science, but then they see it works and especially in math text questions they find they understand the problem more readily.

  3. Stephanie Greene says:

    Whenever I prepare for a lesson, I provide myself with a script ahead of time so that I am really sure of how I want to present the material. I don’t always stick to the script but it provides a structure for me. I love that the VTS provides a constant script to allow me to guide discovery instead of lecture and/or lead the discussion. When paraphrasing the student response, I am worried that instead of paraphrasing, I will put my own spin/perception of what the responder means instead of really paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is a skill that I tea

    • Stephanie Greene says:

      Oops. As I was saying…paraphrasing is a difficult skill to teach and one I teach during our research projects in the media center.
      What I really like about having the preset VTS questions is that I don’t have to come up with follow up questions…I can focus on and give my full attention to the response of the student and with practice I know the paraphrasing will become more natural.

      I think this approach will give the students more confidence when participating because they will not feel that the comment is right or wrong. They will get used to making observations, stating their opinions, and supporting their answers from the context. I believe this will translate into their writing in other classes.

      I also feel that providing a nonjudgmental and safe environment will create a stronger bond between me and the students which will then translate into managing behavior. Not only that, I am hoping they will have even more “faith” in my book suggestions during book check out because they will think I am really listening to their wants and needs.

      • Kathleen Anderson says:

        I know from experience that what you are saying is true. It does create a stronger bond and students who trust you in other ways. It’s an admirable goal and I know you will be successful!

      • Denise says:

        The paraphrasing is the hardest part for me too – but you will get better as you practice with your students. I would also find myself paraphrasing them when they would tell me about THEIR art!

  4. Daniela Shumate says:

    At first, paraphrasing may be challenging. With practice, it truly becomes liberating for all involved. The teacher will really listen to his/her student. In turn, the student is validated. All students,in this process, find their voice. They are creative. They are artists!

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      It truly is a liberating experience for both teacher and students. And, it is so great to see the confidence building in students through the process.

  5. Using the VTS questions and paraphrasing will present my students with something rare- the opportunity to be heard and have their comments valued just as much as everyone else’s.

    Too often it feels as if many people who appear to be participating in a conversation are really just waiting for their turn to enlighten others with their own brand of truth. They hear us, but don’t actually listen to or understand what is being said. Paraphrasing is a very effective way to make sure that students know they are being understood correctly and that their observations are valid.

    Like Katie said, it will be tough not to react enthusiastically in unequal measures. Another challenge for me will to step back from prompting students with leading questions in order to get the answer that I think is most appropriate. It will take a lot of self-restraint to make a habit of omitting my own knowledge and opinions during VTS conversations.

  6. Karen says:

    I think one reason paraphrasing is difficult is because you’re multitasking several skills. You’re listening closely to the speaker, interpreting what is being said, locating the appropriate place on the painting, making connections with previous observations, and looking for the next person who would like to comment. Whew! Definitely doable, but practice will make it more comfortable I’m sure.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      It truly does get easier and what’s wonderful is eventually the students want to be the leader which is a delight!

  7. Stephanie Greene says:

    I guess I do have one concern about my new-comers (coming from Latin countries, of which I have 2-3 in each class at each grade level PreK-5. I already have a difficult time relating my media lessons to their limited experiences and they certainly don’t understand me when I give directions and explanations. I worry that I won’t understand them as they try to express their thoughts or they won’t understand me as I paraphrase their responses. I’m just wondering if there is a way to encourage them and give them confidence while using a language that they don’t understand. Is this something that I can do? Are there are any suggestions for including them in the discussion especially when they won’t volunteer?

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      Stephanie – you need to bring this up to Deborah and the class. I believe more people will have this issue. Deborah has great ideas to get students to participate. Sometimes you may have to push a little…please bring this up!

    • Denise says:

      I think that listening to you and the other students speak will build their language skills, especially if you paraphrase slowly and deliberately. Also, it may help if you use a pointer and accent the part of the art you are talking about, and have the ELL students paraphrase the word in their language.

  8. Ellen Rosenthal says:

    I agree with many of the the other responses; paraphrasing is a valuable tool in discussing an artwork with students, but it is not an easy thing to do! I think we all discovered that in the galleries today. I have used VTS in my classroom on occasion (more so in the past, and it is great to see VTS again), and I learned today that I could still improve in the technique. Practice, practice practice! One of my goals in my classroom will be to use VTS this year on a more regular basis–good for me and the students.

    I think one of the personal challenges is wanting to add something to the students’ comments, and to somehow direct the students to something I want them to see. There is definitely a loss of control in the process, students can and will surprise you in many ways.

    But giving everyone a validation of what they say through paraphrasing, and ensuring that everyone hears the comments, will create an environment where everyone will feel safe and willing to contribute. I think it also forces everyone to listen better (did the teacher get what the other student said right?) and creates an environment where listening and respecting other peoples comments is important.

    I also think it can help the teacher in her or his listening skills also. Sometimes I have the tendency to want to get through a discussion– often because of time constraints–and get to the art making part of the lesson. I’m thinking VTS, in short snippets of 15-20 minutes built into the lesson plan will help me and the students slow down and “smell the art.”

    Balancing the art talk with the art making part is always a challenge for me in the classroom. I love talking about art, and I hope that using VTS will get my students more excited about talking about art themselves.

  9. Rachel Blumenthal says:

    Paraphrasing allows us to become better listeners who are more attuned to the people around us. We pay more attention to what people are saying and we don’t just hear the responses of others, but we internalize them. Using this process with students helps them to take into account the perspective of others. I also think that a certain amount of routine can begin to develop, and after a while it becomes second nature.

    Some personal challenges would be making sure you actually heard what the speaker said and interpreted it correctly, making sure you don’t project your thoughts or opinions on the speaker’s and being aware of the fact that you need to vary your vocabulary so that your paraphrasing introduces new words to your audience.

    My question from today has to do with how other people come up with their ideas for sculpture. I was a blank slate and my “hat” was very basic and rudimentary. I came up with ideas from suggestions and from glancing around the room, but I was not very creative in making my paper hat jump out. For those with more intricate designs, how do you do it? Do you see it in your mind first, or do you add things as you go along?

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      I think looking around is a great idea. It’s hard to think of ideas and I’ve questioned art people for years! Ask Denise tomorrow.

  10. viviana scott says:

    By using VTS in the art classroom, students are able to respond to art without judgement because, essentially, there is no wrong answer. This allows the person responding to not feel pressured. Students are able to state what they feel is taking place in a work of art just as long as they have “proof” for they’re thinking. This is something that applies in core subjects. VTS allows students to think critically and the facilitator is there paraphrasing and providing higher level vocabulary.

    What I would find challenging in paraphrasing is that you really have to actively listen. You can’t simply nod your head and agree, you must actively listen and in a sense, restate and clarify what has been said.

  11. hadley says:

    Paraphrasing can help keep all in the present and can help students who have “left” the discussion chime back in. Working on listening skills, giving all students the chance to share their thoughts about the art and learning that there are no wrong answers will be a challenge for all in the beginning. Biggest challenge I see in the paraphrasing is remembering all they said -while having to sometimes stop or redirect a behavioral issue that takes the focus away from the art being discussed.

    If this line of questioning about art will open the door for one student to be an active learner and accept art on a new level it is a welcomed challenge to learn new ways to discuss what , how one sees the art before them.

  12. In the classroom, I believe from paraphrasing during VTS, not only am I as an educator listening closely to student responses, but the class as a whole is hearing the perspective of a classroom, and then having it simplified into easy to comprehend terms. By using these questions in the classroom, my students will gain a sense of trust and ownership within a group of students. The VTS allows educators to honor and neutralize student responses, so there is no right or wrong answer. It allows all students an equal opportunity to observe, comprehend and reply to artwork, and bounce ideas off of their classmates. With paraphrasing, I anticipate that in the classroom, I may misinterpret a student’s response, or get mixed up, so we should try to be mindful of what students are saying and how we are going to paraphrase the statement.

    • Kathleen Anderson says:

      VTS does require mindfulness and the rewards of that are students who feel respected and confident. Have fun with it!

  13. Kay B. says:

    I agree with previous posts. The freedom of students having a voice in a non-judgmental forum is wonderful. In math class, students are conditioned there is only one right answer. VTS will be a wonderful technique to facilitate a classroom discussion on “what’s going on in the picture” showing students a wide variety of thought and ideas. This will create a classroom environment that hopefully encourage students to then share their mathematical thoughts. For me, paraphrasing will be a little challenging because I have trouble processing information auditorally. I will have to practice concentrating on what students say.

  14. Betsy Kreutzberg says:


  15. Betsy Kreutzberg says:

    For my high school students I believe they will begin to remember how to look at a picture as they used to when younger— looking beyond the first 2 details and flying on
    to do something else. I believe very close observation of art — paintings or sculpture or (in my classes) a library assistant problem will benefit my
    students by working to create a longer attention span. I hope they will learn the skills of conversing, listening to others, responding to what others say and thoughtfully considering and responding.

    I was able today to use the three questions of VTS in the gallery. Only, one of my challenges was that I had more like 6 questions— couldn’t keep me
    out of what should have been a conversation amongst the other teachers in the group. Concentrating on actively listening, carefully pointing to items in the painting, and keeping watch on the other group members’ reactions, was challenging for me. Each period of the school day in the Library, I am in charge of teaching my classes, keeping an eye on the wide open spaces with perhaps
    students coming in to work or to fool around, for answering any questions, for answering the phone, etc, etc. so my challenge will be focus— mine first and
    my students who are certainly distracted by all the activity and conversations. My question is: How to juggle all the busy day to day library details and still share art, art books, creative projects? And educate the Principals and staff to the importance of students creating art and books in the “All students will raise their test scores by xxx % this year!”

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