Teachers Connect
Jul 16, 2013

Institute 1: Visual Thinking Strategies

Many comments have been made about VTS.  Many teachers in the past have said they were skeptical when they first began using the three questions – most believed their students would have very little to say.  It turned out the opposite was true!  Students had a lot to say and their observations were imaginative, astute and often times brought a whole new level of thinking in viewing art.   What will be your challenges in using the method to view art?

How might you use this method of questioning in other subject areas?

16 Responses to Institute 1: Visual Thinking Strategies

  1. lisa says:

    I have used VTS in the past. It is a very useful tool for facilitating students thinking about art works as well as other visual media. It is essential that teachers do not make their own opinions known and instead paraphrase and clarify the thoughts of students. It is also valuable to have someone scribe student responses if more than one class is being facilitated. In this way, students in each class can compare thoughts and perceptions. Summarizing information given by the students is also important to validate ideas. Another essential challenge of the facilitator is to remain neutral and allow time for viewing before responses are made. Another useful tool is to develop a community of critical thinkers and inquiry learners who are respectful, courageous risk takers, using the 5 second rule when responding to, or commenting on a piece rather than raising hands. At times, hand raising can encourage some students to focus on their own contributions and not listen to the contributions of others.

  2. Sonia says:

    I forsee two challenges: for one when paraphrasing, I need to make sure that I am not interpreting nor adding words to what was said, but simply rephrasing someone else’s thoughts/observations. Two: remaining neutral, in other words my job is to collect thoughts from students, not chiming in so not to guide the discussion one way or the other.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Because VTS is similar to parts of Shared Inquiry from Great Books, I immediately see its value and relevance to reading comprehension. I can see it as helping students observe art and then helping them frame their comprehension of text. It is so similar to look for evidence in a painting with looking for evidence in a text. I loved it.

    The most challenging piece would be the paraphrasing. It appears that through this activity by the facilitating appropriate language and vocabulary is introduced to students. In addition, it’s hard to just listen and stop teaching!!!

  4. Lisa H. says:

    I love VTS! It gives teachers exact words to lead a confident discussion and the children are trusted enough to share their observations. And those observations are valued! What a gift! A gift to the students and the teachers.

    This reminds me of “Great Books” discussions with children interpreting literature. The children are empowered and create an interpretive question in response to literature. Then they call on the students to answer that question. I feel like I am on the Oprah Winfrey show!

    I think that this could translate to VTS. After awhile of using this strategy, I believe the children may be able to learn the rules of leading a discussion. The children can have turns in observing art, maybe even art from the classroom. Just another way to empower them and build confidence!

    • Kathleen Anderson says:


      This happened in one classroom of special education students. The began to embody the strategy and when we took them to the museum, they questioned each other and led the discussion without us asking them to do so. I became a very natural thing for them to do!


  5. Sharon Clipper says:

    Unquestionably, VTS will complement the curriculum that I currently utilize in my dual-language, Head Start program “Tools of the Mind”. Lev Vygotsky developed this theory that the curriculum is based on-
    constructivist. VTS revolves around developing higher order/critical thinking skills. The challenge will be to ensure that my use of “best practices” in teaching young children in a dual-language setting – continues to be “intentional”. Additionally, to provide opportunities for children to fully engage in the “process” of learning. To re-iterate, VTS will certainly provide this challenge (for the teacher), and joyful learning experiences for the children!

  6. Lila says:

    I like having the controlled questions so that I can go back to VTS research and see if the findings are similar, and if not what could be the reason. Also because it is scripted, it helps teachers to stay focused to the task of listening to the children because you are not thinking of your next questions, you are thinking about what has been said and how to reiterate for clarity and affirmation. I am excited to see how this works in my classroom as we explore works of art this year. The challenge of course is to not get in the way of the children’s work of thinking deeper. Also I am trying to figure out the time necessary for a successful presentation, and where would that fit into the schedule.

  7. Michelle says:

    I think the challenge will be getting students used to the VTS process. Many of my students like to look at and comment on art. But now, they will have to probe. They will have to listen to one another comments.
    I expect the VTS to make the art viewing experience more enriching.

  8. Grace says:

    I think that the VTS strategies are are great way to have kids begin conversations about art. It is a non-threatening, child friendly approach that can help kids feel comfortable expressing their opinions about what they are experiencing visually. That being said I feel that the strategy leaves me wanting more. At the end of each group discussion today I still wanted my questions answered about the artworks. It seems that is possible to accept everyone’s ideas and opinions and validate them but also provide some factual information. As an art teacher I think knowing an artist’s motivation, experience, and references only enriches the viewers perspectives. When I lead discussions about artworks (before beginning a new unit/project) there are aspects of that work that I want my students to internalize and to discover ways to use that information as motivation for their own work. If students don’t pick up on the things I want them to understand then my questioning can lead them there. I use Feldman’s questioning strategies (description, analysis, interpretation, and judgement) to lead discussions with my students. Aspects of this are similar to VTS with lots of room for student interpretation of works. I think it would be interesting to try both techniques this coming year with different classes in the same grade level and compare the results.

  9. Zenola Jacobs says:

    It would be challenging for me to use VTS because my students have a limited fund of knowledge when it comes to art.

    I would use the VTS questions in a way that would make the students feel more confident in their knowledge of art.

  10. Talia says:

    VTS is wonderful and is so similar to the technique we used in my interpersonal communication course. What was a challenge for me in the course, as it is with VTS, is not inserting myself (ideas and opinions) into a session that was intended to allow me to listen and understand another’s view point. I will need to work on my ability to synthesize, summarize, and clarify how others feel and think. I need to work on actually hearing what is being said without my regular filter and impulsiveness.

    This is a good technique that could be used in reading, language arts and history courses as well. There will be many differing opinions on different books and events. It is important that the students get a chance to express their thoughts verbally in class and learn how to listen to others’ ideas. This will help them own and better retain the material being taught.

  11. Norva Madden says:

    As an art teacher I discuss works of art regularly with my classes. I find great value in the questions VTS uses to expand the thinking of students. Introducing more writing in my classes is a goal for my students this year. VTS is giving me strategies to open discussion leading to better written responses.

    Listening and paraphrasing will be my biggest challenge while facilitating. Our museum practice visit today helped me to recognize ways to improve my classroom presentations.

  12. Beverly says:

    The only challenge that I might have it using the three questions of VTS. I have been using a similiar technique to get students involved in talking about their artwork and also a selected artwork. The thing that I would have to work on is being comfortable with the three questions so that there is a flow without hestitation. The paraphrasing comes easy to me. This is an important part of VTS that I really feel enhances the learning process for the kids. They learn that what they has contributed has validation and it tells them that the teacher understands what they were saying. The only thing that I would add VTS is to make a postive statement after each students response to let them know that I as their teacher respects what they contributed and know thay they did a great job. Naturally, each positive comment from me would be different, but each student will gain a sense of pride knowing that I was pleased with their responses. With middle schools students, I believe and have found out that the majority of the students need a foundation of information available to them as a guide to the many ways to approach questions about an art work This is a lesson in itself. I have found by doing this, students who have been unsure of speaking use this guide in the beginning to speak and later do not need the guide because their confidence level has been raised.

    Almost all of my visual arts lessons contain another discipline. When looking at a History lesson – Jamestown – the three questions can be posed for the laws made druing that period, the architecture, clothing, and occupations. I see no problem in using this method with a non visual arts subject.

  13. Michelle says:

    Although there is obviously a lot of fine tuning that can be done with the paraphrasing, my biggest challenge will be time. I work in a school that is very strict about our schedule. For example, our whole group lesson in reading is supposed to not exceed 15-20 minutes. Finding the time to have a well-developed student based lesson is sometimes difficult, despite all the positive research and anecdotal evidence.

    I think that VTS can be used in literacy activities (analyzing book covers, illustrations, character traits, etc) and social studies (showing a picture of a scene in a community or in history).

    The questioning strategies of asking students to reason out and show evidence for what they see and think is something that I think I have always used naturally in most subjects.

    I like the idea of transferring this reasoning to paper pencil activities at times (at least for the beginning of the year and end of the year writing samples) to give students a way to show how they have grown both as writers and as thinkers.

  14. Monica says:

    VTS is going to work very well with my kindergarten and first graders because a major part of their library class is story time so before I begin reading, I will spend extra time having students look at and discuss the cover of the picture book I will be reading. That said, a challenge will be time — I need to be sure I don’t rush through the VTS process in the interests of my limited class time.
    My second challenge will be finding a way to utilize VTS beyond picture books, especially with the older grades, since they spend their library time engaged in library tasks such as research.

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