Teachers Connect
Jul 10, 2018

VTS and Teaching

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)?

50 Responses to VTS and Teaching

  1. Camila Salvatierra-Sinn says:

    My biggest take away from VTS to take into the classroom is the fact that my students will be able to acknowledge and describe how they personally see artist’s stylistic intent, which is something that I have urged my 6-8th grade students to own in their art works. I believe that if students can see what artist’s have created through their stylistic intent, my students can acknowledge and grow their own style instead of trying to re-create what others have done. They will begin to become more empowered through their art making and starting to develop their own style!

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      Yes, VTS will provide students with opportunities to discuss the content of an artwork AND the process used to create it. In order to create good art, I think you have to view (and analyze) good art. Nice job.

    • Virginia Bute-Riley says:

      I think that students might especially get the point about stylistic intent if they use the VTS protocol to view artworks with similar themes but by different artists with different styles and different points of view (in different VTS sessions).

  2. Liz says:

    I feel like my teaching will change for the better if i adopt VTS. It will help students cognitively and socially. Not only will it help students think more deeply and creatively, it will also foster more active and respectful listening.
    The VTS approach might transform my students’ experiences and attitudes for the better. I believe by looking at different pictures of people and places, they will be able to appreciate other perspectives and ideas. Maybe these VTS’s will help build background knowledge for different groups of immigrants and emigrants. VTS’s will support close reading of disciplinary texts because they will have something to use for schema. When they look at a photograph of Asian immigrants detained at Angel Island, for example and got through a VST like the one we have been learning, they will have made some inferences based on what they see and the text they read (Angel Island by Russel Freeman, for example) will solidify what they saw and discussed verbally during that VTS. I can also see how the VTS can lay the foundation for a problem solving challenge in math by asking what’s going on here, what did I see that makes me say that? What more can I say. It can be an effective way to approach many written texts.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      It’s interesting to consider how disciplines influence and guide each other. Examining a historical event from a visual and written perspective is powerful and will certain capture your students’ interests. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jen Clontz says:

    I teach instrumental music, both band and orchestra. Students are expected to perform a variety of repertoire, appropriate to their grade/ability level. I could see VTS being adopted as a means of introducing a new piece of music to my students. Students could use their ears instead of their eyes to discern “what’s going on in the piece”. However, by listening, we would be at a slight disadvantage in that you only get one opportunity to absorb the piece. The music goes by at a specific tempo, without hesitation. I suppose I could repeat a given section several times, but some students may need more than that. Once absorbed in the piece, students could gain an even greater understanding of the composer’s intent, which would enable them to give a more meaningful performance. By using our sheet music or “text” during the VTS process, students might have a better understanding of the piece of music without direct instruction on my part. With a bit of tweaking, I can see this being a valuable tool in introducing new music to my students.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I’m glad I had a chance to visit with you about how you might adapt VTS to meet the unique needs of your content area. I also thought about sight-reading. I’m sure you have students scan and look for potential difficult sections, etc. VTS may help students hone their skills and give them more confidence during sight-reading sessions.

    • Louise Snyder says:

      Jen – Using sheet music to support the VTS routine with your students makes great sense! It will allow them to see as well as hear.

  4. Kay Hones says:

    VTS has some interesting components. I am trying to visualize it in conjunction with both historical thinking & with analyzing primary sources. I think VTS May be an introductory strategy leading to more in-depth research using primary sources. Still thinking this through..📚🙀

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I agree, VTS requires some pondering. If you want, we can talk at the workshop. As a librarian, VTS might be a powerful resource.

  5. Sophie says:

    I enjoyed practicing VTS today because it reminded me that learning is social. I learned from my peers- from their ideas, their responses to questioning, and the ways we agreed or didn’t. I am excited to make this a regular format of discussion with my kindergarteners. My primary mission as a teacher, more than mastery of any content, is for my students to love coming to school. I want them to feel like they own their classroom. Even by the time they arrive in kindergarten, I notice kids are trained to look to the teacher for the absolute last word, or when giving an answer they look right at me. I want to interrupt that habit as soon as possible. VTS supports that by making students’ own voices and perspectives the loudest. They will depend on each other to build narratives and make meaning, and to do that they will need many other speaking and listening skills that we work on in K: eye contact, showing interest and empathy, taking turns, speaking at an appropriate volume, making connections, using complete sentences, making claims and supporting with evidence.

    It would also support my teaching because I am constantly striving to limit my own words in the classroom and only say what is necessary, for both clarity and for sharing power. Focusing on the three specific phrases will help me be mindful of my role in the conversation and will help me zero in on what students are saying and what it reveals about their levels of understanding.

    In my classroom VTS can support close reading activities as students build the skill of supporting claims with evidence. It also can serve to introduce the concept of authorship, which is sometimes hard for young kids to conceptualize as they are still learning that there are perspectives besides their own.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      Yes! I think that the biggest mistake teachers make is to talk too much (myself included). When teachers talk, students aren’t…and their the ones who need to develop oral language skills. BTW, the idea that that teacher is always rights begins in early childhood and persists throughout a student’s educational life! And finally, you’re right…young students aren’t insightful or empathetic; it’s hard for them to consider other points-of-view. VTS would help to develop these perspectives.

  6. Deborah Rice says:

    I don’t think implementing VTS would challenge my instructional practices, because it is similar to critical historical thinking skills that I have incorporated into my teaching for the last decade. The difference is that with HTS you focus on what you see before you think about what is going on in a document. VTS could be utilized to analyze primary sources, both visual and written, in social studies, when introducing a new math skill, in experiments or examining objects in science. Any time that you want your students to observe an object, whether it be a piece of art, a newspaper article, an object, or a process, you could use VTS to focus the student discussion.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I’m not familiar with historical thinking skills (it’s now on my to-do list) but it sounds as if the two protocols are complementary. I have incorporated VTS into instruction over written texts. Some times, my students offer insights that are new to me! To that end, it seems that you might incorporate VTS seamlessly into your instruction routines.

    • Kay Hones says:

      I am wondering if after learning VTS if older students could lead VTS with younger buddies?

  7. Natasha Thompson says:

    For me, it will be a challenge to accept that there is no one correct answer. To leave the meaning open to interpretation, and allow students’ interests to guide the discussion. For my students, VTS will allow them to have a discussion without fear of judgment and develop a comfort level in using analytical and critical skills.
    Lastly, I could imagine students being more engaged in the process of close reading and more comfortable with their roles in the process. I would hope they could appreciate the value of repeated exposure (but that might be asking for too much).

    • Keith Pieschek says:

      Natasha, how did it feel today when leading VTS in the gallery? As a listener in the gallery today, I sometimes disagreed or thought that maybe the person’s thought on the picture was ‘wrong’ – aka not how I imagined it. However, I had to remind myself that neither of us really knew a correct answer – we were just using what we see to come up with ideas. This may also come down to choosing something from your content that isn’t necessarily just right or wrong but gives students a chance just to say what they think and see. Also, I’m reminded of something said in the gallery that as the facilitator we use words like “you’re saying this MIGHT be…” that do not confirm or deny what the speaker said. Also, with the open discussion, other students have the opportunity to tell if they disagreed.

    • Liz says:

      I know what you mean about repeated exposure to a text. That process of slowing down and revisiting or rereading something benefits everyone. But, sometimes it seems like my students just like to be done. They read something and that’s that. This VTS will hopefully translate to students asking themselves, “is there anything more I can see or say or think or write?” whether they are thinking about a poem, writing a response to literature, fleshing out a character or looking at a picture.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I had my doubts, too. But I realized that in my case, I was underestimating students and their background knowledge. Boy, was I surprised! Of course, not all VTS sessions are perfect, but over time, students learn the routine and their observations become connected to the visual text. In my district, teachers can only reach ‘exemplary’ status if learning contexts are (often) student-led. This may not be your case, but if it is, VTS would fit perfectly with this expectation.

  8. Caryn Michael says:

    I could implement VTS in my classroom during gallery walks and art critiques. Using vts could support my students with more self relient observation and deeper thought as well as collaborative interpersonal connections. Just like reading an art work- Saying what is going on, discribing the evidence and what more can be found.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      VTS would encourage self-reliance. Are there other areas of your curriculum that would benefit from the protocol?

    • Virginia Bute-Riley says:

      Using VTS to critique student work is an interesting idea. It seems like it would work. I wonder what the experts would say about this.

  9. Louise Snyder says:

    One aspect of VTS that I think will challenge me is encouraging my students by simply paraphrasing rather than complimenting. While I have tried to make compliments concrete and specific, I see the value in not evaluating by compliment. I am excited to see how my students will respond–and how the conversations will change. My hope is that students will be bold and creative in their observations and inferences.
    For close reading in core subject areas, the VTS thinking routine will be particularly useful in developing and refining the practice of returning to the text: What more can we find? Of course, it is often after multiple reads of a single text that the most profound and meaningful interpretations emerge. Positively encouraging students to reread is one of the toughest but most worthy activities in teaching. Thanks for another tool in this endeavor!

    • Natasha Thompson says:

      Louise, I definitely agree that this will be difficult. We are so accustomed to providing students with positive and specific feedback, that just simply paraphrasing will be a challenge.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I think I posted this comment in the wrong place (oh, well). But here it is again! I’m a complimenter, too. I think when the VTS session is over, that it’s acceptable to compliment students on their observations, use of academic language, etc. Addie may shed more insights on this topic. Thanks for your comments!

  10. Harlan Kinzer says:

    VTS allows learning to be more student-centered. The teacher becomes a facilitator as opposed to the expert. With the emphasis in recent years for the “I do, we do, you do” model of instruction, VTS mixes up that fixed conception of instruction and emphasizes student involvement and the building on the ideas of others. VTS reinforces my school’s focus on accountable talk and adds a more exciting alternative to turn and talks or think, pair, shares.

    VTS requires students to view the contributions of all of their peers as valid. It helps to eliminate the labeling of one another such as the “smart” kid or the “shy” kid” It also evenly divides accountability and the workload. Furthermore, the “outgoing” student is not dominating discussions and the “smart” kid is not doing all the work. VTS also allows all students to feel valued and a part of the classroom dynamic.

    VTS supports ELA by requiring a deep analysis, the use of academic language and vocabulary, multiple “reads” of a work, fine tuning of ideas, revision of previous conceptions and statements, engaging in speaking and listening, and collaboration with peers.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      I agree. I forgot to mention how VTS supports oral language development! That’s a huge issue in NM; our students (yours, too) need opportunities to discuss with a teacher carefully scaffolding academic language. Nice job.

    • Rachel says:

      I really like your point about how all students’ feedback is valid. I think this is so huge for students who are grappling with things always being right or wrong. This provides a chance for students to learn how there can be multiple perspectives on specific item/scenario.

    • Sonya Braddock says:

      You have noted many compelling reasons why VTS would be beneficial for students. I’m glad that you included speaking and listening since these areas may not get as much time/practice/ attention. It’s also evident that this practice complements other current educational techniques.

  11. Keith Pieschek says:

    Our county focuses on Framework for Teachers (FfT), a way of teaching that focuses on the teacher as more of a facilitator. The students take more responsibility for the learning. I can see myself using VTS as a tool to help more better transition my teaching into this type of classroom. Very often I am explaining the concepts and information to students without first giving them the opportunity to talk about the information and what it means and how we might use it. In using VTS, the students take the responsibility on themselves by doing their own thinking and by listening and thinking about ideas from their peers. The concept of paraphrasing students’ responses I do believe will transform my students’ understanding of the texts or concepts we are studying, but I can already image how it will improve their confidence. In the gallery practicing VTS today, I felt and heard how others around me felt affirmed when the teacher paraphrased our thoughts and sometimes connected our thoughts to something someone else had said. I can see how this build a better connection with students and our classroom culture of learning. In my R/ELA classroom, VTS can be utilized with a short passage of a text that may have a focus on point of view, figurative language, mood or tone, conflict, or author’s purpose. Rather than me telling students what to look for and prompt students to explain why the author used a word choice, students will do that themselves as I facilitate with the three VTS questions.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      VTS fits the teacher-as-facilitator (student-led) classroom. And since students are engaged, their interest levels will soar! Also, over time, their oral language development will improve as will their ability to frame responses that are easily paraphrased. It won’t happen overnight, but with persistence, student-learning will be positively impacted.

    • Peju Okungbowa says:

      I can relate with this, Keith. I’m also learning to play the role of a facilitator in my classroom and I think VTS will keep me in check too.

      All the best.

  12. Megan Leong says:

    Our science and math curriculums are inquiry based and of course there is a right or wrong answer in the end. VTS gives students a chance to practice observation in a very safe environment and teach students how to dialogue about ideas in a respectful way. I think these skills could greatly contribute to a students toolbox and what they can get out of inquiry-based science and math work.
    Additionally, incorporating a routine of VTS in the classroom can expose kids to science and math ideas decoupled from the intimidating academic expectations they face and lead to more engagement. Once students have learned the techniques, the questioning cycle could also help students use evidence from the text (what did you read to make you say that?) to support students’ conclusions.

    • Liz says:

      I agree that the VTS are an effective way to practice observation and respectful listening. It’s similar to the math talks we have in our classroom. Students share strategies and how they found an answer. It’s a lot of the same active listening, paraphrasing by the teacher and asking for other strategies people used.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      In the end, all disciplines have right/wrong answers. VTS would provide important insights into how your students are processing information–their understanding of algorithms, etc. Addie will be able to help with adaptations (or suggestions) that will help you navigate tricky situations. Nice job.

  13. Virginia Bute-Riley says:

    I do plan to adopt VTS. I look forward to using strategies that help me move from taking up too much “air-time” in the classroom and having students be the dominant voice. Right now student led-discussions are something I find difficult to initiate and/or sustain.
    It’s amazing to think that if I can find an appropriate image to present, I can use the same 3 questions every time. The explanation of how to facilitate VTS is clear and the research is encouraging.

    I see the VTS approach transforming quieter students’ attitudes toward participation. The idea that every observation is valid and valuable should provide confidence to ESOL students and students who are afraid of being wrong. Coincidentally the VTS approach goes hand in hand with what I’ve just read in Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter Faster Better, about teamwork. VTS strategies support having a safe environment for ideas and having every voice heard–2 paramount ideas for successful teamwork, and easily equated to the classroom.

    VTS could support close reading of primary source material in social studies. Those 3 questions could be posed with the text in order to get students to make inferences and draw conclusions about what they are reading.

  14. Rachel Awkward says:

    Today when practicing VTS, I was struck by how much I had to bite my tongue! I love the structure of the three questions for VTS and I love how you can choose when to use the questions throughout a discussion about a piece of art. Although I like this, I found that it was also very different from my style as a teacher. In my practice, I’ve grown accustomed to asking many follow-up questions to probe my students’ thinking. During discussions, I take on the role of instructor rather than facilitator and seek every available opportunity to impart knowledge or to support students in making connections. If I adopt the VTS approach, my teaching practice would change to allow my students to guide the discussion more than I currently allow them to. It would allow for my teaching to be more inquiry-based rather than me being a primary source of information. I think the VTS approach would transform my students’ experiences and attitudes by allowing them to have more opportunities to form opinions of their own. I think this will also help to them find their own voices and creativity. Furthermore, I think this practice would positively transfer into other academic areas, especially writing. It would create an environment where students can more freely contribute ideas with less fear of having an incorrect answer. It would potentially creative an environment for students to be comfortable taking risks in group discussions. I think VTS can support close readings of interdisciplinary texts by encouraging students to identify textual evidence for conclusions they have come to and to also re-read and revisit texts to glean new information.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      Your post echos a familiar refrain: VTS encourages student-talk and positions the teacher as a facilitator. That’s powerful! Students need opportunities to voice observations and defend their stances. VTS provides this practice in a low-risk environment…removing the fear of an incorrect response is huge! Nice job.

  15. Timothy Herzet says:

    One of the biggest challenges with using VTS in my classroom would be developing questions without leading the students towards what I want them to see versus what they see in the piece. Different people react and see different things in a piece of art. This is important to remember as I am constantly trying to get particular answers from the students (primarily because I have built the remainder of the lesson around the answer in most cases), even though there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. Using VTS can challenge both myself and my students to move away from black and white answers and consider additional perspectives and answers.
    I am currently working at a Special Education School where students have a hard time processing language. Although I think a more abstract line of questioning would be difficult for some of my more literal students, I do think that VTS would benefit my students in a positive way by encouraging teachers to embrace wait time throughout the discussion to allow the students time to formulate their thoughts and come to their own opinions. This in turn, would contribute to more meaningful discussions not in just art but other subjects being taught in the school.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      It sounds like your students would benefit from the VTS protocol…especially those who are struggling with language processing and/or oral language development. And while black and white answers have their place in the curriculum, this is one space where students might voice an opinion. While your background knowledge is broad, your students might come up with something that hasn’t occurred to you. Finally, during your debriefing, you can offer the information that the students may have missed.

  16. Sonya Braddock says:

    The implementation of VTS would impact my teaching practice by providing tools for me to serve as a facilitator, while students discover evidence-based content through conversations. The process is accessible to all students. I am certain that the VTS process would enrich my students’ academic experiences in a variety of ways. My students would follow a familiar model for observing information and utilizing their observations participate in discussions in an effort to gain understanding. Students might also feel that their ideas are validated during the VTS process; and therefore the students may become invested in the strategies. Students participating in VTS would likely increase their academic vocabulary and these strategies can support development across all content areas and socially. VTS supports close reading by holding students accountable for identifying evidence to support their observations. The process also provides opportunities for students to review information several times in order to gain understanding.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      The phrase that stuck out was students…feel that their ideas are validated…and may become invested in the strategies. When students feel validated, they’re willing to take risks and participate fully in the instructional event. And I agree, VTS definitely supports disciplinary language development.

  17. Laura Kolhoff says:

    I think the challenge for me in adopting VTS will be in not trying to lead students to the conclusion that I want. I recognize how important it is for students to learn how to have a discussion and follow their own thoughts, but I am certainly used to asking follow-up questions to guide the discussion. I think using the VTS method will give students the opportunity to feel more ownership of their learning and more confidence in their abilities to gather meaning on their own. I plan to use VTS in ELA to help students learn how to use illustrations to help them decode and understand the story. I also think it could be useful when learning about main idea and key details. Additionally, I would love to use VTS when teaching science, especially when students learn about habitats and food chains. By displaying a photograph and having students explore it through the VTS framework, they can use critical thinking skills to deeply understand what they see.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      Well, hopefully, your students will head in the right direction! It IS hard to stay neutral; I think I’d be tempted to interject (my opinions), too! I think VTS fits perfectly into science. I’ve thought about creating a word list during the VTS session. It seems like the perfect time to address academic (disciplinary) language.

  18. Payal Arora says:

    For my students the fact that there are no correct or incorrect answers would encourage self-confidence and a willingness to participate in evidential reasoning and speculative thinking.
    The facilitated discussions would enable them to practice respectful, democratic, collaborative problem solving skills that with time would hopefully transfer to other classroom interactions to promote positive social experiences. This is key to their learning especially since most of them have difficulties with social emotional regulation.
    These strategies would also help my students open their minds to the fact that, even in the area of reading, people can tend to have different impressions and thoughts and these differences are acceptable. Since the students would have discussed the images, shared their ideas in words, the vocabulary would be readily available to them, making the task of beginning to write easier to attempt. Students would also be empowered by being able to choose the images about which they write. The strategies would be useful across disciplines because Visual Thinking Strategies does not teach what to think, instead it supports the discoveries students make when they are provided with opportunities to think in a variety of ways. Both Visual Thinking Strategies as well as Close reading analyze complex visual text, utilize text-dependent questioning, call for repeated readings of a text and require textual evidence finding to justify their claims. Example: Using VTS as a pre-reading activity by choosing images from literacy textbook and focusing on story elements such as the setting of the story.

    • Rosemary Fessinger says:

      Removal of right/wrong answers does lower the affective filter (the fear of being wrong). Students are more willing to take risks if their responses are accepted. And I agree, VTS could be used as a pre-reading activity…it goes hand-in-hand with a picture-walk!

  19. Peju Okungbowa says:

    I think implementing VTS in my classroom will reduce my tendency to dominate conversations and interrupt my students when I think they are not making sense. It will promote active listening, respect, open mindedness and critical thnking in my classroom. At my school we use the Interrnational Baccalaureate program and VTS will be a useful provocation tool to engage students at the start of a unt. It will also be a useful assessment tool at the end of a unit, to compare prior knowledge with what was learned.
    The second question in the routine – ‘what makes you say that’, is an essential question that can be asked when students are solving word problems in math. It will help students to understand that the process is as important as the final answer. VTS will also be useful in helping students deconstruct a reading passage and draw inferences and evidences from the text.

  20. Rosemary Fessinger says:

    Teachers DO dominate conversations…it’s not just you! And I agree, VTS will encourage students to take lead of the conversation; VTS supports oral language development! The ‘what do you see that makes you say that’ supports citing evidence…an area in which students need lots of practice!

  21. Dara Case says:

    For some reason I thought I posted this. No worries. I will say that I am going to have to move teachers to embrace the ambiguity of VTS. I also will have to keep my “WHY” very front and center or I will not get the buy in that is very crucial in making VTS part of the culture at my school. However, it gets at the very core of our “learner centered problem” as identified by our teachers- students are not successful at citing their evidence while writing. VTS supports students doing this in a developmentally appropriate way, as first students learn to TALK about it (just as babies do), and as their understanding grows, they can write about it.

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