Looking Deeper: Visual Thinking Strategies

VisualThinking

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the story of every piece of artwork is in the imagination of the viewer. Teachers practicing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) can use selected works to get a better understanding of what their students are thinking while simultaneously building students’ critical thinking and observational skills. VTS is a method of inquiry that asks students to observe and comment on a work of art. VTS is an offshoot of Abigail Housen’s (1999) work on aesthetic development. Although her original research was done in anticipation of outcomes for the art world, VTS can be used in a wide range of school subjects with favorable results.

How can you use VTS in your classroom?

VTS can be used for a variety of outcomes and across grade levels and class subjects.

  • Hook students with an interesting image that relates to the class subject and get them talking about it.
  • Assess what students already know through their comments during an informal conversation about the artwork.
  • Build language skills by reframing student comments with correct grammar and more sophisticated wording.
  • Spur critical thinking by asking students to support their opinion with evidence.

How does VTS work?

Ask the students what they see in the work of art, which puts the student in the role of “expert.” Instead of asking the student to come up with the correct answer, you are asking them to share what they know. As students listen to one another, they begin to see that more than one correct answer, with multiple perspectives, is possible. When you ask the students to look for more clues in the picture, you are encouraging their observational skills. These skills have been shown to transfer across subject areas after students become familiar with the process (Huh, 2016).

How can you implement VTS?

  1. Select a work of art that is accessible to the class and has something going on in it.
  2. Invite students to silently observe the work for a minute or so, giving them time to form ideas about it.
  3. Start the conversation by asking “What’s going on in this picture?” As a student makes their observation, point out what is being addressed in the work so that everyone can follow along.
  4. Paraphrase the students’ observation, correcting any grammatical errors and using appropriate vocabulary. This ensures that students understand what the speaker is saying, and it gives the speaker feedback.
  5. Ask the speaker, “What do you see that makes you say that?” Encourage the student to give supporting evidence for their claim.
  6. When the conversation has ended, ask, “What more do you see?” to the class, and move on to the next observation.
  7. Throughout the conversation, keep an even tone, neither praising nor condemning anyone’s ideas.
  8. Thank students for participating at the end of the session.

How do you choose a piece of art to view?

When selecting a piece of art for students to view, consider the audience: What subject matter might especially appeal to the age group or acknowledge their cultural background? Choose a piece that has a narrative; abstract art will not work for beginning viewers. Be sensitive to topics that might cause emotional upset to your particular population.

What should you expect from VTS?

Using this practice requires getting comfortable with silence. When you first start using this technique, students won’t know what to expect. Most students are used to being asked for the “correct” answer, so a new approach might take a little getting used to. VTS also will require you to share your status of “expert in the room.” The rewards of which could be a better understanding of the students in your class and a more genuine learning environment.

Finally, while VTS can be a great way to begin a lesson, you have no guarantee that the conversation will go in the direction you anticipate. You must be prepared to alter your lesson based on where students take the conversation. The tradeoff is that you will be teaching a lesson in which students are truly engaged and interested.

Image result for christina connors family and consumer scienceMs. Connors has been teaching Family and Consumer Science at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School for 13 years. She attended the Visual Thinking Strategies Practicum at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2014. Ms. Connors aspires to create students who are as curious and excited to learn new things as she is.

Additional Resources

Visual Thinking Strategies (https://vtshome.org)

  • Trainings in VTS offered nationwide.
  • Subscription includes printable classroom materials, student assessments, facilitator reflection, and image curriculum for Grades PreK–8.

References

Housen, A. (1999). Eye of the beholder: Research, theory and practice. Retrieved from https://vtshome.org/research

Huh, K. (2016). Visual thinking strategies and creativity in English education. Indian Journal of Science and Technology, 9(S1).

The Outdoor Classroom: Where Nature Nurtures Kids’ Ability to Learn

magnifying-glassModern life often moves at a frantic pace: families, friends, and others often maintain full schedules with little time allowed to pause and take in what is happening around them.

For students arriving at school for the day, their morning may have been a blur of activity – hopping out of bed, getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, then grabbing their backpack to head off to school.

A student’s day—like those of most adults—is often just moving, from one car, classroom, or building to another. The outside world oven gets overlooked. But it’s this outside world that may help students inside.

stewardshipAs adults, we know that the ability to focus on the task at hand can ensure its success. We also know that sometimes it is easier to maintain our focus than at other times.

The process of becoming better able to focus is where nature can help. And often it’s just a matter of getting kids outside.

In one study[1], children who spent one class session in a natural outdoor setting were more engaged and less distracted during indoor class time afterward than if they had been indoors for two consecutive classes.

Some teachers may have concerns that an outdoor classroom would over-stimulate students, making them less able to focus afterwards. Yet this study found the opposite to be true: classroom engagement was better for those students exposed to nature than those students taught solely in an indoor classroom.

studentsBeing in nature not only helps students to be more focused, it also introduces students to the first step in the scientific method: to observe

From watching the clouds while looking up at the sky, to rolling back a fallen log to investigate which creatures live underneath, to watching a flower emerge from the ground and ultimately bloom in springtime, nature offers an infinite number of opportunities to witness how plants, animals and climate interact.

Observation can lead to asking questions, instilling a curiosity about our natural world that spills over into the classroom.

And as teachers know, curious children make better students.

A student who develops a question based on their personal observation is developing curiosity and critical thinking skills.

See what these educators have to say about the benefits of nature for young learners.

Nature provides engaging and relaxing ways for students to learn, so let’s make the most of our greenspace to expand and transform children’s learning experiences.

Learn more by visiting www.ILoveMyLand.org today.

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

[1] Lessons in nature boost classroom engagement afterward. Yates, Diana. University of Illinois. January 17, 2018.