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What is VTS?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), is an elementary and middle school curriculum that:
  • Uses a learner-centered method to examine and find meaning in visual art
  • Uses art to teach thinking, communication skills and visual literacy
  • Measurably increases observation skills, evidential reasoning, and speculative abilities, and the ability to find multiple solutions to complex problems
  • Uses facilitated discussion to practice respectful, democratic collaborative problem solving among students that transfers to other classroom interactions and beyond
  • Uses eager, thoughtful participation to nurture verbal language skills, and writing assignments to assist transfer from oral to written ability
  • Uses the Web to develop independence and computer skills as well as to assist teacher preparation
  • Produces growth, including visual literacy and greatly enhanced verbal and thinking skills, in all students, from challenged and non-English language learners to high achievers
  • Encourages art museum visits to underscore connections to art and to integrate a community resource into students’ lives
  • Meets state standards in art, language and social studies; improves test scores in reading and writing



The VTS Method

  • The VTS method is comprised of ten lessons per year, each lasting approximately 45 minutes. Classroom lessons (1-9) focus on two to three images provided as posters for grades K-2 and slides for grades 3-5.
  • Students are first asked to look at an image without talking. Then the teacher/facilitator asks certain non-directive questions.
    • "What's going on in this picture?"
    • "What do you see that makes you say that?"
    • "What more can we find?"
Museum/School Partnerships
  • One important component is a museum visit (for 4th and 5th grade) where students experience first-hand interaction with original artwork in the museum environment.
  • For a particular VTS Lesson, museum docents personally visit an assigned school classroom to establish an integral part of the program – the partnership between the docent and the classroom teacher, and the relationship between the students and the museum.



VTS Family Days

Family Day events are held at area museums to introduce parents to the method as well as the museum and its services.. These events incorporate the family unit into the learning process with the intent of servicing inner city and suburban families and creating long-range cultural patronage. VTS tours are provided for young patrons and their parents as well as creative hands-on art-making conducted by local artists.

VTS Family Day Themes
  1. "Egypt Revealed"
  2. "Animals and Art"
  3. "Singing Spirit / Dancing Spirit" celebrating the Meso-American and Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art
  4. "Magic of Light" The American Impressionism VTS Family Day held in conjunction with the Exhibition of the Treasures from the Smithsonian Art Museum Show.
  5. "Japanese Festival Day" featuring the exhibit "Hanten and Happi: traditional Japanese work coats from the Sumi Collection"
  6. "Moving Waters"

The response to these events has been overwhelming. Both children and parents report great enthusiasm in discussing cultural artwork and the opportunity to create new works in hands-on art-making activities. Approximately 2,000 parents, children, and educators attend each event. For many families these events are a first-time visit to a museum of any kind.


    Easy to Learn
  • The VTS teaching method can be learned quickly: instructors ask only a few open-ended questions that are formulated to elicit thoughtful responses among beginning viewers. They paraphrase each student's answer, therefore assuring students that s/he understands and accepts their contribution, meanwhile ensuring that the whole class has heard the comment. They also acknowledge comments in another way, by continuously pointing to whatever students mention, which keeps eyes focused on the image. They facilitate the interactivity of the discussion by linking points of agreement and disagreement. Though simple, mastery of strategies -- the restraint of keeping to the question/response framework as well as paraphrasing/linking -- takes time.
  • VTS involves a partnership between museums and schools, with both classroom teachers and museum docents following the same strategies. Training is based on the premise of the curriculum itself: "self-discovery is a powerful way to learn and can be facilitated by peer discussion guided by a syllabus focused on questions, activities and reflection", says program founder Philip Yenawine.

  • VTS teachers attend training and debriefing sessions throughout the school year at local museums. Sessions practice the VTS instruction method, provide constructive feedback, monitor classroom progress, and establish a relationship between teachers and museum resources. Training is enriched by a combination of expert demonstrations, printed guides, videotapes, and Internet access to the program's designers. On-site professional development from VTS consultants provides efficient training and assurance that the methods are being accurately taught. In this respect, VTS differs from a school program in that the materials are supported by regular training and ongoing support.

  • Manuals assist instructors in implementing the VTS method by providing theory, rationale, lesson plans, images, exercises, and methods for assessment. Abigail Housen, Ph.D., and Philip Yenawine designed four manuals according to developmental levels, which target Kindergarten through 8th grade. The user-friendly manuals contain lessons, reproductions of images, journal pages, and teacher exercises. For grades 3-8, there is a student writing assignment component accessible via the internet.

  • Because VTS has proven to advance communication skills and shown transference to other disciplines, the method can be used with all learning styles for students categorized as bilingual, gifted, talented, special education, and underdeveloped talent.

VTS Images

  • The art in VTS, while rich and diverse in cultures, periods, styles, and media, has been chosen and sequenced to nurture interests and abilities of beginning viewers. Both the teaching strategies and the selections of high quality art are designed to support the beginner’s needs and strengths, and to incite naturally paced growth. This growth is stimulated by three components: art of increasing complexity, group discussion as students respond to developmentally based questions, and careful facilitation by instructors.
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