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Lesson Plans

Visual Thinking Skills

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
One of the Colmans (colmans1)
Sat, 15 May 1999 08:52:04 -0400

I, too, took a workshop in VTS last June in Cambridge. I first read about
the program in the Boston Globe in November of 1997. I found the ideas
behind this method of discussing works of art with kids to be fascinating.
VTS is based on Abigail Housen's research about aesthetic development, as
well as on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky. It is a method that is
deceptively simple, yet is extremely challenging to carry out as a
facilitator. I implemented VTS in my classroom last Fall with 25 7th grade
students. They became extremely engaged with the multi-cultural images we
viewed immediately. The participation was at a very high level and the
exchange of ideas was very exciting. I admit that it was difficult not to
ask leading questions and not to give them background information. But by
stepping back as an active participant in the discussion, I feel I allowed
my students more opportunity to become engaged with the art works and to
develop their critical thinking abilities by listening to the opinions of
their peers. According to the rules of VTS, students must back up their
opinions with evidence from the art work. In attempting to do this, they
view the image in depth and are given time to reflect upon it. It is this
deeeper level of connection with an art work that I find to be valuable.
It's not so important that they know when it was painted or even by whom,
but rather that they have attempted to find some kind of personal meaning
within it. VTS images are chosen for their narrative content ( beginning
viewers are story tellers according to Housen's research). I used the
starter set images but discovered that more ambiguous, complex images would
stimulate richer, more prolonged discussion with slightly older students.
(the starter lessons are designed for elementary aged students.) I have
also seen VTS implemented at the MFA in Boston with school groups. It
appears to be very successful My students' single complaint was that they
didn't get to see enough art while they were there.
I'm pleased that you have raised this topic. If anyone would like more info
on VTS, go to the Visual Understanding in Education web site at

There is a wealth of material on the history and methodology of VTS.

  • Reply: wendy sauls: "Re: Visual Thinking Skills"
  • Reply: Hingham - Foster - Cynthia - McKeon: "Re: Visual Thinking Skills"