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Lesson Plans

Fwd: VTS in Minneapolis

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Fri, 21 May 1999 17:39:17 EDT

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Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:03:41 -0500
From: "Amanda Thompson" <athompso>
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Subject: VTS in Minneapolis
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I was forwarded the messages from your recent dicsussion of the Visual Think=
ing Strategies, and felt inclined to reply about what we are in fact doing h=
ere in Minneapolis with VTS.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is part of a pilot program coordinated by =
VUE and funded by the Annenberg Grant (also in place in San Antonio, TX) tha=
t partners public school teachers and students with docents and staff at The =
MIA. We just finished our second "round" of partnering. Teachers volunteer=
ed for the program, and two groups were trained by VUE, one group last fall =
and one this spring. Docents and staff went out to the partner schools and =
did VTS in the classroom for one of 5 classroom lessons developed by VUE for =
grades 4 and 5. The students then came to the museum for a "pure VTS tour" =
where the technique was used to look at works of art in our collection.

The students only saw 3-4 works of art on their visit because VTS dicsussion=
s normally last 15-20 minutes. Because the teachers involved "bought into" =
VTS and the program, they were ok with it. However, on our regular tours fo=
r school groups, we would probably get complaints that the students did not =
see enough. Our Docents that use VTS with regular groups usually do so on =
a limited basis so that they can get to our standard 6-10 works of art durin=
g the tour.

VTS is envisioned as a K-6 curriculum that teaches kids (and adults) how to =
look at, talk about, and analyze art by using the visual evidence in narrati=
ve works of art to develop hypothesis and engage in dicsussions about the wo=
rks they see. =20

Some of the messages in your discussion of the topic express a concern about =
the lack of a scholarly/research focus. Although the only segment of the cu=
rriculum being widely used and taught curently is the grade 4-5 set of three =
questions (What's going on in this picture?, What do you see that makes you =
say that? What else do you see?), in it's full application, VTS would invol=
ve K-2 appropriate activities and a 6th grade and up component that involves =
research and writing.

Another important aspect of VTS is that is is not designed for art specialis=
ts. It is specifically designed for regular classroom teachers as a way to =
promote arts in public schools where art departments and programs are contin=
uosly cut. VTS allows teachers who may have little or no training in studio =
art/art history to feel comfortable using art in their classrooms. VTS does =
not require that the facilitator knows a lot about the work of art to engage =
the group in discussion. (I like to intentionally choose works I am not fami=
liar with so that I am not tempted to jump in and shut down the students' di=
scussion with my own knowledge.)

I know from talking to our docents and from using the technique myself on to=
urs other than those that are part of this VTS project that although VTS alo=
ne is not always enough to satisfy tour-goers at the MIA, when used in conju=
nction with more "traditional" tour methods that give visitors information a=
bout objects, it is a great tool for engaging groups in discussion about wor=
ks of art.=20

I do not always use "pure" VTS, but the principles of the method inform a lo=
t of the dicsussions I facilitiate in the galleries. I have found that in t=
he majority of cases, if I use VTS to get a group started looking at an obje=
ct, that they will usually discover for themselves the major points I had pl=
anned to make about the object - just by looking and discussing as a group. =
I use this initial discussion as a starting point for the information I shar=
e about the object. Once the VTS discussion winds down, I can then add to w=
hat the group has discovered on their own and fill in any holes that remain. =
By reiterating and expanding on ideas members of the group have shared, I ca=
n validate their visual thinking skills and help to eliminate some of the fe=
ar that comes with looking at art (especially for adults new to museums/art)=

Like any technique it has its limitations, but I guess in the end I buy into =
(or have been brainwashed by VUE into believing in) VTS. It seems to work w=
ell for us with novice art lookers of all ages, especially in conjunction wi=
th other teaching strategies we use on our tours.

Amanda Thompson
Collection In Focus Guide Program
Education Division
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404