What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can we find?
These three questions are at the heart of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a teaching method that is revolutionizing the field of art education. On December 4 and 5, NMWA hosted a VTS practicum led by Oren Slozberg, Executive Director of Visual Understanding in Education (VUE). More than 25 classroom and museum educators from across the country and as far as away as London attended the practicum. Participants learned about the development of VTS, saw the method modeled, and—most importantly—tried it out!
Love’s Young Dream by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe is one of the works discussed using VTS. The role of the educator is to facilitate conversation (using the questions above), validate responses through paraphrasing, and ask viewers to support their ideas with visual evidence. Because of the open-ended nature of VTS, each conversation takes a unique direction. During our conversation about Love’s Young Dream, viewers focused on the figures in the painting and their relationships. We discussed the young woman and her possible relationship to the figure in the distance on horseback and her relationship to the two older adults. Through VTS, the narrative qualities were explored in depth just as Brownscombe intended.
Over the course of an intense and rewarding two days of training, participants led VTS discussions about many other works in NMWA’s collection. Along the way, professional relationships were formed, and future collaborations, both individual and institutional, were explored. Participants left the experience inspired and eager to share what they learned.
Developed by Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist, and Philip Yenawine, a veteran art museum educator, VTS is a learner-centered strategy designed to help beginning viewers access and make meaning of art. Additionally, VTS facilitates students’ development of critical thinking, language and visual literacy, and interpersonal skills.
VTS has been adopted by museums and schools both nationally and internationally, from Boston Public Schools to the Seattle Museum of Art to the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Even Harvard Medical School has explored the power of VTS in increasing the observation and diagnostic skills of its students.
NMWA staff send our thanks to VUE and hope to host additional trainings in the future! To learn more about VTS, please visit www.vtshome.org.
-Anna Allegro is Associate Educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.