Want Deeper Discussions in the Classroom? Use Images

Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator
Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator

Introduction to VTS

Have you heard of visual thinking strategies? If you’re a teacher, you must be nodding right now.

For those new to visual thinking strategies, referred to as VTS, this teaching methodology builds on students’ knowledge and develops thinking skills that in turn use detail to enhance understanding.

Abigail House, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, created this teaching method. The purpose of it is to develop creativity and thinking skills in students.

According to the official website for VTS, this methodology

… provides a way to jumpstart a process of learning to think deeply applicable in most subjects from poetry to math, science and social studies. Art is the essential first discussion topic because it enables students to use existing visual and cognitive skills to develop confidence and experience, learning to use what they already know to figure out what they don’t; they are then prepared to explore other complex subject matter alone and with peers.

Success with VTS in Northern California

A Northern California school, located in Petaluma, implemented this strategy “to increase student engagement and encourage flexible thinking …” Principal Jeff Williamson says that due to the program, conversations in the classroom are deeper.

In the Petaluma case, the principal involved the parents in the teachers’ professional development training and teachers share ideas with each other on how to initiate higher levels of discussion with their students.

VTS in the Classroom

English Language Learner Kristina Robertson, writing for a website for educators, described in these steps for implementing VTS.

  1. Select a visual that relates to the topic of a story that students will read.
  2. Place the image on the overhead projector.
  3. Ask students to silently study the picture for a minute while asking themselves,
  4. “What’s going on in the picture.”
  5. Ask your students what they see in the visual.
  6. Once a student provides a qualitative response, ask for a deeper reply, such as, “What makes you say that?” The students will then likely justify their responses by pointing to evidence in the image, such as the presence of a dog, a child’s rattle, or other items.
  7. Ask the class if they agree with the student’s perspective.
  8. The discussion continues until students share all they can about the picture.
  9. The teacher summarizes the students’ comments.
  10. Next, the teacher can ask the students to write about what they saw and inferred from the image or to read a chapter or part of a textbook that’s somehow related to the image used in the exercise.

Free Images for Teachers

Where can you find pictures for free? There are a variety of sources.

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free and download a Free coloring book here.