Engaging Discourse with VTS

Last week, Steve Hill shared with us an abbreviated version of the presentation he and Randall Leach delivered at the NC Council for Social Studies Conference. Here’s a quick rundown with some resources you might need to begin implementing the VTS strategy in your classroom.

At the heart of the strategy is VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies. In essence, it is a strategy for engaging students in conversation about a visual text. The website, vtshome.org, recommends these simple strategies for making vts work:

VTS Facilitation 101

In VTS discussions teachers support student growth by facilitating discussions of carefully selected works of visual art.

Teachers are asked to use three open-ended questions:

  • What’s going on in this picture?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can we find?

3 Facilitation Techniques:

  • Paraphrase comments neutrally

  • Point at the area being discussed

  • Linking and framing student comments

When the teacher implements these techniques without judgement or commentary, students learn to analyze visual texts closely, consider multiple perspectives, and defend assertions.

Art, History, and Beyond

As a history teacher, Mr. Hill recommends following the speculative VTS investigation of the text with a more concrete one, driven by the historical underpinnings that help viewers make sense of the images. To facilitate this transition in the lesson, Mr. Hill uses Thinglink, which allows you to place on the digital image targets that, when rolled over, reveal text, links, and images. At its most basic level, using VTS works as a fantastic advance organizer while helping students develop visual literacy skills. At its most advance level, it becomes a student-researched, student-led discussion about a work of art and its historical significance.

But VTS is not just for art and history. Every subject area values visual texts and the literacy students require to analyze them. How might some of these examples work in your classroom?

  • A complex chart of lab results

  • Political cartoons

  • An infographic from a recent magazine

  • An advertisement

  • An image of a cadaver

  • Photographs of children playing at home

Interested in giving it a try? Check out this video from the VTS website or this one of Mr. Hill’s classes. For more details, check out Mr. Hill’s presentation syllabus or pay him a visit in room 812.

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