About Visual Thinking Strategies

Many pedagogies are utilised in classrooms and art museums with educators increasingly likely to invite students to carefully look and discover interpretations and responses to artworks as part of a shared group, experience rather than proffer monologues or lectures about works of art. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is an example of a teaching method that focuses on questioning students and asking for evidence to support comments and inferences.

Three very specific questions are used as the basis for questioning and developing ideas about artworks:

What’s going on in this picture?;

What do you see that makes you say (that)?; and

What more can you find?

While on the surface VTS appears to be an easy technique it is nuanced and complex. There are strict guidelines around VTS delivery that underpin the effectiveness of the method.

Supporting Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is Housen’s ‘stage theory’ that describes levels aesthetic development that participants can move through. VTS lessons privilege personal interpretation of an artwork over factual accuracy to validate and build the art viewer’s confidence. Teachers or facilitators are instructed not to offer the participant group any further supporting or factual information that might influence an interpretation of an artwork, nor a correction when a student makes an incorrect judgement. Instead it values student comments, observation and confidence to speculate about artworks.

Far from being a static pedagogy VTS was initially designed to be used in art museums with research indicating it to be more effective in the classroom as ongoing lessons, rather than as a one off experience. Art museums however have been leading the way in supporting classroom teachers to utilise VTS in addition to experiences for students at museumns.