Alexandria Museum of Art, RPSB reach milestone in collaboration to deepen education through Visual Thinking Strategies
Country Day teacher Lindsay Moore practices her Visual Thinking Strategies training during AMoA’s Beginner Cohort in July, 2018.
Alexandria, Louisiana – August 31, 2018 - For the past six years, the Alexandria Museum of Art’s Education Department has offered Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) training to Rapides Parish Public School teachers. Originally taught in annual trainings, by visiting trainers from Seattle, the VTS program at AMoA has recently expanded to offer two different tiers of VTS training cohorts (Beginner and Advanced), throughout the year. This program is designed to give school teachers the skills and tools necessary to integrate VTS (a literacy program used in museums, K-12, and even medical schools around the country) into their class rooms, deepening education for not only the art students in their schools, but all students through cultivating visual literacy across all subjects, grades, and disciplines. This program utilizes discussions about art to encourage the growth of verbal, reading and critical thinking skills.
Over the years, the program has benefited hundreds of Rapides Parish students. So far this year, AMoA Museum Educator Cindy Blair has worked with 16 teachers in the Rapides Parish School District, and several teachers from Alexandria Country Day School and The Montessori Educational Center. Teachers who use the program report growth not only in reading and critical thinking skills, but communication skills as well. Blair has been working towards becoming a VTS trainer for the past few years, and became a VTS Trainer last Summer. She has made trips to Seattle multiple times for VTS Practicum workshops, and is now capable of offering support and training needed during the year. VTS research has found that teachers, who receive their training throughout the year, instead of just once annual, are better at facilitating VTS discussions, and their students reap the benefits.
The Alexandria Museum was approved by the Rapides School Board to conduct VTS trainings for Rapides Parish teachers in 2012. AMoA has provided free training to teachers since. This year, the Museum will be working with several teachers in Advanced VTS Teacher Cohort from Phoenix Magnet School, Rapides Academy and Mabel Brasher Elementary School. Our Beginning Teacher Cohort this year consists of 10 art teachers from the newly formed Community Zone Schools in Rapides Parish. These teachers will be teaching every student in their school, exposing a larger number of Rapides Parish students than ever before to the benefits of VTS. Other schools participating in the Beginning Teacher Cohort are Alexandria Country Day School and The Montessori Center. The teacher cohort will go through 4 trainings throughout the year and Cindy Blair will visit them for a classroom visit twice during the year to deliver support and coaching. Students are given a preliminary and postliminiary written evaluation in the fall and spring to measure their growth in critical thinking skills.
In his 1997 article Thoughts on Visual Literacy, Philip Yenawine describes visual literacy as: “…the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of skills ranging from simple identification (naming what one sees) to complex interpretation on contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. Many aspects of cognition are called upon, such as personal association, questioning, speculating, analyzing, fact-finding, and categorizing. Objective understanding is the premise of much of this literacy, but subjective and affective aspects of knowing are equally important.”
VTS has been developed and refined over the past 30+ years based on ongoing research by VTS co-founder, Abigail Housen. Abigail and co-founder Philip Yenawine first developed VTS as an effective teaching strategy based on her theory of aesthetic development. She developed rigorous research methods based on her work with VTS over several decades, and informed by her studies over a wide range of settings and with diverse populations. Coined by German-born author and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, whose primary book shares the same name, “Visual Thinking” stands paramount in Housen’s “empirical research” and resulting theory of aesthetic development. The application of Housen, Arnheim, Piaget and others constitute the genesis and ongoing theoretical underpinnings behind the development of Visual Thinking Strategies methods and curricula.
As the VTS program at AMoA has grown and developed to benefit the teachers and students of Rapides Parish, through no-cost training for teachers, it has depended on financial support from the community. The program is currently supported in part by Capital One. As the program continues to grow, opportunities for support continue to be available for any business, individual, or organization that would like to contribute to this mission. Future plans involve expanding the program to LSU Alexandria. Please contact Community and Development Officer Stephen Farnsley at 318-443-3458 for more information.
About VTS: Visual Thinking Strategies is the result of more than 20 years of collaboration between cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen, veteran museum educator Philip Yenawine, and their colleagues. As Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art, New York from 1983-1993, Yenawine was primarily concerned with making museum education programs more effective. His work introduced him to the research of Abigail Housen in 1988.
Housen, a Harvard-trained educator and psychologist, conducted empirical research exploring how viewers — experienced and novice — think when looking at art objects. The culmination of her many years of study, Housen’s Theory of Aesthetic Development, identifies five distinct patterns of thinking that correlate to the amount of exposure subjects have had to art. This research became the core of VTS. Visual Understanding in Education (VUE), a nonprofit organization, was formed in 1995. VUE’s mission would be to test and implement Visual Thinking Strategies throughout the United States and abroad with students across all learning abilities, languages, and cultures.
Since its founding, VTS has influenced the landscape of education in schools and museums around the world, reaching over 1 million students in 33 states and 18 countries through more than 5,000 educators in more than 300 schools and 100 museums. Our research, and that of others, has continued to confirm that VTS is an effective means of developing critical thinking and communication skills with every demographic.
In addition to flourishing in schools and art museums, today VTS is applied in natural science centers, in medical and nursing schools, as a therapy for adults with dementia and patients with brain injuries, and as tool to support both children and adult English-language learners.