‘What’s going on in this picture?’

Nine teachers from Victorian Independent schools will be trained in an acclaimed teaching method that unlocks the power of art to build literacy skills for students.

As part of the 2017 Arts Learning Festival, the arts and literacy teachers have been awarded scholarships to be trained in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Painting of red horseThe training will take place in September, and the teachers will run workshops during the festival, which runs from Wednesday 3 May to Sunday 7 May 2017, involving all students across all schools.

VTS is a discussion-based teaching method to help students decode and explore art.  A typical session involves students being given time to look closely at an artwork, before being asked three questions:

  • ‘What’s going on in this picture?’
  • ‘What do you see that makes you say that?’
  • ‘What more can we find?’

These questions are the starting point that begin a journey of discovery for students, of making sense of what they see. They gain confidence in speaking and the ability to listen respectfully to other points of view.

But they also develop literacy and analytical skills that can be used across all subjects, from social studies to science.  VTS can also unlock the knowledge students already have acquired through education and personal experience.  Sharing these insights becomes highly empowering for learners and also allows teachers access to information about the progress of students.

(You can read more and watch a video about how the method is used at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.)

The fully-funded Independent Schools Victoria scholarships have been awarded to teachers from four metropolitan and three regional schools:

Australian International Academy of Education – Stuart Orr

Goulburn Valley Grammar School – Tim James

Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School – Celia Hatzipavlis

Mount Scopus Memorial College – Greta Weissmann

The King David School – Maya Huxley

Bayview College – Matt Povey

Woodleigh School – Birra-Li Ward

ELTHAM College – Fred Whitlock

Trinity Grammar School, Kew – Deane Blackler

The teachers will return to implement the new skills in their schools, and during the festival, will be involved in running workshops at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The VTS approach was developed in the 1980s in the United States of America by Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist, and Philip Yenawine, former director of education at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Anne Smith, the Arts Education Program Manager at ISV, says that one of the aims of the scholarships is to see the teaching method established in schools.

‘The Arts Learning Festival is a celebration of the the importance of the arts in the education of our students,’ she says.

‘We are bringing together some of the best programs from around the world, and the VTS method is a great example of this.’

IMAGE: Red Horse, by Daniel Strom, from Kilvington Grammar School, part of ISV’s Student Art Exhibition at Shell House, 1 Spring Street, Melbourne. Open to the public during business hours, Monday to Friday, until Friday 26 August 2016.