Visual Thinking Strategies

What is it?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a teaching method that improves critical thinking skills through teacher-facilitated discussions of visual images. VTS encourages participation through a group problem-solving process. It uses art to teach thinking, communication skills, and visual literacy. Students contribute to the discussion by presenting their own observations and ideas to the class. All contributions are accepted and considered neutrally by the teacher and class so that students can learn from the perspectives of others.

VTS emphasizes the student learning process, individually and in conjunction with others, rather than the instructor's dissemination of knowledge. Therefore, VTS is learner-driven. places the power in students' control. is process focused not product focused - students are not given a right answer because the process of learning and discussing is the answer. Fosters critical thinking skills.

The Instructor

The role of the instructor in VTS is to carefully select visual images and facilitate the discussion. This is accomplished through questioning and facilitation techniques.

Three questions essential to the strategy:

  • What's going on in the image?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

Three discussion facilitation techniques:

  • Paraphrase comments neutrally – words like "correct", "wrong", or "good" should not be used
  • Point to the area being discussed
  • Link contrasting and complimentary student comments

The Student

The role of the students in VTS is to:

  • Look carefully at the image
  • Talk about what they observe
  • Back up their ideas with evidence
  • Listen and consider the views of others
  • Discuss many possible interpretations

Why does it work?

VTS is a rigorous and fun research-based approach with measurable growth in all learners across all areas. VTS is an effective teaching method because it:

  • uses visual images to engage, puzzle, and intrigue students while building ability and confidence in decoding complex and diverse material
  • is inclusive and fully respects all learners
  • is easily mastered because it uses existing strengths, interests, and experiences
  • sparks motivation and curiosity
  • is easy to transfer the verbal reasoning skills and strategies to other areas of study

Additional Strategies

Visual thinking can also include the organization of ideas graphically with concept maps, mind maps, and webs. In this way, students can work with concepts in a self-directed and hands-on way because it allows students to "see" their ideas as they develop. Using visual thinking through graphics, students can clarify thoughts, organize and analyze information, integrate new knowledge, and think critically.

Best Practices from YouTube

The following YouTube video contains some valuable, practical wisdom related to visual thinking strategies: