July 2009
Visual Thinking Strategies

See the Effect.
A Note from
Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Can ARRA (Federal stimulus funds) be used for VTS? We have been asked that question often over the last few months, and the simple answer is YES!

The stimulus packet will fund Title 1 schools, support research-based programs, improve teaching quality strategies and support methods that develop 21st Century Skills.

What better program than VTS to support these goals at a relatively low cost and high yield?

Most of the decisions on how these fund will be allocated will be made locally, so check with your municipal or state education agency to see if they can support VTS in your community.


Oren Slozberg,
Executive Director,
Sonoma, CA 

Upcoming Events

Professional Development Institutes

These institutes prepare people for helping others use VTS.

July 7-10, 2009
Session 3 of 3
Seattle, WA

July 14-17, 2009
Session 1 of 3
San Francisco, CA

Aug. 18-21, 2009
Session 1 of 3
Spokane, WA

Schools need your support!

Schools all over the country are ready to implement VTS, if only they had the proper funding.  Help us provide schools with whole and partial scholarships.  Your donation, however small or large, makes a big difference in the lives of children.

VTS National Staff List

Jonathan Feffer,
Marketing Director
New York, NY

Nick Gardner
, Administrative Director;
New York, NY

Amy Chase Gulden, Regional Director, New York;
New York, NY

Liz Harvey,
Regional Director,
SF Bay;
San Francisco, CA

Lee Houck, Executive Assistant;
New York, NY

Abigail Housen, Co-Founding Director, Cambridge, MA

Stephanie Hughes, Events Coordinator; New York, NY

Yoon Kang-O'Higgins, Regional Director, Northwest;
Seattle, WA

Sarah Lenoue,
SF Bay Coordinator,
San Francisco, CA

Robyn Muscardini,
Regional Coordinator, Sonoma;
Sonoma, CA

Oren Slozberg, Executive Director;
Sonoma, CA

Philip Yenawine, Co-Founding Director;
Los Angeles, CA

Tad Yenawine, Regional Director, Southern California;
Los Angeles, CA

Corrine Zimmermann,
Regional Director,
Boston, MA

In Their Words

"When the new superintendent said to focus on equity I immediately drew the connection between equity and VTS. VTS gives everyone a chance to share their prior knowledge and experiences in a supportive and encouraging environment."
--Lisa-Anne Lee, 3rd Grade Teacher, Sunnyside ES, SFUSD

"The VTS program gave me the much-needed language, "What do you see that makes you say that?"  I use VTS every time I ask students to interpret something they see, hear, encounter." --Carol Converse, Kindergarten Teacher, Sunnyside ES, SFUSD

"VTS gave my students opportunities to grow in their listening skills, explain why they think a certain way, and understand people have different points of view."
--Emily Grande, 1st Grade Teacher, Sunnyside ES, SFUSD

"This year, I noticed student thinking has gotten deeper and students notice more."
--Karen Kimura, 2nd Grade Teacher, Peabody ES, SFUSD

Financial Crisis"VTSing" the Economic Picture

A VTS conversation that could take place in Washington DC, or in your local representative's district office:

Question: Looking at the economy, what is going on here?
Answer: We need a stronger innovative workforce.
Paraphrase: You're thinking our workers need to be more creative and innovative; what do you see that makes you say that?
Answer: In a competitive global economy, our workforce must have an edge, and if we make the next generation more creative and innovative we will give our children that edge.
Paraphrase: I think you are saying that if we teach creativity to our children, they will have an edge in the world market.  What more can we find?
Answer: We can develop creativity, innovation and 21st Century Skills by investing in our schools.
Paraphrase: You think if we give more funds to schools, student will develop those skills.  What do you see that makes you say that?
Answer: We can invest in proven research-based programs that stimulate these skills.
Paraphrase: So you're saying we should invest in a program that have a strong track record.  What more can we find?
Answer: I wonder how we can teach creativity?
Paraphrase: What do you see that makes you wonder how we might teach creativity?
Answer: Well, I see we are investing in math, science and English, I wonder if maybe the Art might have something to do with creativity?
Paraphrase: So you think that teaching the art might be a good way to teach creativity.  Thank you everybody, wow, I sure have learned a lot from this conversation...

Need we say anymore?

The new administration hopes that our schools will be able to develop creativity, innovation, communication, and other important skills for the 21st Century.  Of course, math, science and English can contribute to this kind of learning, but think for a moment about what the Arts might have to do with developing creativity.  There is some irony in our system's funding only science and math, and looking for an increase in innovation and critical thinking.  Might it be time for some more creative funding priorities?

Third Graders, VTS and Rembrandt

By Robyn Muscardini, North Bay VTS Coordinator, Sonoma California

Four third grade classes came to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art for
their VTS museum tour.  The students are in their second year of VTS
at El Verano School in Sonoma Valley. The exhibition was etchings by
Rembrandt and sculptures by Al Farrow.

I led a group of about ten children and in our third image discussion a student asked, "Are all these done by the same artist?"  I replied, "How could we find that out?"  Another student said, "Maybe it is written somewhere."  And another student reflected and recalled seeing a signage wall and he asked, "Can we go look at the front wall that has writing on it."

So we went to the front wall where the title of the exhibition and information was written about the collection and the curator.  Students took turns reading each line and saying what it was telling us as viewers.  The only thing they did not figure out was what the word
"curator" meant.  It was very inspiring to watch the learning unfold and to allow the students to be the directors of their experience at the museum.

Another great experience of VTS working for me and the students!
Thank you, Karin

Karin DeSantisKarin DeSantis, VUE''s Senior Research Associate has worked with Abigail Housen and VTS for the last 21 years.  Karin has been instrumental to the development and distribution of VTS in the US and the abroad.

For the next few years, Karin is going to work for VUE as a consultant so she can dedicate more time to her children and family.

We wish her all the best with her new direction!
VTS Succeeds in Coral Gables

Something unusual happened after the state testing (Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test) this year at George Washington Carver Middle School, in Coral Gables, Florida.  While other middle schools in the district saw their test scores go down, those at Carver did not.  In fact, Carver's scores were an entire point ahead of the other schools in their district.  The language arts team wasn't surprised-they've been using VTS for over a year and have been thrilled with the results.  VTS spoke to Janas Byrd, a seventh grade teacher, and Jennifer Senior, an eighth grade teacher, to discuss their experiences teaching with VTS, and their positive test scores.

According to Byrd, the language arts team is very collaborative, and had been trying to discern a way to help their students research artists and analyze their work.  Byrd saw a presentation on VTS by Hope Torrents at local elementary school.  According to Byrd, the teacher in her kicked in and she immediately thought, "This is what I want at my school."  Byrd shared that the same kids who claim to have nothing to write when faced with a blank piece of paper initially said, "I don't know" when asked, "What's going on in this picture?"  

Very soon, though, these students were sharing complicated thoughts, and adding evidence as second nature-soon, Byrd said, answering the "second question" became routine.  Byrd continued, "We've seen kids grow from giving up after a minute to spending 35-40 minutes on a VTS-and we think our test scores show it."  Senior said, "For their writing, the second question really helps them to think about describing something to the reader."  In the writing portion of the FCAT, 228 students were tested.  18% scored a perfect 6, another 50% scored either 5 or 5.5. The district average was 4.1; Carver's average was 5.1.

Byrd expressed delight at the complexity of thought and attention that her students were able to give; she said, "When we went to the museum-oh, my gosh!  I was so proud."  The students were able to have lengthy discussions about multiple pieces of art, and every student gave her full attention, and full participation.
Regional Updates

New York City and Long Island --

  • In New York, VTS is trying out a VTS "teaser practicum" for teams of 2-3 teachers from schools that are curious about VTS and hope to apply for matching funds to start their program next year.  A NYSCA services to the field grant is supporting this effort, which includes training and VTS curriculum so these teachers can return to their schools and do approx three VTS  
    lessons with their students this spring.  We are hoping these small teams can help to generate a well-informed commitment to VTS from their schools/administrators.  We have teams from  13 schools enrolled, including quite a few Literacy coaches  
    accompanying classroom teachers.  Bill Kasuli (Dir for the Arts) and his staff at the Community Learning Support Organization were instrumental in sourcing interested schools and soliciting  teams to register.  Our last debriefing meeting in on June 18.  We then will be following up with schools to apply for matching grants through VUE (thanks to a generous donation from the HILO Foundation) which will half the cost of their start up year.
  • Additionally, we are setting up a schedule of museum and gallery-based VTS training dates across the city to support new  and returning schools in the Fall.

Miami --
  • As part of the Miami-Dade County Public School, Schools of Choice, Museums Magnet Program, WJ Bryan Elementary faculty will be trained in Visual Thinking Strategies to be implemented during the 2009-2010 academic year. The feeder school, North Miami Middle School which is part of the museum's magnet program had it's language arts teachers trained in VTS this Spring and are currently implementing and will continue to do so next year.
  • The Wolfsonian was awarded a grant from from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, as part of their Youth Arts Enrichment Program (YEP).  The museum will be instituting Artful Citizenship in the 3rd grade at Southside Elementary.
  • Additionally, the Wolfsonian will offer a summer professional development workshop June 9-10, 2009 where teachers will learn to integrate VTS into their Understanding by Design lessons.
  • The Wolfsonian will be working with Breakthrough Miami--a program that offers disadvantaged students multiple paths to academic success by preparing middle and high school students to go to college and also to pursue careers in education. This summer they will train college and high school students to conduct VTS discussions with middle school students as part of Breakthrough Miami summer institute.  This workshop will take place June 12, 2009.

San Francisco --

  • Seven new schools (including one district) in San Francisco and Alameda counties began school-wide three-year implemen-tations.  We launched middle school implementations at two of these schools: Faith Ringgold School of Arts and Science (K-8) and Emery Secondary School (6-8).  The other schools are: Commodore Sloat ES, San Francisco; Cobb ES, San Francisco; Le Conte ES, Berkeley; Sequoia ES, Oakland; Yates ES, Emeryville; Emery Secondary School, Emeryville.
  • We completed a one-year pilot of VTS implementation at UCSF Children's Hospital Child Life Department school, San Francisco and are discussing how to continue with an eye on customizing our support to the Childlife practice.
  • We completed our first full year of Art Savvy, a partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, that features monthly VTS discussions about contemporary art in the galleries, which will continue next year.
  • We piloted a VTS facilitation with the USCF medical school at the de Young Museum, leading  first year medical students through VTS discussion, aimed at deepening their observation skills.
  • Three VTS Soirees were held, bringing teachers together to practice VTS in museum galleries with coaching, and added a VTS Coaches Soiree, giving VTS coaches the opportunity to refine their practice: in November 2008 at the de Young Museum; in January 2009 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in February 2009 at the Oakland Museum of California; and in May 2009 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
  • We partnered with the Center for Art and Public Life, California College of the Arts and 100 Families Oakland. CCA's Center for Public Art is using VTS as a central focus of Connecting the Dots, which trains teachers, teaching artists and parents in VTS facilitation, brings VTS to classrooms and school Family Art Days, and supports advocacy for VTS and arts integration throughout Oakland.
  • We led an all-day VTS training entitled, "Critical Thinking and Arts Learning", hosted by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission, serving members of the Arts Providers Alliance of San Francisco.
  • We facilitated a portion of a class entitled "Integrating Museums to Enhance Student Learning", offered by the California College of the Arts through their Educators Institute.

South Dakota --
  • In early June, VTS National Director Oren Slozberg, traveled to Brookings, South Dakota to implement VTS at Camelot Elementary School.  Twelve other elementary schools in the area are sending representatives to learn more about VTS.

Boston, MA --

  • In February, the Winship Elementary School was featured on a NECN television special focusing on Boston public schools that successfully integrate the arts.  Regional Director Corinne Zimmermann was interviewed about VTS.
  • In April, Corinne Zimmermann and Bridget Baird, a learning resources teacher from the Winship school, participated in a panel discussion on creating successful school-arts partnerships at a meeting for Boston public school administrators and non profit arts organizations.
  • The Boston VTS Consortium (a collaboration between VUE,  the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) has been invited to present in June at the newly established Boston Public Schools Summer Leadership Conference for principals and administrators.
  • In the the fall, the J.F. Kennedy School, a K-5 Boston public school serving 373 students, will begin implementing VTS in 2009-10 academic year.

Northern California --
  • The Superintendent of the Bellevue School District in Santa Rosa agreed to fund VTS for the entire district if, and only if, every single teacher signed a commitment letter agreeing to be trained in VTS, on a Saturday, on their own time.  Soon, a stack of signed letters from all the teachers arrived.  The entire district will be trained at the the De Young Museum in San Francisco on September 12 - congratulations Bellevue!"
  • Flowery Elementary School in Sonoma will be trained in VTS this fall, which means that all the elementary schools in the district have VTS.  The Middle school teachers better get ready....

Maine --
  • A few months ago, a VTS training was held in Portland, Maine which triggered lots of excitement and curiosity.  Two educators who are taking the lead, from the State Department of Education and the Portland Cultural Center, would like to try to develop a short term strategy of building capacity for VTS in Portland.  Additionally, they would like to develop a long term strategy for bringing VTS to schools throughout the state.

Memphis, TN --

  • The Education Department of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is excited to be finishing their first year of a three-year VTS program with three Memphis area schools.  The museum started with 22 teachers and nearly 400 students, and everyone is pleased with the first year's progress.  The students just completed their second VTS visit to the museum, and they hosting their first VTS Family Night on May 12.  The museum's education consultant is currently working on completing teacher and principal interviews, classroom observations, and surveys to learn about the successes from the first year, as well as what concerns might arise for year two.  It has been an exciting first year, and they are looking forward to continuing to work with these schools next year.

Please let us know about VTS in your area! 

If you have stories to share, please send them to
Lee Houck, our newsletter coordinator.

The VTS Staff
Visual Understanding in Education