Approaching the staff entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (where I am currently interning) I noticed a group of school children and their teacher patiently waiting for one of the docents to bring them up to the gallery floor…
As I scanned my badge in, I turned to their teacher and politely asked, “Is this your first educational trip to the MFA, are you here to see the new Linde wing?” “No,” she replied, “we’re here for a VTS tour.” “That is wonderful,” I exclaimed. After pausing, I politely stated, “I am just about to write a paper on VTS, would you mind telling me where you are from?” Kindly responding, the teacher stated, “We are a social studies class from the Boston public school system, and we have a partnership with the MFA. This is our last lesson of the curriculum and it ends with a VTS tour at the Museum.”
In my opinion, teachers in all subject areas find themselves with the challenge of bringing that subject to life for their students, especially students who struggle to grasp the concepts of the course. Constantly trying new strategies and educational techniques, the best teachers try to reach those students in an unconventional way. In this case, I presume the social studies teacher turned to Suzi Fonda, Manager of Teacher Programs and School Partnerships at the MFA, to help her students draw connections between the content studied in the classroom and the collection of American Art currently displayed at the MFA. Since the culture and environment of the museums considerably differs from those prevalent in the classrooms, educators frequently wonder whether the productive techniques used by the museum educators are applicable in the environment of the classroom. In this paper, I will examine the productivity of Visual Thinking, and its connection to the classroom. Upon providing an in-depth look at VTS itself as a teaching tool, I will then examine further the applicability of the technique to the school classroom, more specifically within the social studies curricula, and evaluate its results and make recommendations if any as to how it may be improved. In particular, I will utilize class readings, discussions, case studies, and museum curricula, and I will transfer these experiences into my evaluation. Finally, I will conduct interviews with two Directors of Education, both of whom are involved in the VTS implementation at their art museums, and I will discuss their concerns, results and issues of the program. Curriculum In a typical VTS lesson, students look carefully at a work of art, and talk about what they observe. This method uses art to build the capacity to observe, think, listen and communicate. The guiding principle is that self-discovery is a powerful way to learn, and that such self-directed learning is stimulated by discussion amongst peers.1 The curriculum of VTS is fundamentally based on the discussion held among the students. The role of a teacher in it is that of a facilitator of discussion among the students. There are three basic questions that the facilitator uses in order to guide the students towards the path of conducting the discussion among themselves. These three questions include; “What is going on in this picture?” (Walker), “What do you see that makes you say that?” (Walker), and “What more can you find?” (Walker). The facilitator identifies the responses of individual students by their respective names, and points towards the relevant parts of the painting while paraphrasing the responses. In addition to that, it is equally important for the facilitator to keep track of the various threads of conversation so that they can be interlinked and the students can be provided with the opportunity to connect their thoughts with the thoughts of their class fellows. These questions have been designed in a very prudent manner. “The wording of the first question gives tacit approval of the story-finding, playing to the beginner’ ...
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