Visual Thinking Strategies = Creative and Critical Thinking: The Synergy That Occurs between Creativity and Critical Thinking Allows Powerful Learning to Occur

By Moeller, Mary; Cutler, Kay et al. | Phi Delta Kappan, November 2013 | Go to article overview

Visual Thinking Strategies = Creative and Critical Thinking: The Synergy That Occurs between Creativity and Critical Thinking Allows Powerful Learning to Occur


Moeller, Mary, Cutler, Kay, Fiedler, Dave, Weier, Lisa, Phi Delta Kappan


As the classroom lights dim, 5th graders jockey for better viewing positions. The facilitator introduces a projected image of Rembrandt's "Sketch at Jack's House" by saying, "Take a minute and look at this picture." After students have silently studied the black and white image for about a minute, the facilitator asks, "So what's going on in this picture?" Most arms are raised at this point. "Cassie?"

"They all look the same to me so I think they're the same person, but like different ages, and everything like the middle one it looks like the youngest and like the one in the corner up on top--yeah, the other one--it would be old," Cassie says.

Pointing to the figure in the corner of the image, the facilitator replies, "So Cassie's looking at this and thinking that maybe it's just really one person but at different stages of their life. Something about this face makes Cassie think of a younger person. What more can we find? Jeff?"

"I disagree with Cassie because you can see that that person in the middle, you can see that he or she has like curly hair, and I think it's like a statue because of all the lines and the noncolor, and then the person up in the corner ... he kind of has glasses," Jeff says.

"OK, so Jeff is noticing some differences in these people, wondering if this person up here doesn't have glasses and noticing the curly hair around this person and agreeing that this is probably some kind of a sketch. What more can we find? Kylie?"

"I kind of agree with Jeff that it's like someone sketched it because of all the lines and how like some areas are shaded," says Kylie.

"So what do you see that makes you say shaded?"

"Because it seems like darker than all the others, like darker than all the other spots," says Kylie.

"So noticing the darker and thinking that perhaps someone has shaded that. What more can we find?"

"I agree with Jeff, or whoever said it was a drawing and I notice that like in the top--my right upper side--that person could be a girl because it looks like that face, on the top, yeah, that guy looks like he could be in his 80s or something because he looks kind of older," Kacey says.

"What do you see that makes you say older?"

"Because he has like glasses. And he has kind of like his chin, he has a beard," Kacey replies.

"OK, so noticing some features about this person's face and thinking yes, I agree that that one seems to be older and perhaps that one could be a female face. What more can we find? Connor?"

"I think it's some sketches that Leonardo DaVinci made," Connor says.

"So Connor's agreeing here that we've got some sketches. What more can we find? Ashley?"

"I disagree with Connor because it says down there like the artist signed it, Rembrandt 1636. It could be 10 or 16 because just the way it looks, the writing's kind of faded. I don't know. I've heard of Rembrandt before," Ashley says.

"I agree that it's Rembrandt, and I think the year is 1636 just because of like very few people say 1036 because ... if you look at the little circle because if you compare the two sixes ... the little top part goes higher than the number to make it a six," Allison says.

This Visual Thinking Strategy session at Camelot Intermediate School in Brookings, S.D., illustrates the creative and critical thinking skills used when 4th and 5th graders discuss art.

Making meaning together by observing carefully, deciphering patterns, speculating, clarifying, supporting opinions, and generating more ideas--these skills are learned patterns of thinking. Camelot teachers nurture these student behaviors by facilitating monthly art discussions. The staff originally chose Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to improve student writing. Now they recognize that, in addition to strengthening students' communication skills, VTS generates critical-thinking skills, including creativity. …

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