Learning through Our Eyes the Use of Visual Thinking Strategies Is Catching on in Spokane Schools

By Allen, Jim | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), January 26, 2019 | Go to article overview

Learning through Our Eyes the Use of Visual Thinking Strategies Is Catching on in Spokane Schools


Allen, Jim, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


In Marion Bageant's classroom at Garfield Elementary School, first-graders tackled the slippery subject of subtraction last week with a pile of worms.

The worms existed only on paper, but the students brought them to life thanks to Bageant's embrace of visual thinking strategies, where every picture is worth a thousand thoughts.

Those thoughts took shape in the hands of 20 students, who drew worms of all shapes and sizes as they digested a story problem:

"There were 11 worms in the dirt. Nijah dug out some worms to use for fishing. Then there were five worms in the dirt. How many worms were dug out?"

Through it all, Bageant focused on the journey.

What followed was a revelation for her students, whose worms were represented as blobs, zigzags, straight lines and curves. They were counted in lines and on number trees.

What mattered was the process in finding the "unknown number" through the visual process and then discussing the problem and the solution.

"The best thing is that it builds a unique classroom like nothing I've ever seen before," said Karin Thompson, who coordinates language arts, social studies and kindergarten at Spokane Public Schools.

"It has opened doors to learning for kids who often don't want to share, and that's what's opened the eyes of teachers," Thompson said.

What began as a method to stimulate teacher-student discussion of art images, visual thinking strategies (VTS) is widely documented as having positive effects on teachers and students.

It was created by cognitive psychologist Abigail House and museum educator Philip Yenawine, who in a 2013 book define VTS as the use of art to teach "visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills."

VTS is used in museums, schools, universities and health institutions around the world.

Museums have made a significant contribution to teaching VTS. In Spokane, the MAC offers a two-day practicum, "Developing Powerful 21st-Century Skills Through Art."

"They have been a cornerstone for our work," Thompson said.

The scientific basis, according to experts, is that visual information is processed more quickly than text. Also, students write more, and at a higher level, as a result of discussions using visual thinking strategies. …

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