Visual Thinking Strategies

Carver Middle School has incorporated VTS into its language arts curriculum.


What's going on in this picture?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can we find?



These very simple questions lead to fascinating discussions.


Hope Torrents at the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables trained the Language Arts Department at my school in VTS several years ago. The Lowe Art Museum works with several schools in the area, providing fieldtrips to the museum for teachers and students and continuous teacher training to ensure that the process becomes an important piece of the curriculum.


Here are a few of ways we’ve used VTS:


  • Teachers in my department have used the images provided by VTS and have branched out to identify images that will segue into literature or writing assignments.


  • VTS is also an excellent way to preview a novel.  Treat the cover art as a VTS image and the three questions are a natural fit.


  • Speaking of the three questions, now that we are moving towards implementing the National Common Core Standards, these questions lend themselves to promoting the idea of close reads.  What’s going on in this chapter, poem, or page…? What do you see that makes you say that? These questions require the reader to support their response with evidence from the text. What more can you find? This question sends the reader back to the text again and again.

 Here is the link to the VTS Newsletter about our first year of VTS.



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.

Below I have included two videos of VTS classroom discussions. The school is indicated at the beginning of each video.


Be sure to check out the VTS Home page at for more information on the VTS curriculum and more videos.