Look to Learn

During my time here at the David Owsley Museum of Art, I discovered a wonderful program that I was not aware of that had been going on for several years called Look to Learn. Look to Learn began as a collaborative project developed by Ball State Teachers College faculty, Burris Laboratory School, and the Museum of Art and began in the fall of 2010 for grades 3 through 5. Look to Learn uses a method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). Basically, VTS is a way to look at and discuss artwork in an open environment that helps build students’ critical thinking, communication, and art viewing skills.

Cathy Bretz has asked the young girl to explain what she sees.
Cathy Bretz has asked the young girl to explain what she sees.

Each VTS discussion typically consists of looking at three different images of art, and discussing each of them. The discussion is led by a teacher who asks three open-ended questions:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

These questions help students look at art works more critically, pay attention to details, voice what they think is going on in the image, back up their opinion with evidence from the image, learn that there may be multiple interpretations of an image, and be respectful of others. Seems pretty straight forward, right? It is. What I find really interesting about it is that no information about the artwork is given in the classroom. No title, no artist name, no medium, no date, nothing. Even when this information is given at the end, only the bare minimum is provided. As someone with absolutely no experience with this method, I’ll be honest, that threw me off at first. I am so used to having that information spoon fed to me through labels or art history classes that often focus more on the artist and other factors that may have influenced the work. By not giving this information at the beginning, the focus remains on the image and what can be seen. If a student wants to know more about the work or the artist, they are encouraged to find out for themselves.

Cathy Bretz leads the discussion with Look to Learn students and their families.
Cathy Bretz leads the discussion with Look to Learn students and their families.

Once I observed Look to Learn in action, and participated in the activity myself, I saw how valuable it can be. It’s a way to talk about the image, and about what we see and interpret as the viewer. As viewers, we rely on our own knowledge and experiences, and by looking at an image closely, can come to our own conclusions with the VTS method. Discussing an image with a group of people in this way can push those conclusions even further. Someone in the group may notice a detail that another might overlook or does not fully understand. It’s a chance to learn from one another, to improve critical thinking skills, and to learn how to talk about art and its impact.

Here, Tania Said leads the discussion.
Here, Tania Said leads the discussion.

As I watched Cathy Bretz (Education Program Coordinator) and Tania Said (Director of Education) lead discussions at the David Owsley Museum of Art with several of the children who had participated in the Look to Learn program along with their families, I noticed that these children talked as much and often more than the adults. Thinking of myself at that age (a child who rarely made a peep), I found myself wishing that I had had a program like Look to Learn at my elementary school. How often do we stop and look closely? And then talk about what we see?

Look to Learn has finished up its pilot program (for more information, click here), and the David Owsley Museum of Art is in the process of looking for schools who may be interested in including it in their curriculum. I hope Look to Learn continues, it’s a valuable program, and even with my brief introduction to it, I can see that it’s a program worth keeping. Looking closely, and looking more than once is an important skill to learn.

To see the VTS method in action, here is a video of students at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston participating in discussions. The video also includes comments from teachers and administrators as well as from Philip Yenawine, co-author of Visual Thinking Strategies. The full video, “Thinking Through Art” is available for viewing at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website.

Check it out.


For more information about VTS, click here.




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