Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) Neighbourhood Schools – Phase 2

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What is Visual Thinking Strategies?

Visual Thinking Strategies is a slow looking enquiry based process developed by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in which children lead the agenda. It is the result of 15 years collaboration between cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen and museum educator Philip Yenawine.

VTS is an educational curriculum and teaching method which enables students to develop aesthetic and language literacy and critical thinking skills. Students learn from each other, respect each others opinion and acknowledge that there a multiple perspectives of a given artwork and learn how to incorporate other ideas.

VTS Questions

VTS facilitation is based around three initial questions:

What do you see? or What’s going on in this artwork?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What else can we see?


VTS Neighbourhood Schools – Sharing the Experience received funding under Dublin City Councils Neighbourhood Arts Funding to develop on its Visual Thinking Strategies Project. Through using Visual Thinking Strategies to add to the knowledge of the arts and build on the sense of place and experience that the children on Central Model N.S have and to share that experience with their neighbours through working in close collaboration with two schools (St. Mary’s N.S, Fairview and St. Vincent’s B.N.S, Ballybough) with trained VTS practitioners.

For Phase 1 (March – June 2017)- there were 2nd Class groups from Central Model School, Junior Infants from St.Vincent’s BNS and Evita Coyle’s 3rd Class group from St.Mary’s N.S, Fairview all doing  a series of 6 X VTS Sessions with trained facilitators – Bridget Kildee, Orla Doyle and Claire Halpin who will be mentored by Liz Coman (DCC Assistant Arts Officer and trained VTS Facilitator).

For Phase 2 (September 2017 – March 2018) – we have continued VTS Sessions with the original class groups and Claire has started a series of 6 sessions with Sarah Dwyer’s First Class Group. We have had two session with our first gallery visit to The Lab Gallery last week. We visited the exhibition Future Proof which is a group exhibition of artists exploring science through different forms and materials.

VTS Beginner and Advanced Training Practicum

In November a number of teachers from the three participating schools in the VTS Neighbourhood Schools will be participating the Visual Thinking Strategies Beginners Practicum Training in association with Dublin City Arts Office and The Lab Gallery. Evita Coyle from St.Mary’s N.S will be participating and then will begin facilitating sessions with her First Class group with the support of Claire Halpin and Liz Coman through mentoring and evaluating.


VTS Neighbourhood Schools – Evaluation/ Feedback

  • Feedback from teachers that the children were listening to each other speak and giving each other space and time to articulate their thoughts without being interrupted, something that did not happen before.
  • The children’s levels of verbal articulation rose as did their confidence in speaking and all of these things are very valuable in terms of developmental learning.
  • Children are learning from each other, listening and acknowledging that there are multiple perspective and interpretations of a given artwork and respecting each other’s opinions.
  • They are learning how to incorporate others ideas through using “I agree with and I think that etc” and also transferring these problem solving and negotiating skills naturally into other subjects in the classroom.
  • Class teachers have also began using the VTS facilitation methods in other subjects eg. science and SPHE through encouraging group discussion, observations and evidencing of observations or contributions to discussions – ie. what do you see that makes you say that?
  • Through each child’s contributions being listened to and respected, the children gained in confidence and some of the quieter children were encouraged by this to contribute orally to the sessions and gaining in confidence in their contributions.
  • The students have a greater awareness of the art spaces in their local neighbourhood as well as the changing exhibition programme through visits with the class as well as passing by at other times – eg. “the exhibition has changed since we went last time, the big photo is gone”.
  • Children are relating to their parents their visits to The Lab and Hugh Lane Gallery and have revisited exhibitions with their parents and families.

Relevant Links:

DCC Arts Office – Project 20/20

VTS in an Irish Primary School:

Visual Thinking Strategies    




Week 4: First Class – Clay Animals move into Fairview Park and build homes!

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Week 3: First Class – Colour Charts and Nature Charts in Fairview Park

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This week Ms.Rice’s First Class brought their painted colour charts over to Fairview Park to see if we could find things in the natural world that matched our mixed colour charts. Working in groups the class discovered an amazing rainbow of leaves, flowers, grasses! The class then used concertina notebooks to record some of the shapes and patterns they could find in the park. The class were encouraged to look at the individual shapes and sizes of the leaves they found and to draw or trace them carefully. Next week we will be using these for our collaborative painting of Fairview Park!



Week 3: First Class – Grand Designs Clay Castles for the Princess!

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The Princess was coming to inspect her Castle! Last week I had told the class the story of the Prince who had asked the Princess to marry him and she agreed only if he had a castle….and he had a week to build a castle! So First Class had begun to experiment different ways of constructing a castle using some of the techniques we had used over the last few weeks. Some of the class worked together to construct their castles, working on the structure first and then adding decoration or interior decor – like the lovely fluffy carpet in one castle. Great work by First Class – each castle had something different to offer and some unique feature that any Princess would be happy to live in for happy ever after!


Week 2: First Class – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colours

With Ms.Rice’s First Class we continued our explorations in colour through working on a basic colour wheel –

Red, Blue and Yellow – Primary Colours

Mixed together to make Secondary Colours

Red + Blue = Purple

Blue + Yellow = Green

Red + Yellow = Orange

So many beautiful colours! We looked at each others colour charts and discussed how all the greens were not the same – some were more yellowy green, some were more bluey green, same with the purples and the oranges – they were all different depending on how much of each of the primary colours were mixed.

Each table then focused on one secondary colour and mixed a range of greens, oranges and purples.

Lovely work First Class!


Week 2: First Class – Rollers and Clay Towers

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We began with our warm up exercises for our hands, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders before getting stuck into our clay work! We each got a block of clay which we had to form into a ball, then pull it apart and make all the individual small parts into balls too! And then each table stacked their spheres on top of each other to form a tower. This took a bit of working out with the balance and structure so it would stand. Well long enough to take a photo!

We then introduced rollers and clay tools to the session. Exploring the different textures, and marks that we could make in the clay using the full range of tools. Next week we are going to explore how we can build up clay structures using slip to join the clay and try to build a castle for the princess!


Ms.Rice’s First Class – Watery Paints and Colour Explosions!

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First week with Ms.Rice’s First Class group. We are going to exploring paint and colour over the next four weeks and also go on a visit to Fairview Park to explore colour in nature.

We began with using one colour on water colour paper which is textured and is heavier than paper like card. We painted water on the paper and then let paint drop into the water and move across the paper running along where the water. Then we used two colours starting with one colour at each end and using water in the middle to let the colours mix together so we got an amazing range of colours – yellowy greens, turquoises, bluey greens, bluey purples, pinky purples and red purples. Beautiful mixing of colours and each one completely different!

Well done First Class! Lovely paintings!