Fox teachers know that students are thinking critically about what they say and what they write in the classroom.

What is VTS?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a student-centered method initiated by teacher-facilitated discussions of art images and documented to have a cascading positive effect on both teachers and students. It is perhaps the simplest way in which teachers and schools can provide students with key behaviors sought by Common Core Standards: thinking skills that become habitual and transfer from lesson to lesson, oral and written language literacy, visual
literacy, and collaborative interactions among peers.

VTS provides a way to jumpstart a process of learning to think deeply applicable in most subjects from poetry to math, science, and social studies. Art is the essential first discussion topic because it enables students to use existing visual and cognitive skills to develop confidence and experience, learning to use what they already know to figure out what they don’t; they are then prepared to explore other complex subject matter alone and with peers.

Through VTS’ rigorous group ‘problem-solving’ process, students cultivate a willingness and ability to present their ideas while respecting and learning from the perspectives of their peers. Engaged by contributing observations and ideas, the students participate in VTS-based lessons in ways they often don’t in others. VTS is a school curriculum; it is used in many art museums as a method of discussion.

Experience with VTS produces growth in all students, from challenged and non-English language learners to high achievers. In addition, teachers enjoy the process and benefit from a new approach that reaches all students and is useful across their practice.

Dorothy Fox brings this program to our school through a partnership between the school, our Fox PTA, and the Camas Educational Foundation.  The training is a three-year $25,000 grant with materials, teacher training, and coaching provided each year.  Classrooms will implement at least one VTS discussion a month.  Teachers started with a day of training at the Portland Art Museum this summer with two follow-up pieces of training on Wednesday afternoons later this year.  Even in year one (2014-15) we noticed that VTS influences how our teachers ask questions and how students engage in discussion. When students learn to make inferences and support their ideas with evidence orally, we believe they will be able to transfer this information to text.  These are required skills of our students and are essential building blocks to critical thinking.  This program also helps our teachers to learn how to really listen and respond to students’ thinking in depth.

Special thanks to co-grant writers Cheryl Johnson, Jo Candelore, Cathy Sork, and Fox Parent Catherine Epstein.

VTS videos and research findings can be accessed at:

Teachers are asking more open-ended questions and increasing their inquiries to match the higher standards of what students can and need to do.  ~ Quote from Fox principal
I notice that my ELL kids are coming to life verbally sharing insights about the visual images. It changes how the other kids view them when they get a chance to lead and show how smart they are. ~ from a Fox teacher