Friday, March 9, 2007

The Heart of the Matter


Yesterday I had a visit from a teacher from Seattle who has been working with a framework for teaching critical thinking about the visual arts. The organization which has developed the methodology is calls itself VUE, which which stands for Visual Understanding in Education. The process that they have worked out, which is called VST (for Visual Thinking Strategies) involved presenting students with works of art and asking them three questions: "What is going on in this picture?" "What do you see that makes you say that?" and "What more can we find?" These particular questions were chosen after much deliberation and experimentation, and the documentation provided on the web site both explains the logic of the sequence and lays out some of the research findings validating its effectiveness. The basic premise seems to be that as students gain experience cycling through this set of questions, their observational skills improve, as does the their ability to think broadly and deeply about what they are seeing.

As I was looking through the documentation, I could sense some parallels between that sequence of questions and another sequence that I have been using for some time in my own sophomore critical thinking course. The three questions that I emphasize at the start of my course, and keep asking the students to keep cycling back through, are "What do you see?" What do you think about what you see?" and "What's another way to look at it?" I've illustrated the first two steps in the process in a previous post. The third step is perhaps the single most powerful move I know in the repertoire of critical thinking, what I sometimes call "the sideways move." The exact wording of the question can vary. "What more can we find?" is one phrasing, "What's another way to look at it?" is another. Or we might ask, "What's another point of view?" or "Let's assume tat everything that we've said so far is true, but doesn't get to the heart of the matter. What are we missing? What's significant that we haven't said yet? How do we get to the heart of the matter?"

I think the important factor, with the VUE methodology as with my own variation of it, is that students need to practice it often enough, and in enough different contexts (looking at a work of art, reading a poem, discussing a passage from a novel, reading a letter to the editor, considering a news story, etc.) that eventually the logic of the sequence becomes internalized, and the students begin to ask those sorts of questions on their own without prompting.

There are a lot of other critical thinking paradigms or modules or sequences of moves that are worth trying. But this is one of the ones that I've found to be most effective over the course of a semester. And I'm encouraged that the people associated with VUE have systematized it and are making an effort to share it.

3 comments:

Sarah McIntosh Puglisi said...

So I tried to resist commenting. I get old I know...But ....I guess my degrees in art and art ed. just are pulling on me. One way to respond to art and I think the way I often respond is to make. Create, draw, paint. I took my son today to an LA art show. He is 11. Luca draws and like my two other children and husband making things is just a part of our life. We were walking around and I was thinking about these questions on your site. He was stopped by a really lovely Van Gogh. I said, "What are you thinking?" And he said, "Mom I'm looking at his paint, the strokes, how the lines carry me around the picture. I'm thinking that he makes so much movement. I want to remember that when I'm working.I need to move " So to that I thought...wow. Then I asked him in each space what pictures spoke to him. He is a quiet boy, often non-verbal. Athletic. Luca has a Sensory Processing Dysfunction but I guess that's irrelevant. He and I are very close and very quiet together. He spoke such thoughtful things about the art we saw. Of a Hockney he said, "It's flavor is so "right now" and yet it seems to fit into a museum too." Anyway I think children need to see art, talk about it, make it, he is downstairs tonight making clay platters. I appreciated this piece. I'm more motivated now and I'll haul my first graders up to the museum in Santa Barbara and down to the Getty or LACMA. I need to take them into these places from the hood. Forgot myself not doing this already. Sometimes I need to be reminded of my role as an educator.Recharged.

And I found two poetry volumes in the bookstore. Captivity by Laurie Sheck, and The Light Within The Light by Jeanne Brahm....but I was super delighted to see Moser prints in the second. Maybe the poetry is for me but somehow today all fell together with a little reflection through your post. Thanks, sarah

Marco Polo said...

Bruce, I took a Harvard Graduate School of Education online course on Multiple Intelligences in 2004 (see here for details of future courses), and seem to recall VUE being a part of the course. It was used slightly differently from how you describe, however. It was fascinating. There was a choice of pictures; once you had chosen, you followed a series of slides each with a different question about the picture, or rather your reactions to it, what you see in it, etc. The key thing was that other people's previous responses to those same questions were available to you. The idea was that after answering the question, you were then able to see other participants' responses to the same question. This was the "multiple intelligences" part: you get to see how very differently various people respond to the question you just answered. It was really eye-opening. What I took away from this is not just the simplistic conclusion that "people are different", but rather that we can all learn from each other because we are different. Each of us alone cannot imagine how the world appears to other people: we need to actually see and hear how others react to the world to understand that variety. In addition, a richer understanding is obtained by having available to one the responses from different people. You learn twice: once when you try and answer the question yourself, and again in a different way when you read the answers others came up with. I understood how important variety ("diversity" is the trendy word) is, much as ecological diversity is necessary for a rich and stable ecological system. We human beings need other people who are different from us, see the world in different ways than we do, and we need to listen to how it is for them, as well as express how it is for us.

Bruce Schauble said...

Sarah: Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and encouraging responses. I thought that was a great story about your son, and I wholeheartedly agree that children need to see art, talk about it, make it. Many of my students seem to have no sense of what their own tastes in art might be. It's not something they've thought about much. And yet what a richness there is, in every direction. In art, as in poetry, I think there's somebody out there who can light up even the most apparently disengaged student. But how to find them unless we look?

Marco: I used to teach in Massachusetts and during the last few years I was there I was on a sort of task force with some people from Motorola Corporation, and they had us all do the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory, and then they divided us up into groups that were homogeneous, and (later) into groups that were heterogeneous. Each group was given a particular task to do, and then a similar taks was given to the reconfigured groups. It wasn't until I saw how much richer the conversations were, and how much better the results were, when I was in groups that were set up to include diverse thinking styles, that "light dawned on Marblehead."

You say, "Each of us alone cannot imagine how the world appears to other people: we need to actually see and hear how others react to the world to understand that variety. In addition, a richer understanding is obtained by having available to one the responses from different people."

That's dead on.