The Art of Looking

Term: 3 Year: 2016

Visual thinking strategies at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

In the coming months over one hundred Year 9 students will visit Heide Museum of Modern Art to engage with modern and contemporary art. They are among 3,500 students who visit Heide each year, but this is no ordinary excursion to an art gallery. These students are really familiar with the museum - they speak confidently about contemporary art, they know the sculptures within the Sculpture Park, they have created their own artworks in the education centre and they even notice when an artwork has been moved for a new exhibition. This is because these Year 9 students are part of a special program that partners their school with the art museum. They began visiting Heide in 2014 as Year 7 students, and are now in their third year of a Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) School Partnership Program.

What is VTS?
Visual Thinking Strategies is an approach to experiencing art through careful, close looking and questioning. VTS empowers students to discuss art based on what they can see in an artwork, and enables them to take critical thinking skills developed through this process into other areas of their learning. Learn more about VTS at

Case Study: Koonung Secondary College
Heide has been using VTS to help students explore artworks during gallery visits since 2012. In 2014, the museum partnered with a local school, Koonung Secondary College, to trial a VTS multi-visit program over a three-year period.

The first step was teacher training. Koonung Secondary College teachers completed a VTS professional development program to gain an in-depth understanding of this methodology. They were introduced to the basics of VTS facilitation and participated in VTS demonstrations. They then analysed the questions and paraphrasing that is essential to VTS, to come to a better understanding of the educational psychology and VTS pedagogy. Teachers then had an opportunity to practise VTS in the Heide galleries. Teachers received VTS cards, curriculum materials, further reading and videos to reflect on and refine their delivery of VTS.

Back at school, teachers included fortnightly VTS discussions in their lessons. Students enjoyed the VTS sessions and were soon asking ‘Are we going to talk about art again today?’ The teachers noticed increased engagement and improvement in their students’ oral, visual and written literacies. Heide provides ongoing coaching and mentoring to support teachers in developing their facilitation skills.

The next step is going on excursions to Heide. Students and teachers explore the Heide exhibitions and engage with artworks in VTS discussions guided by Heide educators. In addition to their VTS tours, students take part in artist led art-making workshops in the education centre.

A new year level joins the program each year and the VTS curriculum is tailored to support student learning within the Visual Arts core and elective units. The Koonung Secondary College teachers are now experienced VTS facilitators who use this strategy with their Year 7, 8 and 9 classes.

Heide and Koonung Secondary College’s VTS partnership has built a close working relationship between museum and classroom educators. Students have a personal connection with the museum upon which to build a lifelong appreciation of art.
Learn more about Heide’s VTS School Partnership Program

Carly Grace 
Education Manager
Heide Museum of Modern Art

Supporting teachers in creative education
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