When Brian Fizer quit his sales job to become a teacher, he had an idea of how he wanted to run his classroom. "I knew what my teaching philosophy was," he said. "I knew I wanted to be a democratic teacher and to have a student-centered classroom."
Visual Thinking Strategies has helped him do that at the Tobin School in Boston for the past three years. "VTS is a solid way to sum up my philosophy. If I knew if I came at teaching with these questions, my teaching would be student-centered, not teacher-centered."
Fizer uses VTS in every subject area and the questions help plan his lessons. The questions help him "get at what I think they should know. VTS really gets to the heart of the lesson." The class uses VTS to tackle mathematical charts and graphs or complicated poetry or stories. This gives students an access point for new material.
"When I ask students for evidence in a story or poem, what I'm really asking is 'what did you read that makes you say that?' When I use that verbiage, they think 'oh, I know how to do that.'
Using VTS across disciplines not only helps students as they tackle literature and other subjects, but also enriches their monthly discussions. Fizer says that students in his most recent VTS discussion sat for a full two minutes before starting to talk, whereas in the past, they've been ready to talk immediately.
"They are really looking at the image," Fizer said. "They are making connections and talking about the process and what the artist had in mind, instead of just the narrative."
Fizer says the second question has the greatest ramifications in his teaching. "They know they just can't say something without evidence. It inspires them to reasonable, which I think we as a society are sometimes lacking."