New York, NY

When Juan Carlos Vasquez walked into a VTS lesson at PS 159 in the Bronx last year, his first thought was: "What's going on in this classroom?" The lights were off and an image was projected on to the wall. And the students were talking! Every student seemed to want to give his or her to talk about what they could find in the image. "I was immediately drawn to it," Juan Carlos says.

Juan Carlos, who teaches 5th grade at PS 159, a bilingual school, says his goal is "to mold thinkers," and the VTS teaching program helps him do that. He incorporates VTS in lessons above and beyond the 10 lessons in the program. He has integrated the teaching strategy in subjects like social studies, science and poetry.

Juan Carlos says using VTS to discuss poetry has "stimulated so much conversation." He has lead discussions on Langston Hughes and William Carlos Williams poems with his class, which helps them develop critical thinking and analytical skills.

"Sometimes I focus on a certain aspect of the poem, and in paraphrasing try to identify those elements, like 'figurative language' and 'line imagery.' I'd give them the organization and structure that way. And I noticed they changed their language. They'd say 'stanza' instead of 'paragraph' when talking about poems."

When the class was starting a unit on cells, Juan Carlos projected and image of a cell on to a screen and the class had a VTS discussion about it. After a few weeks, they looked at the cell again, using the proper terminology for the cell's parts. Using VTS discussions in other subjects helps student retain information, Juan Carlos says.

"Students who were very shy are not as insecure. They were very fragile, but by showing them I was interested and they had nothing to fear, they became more sturdy. Even my ELL students are not afraid," he says.

Although Juan Carlos's class has been concentrating heavily on test prep recently, he still makes time to fit in VTS lessons. During his last VTS lesson, the conversation was so rich, Juan Carlos couldn't move on. They spent 40 minutes talking about the same piece of art. "Forty minutes after an intense test prep session, I expected them not to be into it. It was the opposite. I was shocked," Juan Carlos says. "After they'd been so focused and intent on the ELA, they were ready to be stimulated in a different way."

For Juan Carlos, VTS and academic achievement go hand in hand. He's seen test scores improve as students gain confidence through this learning strategy. Using visual thinking has helped Juan Carlos' reach students on a different level, and they benefit from that kind of focused free-thinking. And they really enjoy it.

"I'm surprised by their enthusiasm every time," he says. "As soon as I put an image on, they just zone in."