When her school adopted VTS school wide, it didn’t take long for Aija Simmons, a 5th grade teacher there, to notice that her students’ insights went well beyond a superficial exploration of the images.
“I’ve used VTS in so many different ways since I was first introduced to the three questions,” Simmons shares, starting with poetry. With poetry, Simmons says it’s a way to access both the details and the bigger picture for her students, while considering the poem from multiple viewpoints.
Simmons notes that not only did these discussions lead to several “firsts”, including a focus on author’s intent and citing specific lines in the poem as evidence, but that the whole experience of “VTSing” poems was just plain fun.
Simmons teaches at New Highland Academy in East Oakland, where 100% of the students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and over 70% are English language learners.
Along the way, she has put together a series of images that she still uses to introduce each social studies unit using VTS. Now in her fourth year of VTS, she is exploring how VTS with images can support students’ writing – particularly to meet the Common Core emphasis on claims and evidence.
So far, “the transition to claims and evidence has never been easier. Never,” says Simmons.
“The kids love it,” she says. “They have no problem writing their claim. Because the images are so easily accessible, the content is not getting in the way of them learning the writing skills.”
Each week, Simmons and her students examine an image from the curriculum using VTS. The next day, students settle in to craft a piece of writing based on their well-founded interpretations. “It will so smoothly open the door to counter-claims,” Simmons predicts.
Lately, she has begun to notice her students’ use of metacognitive language in VTS discussions as they think about their thinking. Of this year’s work with VTS, she says with a smile, “I’m planning on learning a lot.”