Visual Literacy refers to a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning.

When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, that he encounters in his environment.

Through the creative use of these competencies, he is able to communicate with others.

Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he is able to comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication.
— John Debes, cofounder of the International Visual Literacy Association, 1969

Visual thinking is a great learning method that is already used as a curriculum in non-formal learning settings and in schools, involved in formal education.

Visual thinking provides a way to facilitate a learning process that encourages an in-depth thinking applicable in most subjects from poetry to math, science and social studies.  Through visual thinking' rigorous group 'problem-solving' process, learners cultivate a willingness and ability to present their own ideas, while respecting and learning from the perspectives of their peers.

Engaged by contributing observations and ideas, the learners participate in visual thinking lessons in ways they often don’t in others. 

To address the effective use of visual skills in the pursuit of learning, visual learning theory has evolved into four key elements:

  • full-spectrum visual learning,
  • active and performance-based learning,
  • dynamic translation, and
  • a multidisciplinary approach.

The LAB is widely using Visual Teaching and Learning methods, based on visual thinking strategies. These methods have been initiated by teacher-facilitated discussions of  images and documented to have a cascading positive effect on both teachers and learners.  

The visual thinking methodology we are using presents a simple way for teachers and all kind of educators to provide learners with key competences: thinking skills that become habitual and transfer from lesson to lesson, oral and written language literacy, visual literacy, and collaborative interactions among peers.

Our Skills Development Programs are focusing on the growth and expansion of educational approaches that stimulate learners’ abilities to assess and produce a visual language, as well as enhancement of learners’ skills through the use of visual literacy strategies.

We offer Visual Thinking Strategies training and practice for teachers and trainers to:

  • Use open-ended questioning and learner-centered facilitation techniques, including strategies for listening and paraphrasing, to create learner-driven and engaging group discussion environments.
  • Engage learners in discourse about a complex problem (carefully selected works of visual art) with an emphasis on providing evidence while considering and building off the contributions and perspectives of their peers.
  • Teach in a rigorously learner-centered, inquiry-based manner that both nurtures positive relationships with learners while encouraging students to be independent learners who think for themselves.

Who Is the Visual Teacher?

The visual teacher is an educator who
• embraces and models full-spectrum visual literacy and
• understands the effects of visual stimulation on brain development and, where appropriate, utilizes imagery to enhance learning.

The visual teacher understands
• the underlying concepts of visual literacy.
Imagery communicates in an emotional and prerational style that can bypass logical thought. Imagery invokes the part of our brain that assembles symbols and visual elements into stories.

The visual teacher actively encourages
• students to decode still images, such as documentary or advertising photography; and
• moving images, such as commercials, newscasts, and dramatic or comic television programs and films.

The visual teacher explores
• with students the signs and symbols in art and visual media.

The visual teacher encourages
• students to encode or make more effective still images through an understanding of passive, neutral, and active imagery.

The visual teacher avoids
• passive learning experiences by bridging “seeing” and “doing” through the use of appropriate projects, activities, and technologies.

The visual teacher responds to student image making, evaluating effectiveness based on criteria that correspond to the methods of visual learning:
• Did you discover something new (external)?
• Did you record your observation faithfully and accurately?
• Did you manifest an idea, thought, or feeling in visual form?
• Would a viewer “get” the idea, thought, or feeling you have expressed in visual form?
• Has your image changed a viewer’s mind or influenced his or her behavior?
• Did you discover something new (internal)?

The visual teacher creates assignments and activitiesthat allow students to develop and apply their visual information handling skills by using the abilities
• to organize images for effective display;
• to establish visual criteria and arrange images in a visual database;
• to substitute images for words and establish a visual language;
• to combine images with text to share ideas more effectively;
• to integrate images with live presentations to communicate more powerfully; and
• to alter, manipulate, or transform existing images to envision something new.

Useful Resources for Learning How to Teach Visual Thinking

1. Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines, by Philip Yenawine.
The book by the co-creator of the VTS curriculum details his experiences teaching elementary school age students. The stories show how VTS can be easily integrated into the classroom with structured discussions of visual art. 

2. Cases on Teaching Critical Thinking through Visual Representation Strategies, by Leonard Shedletsky
This book compiles research from scholars and education professionals to provide more insight into student development through visual thinking.