Essentials of Teaching and Integrating Visual and Media Literacy

pp 49-73


Understanding Visual Literacy: The Visual Thinking Strategies Approach

  • Dabney HaileyAffiliated withHailey Group, LLC Email author 
  • , Alexa MillerAffiliated withArts Practica, LLC
  • , Philip YenawineAffiliated withVisual Understanding in Education

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This chapter makes the case for two aspects of visual literacy that the authors believe to be generally overlooked: (1) that visual literacy occurs by way of a developmental trajectory and requires instruction as well as practice, and (2) that it involves as much thought as it does visual awareness and is an integral component of the skills and beliefs related to inquiry. This chapter roots these ideas in the theory and research of cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen, coauthor of Visual Thinking Sttategies (VTS) with museum educator Philip Yenawine. Housen identified aesthetic stages that mark the development of skills helping to define visual literacy. Her research is also the basis of VTS, a method of engaging learners in deep experiences looking at art and discussing meanings with peers, a process that, this chapter posits, furthers visual literacy. This chapter presents that body of research and details the resulting VTS protocol. It reviews academic studies to date, subsequent to Housen, that document the impact of VTS interventions in various settings, and suggests beneficial areas for future research. In order to probe what development in visual literacy looks and sounds like on a granular level, two case studies of student writing from existing studies are presented and analyzed. Visual literacy skills enabled by VTS are briefly connected to broader educational concerns.


Visual Thinking Sttategies Aesthetic development interview Viewing art Museum education Teaching strategies in museums Aesthetic experiences Visually literate