VTS: An Entry Point for ELL

As museums continue to engage with immigration, language barriers and other cultural shifts, museums can look for inspiration from the Whitney Museum. The Whitney recently piloted a Youth Insights Introductions program in summer 2014. This program involved 15 New York City high school students, who are self-identified English Language Learners. According to the Whitney, this free resource ‘welcomes teens…to explore, discover and discuss American art, and to create original works of art and writing.’ Others museums have used other resources to create programs for these audiences.

This pilot program builds on the Whitney’s Youth Insights programs.

This blog post introduces the idea of incorporating Visual Thinking Strategies in art museums to engage new audiences, particularly those who are recent immigrants or current English Language Learners. A great resource for museums looking to broaden their programming is CALTA21, Cultures and Literacies Through Art for the 21st Century.


CALTA21 is a model initiative funded through a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The intent of this initiative, led by Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), is to build the capacity of museum-community college partnerships, to empower adult immigrant English language learners (ELL) while strengthening their literacy and critical thinking skills through visual literacy and simultaneously assisting them in enriching their social and cultural capital.

In fact, CALTA21 offered a free webinar in June 2014 to discuss these very ideas: Museums and Institutions of Higher Education Unite to Empower Adult English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

While this webinar focuses primarily on advanced adult language learners, all museums and cultural sites can work to make their programs more accessible and welcoming to all English Language Learners. This can work to foster inclusion as well as lifelong engagement with museums and community.

VTS can serve as an effective method for ELL students and families by:

  • Encouraging a fluency of language
  • Validation of experience and past knowledge
  • Adopting an appreciation of multiple viewpoints
  • Being a cathartic experience for visitors
  • Combining visual literacy and literacy based activities

CALTA21’s website has a wealth of information, including a multi-week guided curriculum and a list of museums nationwide that provide free admission. They encourage any museum or cultural institution to look into their program. Check it out!

Powerpoint: http://www.vtshome.org/system/resources/W1siZiIsIjIwMTMvMDQvMDkvMTRfMDdfMDdfODA2X1ZUU19Gb3J1bV9Sb3VuZHRhYmxlX0VMTF8wNDA0MjAxMy5wZGYiXV0/VTS%20Forum%20Roundtable-ELL-04042013.pdf.

Find more information about CALTA21 here: http://www.calta21.org/


3 thoughts on “VTS: An Entry Point for ELL

  1. What an amazing program! I would love to know more about how they recruit students into the program. My experiences when I was teaching was that ELL students were shy and unfortunately embarrassed about speaking English and it would take them a while to feel comfortable speaking with me. I love that this program combines becoming more comfortable with speaking and creativity. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Wow, this is so interesting! In studying teaching Hebrew Language, one of our strategies of breaking down language learning boundaries was to 1) relate to our learners in the way they learn (whether that be in a visual, audio, tactile, repetitive, kinesthetic, etc. way), and 2) relate the language lesson to an interest of the learner. I am wondering if this is the result of the participants’ sole interest in art? Can it be likened to the fact that math is the same in every language? (…therefore learning about art together, regardless of the strength of one’s ELL abilities at the start, can minimize language-learning inhibitions?)

    My questions regarding this program would be:

    1) What are the incentives?
    2) What are the student ability requirements?
    3) What are the intended take aways?

    This is awesome!


  3. Great spotlight on the Whitney’s program and CALTA21. I know that VTS gets a lot of heat in the field, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily always the best tool for every audience in every situation, I do think that it has some pretty great strengths that have obvious applications to ELL audiences: validation of participants’ contributions, collaborative creation of meaning, emphasis on gesturing by the facilitator to make sure that all participants are on the same page, and the crucial (and often overlooked) paraphrasing of every participants’ comments by the facilitator to ensure that all comments are heard and understood by both facilitator and other participants, as well as providing an opportunity to introduce alternate vocabulary.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s