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The Brooks Brings Innovative Curriculum to Memphis City Schools

MEMPHIS, TN.- What do Harvard Medical School and three Memphis elementary schools have in common? Both use a ground-breaking teaching method called Visual Thinking Strategies to help their students prepare for the future.

The Brooks Museum is the first museum in Tennessee to implement a Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) program. At the beginning of this 2008-2009 school year, St. George's Memphis campus, St. Augustine (a Jubilee School), and Promise Academy (a Memphis City Schools charter school) forged a partnership with the Brooks in this innovative three-year program that has a proven track record for producing extraordinary results.

VTS is a visual arts program for elementary school students and teachers uses art to teach critical thinking, communication skills, and visual literacy. Growth is stimulated by three things: looking at art of increasing complexity, responding to developmentally-based questions, and participating in group discussions that are carefully facilitated by teachers.

"We are thrilled to be working with our school partners in implementing this 'outside of the box' curriculum that encourages creative thinking and problem solving," says Brooks Curator of Education Karleen Gardner. "Since art is open to many interpretations and there is not always one right answer, VTS works to increase students' self-esteem and confidence. The skills they gain through this program transfer to other subject areas and real life situations, as well."

After only one semester, the program has already made a noticeable impact in the classroom. "Since implementing VTS, I am pleased to see our students' making critical observations and supporting their thoughts, writes Andrea Walter, Elementary Division Director at St. George's Independent School. "The program has improved our students' ability to hold discussions with classmates, even when their opinions may differ, and has taught them that varying perspectives and ideas can teach us all more than we anticipated."

This powerful tool not only engages students enthusiastically in learning, but it has also revitalized the participating teachers. "One unexpected benefit from VTS has been the perspective it has given me of my students," says Ann Garrison, a 1st grade teacher at St. George's Independent School. "One student in particular, who in the past has struggled in reading and math, as well as had difficulty with verbal directions, has grown tremendously from this project. He has become so much more focused, and his comments about the paintings he sees have truly amazed me. It has been a wonderful experience to listen as students tell me what they see going on in a work of art. There are a lot of 'ah ha' moments."

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