Created in 1992, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s School Partnership Program builds relationships with teachers, students, and administrators in Boston schools. This multi-visit program focuses on the processes of learning to look and making meaning from works of art—through professional development for teachers and regular, sequenced discussions about works of art for students, both in the Museum and in the classroom.
The Gardner Museum’s approach to school programs is grounded in the philosophy of working with a small number of schools to build deep working relationships through numerous interactions with Gardner educators both in the museum and the schools.
School Partners for 2013-14:
- Boston Latin School
- Maurice J. Tobin K-8 School
- Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers
- Mother Caroline Academy
- Boston College High School
The School Partnership uses a discussion-based pedagogy called Visual Thinking Strategies or VTS, which uses three questions to prompt students to make observations and provide evidence for their ideas:
What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
Rather than impart large amounts of information to the students, VTS is used to help the students explore works of art in a way that allows them to connect with their previous experiences and knowledge—in other words, students make meaning on their own terms.
Through these open-ended discussions, students develop visual literacy, flexible, rigorous thinking skills, and strengthen their language and listening skills. In addition, VTS nurtures problem-solving abilities, and builds confidence and willingness to participate in group thinking processes. These skills and abilities are essential in most contexts, both in school and out.
The Gardner Museum’s School Partnership Program asks classroom teachers to facilitate 10 VTS lessons (30-45 minutes each, depending on age level) in an academic year, and in grades 3-12 classes also visit the Gardner Museum multiple times each year. For most classes, each museum visit is 2.5 hours and includes an art-making project in our Education Studio or Greenhouse Classroom, and group VTS discussions are complemented by small-group work, writing, and sketching activities. Partnering teachers receive intensive, ongoing professional development and support, helping the VTS teaching method become part of the school’s culture.
Connecting with Families
The work that students create through the School Partnership Program completed either during their visits to the Gardner Museum or at school, is highlighted on the Museum’s art wall. This rotating exhibition space displays student artwork, and allows families the opportunity to view what their children have created in response to the Museum’s collections. Some partner schools help to organize a “family night” celebration at the Museum. Students, teachers, and their families also enjoy free family admission to the museum throughout the year with the use of their School Partnership buttons.
What is the Measured Effect of This Program?
From 2003-2006, the Gardner Museum’s major research study, Thinking Through Art, measured the effect of it multiple-visit program on the development of 3rd-5th grade students’ critical thinking skills. The study demonstrated that students who participated in regular VTS discussions with works of art made twice as many observations and interpretations, and provided evidenced for their ideas nearly twice as often as their peers in non-participating schools.
In the 2008-09 academic year, the Museum conducted a research study funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) which documented the effect our multiple-visit program had on the development of 8th grade students’ and teachers’ aesthetic development and critical thinking skills. In this study, students who participated in regular VTS discussions with works of art demonstrated three times as many supported observations and speculations in oral interviews and nearly twice as many of those critical thinking skills in writing as compared to their peers not participating in the program.
“I believe that the VTS model is one of the most powerful models for really engaging young people, changing our perceptions about who can learn and who cannot, and also really building a foundation where teachers work in a very real sense.” –Dr. Carol Johnson, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools
Teaching Intern Program
The School Partnership Program Teaching Internship provides graduate students with opportunities to learn about and gain practical experience in art museum education through intensive teaching and research with urban schools. Teaching Interns are trained to lead group discussions using the VTS method both in the Museum galleries and in partner school classrooms at least two mornings every week and explore relevant learning theories and research with School Partnership staff. An unpaid internship, students frequently secure course credit for their internship time.
Primary responsibilities include:
- Participate in VTS training, on-site observation, readings, discussion of theory and practice, evaluation, and independent research that relates to the museum's collection
- Lead group discussions with Pre K-grade 12 groups using the VTS method
- Work closely with the Director of School and Teacher Learning and the School Partnership Educator to assist in preparation, implementation and evaluation of Partnership school programming
- Develop a research project that documents his/her experiences in the internship, and/or write a final paper to complete requirements for course credit through the cooperating educational institution.
Applications are sought annually in the spring for the following academic year. Please check the Employment page for postings. For further information about the Teaching Internship, please contact Director of School and Teacher Programs, Michelle Grohe, at mgroheisgm.org.