Ellen Quish, an English language teacher using the CALTA21 curriculum with her class, speaks with Patricia Lannes during the class trip to the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College.


Anida Pobric, an English Language Instructor and the Outreach and Assessment Coordinator for the QCC Adult Literacy Program, implemented the CALTA21 curriculum with her class this past winter. Anida, an immigrant herself, writes about her experience using the curriculum in the classroom and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her students. On the day of the museum trip, Eileen Hirschfeld, a Metropolitan Museum docent who had attended our CALTA21 professional development institute at El Museo del Barrio, was there to facilitate discussions with Anida’s students in the galleries. Here is what Anida had to say:

“My students and I arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a cold and rainy January morning. We took the Subway from Queens to Manhattan, chit chatting while standing on a crowded train, rocking back and forth every time it came to a stop.  For some of my students, this was the first time they were visiting The Met. We arrived before the grand doors opened to the public, so we huddled under our umbrellas in excitement and sipped on coffee we purchased from nearby food trucks.

As a component of our work with CALTA21, this museum trip was only part of a rewarding self-explorative experience.  Before that rainy morning, we worked daily on discussing Visual Thinking Strategies about a variety of artwork.  As predicted, discussions were a journey of honing our observation skills, improving our vocabularies, and feeling more confident expressing our opinions in English. Less predictably, these conversations took a hold of us in an emotionally powerful way. Each day we were transported to each other’s childhood neighborhoods, remarkable religious services, dinners at each other’s homes in Vietnam, China, Thailand, Colombia. Together, we ate arepas, laughed about playing tricks on our teachers, and empathized about leaving our homelands. These works of art, whose titles and painters will not be named, helped us reach into our secret bag of vocabulary and construct sentences about who we were, who we are and how we define ourselves as immigrants in the United States.

With a simple starting point of “What is going on in this picture?”, we were able to capture each other’s histories and begin to understand each other’s preconceived notions about race, relationships, struggle and happiness.  An observation such as “This boy looks happy and healthy” gave way to an enriching conversation about what we each understand happiness and health to look like. –And the opinions varied as much as our fingerprints. We were able to constructively talk about our differences  through a complicated identity to which we all related.

At The Met, the first work we talked about was the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware. I overheard my students making remarks like, “This reminds me of coming to the U.S. from Korea when I was in my twenties. I wanted to come here and have a good life.” With statements like these, the painting became something else. It was not just a glorious work of art which we appreciated from afar, it was a gold-framed portrait of our combined experiences as immigrants.

Naturally, I reflected on my own past and the role it has played in shaping my identity as a Bosnian in America. The feeling that overwhelmed me in those moments was that of gratitude. Inspired by art, we spoke in a tongue that was not our own, to appreciate differences and similarities in telling a story about ourselves—that is remarkable.

CALTA21 gave me and the students in my class an educational opportunity to learn about art, each other and ourselves.”



A letter from an ESL instructor:

My class and I used the CALTA21 curriculum for the Winter/Spring 2014 term.  I found the structure of the program design to be very useful.  I am not an artist, and so the way that the curriculum built knowledge through repeated encounters with art and structured discussion about it was very helpful to me as a teacher.

I am beyond grateful to my museum educator/partner at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Matt Branch.  He worked hard to make my students feel comfortable with him and with the museum, and devoted a significant portion of time and energy to my class.

The most exciting thing for me was to watch my students grow in confidence and expertise.   Several students commented to Matt and to me after our final visit to the museum how much they valued the program, saying things like, “This is my museum now”, and “I’m a 40-year-old woman.  I never knew what I like.  Now I know I like art.”

In an anonymous survey, I asked my students to respond to statements about the program.  Here are some of the results:

14/15 agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I know more about art now.”

15/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I feel more comfortable in the museum.”

15/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I will return to the museum on my own.”

14/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I feel more confident talking about art.”

15/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “When I look at art, I will ask myself the three questions.”

12/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I feel more confident talking in front of a group.”

15/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I might go to a different museum to see what it’s like.”

14/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I feel like my English is stronger.”

15/15 agreed or strongly agreed that “I like art and museums more now.”

Here are some individual student comments from the surveys (I’ve made minor corrections of spelling and grammar):

“I’m very proud of myself because I never liked to go to see art work.  Now I feel like I became interested in art.”

“The museum has a lot of beautiful art work.”

“The first time in my life I went with my teacher to the museum.  I felt like I didn’t really like it.  But the second time I liked it more than before, and I wish to go another time because really I like it, and I feel more comfortable.  Thank you so much.”

“I hope I will go with my kids to see the museum and show them what I learned.”

“Now I know how to look at art and how to speak about art.”

“The museum program is a good trip.  I feel comfortable now to speak about art and ask questions.”

“It’s a very good program because it teaches us to be more confident with art and with our English.  It’s very important to visit museums for everybody.  Museums evolve us in different directions.”

I am eagerly anticipating using the curriculum again next year.

– Cheryl Georges, Assistant Director/ESL Instructor, Brooklyn College Adult Literacy Program


In the classroom and at the museum: 

“The discussion helps the students have more vocabulary, how express their imagination, how are our interpretation form some colors and expression in the picture. Help the students talk, listening and respect their opinions. Help the students lose their shy and they believe in theirself when they want to talk.”

“Using VTS in teaching ESL creates a relaxed atmosphere and is non-threatening.”

“Finding the vocabulary to describe things – this was a great tool for me as a teacher to teach new words in an immediate context.”

“Interactive lessons and cooperative learning are necessary to strengthen skills and heighten self-confidence.”

After professional development institutes:

“What do I love about CALTA21?

On the one hand CALTA21 provides extensive resources, training, contacts in museums and colleges and on the other, it respects individual teachers who are at different stages of familiarity with the process, and have different ways to make it their own. Thus, even as there are many components in CALTA21 that are set and stable, its character is alive and growing and evolving, responsive to whatever different teachers, different student populations, different museums offer.”


“What you are offering is the opportunity for speakers to participate in REAL DIALOGUE/AUTHENTIC INTERACTIONS  and become autonomous discourse participants.  Participating in discourse–that’s what democratic classrooms are all about –but where are democratic classrooms??? Where is the real discourse, that is, debate? – Calta21 is doing the Deweyian ideal: engaging students in REAL THINGS, REAL ARTS & CULTURE inviting them to pay attention & engage in reflection and, as people debate points of view, conversations become nexus for extended & cooperative argument.

In contrast to most classroom conversation, CALTA 21 conversations are NOT predictable. Who knew you were going to find a bull in the Picasso? –even you did not know!! That moment is at the center of what you are offering–genuine inquiry requires genuine risk & genuine coping skills as you have no idea where you are going in the moment. There is no script you are co-creating meanings, contributing responses that, you hope, make sense in the community –responses that are contingent upon the last utterance–not contingent on what it says in a book, or in a prescribed syllabus.”