Queens College’s Godwin-Ternbach Museum has received a new grant that they hope will be able to improve the lives of adults still learning the English language.

The grant is funding “CALTA 21,” an initiative that will incorporate visual learning strategies through art, which will help immigrants and adult English language learners gain a better grasp of English. Godwin-Ternbach is one of four institutions receiving the $495,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Queensborough Community College, the Rubin Museum of Art, the Katonah Museum of Art, El Museo Del Barrio, as well as Visual Thinking Strategies and the Literary Assistance Center also received grant money.

“This is the beginning of a project that will last three years,” Amy Winter, the director of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, said. “Individuals will be able to work with objects to make them more proficient in language. They will develop their aesthetic and cultural appreciation and be given an opportunity to work in a higher education environment.”

Patricia Lannes, the project director, Kitty Bateman, director of Queensborough Community College’s literacy programs, and Margot Edlin, an assistance professor in QCC’s Dept. of Basic Educational Skills, wrote the grant to build and support museum–community college partnerships that they hope will dramatically improve the ability of these institutions to serve immigrants learning English.

“When you look at an image, you can read the image in a way similar to how you would read text,” Lannes said “The idea is to help adults develop skills while looking at art. Also, it’s not just developing language that matters. The program is about opening the doors of museums to people who haven’t had access and didn’t know what museums have to offer.”

Though academic research is inconclusive about whether visual learning strategies can definitively boost literacy skills, Lannes said she is confident that the college-museum partnership will be disseminated nationwide. The first year of the program will focus on New York museums and educational institutions.

“In a nutshell, there are two sides to the project,” Lannes said. “The people who will benefit from the grant will be students and families who will participate in the classrooms that use images to learn English. Teachers and museums will also benefit.”

She said future teachers who visit the museums will learn about using visual learning strategies and museum professionals themselves will better understand the needs of immigrant communities. While working with children who spoke English as a second language, Lannes realized that a museum setting could create a safe environment in which to learn English.

“It didn’t matter if you knew the language because you were connecting with the art work emotionally,” she said. “They were bringing and telling experiences through artwork.”

This museum experience, Winter said, will not be so passive.

“It will be a very interactive experience,” she said. “We ask questions like, ‘what is it about this art that you like?’ Then language skills can begin to develop.

Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.

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