How Drawing Can Improve Learning
Are you a doodler? Have you ever been reprimanded by your teacher to ‘pay attention and quit doodling’ during class? If you have, turns out, your teacher had it all wrong.
First of all, let’s be clear that doodling is different from drawing. Doodling refers to drawing random things unrelated to the lesson. Drawing, on the other hand, is relevant to instructional concepts and has a purpose.
Research has been done in this area and reflects the value of drawing in learning. Drawing has been shown as superior to activities like reading and writing when processing new information. One reason for the superiority of drawing versus reading or writing is that the information is being processed by the brain in multiple ways rather than simply reading or only writing.
When we draw, we are processing information in multiple ways: kinesthetically, visually, and semantically. Across a variety of studies, drawing has been shown to improve memory and boost recall by nearly double compared to other methods.
Why is drawing such an effective tool for learning and retention? Researchers explain that, rather than listening passively to a lecture, when we are drawing, we are actively participating in learning. Drawing requires one to process information and share it in a completely new way – in an illustration.
Additionally, at a neural level, the engagement required by drawing makes it easier to encode information into memory. The strength of a memory depends on its neural connections to other memories. So when we draw, the memory is encoded very richly, including visual memory of the drawing, the kinesthetic movement of the hand while drawing, and the semantic memory we have when we create meaning.
How does this research on drawing impact day-to-day teaching? It’s clear that, regardless how old the learner is, whether five or twenty-five, integrating drawing into lessons will be helpful to the learner.
Implications are obvious for vocabulary instruction, reading, science, social studies and beyond. Rather than simply write a word and definition for a new social studies unit, for example, a more effective way to instruct would be to require the student to write the word and definition, and accompany it with an illustration.
Crayons, colored pencils, or markers? Does it matter? No. Not a talented artist? Don’t worry. Regardless of your skill level, drawing is a proven way to improve learning and retention, whatever your age.
HOW I USE DRAWING IN MY CLASSROOM:
In all of my first year undergraduate classes I employ drawing and art as a way to engage my students in the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I always find these assignments rewarding for my students – a helpful way to study, a different type of assignment, a way to engage visual learners, and I am always surprised by their work. All of the following products incorporate drawing: