Drawing To Learn: Integrating Art To Promote Learning
VARK: Visual, Auditory, Read/write & Kinesthetic modalities; the four learning styles are the benchmarks of effective teaching strategy. How can a teacher be expected to deliver a content in four varied modes? Where is the time? And what are the remaining students expected to do while the teacher delivers study material for one, say Kinesthetic learner?
In the year 1837, a young man of 28, fresh from a five-year-long expedition on-board the famous HMS Beagle wrote on a page ‘I Think,’ and then he went on to show the world what,and how he thought; through a drawing (Fig1).
As a freshly graduated teacher, I explored multiple modalities to fully comprehend the teaching learning process; and in turn enhance my own teaching efficiency. Among the eye openers were VARK: Visual, Auditory, Read/write & Kinesthetic modalities; the four learning styles that are the benchmarks of effective teaching strategy; described initially by Fleming & Mills (1992) as they managed to explain why some students in a class learn and recall better than others; and how that can be changed. But they also suddenly added a Herculean obstacle to classroom teaching.
What can a teacher do to help?
A teacher can, for a topic, follow either one or two of the VARK modalities. However, learners in a classroom are diversely multimodal. Our students come from varied social strata, unique psychologies, and disproportionate background knowledge set. Some schools, like mine, have first generation learners which may totally miss out on the topic covered if the modality delivered is discordant to their specific learning styles. How can a teacher be expected to deliver a content in four varied modes? Where is the time? And what are the remaining students expected to do while the teacher delivers study material for one, say Kinesthetic learner?
Cherry on the cake; life itself is multimodal. Promoting learner’s inherent learning style and ignoring the other modalities completely; may misshape the learning trajectory of the learners.
Can there be an effective teaching strategy that can simultaneously captivate & stimulate all categories of learners? Is it too much to ask for? The answer is No & No. Teaching is a profession which is foundation to every other profession and therefore nothing that a teacher asks for, can be too much.
Importance of art in education
A justification lies in the old English adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Science teachers have always known the significance of a diagram. Neuroscientific research takes the significance of drawing diagrams a few notches higher.
It was in the year 1991 that Zeki et al. identified the distinct areas of cerebral cortex involved in the process of image formation in our brain. Forming a ‘mental image’ of a scene requires identification (by temporal lobe), locations & dispositions (by parietal lobe). The level of complexity is further enhanced when we are expected to draw a scene since now, besides the comparative size, locations and identification; we need to synchronize hand movements based on cues received from various parts of cerebral cortex. Even before initiating these movements, our brain makes inner representations of these movements. So even if we are not drawing, thinking about drawing can initiate the mental processes that are essential prerequisites for drawing. Further making virtual images in our brain of the things we plan to draw, activates the same areas of cerebral cortex that were activated upon seeing an actual image.
The hand movements involved in drawing are also controlled by different regions based on source of cues. A drawing from external cues involves lateral regions of pre motor cortex while drawing from memory involves medial regions.
To fathom the significance of these researches, I shall summarize the information gathered so far. Seeing and interpreting an image is a complex process stimulating multiple brain areas. Drawing the same image from memory stimulates the areas involved in visual imagery (again); cerebral cortex involved in observing, interpreting, recalling and motor control. Since drawing from memory is ‘at will’ rather than restricted by external cues; creative skills are refined as one draws from internal cues/memory.
Reverting to VARK model; drawing from memory has been identified as a complex activity activating regions of brain associated with visual, semantic and kinesthetic activity. Applied appropriately, drawing can be used as a learning style in agreement with all four modalities of learning.
Drawing vs. writing
Next, there’s always the question of efficiency. Its good for all, but is it better than four individualized approaches? A recent research by Fernadez, Wammes & Meades (2019) provides conclusive evidence that drawing from memory has led to much more enhanced learning, almost double, compared to writing the same information. They provide two explanations for this:
- A learner attempting to draw during retrieval uses conceptual comprehension (semantic), pictorial representation (visual) & hand movements for drawing (kinesthetic). As data transforms from concrete to abstract and back to concrete during the process of drawing,deep learning develops. Recall, encoding and transformation of knowledge boosts the memory by almost double compared to writing, wherein only semantic (R of VARK) is activated. Artistic talents of learner have no bearing or impact learning outcome.
- Assimilation of information is dependent on the number of synapses formed during presentation and retrieval of information. An isolated data is soon forgotten. Drawing encompasses various modalities and hence activates multiple regions of brain. As information passes through various neural networks, multiple neural connections are formed enhancing assimilation. Thus,the number of synapses formed are many more during drawing than in singular activity involving either visual or kinesthetic mode. Memories formed are multi layered and retention is highly enhanced.
Drawing as a learning tool
As we inculcate the habit of learning by drawing, we not only tap into the favoured learning style of the individual learner to improve learning outcome, we also build up upon the other learning styles. We help the learner reinforce modalities that are not his forte. So how does drawing fit into teaching of languages or Arithmetic. Few suggestions:
- Let students leave pages on the left side of notebooks blank, and ask them to draw on the basis of notes on right side.
- Encourage students to use hand drawn learning aids, posters during peer learning sessions.
- Pictorially represent stories or poems in languages. Try to recall as many details of scenarios/expressions as possible.
- Present concepts as comics, with thought or dialogue bubbles. Parts can be visualized as animated characters.
- Push the boundaries. Encourage learners to draw while stressing on concept presentation rather than artistic skills.
Significance of a research lies in its applicability. Here I present few drawings by my students in which they present during retrieval practice their interpretation of information presented to them as part of classroom teaching (fig 2& 3). I also requested teachers of English, Social Science & Hindi for a similar practice in their respective subjects. Here I present the outcome (fig 4 & 5).
Even if we are not drawing, thinking about drawing can initiate the mental processes that are essential prerequisites for drawing. Further making virtual images in our brain of the things we plan to draw, activates the same areas of cerebral cortex that were activated upon seeing an actual image.
A learner attempting to draw during retrieval uses conceptual comprehension (semantic), pictorial representation (visual) & hand movements for drawing (kinesthetic). As data transforms from concrete to abstract and back to concrete during the process of drawing,deep learning develops
Abhilasha Pandey is a keen learner,educationist and a teacher for past 14 years. She is working with KendriyaVidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) since 2014. Currently posted as PGT Biology at KV, INS Shivaji, Lonavala, she is an avid reader, interested in educational psychology, pedagogy, & neuroscientific research pertaining to teaching-learning.