The Science of Drawing and Memory
It has been known for a very long time that drawing something can assist a person in remembering it. Drawing is superior to other activities such as reading or writing, according to a recent study, because it requires the individual to process information in multiple ways at once, including visually, kinesthetically, and semantically. In a series of experiments, researchers found that drawing information was an effective way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double what it would have been without drawing the information.
Myra Fernandes, Jeffrey Wammes, and Melissa Meade are all highly knowledgeable in the field of memory science, which examines how individuals encode, retain, and retrieve information. Experiments were carried out at the University of Waterloo with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the effects that activities such as writing, looking at pictures, listening to lectures, drawing, and visualising images have on the capacity of students to remember information.
In an early experiment, the researchers had undergraduate students examine lists of common terms, such as “truck” and “pear,” and then either write down or illustrate the words after studying the lists. Shortly after that, the participants were only able to recall 20% of the words that they had written down, but they were able to recall more than twice as many (45%) of the terms that they had drawn. The results of this experiment helped to demonstrate the advantages of drawing.
Drawing was found to be “an effective and reliable encoding strategy, far superior to writing” in a subsequent experiment in which the researchers compared two methods of note-taking: writing words by hand and drawing concepts. They found that drawing was the more successful method. The researchers found that the undergraduate students’ recall was nearly twice as good when they visually represented scientific concepts like isotope and spore, as opposed to when they wrote down definitions supplied by the lecturer.
It is important to note that the benefits of drawing were not dependent on the level of artistic talent possessed by the students. This finding suggests that this strategy may work for all students, not just those who are already skilled at drawing.
Drawing was shown to be a “reliable, replicable means of boosting performance” by the researchers after they conducted a total of eight separate experiments; more specifically, drawing helped students significantly improve their capacity to retain the information that they were learning.
Why is drawing such an effective method for remembering things? According to the researchers, this “requires elaborating on the meaning of the term and translating the definition into a new form (a picture).” Drawing is an active activity, as opposed to activities like watching a picture or listening to a lecture, both of which require students to passively take in information. Students are required to actively engage with the material they are being taught and reconstruct it in a manner that is meaningful to them.
Drawing also results in better recall, according to the researchers, and they believe this is due to the way information is encoded in memory. When a student draws an illustration of a concept, they are required to “elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect [the] created picture (pictorial processing).”
At the level of the neural circuitry, the strength of a memory is largely determined by the number of connections it has to other memories. In the brain’s ongoing effort to clear space for new information and get rid of old, unused information, a single piece of information, like a pointless fact, is quickly forgotten. On the other hand, the converse is also true: the greater the number of synaptic connections a memory possesses, the more it fights against being forgotten over time.
Therefore, when we draw, we encode the memory in a very rich way, layering together the visual memory of the image, the kinesthetic memory of our hand drawing the image, and the semantic memory that is invoked when we engage in meaning-making. This results in a more robust memory. When taken together, these factors substantially boost the likelihood that the idea that is being drawn will be recalled at a later time.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT LEARNING STYLES
It is erroneous to believe that drawing is beneficial because it caters to a particular learning style because doing so does not occur. The idea that students learn best when teachers try to match instruction to a single modality has been debunked by research in recent years.
Drawing, on the other hand, engages a number of different modes of perception, including the visual, the kinesthetic, and the semantic, which is preferable to engaging only one mode of perception. When students draw something, they go through the process of learning it three times over because they process it in three different ways.
IN THE CLASSROOM
There are many different ways in which instructors can incorporate drawing to improve their students’ educational experiences.
Learning aids produced by students Rather than purchasing or printing posters that reinforce learning, such as maps, anchor charts, or diagrams, have students produce their own versions of these learning aids.
Students should be encouraged to be creative when using interactive notebooks; you should not let them take notes word for word. Their notebooks are designed so that one side can be used for written notes, while the other side can be used for drawings, diagrams, and charts.
Data visualisation is a strategy that can help students gain a more in-depth understanding of a subject by requiring them to collect, analyse, and present data in a visual format. A few examples of this would be exploring fractals, visualising mathematical concepts, and analysing classic works of literature.
Students at Symonds Elementary School create their own books as a way to visually represent concepts covered in a variety of subjects, ranging from science to English language arts. This project combines academics and the arts. Students also have the option of creating comic books as a means of conveying narratives or describing events.
Jill Fletcher, a middle school teacher in Hawaii, uses “one-pagers” to challenge students to show their understanding about a topic through art. This way, the focus is less on finding the “single correct answer” and more on students crafting a response that they can stand behind, which is a more effective method of assessing students’ learning. In addition, students at the Normal Park Museum Magnet School keep travel journals as a tangible record of the knowledge they acquire.
The takeaway here is that teachers should encourage students to draw. It is a powerful tool that can be used to boost student learning because it improves students’ ability to recall information by challenging them to investigate an idea in a variety of different ways.