The importance of drawing in the learning process

By Heather King - March 2011


Brooks, M. (2009). Drawing, visualisation and young children's exploration of "big ideas." International Journal of Science Education31(3), 319–141.

In this article, Brooks uses Vygotskian theory to explain how drawing helps children to construct meaning and share their ideas with others. She argues that drawings help to bridge the gap between observation-bound thinking and more abstract, symbolic (i.e., scientific) thinking. The article offers ISE practitioners a clear introduction to Vygotskian theory and highlights the importance of drawing and visualisation for learners when conducting inquiry and making sense of new concepts.

Brooks notes that "drawing is both a means of communication as well as a problem-solving tool. Through drawing [children] are not only able to see what they are thinking, they are also able to play around with and transform their ideas" (p. 319). In this way, she argues, drawings are part of a learning process rather than a learning product. By implication, she also argues that any one drawing should not be taken as an indicator ofa child's stage of development.

Brooks' argument is developed through a very readable discussion of Vygotskian theory. She highlights Vygotsky's central point that meaning develops through an understanding of the increasingly abstract relationships between signs and objects. As an example, Brooks describes a child's exploration of a flashlight and notes how the child's drawings serve to illustrate his increasing understanding of the flashlight's mechanism and function: in drawing, the child develops a plan for his investigations, is able to predict and symbolise outcomes, and ultimately develops and clarifies his understanding of light and shadow. In short, the child produces an external representation of an idea with which he can then engage at the intrapersonal level (with his own thoughts) and interpersonal level (with his peers or teacher). Indeed, Brooks notes that by talking about drawings, or by labeling drawings to explicate them to others, children are further able to clarify their thinking.

Brooks calls for educators to value children's drawings for the information they contain. She argues that children should revisit, re-contextualise and revise their drawings over time as they develop their thinking. By looking at drawings as more than decoration, educators can see how learners develop more abstract, symbolic, and scientific understanding of various phenomena. As a result, educators may tailor their support and facilitation accordingly.