Many years ago, while at Upham Woods Camp, I tried out an idea that was new to me. I chose to have my student campers predict and record causes of erosion by drawing symbols and sketches to capture their ideas. Not seeing myself as a very “visual” person, and having never experienced “note-taking” in this way, the idea seemed somewhat foreign to me, and almost too “elementary” for my sophisticated fifth graders. So, imagine my surprise when ALL of my students could, in great detail and with no prompting, list and explain the myriad of ideas that they had brainstormed with their fellow campers and recorded in simple sketches. Not only was their thinking accurate and precise, the amount of vocabulary recall was phenomenal, and the thinking behind the sketches was as complete as when we first generated it. Additionally, students often remarked that this had become their favorite way to remember things, and were using this technique often in other situations. Apparently I had stumbled on a wonderful technique for remembering!
Years later, it was no surprise to me when I came across this article in Edutopia, The Science of Drawing and Memory - Edutopia. The best thing about this article was that it explained the science behind the practice of drawing to aid memory. Citing evidence from a study in SAGE Publications, by Myra A. Fernandes, Jeffrey D. Wammes and Melissa E. Meade, The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory, researchers found that “specifically, we have shown this technique can be applied to enhance learning of individual words and pictures as well as textbook definitions. In delineating the mechanism of action, we have shown that gains are greater from drawing than other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing to-be-remembered information. We propose that drawing improves memory by promoting the integration of elaborative, pictorial, and motor codes, facilitating the creation of a context-rich representation. Importantly, the simplicity of this strategy means it can be used by people with cognitive impairments to enhance memory, with preliminary findings suggesting measurable gains in performance in both normally aging individuals and patients with dementia.”
Youki Terada, the author of the Edutopia article further explains, “Importantly, the benefits of drawing were not dependent on the students’ level of artistic talent, suggesting that this strategy may work for all students, not just the ones who are able to draw well...it requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture). Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image—activities in which students passively absorb information—drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.
The researchers also suggest that drawing results in better recall because of how the information is encoded in memory. When a student draws a concept, they must 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).”
The most intriguing finding for me was that “at a neural level, the strength of a memory depends largely on how many connections are made to other memories. An isolated piece of information—such as a trivial fact—is soon forgotten in the brain’s constant effort to prune away unused knowledge. The opposite, however, is also true: The more synaptic connections a memory has, the more it resists eventually being forgotten.”
When I think of the thousands of gifted kids that I have worked with over the years, and I consider the rich synaptic networks that their busy brains have access to, I really am excited by the promise of this kind of learning and remembering. Some ways that this technique can be incorporated into learning opportunities (at home and school) are to encourage STUDENT drawing whenever possible - having STUDENTS create visual word definitions, anchor charts, study guides, and sketches and doodles that aid their memories.
Visual thinking like this is also showing great promise in the world of work, with a new field of Visual Coaching emerging to enhance corporate, governmental, and not-for-profit events. Google “Visual Coaching” and find out about this intriguing new field...it might be the perfect fit for some of our gifted kids’ or gifted adults’ talent sets.
The most promising aspect of visual thinking, I believe, is that the method is simple, and the payoff might be immeasurable. Without a doubt, this also necessitates a call for more art at the heART of our curricula, and I’m sure many of our students would welcome this change. Let’s use the research to make it happen.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.