Focus in creative learning: Drawing on art for language development
Heath, S. & Wolf, S. (2005). Focus in creative learning: Drawing on art for language development. Literacy 39(1): 38-45.
The researchers used a blend of data collection methods from action research and linguistic anthropology to examine the learning environment in which students (ages four to seven) worked with a professional visual artist, one day per week for an entire academic school year. The research documents how the visual art environment stimulated students’ vocabulary, command of syntax, and use of metaphor, analogical reasoning, hypothetical thinking, and problem solving skills. Within months the children’s art reflected understanding of visual art concepts, they showed confidence in working through problems, and they exhibited attention to detail, understanding of complex terms and processes, and familiarity with problem solving skills such as sequential and analytical thinking.
Children developed and used language devices such as perception and expressions of metaphors and analogical reasoning through their work with the professional artist. Children’s early talk included statements comparing one item to another or expressing reminders of their own experience and later, as their drawing became more precise, children’s use of language progressed so that they were able to express their ideas as metaphorical stories.
The researchers also found in the children’s descriptions and explanations of their work the use of ‘grown-up’ vocabulary for comparative analysis. Lastly, as a result of the practice of looking, children developed sustained visual attention to drawing and in a matter of a couple of weeks concentrated work in drawing jumped from less than ten minutes to half an hour. Children developed an understanding of proportion by learning to look, as illustrated by before and after pictures of students’ drawings.
The researchers identified four qualities of the students’ experience working with the professional artist to which they attribute the language development that they observed throughout the artist residency. These are: 1) extensive practice with technical tools under the direct guidance of a professional; 2) activation and deepened comprehension of technical terms integral to the arts as well as sciences and mathematics; 3) development of cognitive strategies essential to internalizing the process of working from initial idea through planning to project execution; and 4) emotional maturation that comes from carrying a project from beginning to completion with ongoing critique.
The children’s involvement in the visual art program appeared to transfer skills to other subjects. The visual art experience brought them into contact with concepts in mathematics and science and gave them confidence to know how to work their way through a problem or calculations. Through their increased attention drawing, the students gained stamina necessary to complete standardized testing in other subjects.