Drawing in Order to Learn

A few nights ago, I went to hear a talk given by the author, David Macauley, at the Concord Library. Macauley is the author of the very successful book The Way Things Work, among others.  I didn’t know that he had also written a book called The Way We Work – which is all about human form and function.  In writing that book he worked with biologists and spent hours and hours in a coroner’s lab, dissecting bodies (as he said, “I felt like DaVinci!”).
Anyway, he gave this mind-blowing talk about, well, the way things work…the way he works, the power of drawing, exploring visually, etc.  The talk was part travelogue, part book promotion, part exploration of the way he worked.  He was funny, charming, and just delightful.  He wrapped up his talk by explaining the basically, he draws in order to learn.  That, in order to draw a thing, he must first completely understand it.
Macauley’s approach nicely dovetails with Felice Frankel and her Picturing to Learn project.  Felice has worked with middle school, high school, and college instructors to help them get students to make pictures to explain a concept to someone else.  When students are asked to create a picture in order to explain (as opposed to just represent), t hey must make decisions that clarify their own thining.  As Felice puts it, this process tends to transcend linguistic, age, or educational barriers.
When asked what advice Macauley might have for educators, working with students, who might want to incorporate drawing into their plans, he gave a fabulous answer  – this is clearly something that he’s thought a lot about.  He encouraged teachers to have students draw every day – to make it a regular part of the routine.  His advice was that students should be encouraged to draw all the time (as they study, as they read, as they listen in class) – and draw the same things, over and over, in order to understand them, refining their drawings as they go.  He said that it was important to separate the creation of “artwork” from the process of drawing.  In other words, it doesnn’t matter what the drawing looks like, let go of perfection. Instead, think of your drawings as tools to help you better understand.

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Filed under Reflections on Teaching, visualization

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