Writing and Drawing to Learn Across the Curriculum (K-12)

Michael J. Strauss

This is a two-day session which explores writing and drawing as tools for teaching in a constructivist, active-learning, classroom environment. The content is applicable across the curriculum from grades K-12. Participants work collaboratively in small groups, and as a group of the whole, to understand the ways in which various types of writing and drawing, particularly rough drafts and sketches, can be used to help students better understand content.

As all experienced teachers know, images help students better understand concepts. Textbooks and web sites are filled with them. Of equal importance however, but often ignored, are the formative, rough-drawn images, copied and original alike, of the students themselves. In these drawings, ideas often only become fully "real" when executed by the learners' own hand, allowing more complete comprehension, extended revision and exploratory alternatives. Examples of the importance of both drawing to learn and writing to learn are documented in thousands of notebooks, logs, and journals kept by scientists, engineers, writers, mathematicians, musicians and artists who create and discover in this way.

This workshop is focused on pedagogical tools for teaching which emphasize this visual connection to learning, using drawing and writing, both in our own development and that of our students. We will consider what kinds of problems, exercises and classroom environments help students value the process of drawing and writing to learn, to better understand class content.

The class will be an exemplar of the kind of teaching it proposes. While some material is lecture based, most will involve active engagement by participants. They should be prepared to write, draw and share with each other. While no specific text is required, written material will be provided which documents and supports the work of the class. A lined 9" x 12" notebook, a 9" x 12" sketch book, pencils (hard, medium and soft), a portable pencil sharpener, pens, and erasers are required. Other materials will be provided. No previous drawing experience is necessary. If you have specific questions, you may send email to Michael.Strauss@uvm.edu or call 802 865 2329.

The sequence of workshop topics:

Thinking about Writing:

What makes writing hard? A 60 to 90 minute collaborative group exercise in personal writing and reflection. Understanding what makes writing hard for us, and what makes writing hard for our students. This session will explore the difficulties we all have with various kinds of writing.

Thinking about Drawing:

What makes drawing hard? A 60 to 90 minute collaborative group exercise on drawing, drawing to learn, and reflection about the process. Learning about observation, seeing and recording - uses in the classroom. The connection between writing and drawing. Using drawing as a tool for teaching. Drawing to learn science.

Writing and Drawing to Learn -Theory:

An exploration of the different kinds of writing and drawing and the purposes of each. A variety of different types of writing and drawing will be elaborated and discussed, with a focus on exploratory, rough drafts and sketches as tools for discovery and learning.

Discovering with Drawing and Writing - Look at your Fish.

A 90 to 120 minute collaborative exercise in reading, writing and drawing to learn about an object, concept or principle. This will involve individual drawing, small group discussions, revision, and presentational reflections to the whole class.

Writing and Drawing to Learn - Practice:

Exemplars of writing and drawing to learn across the curriculum. Students will begin to think about how such pedagogy can be used in their own classrooms.

Writing, Drawing and Audience:

Cooperative group exercises on how audience affects writing and drawing.


Using writing and drawing in class journals. A constructivist approach.

Drawing - Methods and Materials:

Materials used in drawing, Perspective, Mechanical Aids to Perception, Measurement, What you "know" and what you see. Movement of the eye and the hand. Eye-hand coordination. The variety of line. Value.

Collaborative Learning:

Methods and practice.

Designing Assignments:

Students will design and share assignments which they might use in their own classrooms.

Institutions where this and related workshops have been given are listed below:

Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
University of New Hampshire
Middlebury College, Vermont
Queens University (Kingston, Ontario)
Clarkson College of Technology, New York
Roswell Park Institute for Cancer Research
Norris Cotten Cancer Center, Dartmouth
Euchem Conference, Castel Gandolfo, Italy (Plenary Lecture)
State University of New York at New Paltz
Shell Development, Modesto, California
University of Idaho
University of California at Santa Cruz
San Jose State College
Vassar College, New York
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Aerojet General Corporation, Sacramento, California
SUNY, Plattsburgh, New York
University of Paris, Physicochemie des Solutions, Paris, France
Universite des Faculte des Sciences de Rouen, Rouen, France
Russell Sage College
Holy Cross College
Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California
St. Michael's College, Vermont
ARO Conference on High Energy Materials, Hilton Head
Plenary Lecture, Princeton Day School (Prep. School/High School Administration)
Gettsyburg College
Gordon College
Baker University
Lehigh County Community College
Virginia Military Institute
Milton Academy
Lake Region High School
Harwood Union High School
University of Maine at Presque Isle
Burlington College
St. Lawrence University
Potsdam College
Xavier University

Wright State University
Waynesburg State College
Sioux Falls College
Nazareth College
Bucknell University
New Hampshire Technical College
University of Lowell
Morehead University
Buena Vista College
Salem College, Salem Massachusetts
University of Maine at Portland
Ursuline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio
Massachusetts Bay Community College
UMass Amherst
UMass Dartmouth
Westmont College
University of Rhode Island
University of Tennessee, Martin
University of Maine at Orono
Johnson and Wales College
College of Mount St. Vincents
Champlain Valley Union High School
Bristol Elementary School
Orchard School
Robinson School
Chamberlain School
Starksboro Elementary School
St. Sebastians School
So. Hero Elementary School
Highgate Elementary School
Swanton School
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union
Mt. Mansfield High School
Morristown Elementary School
Harwood Union High School
Edmunds Elementary School
Neshobe School, Brandon
Stowe Elementary School
Sudbury School
Sandgate School
Monkton Elementary
Hinesburg Elementary
Barre Elementary School
Manchester Elementary
Bennington Elementary
Founders Memorial
Mary Babcock School
Georgia School