The Value of Teaching Children to Draw in Primary Education

Rhiannon Mapleston is the Art and Literacy Coordinator at a community primary school in East London. She carried out this research in her own Year Three classroom during her fourth year of teaching in 2014. Rhiannon has been attending weekly taught life drawing classes at the Royal Drawing School (formerly known as The Princes Drawing School) for six years. She wanted to use classroom research to develop her teaching of drawing skills and consult the children on what they thought of using drawing as a tool for learning. Through action-research, Rhiannon examined whether a drawing intervention had any effect on the children and how able they thought they were at drawing, whether they enjoyed drawing and how important they believed drawing to be.


DSC_0120-RMI have attended evening drawing classes at the Prince’s Drawing School for six years. As the Art, Design and Literacy Coordinator in my school I wanted to investigate how I could transfer the skills I have been taught during these classes to my own teaching. I am a Year 3 teacher who often uses drawing to support learning across the curriculum.   Examples of this include map making in geography, using drawing when describing science experiments and teaching writing using ‘talk for writing’ (Corbett, 2011), a technique in which the children draw their plan of what they are going to write.

The context of my research was a mixed ability Year 3 class in an East London Community School which was in the process of growing from one form to two. The children came from a wide range of ethnicities and social backgrounds. Ten children spoke English as an Additional Language and five children were on the Special Education Needs register.

My school prides itself on listening to staff when deciding how best to implement the curriculum. The senior management team will examine and discuss with the staff any changes that are going to be made. An example being with regards to the new assessment levels, staff were consulted on what we should do. There is a strong sense that the way we teach is based on needs of our students. The school sees the importance of a holistic education and values the arts, achieving the Arts Mark Gold status in the summer of 2014.

DSC_0112-RMPrevious research has found that children are rarely taught to draw, sometimes due to the fact that teachers feel that they do not have the ability to draw themselves (Jolley, 2010, Cox and Watts, 2007). I felt that I had not explicitly taught the children about drawing or even inquired as to whether the children enjoyed it or thought this way of learning beneficial. As someone who is interested in learning to draw and feels reasonably confident, I wanted to use this research opportunity to develop my teaching of drawing skills.

As Jolley (2010) and Cox (2005) had found that teachers often felt that their own lack of ability made them scared of teaching drawing, I wanted to explore the attitudes of the other members of staff. As the Art and Design Coordinator I wanted to ascertain how I could work with and support these members of staff. Although I am enthusiastic about using drawing across the curriculum, without the leadership of many, change will not happen (Harris, 2002). Through talking with other staff I hoped to develop my own learning as well as the teacher’s learning through noting and discussing the significance of their experiences (Clandinin and Connely, 2000). My time studying on the MTeach* has made me aware of the importance of teacher dialogue for professional learning (Hargreaves, 2001, Wenger, 1998).

DSC_0114-RMMy study was a piece of action-research. Through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews I wanted to find out whether a drawing intervention influenced the children’s self-perceptions of their ability in drawing; their enjoyment of drawing; and whether they thought that drawing was of any importance. I also looked at the children’s drawings, kept a field diary and made notes on conversations with other members of staff.

The study examined the attitudes of 30 children and eight teachers. The results found that 26 out of 30 children thought that they were ‘fantastic’, ‘good’ or ‘alright’ at drawing before and after the intervention. The interviews found evidence of children claiming that practice and believing in yourself would lead to success in drawing. Fewer children said they were fantastic after the intervention compared to before the intervention. This highlights a danger of children becoming more aware of the challenges that drawing can present. Therefore they need to be shown that hard work and effort will lead to success and be given the tools to succeed. 24 out of 30 children claimed that drawing was either important or really important after the intervention. During the interviews the children described twenty-five different uses of drawing giving evidence for its use across the curriculum. The children also mentioned their enjoyment of using drawing as a tool to represent their imaginations, indicating how they value drawing as a tool for creativity. Fewer children mentioned how drawing could be used for processes such as planning, describing and communication. I would suggest that children need more practice at using drawing as a tool for learning.DSC_0108-RM

Although claims (Garner, 2002, Anning, 1999, The Campaign for Drawing) have been made about the many uses of drawing, awareness still needs to be raised about the use of drawing as a tool for learning and not simply a product. The children also showed evidence of their learning outside of school which had influenced their opinions. Twenty-eight children claimed to either love or like drawing after the intervention. Drawing was also found to elicit negative emotions, so I propose children need to be taught how to rectify their mistakes and persist in their learning.

Eight Key Stage One and Two teachers claimed to use drawing as a tool for learning in their lessons. Teachers claimed to be actively using drawing as a medium for learning across the curriculum. As the Art, Design and Writing Coordinator it is imperative that I continue to maintain the ethos that drawing is valued in the development of writing. I need to provide training for teachers to develop their skills and confidence in using this discipline.

DSC_0196-RMThis research argues that by providing a drawing intervention and teaching children key drawing skills positively supports children’s opinions of how important they believe drawing to be and their enjoyment of this discipline. Therefore they will feel more confident and interested in using drawing as a tool for learning across the curriculum as they move up the school.

Rhiannon’s full report can be read here: PBERhiannonMapleston

* The MTeach is a practice-based master’s degree taught at the UCL Institute of Education, London University.


Anning, A. (1999) Learning to draw and drawing to learn. Journal of Art and Design Education, 18 (2), 163-172.

Clandinin, D. J. and Connelly, F.M. (2000) Narrative Inquiry, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Cox, M. (2005) The Pictorial World of the Child. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Cox, S. and Watts, R. (2007) Teaching Art and Design 3-11 Reaching the Standard Series. London: Continuum

Garner, S.W. (2002) Briefing Illustrators: Revisiting the Value of Sketch Images. International Journal of Art and Design Education 21 (3), 234-245

Hargreaves, D.H. (1999) ‘The knowledge-creating School’, in British Journal of Educational Studies 47(2), 122-144

Harris, A. (2003) School Improvement: What’s in it for schools?, London: RoutledgeFalmer

Jolley, R. (2010) Children & Pictures drawing and understanding. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

The Campaign for Drawing. (Last accessed 20.8.2014)

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice. Cambridge: CUP


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