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A celebration of mind.

Drawing Improves Learning

As a long time teacher of both art and literacy, I have reamed that the eye and the hand have important roles to play in the processing of visual information. In this respect I am influenced by Folkert Haanstra's definition of visual spatial ability as a set of related capacities to process (search, encode, remember, match, transform) visual-spatial information (forms, shapes, positions). It also includes the ability to visualize.

Improving Visual Skills

Since I have had a checkered career in teaching, I have been given the opportunity to bring out drawing talent in quite a variety of students. My goal in teaching has always been to improve visual spatial skills, eye hand coordination, and visual memory. I have encouraged my students to draw whenever appropriate.

Over the past ten years or so, I have been saving students' drawings from my naturalistic classroom research with children of all ages, adult amateur artists, new reader adults, teachers, and university students. What I have observed is that freehand drawing can enhance visual spatial ability.

I have espoused this concept since the early 1980s when I taught both evening school studio art and daytime basic adult education for the New York City Board of Education. Exploring ways to accelerate the reaming process in drawing, I instructed students to draw with the whole arm in motion. As a result, the drawings proved to be lively, expressive, and with likenesses achieved within minutes.

Improving Literacy with Art

The results of this "drawing from the shoulder" exercise encouraged me to introduce perceptual training through drawing for new reader adults. Along with their literacy instruction, students did freehand drawing, writing exercises, visual memory exercises, and phonics to improve their reading level. Again, there was marked improvement in their ability to copy configurations and recall the shapes of newly acquired letters in cursive writing.

Inspirational Techniques

Some of the other drawing techniques I use and have been sharing with educators at workshops are: mapping the page before drawing as a shorthand for developing spatial placement of forms, contrasting figure and ground to aid the reaming disabled student in his or her need for visual acuity for detail and shapes, developing a controlled form of scribbling, which helps students tap their unconscious knowledge of the visual world, and synectics, which helps them think creatively through exploratory ideation, and quick doodles of humorous visual puns. As a teacher, I learn daily that art experiences have a holistic effect on creativity and reaming. It's an effect that seems to happen rapidly. I am inspired to say that artmaking just might be a celebration of the mind. In these times of budget cuts in the arts, school officials might benefit from being reminded of this.


Folkert Haanstra. Effects of Art Education on Visual-Spatial Ability and Aesthetic Perception: A Quantitative Review. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Thesis Publisher, 1994.

Helen Levin is an artist, teacher, and writer living in Staten Island, New York.
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Title Annotation:teaching freehand drawing to enhance spatial ability
Author:Levin, Helen
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 1998
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