Want Students to Remember Content? Have Them Draw It.

Want Students to Remember Content? Have Them Draw It.

It is typical for a teacher to ask students to write down information so that they can learn and memorize some given content. But authors Frits F.B. Pals et al. question whether writing information is the most effective way for students to memorize class material. In their paper, “Memorisation methods in science education: tactics to improve the teaching and learning practice,” Pals et al. examine the efficacy of writing versus student-created drawings for long-lasting student retention of content. In addition, the authors investigate whether “muttering” during writing or drawing makes a difference for memorization and retention of material, as previous studies have suggested (238). In particular, the study focuses on student memorization of science propositions.

For this study, 157 students (92 girls and 65 boys) between the ages of 13 and 15 at a rural school in The Netherlands participated over a four week period. Using a “heads or tails” throw of a coin, each student was put into either the writing group or the drawing group. The students were also then systematically assigned to either the “muttering” group or the “silent” group (232). The “writing and silent” category served as the control group, since the authors note that this is the traditional form of note taking.

Students in the writing category were told to write down each of nine presented scientific propositions. Students in the drawing category were told to draw pictures to summarize the content of each of the propositions. In both cases, the same nine propositions were projected in the classroom for 45 seconds each and were read aloud twice by the instructor (233). The propositions included safety prescriptions, scientific cause-and-effect statements, and statements about scientific theories (232). As the students either wrote or drew, they were also to follow their instruction to either mutter—repeat words in the propositions quietly—or to remain silent.

Three recollection tests were given over a four week period. The first test was conducted five minutes after the students either wrote or drew about the propositions. The second test was given one week later. And the third test was given after four weeks. For each recollection test, the students had to write down as many of the nine propositions as they could remember. A recollected proposition only earned a point if it correctly stated the subject, verb, and their relation (234).

The Findings

“Students in the drawing groups reproduced on average about three propositions more than students in the writing groups” (235).

  • Students in the drawing groups had the highest performance in all three tests, maintaining average scores of near or above 7 (out of 9)
  • The writing groups scored near or above 7 on the first test, but then dropped with average scores of below 6 for the second and third tests
  • Students who were in the “Writing and Muttering” group had the lowest performance on all three tests

“[S]tudents in the drawing group retain a higher reproduction level than the students in the writing group” (236).

  • The differences between the “Drawing and Silent” and “Drawing and Muttering” groups were minimal, meaning that repeating words in the propositions while drawing made little difference
  • Students in the “Writing and Silent” group–representing traditional teaching methods–had significantly lower recollection scores than both drawing groups on tests two and three
  • There is a positive link between drawing and memory over a longer period; illustrating concepts helps create long-lasting memories

“Our study shows that students remember significantly more propositions after receiving instruction to make associated drawings, than after receiving instruction to write propositions on paper. Our study further reveals that…it does not matter whether students perform both activities in silence or muttering” (238).

The authors note that while this study focused on students’ retention of scientific propositions, the findings could also apply to other subject areas.


Paper Title:  Memorisation methods in science education: tactics to improve the teaching and learning practice

Authors: (a) Frits F.B. Pals, (b) Jos L.J. Tolboom, (a) Cor J.M. Suhre, (a) Paul L.C. van Geert

(a) Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, University of Groningen, Netherlands    (b) SLO, Netherlands Institute for Curricular Development, Groningen, Netherlands

Full Paperhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09500693.2017.1407885

Published: International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2018, Pages 227-241


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