Children's drawings and commentaries: Tools for teachers as researchers

Esther SHAW

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


This paper reports on the use of young children’s drawings as a research tool to identify common themes in children’s learning in second language classrooms, as well as individual responses to the learning. The study is in recognition that young children, too, deserve to have a voice in their own learning, with opportunities to convey how they feel about their learning and what is or is not working well for them. Yet it is not always easy for them to find their voice and to be able to express how they learn and what helps them learn. This is not least a product of their age and level of social and cognitive development, with the result that many researchers doubt children’s conceptual and linguistic competence as participants responding to research questions. Drawings, with students’ accompanying commentaries, can overcome the ‘silence’ of young children about their own language learning, helping them express how they like to learn and what constitutes effective learning from their own perspectives. In this way, drawing enables young children to tell their stories more effectively in research and teaching contexts, and becomes an additional method to apply in classroom based research. It is applied, for this paper, to a context where the teacher is researcher, trying to realize the ideal that students are partners in the curriculum process, and to understand schooling from students’ perspectives. The use of children’s drawings has a long history as a way of analyzing aspects of children’s identities and emotional and developmental maturity. However, this project is not about analyzing the art per se; rather year 1 and 2 students are asked to draw about their second language learning, identifying lesson features and activities that they enjoy and which help them learn, and describing what ‘language learning’ means for them, as depicted in their art. Common messages, as well as individual perspectives will be extracted from the children’s work. There are clearly some underlying assumptions in the use of drawings as a research tool as proposed in this study. In the first place, children tend to enjoy and be used to expressing themselves through art. They are usually quite relaxed talking about their pictures. This overcomes a lot of the potential anxiety issues that often occurs in more formal methods such as interview or questionnaire. In addition, as well as being more comfortable for them, it actually prompts their thinking. They are more readily able to capture a ‘critical incident’ in their learning through this medium than if asked to simply talk about how they learn and like to learn. Many children can ‘sense’ their way into knowing, when they would not be so readily able to verbalise their way into knowing. This is perhaps especially true for children in school cultures that don’t emphasise student self reflection about how they learn, or readily collect data on learning preferences and perspectives. A final assumption is that art may overcome potential socio-cultural barriers that many children experience when confronted with ‘school’ patterns of talking and writing, including interviews and questionnaires. Although the scope of this study is small and children are not being asked anything too esoteric, there is still the possibility that interviews, questionnaires, diaries and reflective journals potentially disadvantage and silence children who have not yet been socialised into such patterns of use.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Shaw, E. (2008, November). Children's drawings and commentaries: Tools for teachers as researchers. Paper presented at the International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation 2008, Madrid, Spain.


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