Children's Drawing Ability and Cognitive Development
There is scarcely a refrigerator door in America in homes with children that does not have one or more pictures attached to it with magnets providing proof positive that these young learners are expressing themselves in healthy ways. Over time, these pictorial representations typically increase in complexity and begin to actually resemble the things they are intended to represent, and most parents accept this progression as a natural part of their children's cognitive development. In other cases, though, young people express themselves through drawings that fail to live up to adult expectations concerning complexity and content and these children may find themselves mistakenly labeled as being learning disabled, suicidal or otherwise troubled.
It does not take a scientist to know that very young children experiment with drawing as a form of play, exploration and communication, and that these expressions tend to increase in complexity, style and accuracy over time, but it does take careful research to determine how age and cognitive development can be measured through children's drawing ability. A great deal of the research in this area to date has been founded on the theoretical framework that children experiment with pictorial devices as a means of identifying and implementing optimal solutions that result in images that actually resemble the objects or things being drawn (Eisner & Day, 2004). In other words, many researchers have gauged the cognitive development levels of children's drawings based on how well they look like what they are supposed to look like, at least from the perspective of the adult researchers. In this regard, Eisner and Day (2004) suggest that, "Children's learning in drawing is concerned with and motivated by an interest in producing recognizable representations. The criterion for measuring growth has been a progression from 'fortuitous realism' through 'failed realism' and 'intellectual realism' to finally arriving at the 'visual realism' stage" (2004, p. 236).
Likewise, Willats (1997) maintains that as children get older, they progress from drawings that provide them with optimal solutions to pictorial problems, progressing from "drawings that just seem 'right' to drawings that also "look right" (p. 318). Although more research in this area is needed, the studies to date indicate that children first begin to conceptualize pictorial representations during the same cognitive developmental period in which reading and other formative skills are acquired. For instance, according to Braswell, Callahan and Merrill-Palmer (2007), "Children begin to develop a naive theory of pictorial representation around the ages of 3 to 5 years" (p. 471). This "naive theory" concerning pictorial representations includes understanding the intention of the artist, and that drawings communicate the relations between referential components and that images are effective when they "bridge the artist's and the viewer's mental representations" (Braswell et al., 2007, p. 472). As children gain experience with their drawings and are attain the manual dexterity level needed to more accurately capture what they want to depict, they also gain an increased sense of representational awareness. In this regard, Braswell and his associates note that, "Representational awareness includes understanding that drawings can convey information to others, that more details facilitate the viewer's comprehension of the image, and that pictures can be misinterpreted" (2007, p. 471).
In addition, other researchers have identified gender-based differences in pictorial representation and complexity levels (Eisner & Day, 2004). In this regard, Oluremi (2010) reports that, "Gender-preferred characteristics of children's drawing have been, for the past century, an area of consistent research focus on children's artistic development. The idea that the spontaneous drawings of young children may throw light upon the psychology of child development and artistic performance have also greatly influenced the objectives of art education and teaching strategies" (p. 3168). Researchers have also identified gender-based differences in the themes that typify drawings by young girls and boys. For instance, Oluremi (2010) adds that, "Themes of children's drawings are gender- related. General differences exist in the theme of boys and girls' drawings. Spontaneous productions of boys reveal an intense concern with act of violence and destruction, machinery, and sports contents, whereas, girls showed more social scenes, family life, landscape, and children at play" (p. 3169). Based on the foregoing, it is clear that there is a relationship between children's drawing ability and their cognitive development, but this process may be facilitated or constrained by several environmental factors (Eisner & Day, 2004). Despite these confounders, using data collection instruments with known reliability and validity to evaluate this relationship represents a timely and valuable enterprise as discussed further below.
In an era of increasing calls for accountability on the part of educators, it is vitally important to use the tools that are available to help young learners achieve their maximum personal and academic potentials. In some cases, this may require the use of drawing complexity assessment tools to help educators identify cognitive developmental progress and constraints. In this regard, Forman and Hall (2005) emphasize that, "Children are unique and complex and thus often difficult to comprehend. And they do not readily engage us in dialogue in order to explain the reasons for their caprice as they explore the world that surrounds them. Yet, as teachers, it is important for us to know our children deeply, to flow with their currents, and to extend their nascent theories about how the world works" (p. 37). Therefore, based on the findings that emerged from the review of the literature, it is clearly important for educators to be able to identify the relationship between children's drawing ability and their cognitive development with respect to (a) age- and (b) gender-specific factors and drawing complexity, issues that also form the aims of this study as confirmed or refuted by the two guiding hypotheses below:
Females will demonstrate higher accumulated scores on the Clark's Drawing Abilities Test compared to their male counterparts; and,
Older participants will demonstrate higher accumulated scores on the Clark's Drawing Abilities Test compare to their younger counterparts.
The sample for this study will consist of a convenience sample of ten students aged 10 years to 15 years (three girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years and three boys aged 10, 12 and 15 years) known to the author and who agreed to participate in the study. The participants will be consented following university guidelines prior to the administration of the student instrument described further below.
The Clark's Drawing Abilities Test (CDAT) (Clark, 1993) will be used to confirm or refute the above-stated hypotheses. The CDAT is comprised of four items or tasks that require children to demonstrate various abilities and skills. Following its completion, each drawing is assessed and assigned a score based on a ranged criteria scale and its author reports that accumulated scores allow rank-ordering within groups. The CDAT uses a 5-point scale has proven sensitivity to graded differences between children in the same grade or age level, and provides scores that can be used to distinguish between poor, below average, average, above average, and superior responses in all groups at the targeted age range, from 10 years old to adult (Clark, 1993).
The CDAT) has demonstrated reliability and validity in a wide range of educational settings (Eisner & Day, 2004). For instance, Eisner and Day report that, "The CDAT was used as a research instrument in a federally funded project that was designed to identify high ability, artistically talented, elementary students from four different ethnic backgrounds, in seven rural schools, and to implement differentiated arts programs for them" (p. 397). Moreover, scores on the CDAT have been correlated with state achievement tests (Eisner & Day, 2004). Finally, although there was a single study that identified gender as a significant variable on the CDAT, the same study used "locally designed identification measures, developed by teachers and community members [that] were found to be appropriate by teachers and staff if several, different measures were used" (Eisner & Day, 2004, p 397). Taken together, these attributes made the CDAT especially suitable for the purposes of this study using the procedures described further below.
Following completion of the informed consent required by the institutional review board, the CDAT will be administered in a classroom setting to the ten participants described above during school hours in a classroom setting and the results reported as described below. The informed consent forms will be included as an appendix, the data collected will be destroyed upon completion of the data analysis and all participants will remain anonymous.
The results of the administration of the CDAT will be reported in tabular format as well as depicted graphically, and the result interpreted in a narrative fashion. The data analysis will be accomplished using SPSS for Windows (Student Version) and will include means, standard deviations, a correlation of age and drawing complexity and a t-test for the gender difference in drawing complexity.
While the CDAT has proven reliability and validity and has been used to good effect in recent years to measure drawing ability and cognitive development, it is important…