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Title: Drawing as a Method for Accessing Young Children's Perspectives in Research
Author(s): Duncan, Pauline A.
Supervisor(s): Plowman, Lydia
Stephen, Christine
Keywords: Drawing
Research methods
Preschool children
Semiotic analysis
Children's perspectives
Visual methods
Issue Date: 18-Jun-2013
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Researchers have taken a particular interest in children’s drawings as a means of representing and communicating knowledge and perspectives but a review of literature reveals that researchers routinely use drawings as a way of obtaining data without considering their function or value. This ESRC-funded research aims to explore drawing as a method of accessing children's perspectives and has three central research objectives which consider methodological and analytical factors relating to the use of children’s drawings as a research tool. These are: to develop a principled approach to analysing and interpreting children’s drawings, to create guidelines for the use of drawing as a research tool, and to gather children’s perspectives on play through the method of drawing. The research objectives were achieved by asking the following three questions: How can children’s drawings be analysed using a principled approach? What are the major factors to be considered when using drawing as a research tool? What can drawings reveal about children's perspectives on play? The study involved two visits to the homes of eight preschool children aged four. The sample included four girls and four boys from central and north-east Scotland with half of the families being categorised as being of low socioeconomic status. Visits were flexible and unstructured allowing the child autonomy regarding our level of interaction and the types of activities (such as free play and conversation) with which they wished to engage. The second visit included a prompted drawing activity in which I invited children to express their perspectives on play. The topic of play was chosen (i) to offer children a meaningful research activity to investigate the issues surrounding the method, (ii) to explore the task of representing an abstract, yet familiar, concept and how this may influence children’s drawings and representations of play, and (iii) as an extension of the ESRC project Young Children Learning with Toys and Technology at Home (Plowman et al., 2012) by giving greater emphasis to children's own perspectives on play and exploring the ways in which this can be achieved. My theoretical approach is not to consider drawings as reproductions of reality, but to value and attempt to understand children’s drawings as a semiotic vehicle in which messages are created and conveyed during the drawing process through representation and signification. Informed by social semiotics (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996) the research presents an innovative four-step approach to analysing children's drawings (4-SASA). The protocol, a key contribution of the research, was developed to promote a more systematic analysis, involving (i) isolating signs within drawings through manual annotation, (ii) documenting the child’s understanding of signs and the significance attributed to them, (iii) organising signs using specific categories of social semiotic analysis (mode, size, colour, salience) and identifying the child’s motivation and interest for specific sign production, and (iv) synthesis of the child’s perspectives from steps 1-3. Post hoc methodological examinations elucidated the following four key factors to be considered when using young children’s drawings: (i) contextual sensitivity of the drawing process, (ii) children’s perceptions of the research task, (iii) the complex task of representing an abstract and elusive concept such as play, and (iv) whether there is a fundamental difference between drawing spontaneously (non-commissioned) and drawing on request. Evidence from the study supports previous literature in demonstrating the potential of drawing as a method of accessing children’s perspectives. However, findings suggest that rather than routinely selecting drawing as a method for representing children’s perspectives, researchers need to be more thoughtful about the ways in which factors such as the social and contextual framing of drawing and approaches to data collection can affect research outcomes. The thesis concludes by discussing how these emerging issues impact research outcomes, along with implications for future implementation and analysis of drawings.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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