Nurturing Graphicacy

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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This week, Cameron explores Mapmaking With Children by David Sobel. Mapmaking offers a thoughtful option for getting to know students at the beginning of the school year.

Nurturing Graphicacy

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by Cameron Brooks

From age seven to ten, my imagination exploded in a rural Louisiana town. Directly across the street from our front door stretched a gravel road that split a huge sepia pasture in two. "The Lane," as we called it, became the neighborhood BMX drag strip and petting zoo, where we fed carrots to horses and cows while imagining ourselves as farmers.

In Mapmaking with Children, place-based educational theorist David Sobel defines graphicacy as "the ability to produce or comprehend visual representations of information, such as drawing, creating collages, constructing graphs, making diagrams and mapmaking (p. 4)." He believes that graphicacy, literacy, and numeracy collectively nurture cognitive, social, and emotional development.

For many children, storytelling gives way to illustrating, which leads to writing. Sobel's book presents a similar sequence of "developmentally appropriate approaches to mapmaking throughout the elementary years (p. 45)." Mapmaking inherently lends itself to differentiation, as tactile learners construct models and physical maps, visual learners focus on detailed symbols and keys, and audio learners create sound maps that "help viewers understand what it would sound like to walk down" a familiar sidewalk or trail.

I agree that "maps are one of the earliest forms of visual information and are inherently accessible to children (p. 5)," so instead of semi-scripted CLOZE passage interest inventories this fall, I plan on beginning the year by mapping special places with my students. In another book by David Sobel entitled Beyond Ecophobia, he states, "The best teaching occurs when the emphasis is less on imparting knowledge and more on joining the child on a journey of discovery." Our initial mapmaking exercise will establish a reciprocal learning environment, where authenticity promotes genuine interest in each other's developmental interests.

When I share with my students my memories of special childhood places, I find that they speak at length about their own sacred spots when given the opportunity. Taken a step further, mapping these places becomes an exercise in geospacial metacognition, when the children look inward to communicate how place guides thought and fuels imagination.

Down the road from our house, a nine-fingered man with a revolver tucked into his pants gave walking tours of Kliebert's Alligator and Turtle Farm. Our favorite spot was a patch of pine forest we simply referred to as "The Woods." Within this arboreal fantasyland, we built forts and fires, role played medieval and ninja adventures, and climbed trees.