Monday, February 16, 2009

The Simplest Symbolic Language

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allFinger Painting - by Hannah Dear age 5Finger Painting by Hannah Dear - age 5
Mathew Needleman's Writing Tips #3: Pictures Aren't Just For Babies, brings forward a splendid way to 'unlock details from the brain' by drawing pictures. He made me think:

Drawing pictures comes naturally to us. We’ve being doing it for thousands of years before Darwin. We have the historical evidence to prove it.

What finer metaphor than a drawing for the thing that springs to mind? The word is a metaphor, but is at least twice removed from the image in the memory that it’s used to describe.

Drawing is a primal action - an ability that comes naturally to most. Consequently we see that three-year-olds need no drawing or painting tuition. They don’t have to learn the alphabet of pictures to show us what’s in their minds.

Drawing is a direct mapping, albeit interpretation, of the image that’s in the mind. Once drawn, the picture immediately calls to mind what was seen and done.

The simplest symbolic language; it needs no translating.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

Actually, drawing is a form of language that is different among literate and illiterate viewers. I read about this when I was getting my Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I didn't believe it until I was teaching English to a group of mostly illiterate rural leaders in Costa Rica.

I always found that drawing and creating characters helped my students to channel their creativity and be more open to language (and making mistakes and/or making mistakes as a child does when they are learning a language). I would also use pictures as a way to generate conversations, much the way Christine Martell does. But it was a complete failure with this group.

The reason? Pictures are symbolic. Illiterate adults do not have the same level of abstraction that literate adults do. Many of these students had trouble understanding the images of things they had never seen before (i.e. snow). They also looked at pictures literally. I showed them a picture by Esher, the Dutch graphic designer that does Trop d'Oile pictures (never ending staircase, white geese flying at night or black geese flying during the day depending the direction you look at it). They could not see the two different images in the same picture, even if you pointed it out to them.

Development of art appreciation also helps in the development of abstract thinking. It is unfortunate that many schools don't see the value of art education.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

I am fascinated with what you have brought forward here about images and literacy. I have been puzzled at the connections (and I still am).

I recall being on a bus with my son, Nicolas, when he was not quite three years old. He looked out the window as we waited at the intersection and saw the lights progress through their sequence to 'Go'.

He turned to me with a smile and said, "It went 'pop', it went."

I congratulated him on his observation, for he had described a changing visual effect in terms of something he might hear - a direct indication of literal perception. Yet he couldn't read at that stage.

I wonder if it is a developmental awareness, like spatial awareness, and other, perhaps unrelated, aspects of perception. What contribution does connotation make towards awareness when viewing visual effects?

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

In the US (and especially in New York State) there is a push to accelerate learning which many teachers are finding is not developmentally possible. One area is reading graphs. At age 6 or 7, students don't make the jump between what a graph (even if it is pictorial) is representing. This is taking information and abstracting it.

Literacy specialists know that the symbols used in reading (pictures that symbolize events, letters that stand for sounds) help to develop a child's ability to conceptualize abstract ideas (such as making predictions about stories or speaking about ideas such as the tooth fairy or Santa when they have not seen a person come into the room to give them money or presents). If we start too early, the child will not be ready for this level of abstraction.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia,

I am convinced that much of the conceptual ideas taught to children between the age of 5 and 18 years have the potential to be delivered when the learners are really not developed sufficiently to receive them. This makes a sieve out of pedagogy and may well explain many so-called non-achievers.

I am aware, from my Chemistry teaching, that spatial awareness develops at quite a late stage in teenagers - some later than others - depending on their environmental backgound.

This is paramount when considering if stereo-chemistry should be taught to younger classes. It used to be taught to year 9 students in the 70s. Many of the poor 13 year olds didn't have a clue!

Catchya later