I love stories, especially stories that speak to insight and research. This year, I began the process of looking at the Anatomy of Mark Making. This is because so many people proclaim that our school seems to produce children who are prodigious at graphic representation. Also, I had been asked to lead a course through Innovations/Wayne State University on said topic. This offered me a challenge, because the source of the inquiry is not a story.
I have always looked at clouds, initially to “see” an elephant, witch, crocodile or face. However, I vividly remember being thrilled in elementary school when I learned to recognize cloud varieties– Cumulus, Stratus, Cirrus.
In learning to name or classify clouds, the joy and the magic, the “seeing” did not cease. It actually gave me a new possibility for looking, and in many ways an opportunity to see deeper.
In the spirit of cloud watching, I began the process of naming and then classifying children’s drawings. (I did not include children’s writing as part of this process) I too, became curious of this culture of drawing at our school, and wanted to move from the more intuitive to the more intentional in my research. My first developed classifications were: Graphic Representation as Abstract Thought/Idea, Graphic Representation as Memory, Graphic Representation as Observation, Graphic Representation as Plan, Graphic Representation as Fantasy.
Soon I realized that my classifying system was slightly flawed, because there was hybrid or combined categories. I relate this to Cumulus-stratus clouds, that forms combine.
I was fascinated to learn that by classifying the representations of children, you not only begin to see more nuances, but you begin to widen your ability to understand and see meaning and intent.
So what does this teach me?
More than anything it supported my thesis that graphic representation/drawing is thought. It is language. Young Children are complex thinkers, and when given the tools and time and respect to do so, become fantastic communicators. This work is profound. It shows expressed theories, connections, ideas, and imagination.
While many adults look for schools that produce children who can decode and read above their age level, I theorize that these very children have been robbed of their voice and possibly their intellect. I can read a medical journal-but I have no understanding of content whatsoever. I devour fiction, art, education books and more – but I can add to the field of thought and conversation, and develop new ways of thinking when I read these books. My neuro pathways are engaged and challenged.
What if my parents never looked up into the sky and exclaimed, “Marla, do you see the castle?” (Whereby I most likely responded, “Where? Because I see a ship!”)
There is a solid possibility when the chapter on clouds surfaced in my 3rd grade science text; I would have lamely memorized the types to solely pass the multiple choice questions quiz.
(“I am thankful for my Grandma’s garden.” Julia)
Valuing and researching children’s drawings are more than sorting and classifying. It’s research of both creativity and thought. It is an ongoing provocation and a continuing conversation.
In the context of our school, it is powerful curriculum (and caring).
A week after that post I had my younger PreK children in the studio to create their first self portrait at SWS. This year, I am also held accountable by the school system I work for to produce data that shows either growth or mastery in “Art.” I am still developing the method for doing this, but decided that collecting self portraits perhaps could be an excellent vehicle for collecting said data.
I am always extremely careful with “firsts.”
“Firsts ” offer leaps, but also can offer failure.
I have met too many people young and old (including myself) who stopped pursuing something because of a first experience with an adult who was not aware how vulnerable we are the first time we dare try something new.
The PreK’s, I will report, were brave, proud and glorious in creating their first self-portraits. Once again, we used mirrors and together discovered the wonder of the human face. Those nose holes are something when we squeeze them and talk, and the kids were surprised to discover that they have a bridge on their face (nose bridge.) Looking, laughing, touching and then finally sketching…
I love looking at these representations. While some children clearly are comfortable holding a pen, for others, the act of steadying the pen in their hands and having their hand “Kiss” the paper was a great feat in and of itself.
Observing how they organized their face parts was also thrilling to observe. I suggested they make the face large, so they had room to fit all the parts in. Look how one child accommodated my request, and her sense of space at the same time.
Notice the shaky lines filled with intent
as well as the strong lines discovering new details.
They are equally powerful. It would be unconscionable to “grade” this work or make judgements on mastery to fulfill my data collection. Instead, I am determined to develop a system for identifying the evidence of visual thinking and visual habits of mind.
When I shared the self portraits with their teachers, some stories emerged. It turns out that one child, in the classroom only drew “snowstorms,” no matter what they were asked to record. In the studio her control and choices were intentional. I remembered how she made her hair, using long strokes of the pen, instead of the usual one or two strands that most kids draw.
I realized in that moment, that it wasn’t any Ms. McLean magic that happened.
How do we learn to tell stories? At first humans/babies are non-verbal and then we begin to talk but we lack vocabulary and we don’t understand the idea of a beginning, middle, or end. (We have all listened to children tell a story in this stage, “and then the man got the bird and then the man ran and then he had some lunch and then he saw his mommy…”)
Adults tell the stories, we read the stories, we engage in conversation. It is the act of listening that teaches children how to tell stories.
Similarly in drawing. It is the act of seeing that teaches children how to sketch. And how we do this is not with “lessons” per se. It is also not by chance or luck. It is by engaging the child’s senses in experiences that set off synapsis. Synapsis that make everything connect in a visual way. To “see” in multiple ways.