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Developmental art in the low literacy classroom
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Developmental art in the low literacy classroom


An exploration of the art from my Liberian senior citizen low-literacy Sunday School class with a look at the parallels to developmental art in children and different cultures. Presented at the LESLLA …

An exploration of the art from my Liberian senior citizen low-literacy Sunday School class with a look at the parallels to developmental art in children and different cultures. Presented at the LESLLA (Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition) conference in Minneapolis, MN in 2011.

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  • Gesell (1948) used "drawing to investigate the child mind. When he asked three year olds to copy geometric shapes - squares, circles, triangles, crosses, diamonds - they did rather poorly. Yet the normal child of this age spontaneously draws esthetic versions of these geometric forms except for the diamond. Apparently, the mental activity involved in copy work differs from that needed for spontaneous art.“ Kellogg, p 179
  • Basic ScribblesDiagrams and CombinesAggregatesSunsSun faces and figuresHumans with head-top markings and with arms attached to the headHumans without head-top markingsArmless humansHumans with varied torsosHumans with arms attached to the torsoRelatively complete human imagesKellogg, R. (1969). Analyzing Children’s Art. Palo Alto, CA: National Press Books p 109


  • 1. Jean Marrapodi  jmarrapodi@applestar.org @jmarrapodi401-440-61615
    Developmental Art in the Low Literacy Classroom
  • 2. Context
    Adult Sunday School Class
    Liberian refugees
    Senior citizens, age unknown (not tracked in Liberia)
    Meet 1 hour/week for past 5 years
  • 3. Preamble: Spring 2006
    Lesson One: Palm Sunday
    Draw a picture to illustrate the story
    Could not do.
    Through a translator: “We can’t do that. We haven’t practiced like you have to be able to do that.”
  • 4. Preamble Two
    Lesson Two: Easter
    Ok, let’s copy some drawings to tell the story.
    We can’t do that.
  • 5. Preamble Three
    Let’s try to copy some symbols then.
    Could not complete unless dots were drawn to connect the lines.
    Circles were misshapen and barely recognizable.
  • 6. No Print Awareness
    Switched cards:
    Said: Elizabeth loves Jesus.
  • 7. Reading Art: Part One
    Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
    Adam and Eve
  • 8. Reading Art: Part Two
  • 9. Setting One: October 2010
    Pastor Appreciation Sunday
    Given a template with prompts:
    Pastor Berkley is ___________
    Pastor Michele is ___________
    I love my pastors!
    Learned what the prompts said. Asked to come up with a word to fill in. They either copied the word or had teacher spell it.
    Draw a picture of you and the pastors.
  • 10.
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13.
  • 14.
  • 15.
  • 16.
  • 17.
  • 18.
  • 19. Setting Two (following week)
    Given blank paper and markers
    Draw a picture of you with your grandchildren
    Teacher wrote names of children
  • 20. Annie K.
  • 21. Elizabeth
  • 22. Martha
  • 23. Essah
  • 24. Kumba
  • 25. Annie G.
  • 26. Frances
    * Granddaughter came over to “help”
  • 27. Setting Three (following week)
    Discussion about houses in America vs Liberia
    Let’s draw pictures of your houses here and in Liberia.
    Given blank paper and markers
    Teacher wrote words as given prompts
  • 28. Martha
    Martha lives in an apartment building.
  • 29. Elizabeth
    America on the left.
    Liberia on the right.
    Elizabeth lives in apartment 511 in a high rise building. She takes an elevator to get to her apartment.
  • 30. Annie K.
    Annie lives on in a triple-decker in RI.
  • 31. Annie G.
    Annie lives on in a two story single family home.
  • 32. Frances
    Frances lives on the first floor of a two story house.
  • 33. Kumba
    Kumba lives in townhouse type apartments in a complex
  • 34. Essah
    Essah lives in a second floor apartment.
  • 35. Setting Four
    Kumba’s spontaneous drawings brought from home in the subsequent weeks.
  • 36.
  • 37.
  • 38.
  • 39. Other Projects
    Painting background for nativities – 12/2009
    Cutting snowflakes – 1/2011
  • 40.
  • 41.
  • 42.
  • 43. Parallels to Children’s Work?
    Does their natural development mirror emergent literacy?
  • 44. Drawings of people by nursery school children
  • 45. Tadpole Figure
    From a severely mentally handicapped adult
    By a pre-school child
    By a pre-school child
  • 46. Sarah – 3.2 to 3.4 years
    a cat, Tyrannosaurus rex, and a leopard
  • 47. Helen, 4.5 – 5.5 years
  • 48. Rachel, Age 7
  • 49. Developmental Art
    Development in Children
  • 50. Callaghan Phases of Development
    Callaghan, T.C. (2008) The origins and Development of Pictorial Symbol Functioning. In Children’s Understanding and Production of Pictures, Drawings, and Art: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe. P 22
  • 51. Donley, S.K. 1985/1987
    Adapted from teacher inservice training materials for early childhood, art education, and special education workshops.
  • 52. Rhoda Kellogg: Gestalts
    Kellogg, R. (1969) Analyzing children’s art. Paolo Alto, CA: National Press Books. P 109
  • 53. Kellog’sScheme of the Evolution of Pictorial Work
    Common Sequences
    Kellogg, R. (1969) Analyzing children’s art. Paolo Alto, CA: National Press Books. P 273
  • 54. House-Tree-Person/Kinetic HTP
    Measure aspects of person’s personality 3 years-adult
    Common in art therapy
    Questionable validity
  • 55. Josiah, Age 4
  • 56. Noah, Age 6
  • 57. Rachel, Age 8
  • 58. Micah, Age 10
  • 59. Annie K.
  • 60. Frances
  • 61. Kumba
  • 62. Martha
  • 63. Elizabeth
  • 64. Essah
  • 65. Student Descriptions of House-Tree-Person Drawings
  • 66. Value of Using Art
    "This adapted Kinetic-House-Tree-Person for adults with developmental disabilities holds promise for providing an arts-based assessment that assesses for growth and positive changes in the individual in addition to negative or downward changes. Verbal assessments are not always appropriate due to verbal limitations within the individual who has developmental disabilities, therefore, arts therapists have at their disposal alternatives for assessing for change in functioning. Because this assessment mirrored the notes of the on-site therapists, this assessment suggests it can measure change. It also suggests that arts based interventions do, in fact, facilitate well-being and positive changes in interaction and communication."
    p 45 Lister & Rosales In Snow and D'Amico
  • 67. Value of Using Art
    "...there is evidence of a relationship between thought and drawing that becomes visible through the study of meaning-making processes. Drawing supports the movement from simple spontaneous concepts to more complex concepts and plays an important role in promoting higher mental functions. "
    Brooks, Drawing to Learn in Making Meaning p. 9
  • 68. Is It Cultural?
  • 69. Alexander Alland, 1983
    240 children’s drawings
    Six cultures
    Definite cultural variants
  • 70. PonapeNow Pohnpie, Micronesia
    Male, 4 years, 19 minutes
    Female, 5 years, 5 minutes
    First encounter with drawing
    Limited exposure to art
    Generally single color
    Human figures rare
    Nonconformity with Western norms
    Male, 5 years, 14 minutes
  • 71. Bali
    Male, 3.3 years, 30 minutes
    Female, 4.6 years, 25 minutes
    Overall density
    No stories
    Highly artistic culture
    Male, 2.6 years, 18 minutes
  • 72. Taiwan
    Female, 4.8 years, 10 minutes
    Female, 6.8 years
    Long heritage of art
    Filling, building, touching, details
    Picture making influenced by relationship between pictorial representation and writing
    Male, 5.2 years, 24 minutes
  • 73. Japan
    Male, 5.6years, 27 minutes
    Female, 3.10 years, 14 minutes
    Modern aesthetic in culture
    Highly visual culture
    Colorful, often single subject
    Female, 4.11 years, 8 minutes
  • 74. Alexander Alland, 1983
    “…the two most important elements in drawing skill among young children are experience and exposure to art.”
    P 63
    "On the basis of my data I believe that representation and symbolism are things children are consciously or unconsciously taught to do by adults and other children. This leads to the conclusion that the only safe definition of children's drawing can be 'playing with form.'"
  • 75. What we know about Liberia’s Art
    Known for their carved masks
    Music and dance very important
    Kissi make baskets and weave on vertical looms
    Literacy rate: 25%
    Dan, Mano, Kran, Kpelle tribal art
  • 76. Relating this to Writing
  • 77. Children Create Letters in Art
    "Most of the letters of the English alphabet, both capitals and lower-case forms, are made by young children as art Gestalts. In art, the letters are placed or arranged to complete a Pattern or an implied shape. In language, the letters are arranged in a certain order within words and are put into a certain left-right and top-bottom placement. As the child learns to read, he must perceive the differences between the esthetic and the linguistic positioning of letters, and as he learns to write, he must put this perception to use.
    Each child who has scribbled a great deal will know many of the letter Gestalts when he enters school, but he needs to learn the differences between their uses for art and for language. Otherwise, he will have serious difficulties with language.”
    Kellogg, 1970 p 262
  • 78. Not seeing letters, but shapes
  • 79. Elizabeth did the same thing
  • 80. Learning to Read and Write Art
    “...human artistry is viewed first and foremost as an activity of the mind, an activity that involves the use of a transformation of various kinds of symbols and systems of symbols. Individuals who wish to participate meaningfully in artistic perception must learn to decode, to "read" the various symbolic vehicles in their culture; individuals who which to participate in artistic creation must learn how to manipulate, how to "write with" the various symbolic forms present in their culture,and, finally, individuals who wish to engage fully in the artistic realm must also gain mastery of certain central artistic concepts. Just as one cannot assume that individuals will – in the absence of support - learn to read and write in their natural languages, so, too, it seems reasonable to assume that individuals can benefit from assistance in learning to "read" and "write" in the various languages of the arts.”
    Howard Gardner, Art Education and Human Development, p 9
  • 81. So what? And now what?
    What have you seen here?
    Have you seen this in your classroom?
    Is drawing a precursor to writing?
    Where do we go from here?
  • 82. Sources
    Alland, A. (1983). Playing with Form. New York: Columbia Universtiy Press
    Brooks, M. (2002). Drawing to learn. Unpublished PhD thesis. Alberta: University of Alberta, CanadaBrooks, M. Drawing to Learn. In Narey, M. ed. (2009). Making Meaning: Constructing Multimodal Perspectives of Language, Literacy, and Learning through Arts-based Early Childhood Education. New York: Springer
    Camnitzer, L. (2009, Feb). Art and Literacy. e-flux. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/42
    Camnitzer, L. (2009,Oct). Alphabetization, Part One: Protocal and Profieiency. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/78
    Freeman, N. H. (1987) Children's drawings of human figures - The Oxford Companion to Art, available, accessible, quite, real. Online: http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/890/children's-drawings-human-figures.html
    Gardner, H. (1990). Art Education and Human Development. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust
    Hagood, M.H. (2000). The Use of Art in Counselling Child and Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishing
    Kellogg, R. (1969). Analyzing Children's Art. Palo Alto, CA: National Press Books
    Lister, S, and Rosales, A. . The Kinetic-House-Tree-Person Adapted to Adults with Developmental Disabilities. In Snow, S. and D'Amico, M. (2009). Assessment in the Creative Arts Therapies: Designing and Adapting Assessment Tools for Adults with Developmental Disabilities. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishers
    Milbrath, C. & Trautner, H.M. eds. (2008). Children's Understanding and Production of Pictures, Drawings & Art: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe
    Vygotsky, L.G. (1970). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Edited by Cole, M., John-Steiner, V. Scribner, S. & Souberman, E. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
  • 83. Jean Marrapodi jmarrapodi@applestar.org@jmarrapodi
    Adult Literacy Students Draw