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Art and Its Implications For Student Literacy Tiffany McAlister To succeed in today’s fast paced and ever growing world, students require the ability to read and write at grade level to achieve a good standard of living. Sadly, 93 million American adults have limited reading and quantitative skills, and of that 93 million 30 million read at a below basic reading level (Dunn, 2012). With most jobs in today’s economic world requiring students and adults to be at least basic in their literacy ability, it is clear to see that literacy is an important aspect of a child’s education that needs to be developed. What does this have to do with art, and how can art educators help to foster literacy?

Just as artistic development has its stages, via Lowenfeld, literacy (and here for our purposes literacy will be defined as the ability to read and write) has its own stages of development. Unsurprisingly, these two seemingly different fields have many aspects of their stages in common. In Lowenfeld’s stages the first stage of artistic development is the scribbling stage typically seen at age two (Donley, 1987); the same scribbles are the foundation for writing and spelling skills in literacy (Wilson &Katz, 2009). In Lowenfeld’s pre-schematic stage, attempts are made at creating representational figures using circles for heads and lines for legs (Donley, 1987). In this same time frame from around ages 3-4, children also encounter their second big development in writing and spelling. At this stage children use the same circles and lines to develop characteristics of print and create strings of letters (Wilson & Katz, 2009). Allowing students to explore symbol creation in the safe environment of the art classroom can go a long way to encouraging students’ literacy development.

But just knowing that there is a connection between artistic development and literacy development is not enough. One must also know how to use this knowledge to promote students’ literacy. As can be seen in the images of my Pinterest board, there are many things that children naturally do that can be encouraged and fostered to develop their literacy. One of the largest misassumptions about both children’s art and beginning literacy development is that if an object is not recognizable then it has no value towards either the child artistically or literarily (Corgill, 2008). In many instances what may seem to the viewer as a scribbled mess and “may not look like what we expect (perhaps want) kindergarten drawing to look like, [the scribbles do] indeed show sophisticated language use” (Holland, Bloome, & Solsken, 1994, p. 65). Questioning and even the use of dictation can often highlight a students piqued interest in a subject which in turn reveals a highly developed knowledge base about the subject.

Often the revelation of a student’s background narrative will not be revealed without the aid of dictation by the student to the teacher. As Meier notes, “dictation is a key tool for promoting early writing development” (2004, p.113). Not only does dictation encourage interaction between students and teachers, it strengthens “ connections between oral and written language” and connects their “oral language talents” to their “drawing and art” (Meier, 2004, p. 113). Adding dictation to artwork made in the classroom can be a simple and effective way of encouraging literacy development. Even if time cannot be spared to dictate for all children, encouraging students to label and add descriptions of the content of their drawings helps. While dictation may be a more desirable solution for some students, others may prefer to write on their own. When assisting these students with their writings, it is not necessary, or necessarily beneficial, to spell all the words that the student wants to write (Graves, 1994). Graves suggests

instead to “help this child by supplying the full spelling of one key word in a sentence” and then encouraging them to “invent their own or get help from someone else” (1994, p.51).

While incorporating writing into the artistic process may not always be feasible in the art classroom, the “transactional process of meaning making [mirrors that] used in reading and writing” (Noll, 2000, p.215). When students enter the art classroom and are introduced to artworks where they must create meaning from an image both in a personal context and in context to their culture, they are using the same skills that they utilize when creating meaning from different readings. In the regular classroom this is done often by observing what the art within children’s books do to enhance the writing. Many of the tools that the illustrators utilize within the children’s books to enhance the writing, artists use within their artworks to enhance their meanings as well. These tools can be the use of space, the use of emphasis, the use of line to show movement and pattern, the use of the scale of objects and its link to their importance, and how words within an image help or hinder the understanding of the image(Corgill, 2008, p. 142). When we “encourage [students] to explore how visual images can... communicate an idea or feeling [they] become authors of a new sort and, in doing so, grapple with the inner workings of communication and creation” (As cited by Gallego &Hollingsworth, 2000, p.294).

From exploring the use of text and how images can be used to produce text for students, a clear link between artistic development and literacy development can be seen. In an art classroom where children are encouraged to find and create meaning from their own and other’s artwork, we can, as art educators, help to develop what “many leading language experts stress” is the “prime process in learning to read and write” that is, comprehension (Kaufman,1983,p. 4).

References Bloome, D. (1994). You Cant Get there from Here . Alternative Perspectives in Assessing Children's Language and Literacy (pp. 55-72). Norwood, New Jersey : Ablex Publishing Corporation

Corgill, A. M. (2008). Of Primary Importance: Whats Essential in Teaching Young Writers. Portland, MN: Stenhouse Publishers.

Donley, S.K. (1987). Perspectives: Drawing Development in Children. [visual graph of developmental stages created by Lowenfeld and Betty Edwards adapted from teacher inservice material]. Retrieved from: kiddrawing.html

Dunn, J. (2012). Literacy in America. [Info-graphic of the state of literacy in the United States.] Retrieved from:

Gallego, M. A., Hollingsworth, S.(2000).What Counts as Literacy: Challenging the School Standard. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Graves, D. H. (1994). A Fresh Look at Writing . Portsmouth, NH: Reed Elsevier Inc.

Kaufman, M. (1983). The Book as Art and Idea . Art Education, 36(3), 40-46.

Meier, D. R. (2004). The Young Child's Memory for Words: Developing First and Second Language Literacy. New York, NY : Teachers College Press

Noll, E. (2000). Literacy and American Indian Students: Meaning Making Through Multiple Sign Systems. What Counts as Literacy: Challenging the School Standard (pp. 213-228). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wilson, K., and Katz, M. (2009). Reading, Literacy, and Auditory-Verbal Practice. Workshop Presentation. [visual graph of literacy ages and stages]. Retrieved from:

Art and Its Implications for Student Literacy