Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Graphic Image-Making Skills for Literacy Development

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Graphic Image-Making Skills for Literacy Development

Article excerpt


Teachers of young children use drawing as a classroom activity, and drawing may be used as a stimulus for, or enrichment of, the writing process. However, making graphic images has a far more significant role in children's perceptual development than is currently receiving attention. This paper describes a research study embedded in the fields of physiology and psychology of visual perception that attempts to test theories emerging from research concerning links between the 'drawing', writing' and 'talking' activities of young children.


Children learn spoken language informally from family and from experience within the home environment, and children may learn, with the assistance of family, to read and write at home before they commence school. Education in a formal setting, such as school, develops and increases language and literacy skills in reading, writing and thinking. Children also learn to 'make marks' or graphic configurations prior to commencing school, and these marks may become a symbol for letters or a symbol for a graphic representation of some part of a child's experience (Butterworth, 1977; Golomb, 2004).

A child may draw a figure representing a person important to them, or a series of letters representing their name. In this way, the skills for making graphic marks are interchangeable with drawing skills; writing and drawing involve the skills of making configurations and the marks made are symbols that carry meaning, such as the letters m-u-m for 'mum' or a figure drawing of a child's mother. A graphic symbol stimulates recall of experience: that is, thinking about 'mum', recalling what mum looks like, irrespective of whether or not the symbol is in the form of letters or a drawing.

From an early age children learn to make marks and, as their skill in making these marks develops, they can repeat those marks at will; and children learn to attach meaning to marks they make as they learn to communicate (Athey, 1990; Matthews, 1999; Lancaster, 2007). Children learn the cutaneous, kinesthetic motor control required for making marks, and they learn to make scribbles (initially marks made through gross-motor arm action) and to control those scribbles. As the control of scribbles develops in terms of direction and placement, children learn to enclose a space, to make a circular shape, and to draw graphic units in clusters or in groups, all of which are skills that are needed for learning to write.

The making of graphic marks, such as line, shape and pattern discrimination, is fundamental to drawing images and to learning the structure of graphic language. In one context, this activity is called drawing and in another context this activity is called writing, but, the psycho-motor-skills for both contexts essentially remain the same. Learning to draw develops a range of visual skills, such as figure/ground perception, as well as discrimination of line, shape, direction and proportion. The mastery of spatial organisation evolves as perceptual discrimination becomes more differentiated and children can organise and use graphic symbols to draw a story about something (Bryant, 1974; Golomb, 2004).

When children make a mark on a surface they perceive this mark as a figure or a letter on a background. Goodnow (1977) argued that the graphic work of children is 'visible thinking', whether the product is a letter of the alphabet, a number, a picture or a map (p. 41). The visual perceptual processes of figure-ground perception may involve overlapping of figures, enclosure, and proximity of figures, size difference and linking of images.

Perceptual constancies underpin perceptual discrimination of images; for example, shape constancy facilitates recognition of a configuration. Shape constancy is fundamental for letter recognition as children learn to read and write, in that, an 'A is an A is an A'; the letter 'A' is perceived as an 'A' despite differences in colour, size and textural surface of the letter configuration. …

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