More About the Author
Dr. Susan Rich Sheridan is an artist, writer, parent and teacher. She received her undergraduate degree in Classics and English from Harvard College and her MAT and her doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. For the past twenty-five years, Dr. Sheridan has taught English and Art at the middle school level, and studio arts and art history at the college level, as well as afternoon classes for local children in her Art Barn in Maine, promoting her Neuroconstructivist theory of education with its cross-modal practice Drawing/Writing. This theory and practice are outlined in her workbook for teachers, Drawing/Writing and the new literacy, 1997.
Two new books have been published: Saving Literacy for professional caregivers, and HandMade Marks for parents, including homeschooling parents. Both 2010 books describe a Neuroconstructivist, or brain-building practice for early childhood language and literacy, including a Scribbling/Talking/Drawing/Writing program for children from 10 months to 6 years. The mark-making exercises included in both books develop attention, self-esteem, emotional connection and control, speech and literacy. Dr. Sheridan discusses the issues of autism and technology in both books, as well as a range of other research issues.
Dr. Sheridan's approach rests on the fact that the brain constructs itself in response not only to genetic blueprints but to environmental influences, including the influence of parents and teachers. Some of the most important support parents and teachers can give involve speech and literacy. In early childhood, language skills can be developed by talking with children about their scribbling and drawing. Talking about scribbling and drawing is one of the easiest ways to encourage a range of cognitive skills in young children, including enthusiasm for conversation, ease and confidence in drawing and writing, and a commitment to reading and to communication in general.
The brain has two hemispheres. These two sides of the brain function together in special ways, making it possible for humans to speak and to write and read. The ability to think abstractly and symbolically is, according to Sheridan, what makes human cognition differ from other creatures. She feels that this ability to think abstractly and symbolically depends upon what she calls "marks of meaning", and can be observed, at this point, only in this way - through the marks themselves and through conversations around the marks. In time, brain scans may be able to identify the shapes (wavelengths and forms) of developing human speech and literacy, helping us to identify the best ways to develop both sets of skills in children as critical to their success in life. Sheridan believes that approaches combining invested adult speech around the earliest scribbles and drawings of young children will prove one of the best ways to provide such support in early childhood, and that continuing to encourage speech around a range of marks as the child grows into adulthood will foster flexible and extremely effective communications skills.
Because the brain is bi-lateral, equipped with two sides, or modes, for processing information, exercises which combine the abilities of both sides (drawing and writing, for instance) will develop optimum linguistic and cognitive skills. Dr. Sheridan believes that a range of meaningful marks drove the evolution of the human brain, and the fact that children continue to scribble and draw proves that such marks-based, literate behavior in humans is still adaptive in terms of development and growth.
Research suggests that the work of the hands and the mouth evolved together in the context of "time-factored" seasonal notations made as long ago as 35,000 years (Marshack, 1991; Sheridan, 2012). Young children's scribbling and drawing mean that mark-making continues to be important human behavior. Mark-making enriches children's speech and thinking in significant ways.
Dr. Sheridan believes that the best brain any child can develop is balanced and bi-lateral, at ease with both images and text (with the understanding that "text" stands for a range of symbols from words to musical notes). Her research and her simple, hands-on exercises for parents and professionals support the everyday use of multiple literacies - including the writing and reading of words, pictures, mathematics, music, and other notational systems -- at home and in school, as well as in the workplace where electronic technology clearly requires brains equally adept at both image and text.
Dr. Sheridan lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, and in Addison, Maine. She has three adult children, and four grandchildren. She continues to observe and to celebrate marks of meaning as they unfold in the scribbling and drawing of each grandchild.
Dr. Sheridan continues her research on human mark-making. Currrently, she is working on volume 3 in the scribble series: Marks Change Minds. Volume 3 is a general science book about human brain development.
More information about Dr. Sheridan's work can be found at www.marksandmind.org as well as by watching the 2011 video: http://blip.tv/amherst-media/key-news-dr-susan-sheridan-5351646