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versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027


MAITA, María del Rosario  y  PERALTA, Olga Alicia. The role of instruction in early comprehension of maps. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2008, vol.25, n.2, pp. 217-233. ISSN 1668-7027.

Very early in life children must learn to master a wide variety of symbolic systems and objects for a full participation in the culture, like letters, numbers, and pictures. The symbolic systems, like numbers or letters are elements that do not have significance on their own, but provide information when combined in systematic ways. Symbolic objects, on their own, are objects that represent, with different degrees of iconicism or similarity, real entities and provide and transmit specific information. Symbolic objetcs, then, have a dual reality, they are physical objects and, at the same time, they are symbols of the entity they represent. This double nature of symbolic objects is very hard to comprehend by very young children. Symbolic objects can be tridimensional, like scale-models, or bidimensional, as photographs or graphs. This research is focused in the study of the development of early symbolic comprehension of a particular bidimensional symbolic object: a map; specifically we study the role of instruction in this process. Maps can be found among the symbolic objects of a given culture. Like other symbolic objects, they amplify aspects of our perception, attention and cognition; their specific role consists in representing and making comprehensible spatial information. The purpose of this research is to explore if, when and how instruction could affect young children's understanding and use of maps. Specifically, we wanted to know if it is possible to teach very young children the symbolic function of a map, and, if so, when is this possible. An important factor in children's symbolic functioning is the nature and extent of adult informational support. Although we know a great deal about the relation between adult scaffolding and the understanding and production of language and symbolic play, we still know relatively little about the influence of this factor in other symbolic domains such as external representations. So far, no study has investigated the impact of direct instruction or teaching on the detection and use of objects as symbols. In this research a novel manipulation of instruction is proposed: explicit instruction. Explicit instruction implies that the experimenter not only provides complete and detailed information about the symbol-referent relation before the task begins, but also, if necessary, during the task the experimenter corrects and directly teaches the child how to employ the map in order to find the hidden object. The two studies presented in this paper employ a search task in which children have to use a map in order to find a hidden toy in a small room. The first study compares the performance of two age group children (30 months and 36-month-olds) with explicit instructions about the map-room relation. The aim of this study is to find out if it is possible to teach little children the symbolic function of a map. The results show that while 30-month-old children are not able to recognize the map-room relation at all, the majority of 36-month-olds children achieved representational insight after failing the first search and being explicitly taught how to use the map. The second study examines at what age children are capable of recognizing and using the symbolic function of a map without adult's instruction. It was found that while at 42 months old some children are able to solve the task with no instructions at all, at 46 months the majority of children achieve representational insight. This research clearly shows that the early comprehension of maps is not solely dependent of age and maturation, the scaffolding that adult instruction provides is also crucial at some points of development.

Palabras clave : Symbolic comprehension; Map; Representational insight; Instruction.

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