The word “map” today often refers to a very specific kind of geographical image used to delineate physical and political boundaries. Maps did not always have this narrow form of meaning, however.
In Medieval Europe there was a type of map known as a “mappa mundi” that was not designed as simply as a document showing how to get from point A to point B, but instead contained the “history, geography, and destiny” of the human race. One of the most famous mappae mundi is the Hereford Map. Such maps offered those viewing it a narrative place and purpose in the cosmos and was often used as a teaching tool. Like roadmaps to life itself, rooted in the ancient wisdom of cultural stories, a communal reflection centered through the many people, places, and values was woven into its tapestries.
Schools today are expected to guide and help children also try and find their place in the cosmos, to understand their world as well as their own values and emotions, and grow up to be well adjusted, motivated human beings. This is a big ask, and as the mandates and required standards keep piling onto the teacher’s lap, we need tools that can address multiple aspects of child development and content knowledge at once.
The beauty of mapping our own lives, and the lives of the characters in stories we read, essentially perform a similar (and non-denominational) function of the ancient mappa mundi, with a distinct advantage: students, and not third party authorities, are the map and meaning makers. Their own wisdom, aspirations, values, and inner worlds deserve exploration, and are given center stage, in this unit.
The various maps of the self presented in this unit offer teachers today an interdisciplinary tool that addresses both social emotional learning (SEL) mandates as well as literary content in activities that are relevant, engaging, and rigorous for students. Furthermore, they can be adapted to a range of texts and even content areas, with potential application in any class or subject area.
The CT Department of Education defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults achieve emotional intelligence through the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” (Public Act 19-166). They can be powerful tools for processing volatile emotions and experiences, so common in adolescence, as well as framing the path one has been walking and delineating the future self one aspires to be.
Using maps as a useful strategy for comprehending not only the world and oneself, but also literary elements. While almost any concept diagram can be considered a map, the kinds of maps showcased in this unit be created as a tool to analyze any character or story, and is a wonderful, visual way to combine understanding and insight into plot, character, and other elements such as symbolism into a unified, rigorous demonstration of learning. They are also excellent tools for writing, and these strategies will be outlined in the teaching strategy section of the unit.
Finally, as maps are visual artifacts, and interdisciplinary in nature, they are fantastic teaching tools for EL students and students who struggle with long form writing. The same level of depth and subtlety of the best writing can be achieved through mapmaking, and it gives many students uncomfortable with writing (and reading) a rigorous and engaging way in to the richness of the world and their own lives.