Chapter 1: Mapping the Terrain

Chapter One, Mapping the Terrain: Exploring, Guiding, and Getting Lost

“Mapping is a layered process and each layer is anchored by an intention.”

Exploration mapping is being fully steeped in the emergent moment. The map unfolds while I am discovering a place or idea. I document the immediacy of the first person experience, capturing and collecting, exploring and getting lost. At the start of the journey there are no categories.”  -from Unfolding Practice

This approach to capturing visceral, immediate, emergent moments as described above, what we call Exploration Mapping, is in a sense the opposite of an analytical process. It is a strategy useful when you need to quickly document a thought or feeling (RIGHT NOW) before the fleeting moment, epiphany or experience gets lost. We too often think that powerful moments are indelible, that they will etch themselves into our memory, and while this is true sometimes we cannot count on it being true all the time. This is why it is useful to capture important experiences as close to when they occur as possible. The practice of Exploration Mapping is an example of what art educator Sister Corita Kent was talking about in rule #8 of her list, Some Rules for Students and Teachers, “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.” The documenting of the important moment comes first, the analysis, connecting, categorizing and building new thoughts comes later.

In Exploration Mapping, the immediacy of the capturing is driven as much by emotions as by cognition. The quickness and intensity of this type of documentation is a good example of the ways author Catherine Elgin describes emotions and cognition being inextricably woven together in our lived experience of the world. In her book Considered Judgment, Elgin argues that our emotions function cognitively in that they guide, structure and orient our “patterns of attention”. (Elgin, 1996 p.161) Emotions, far from being stereotypically “unreliable”, are key players in how we make sense and make meaning of our “worlds”, both internal and external.  The intense moments we document quickly in Exploration Mapping are concrete and visible manifestations of how emotion and cognition are bound together in our processes of making meaning.

Other Documentation Resources

The Making Learning Visible (MLV) and Visible Thinking (VT) research teams at Harvard’s Project Zero have been leaders in exploring and devising ways to illuminate moments of developing understanding for many years. Their websites and publications contain a wealth of invaluable information, strategies and thinking routines as well as background on the philosophies behind each team’s work



Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners

Project Zero and Reggio Children (2001)

Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools, Jossey-Bass (2013)


Are Questions better than Answers?

We tell our fellow teachers and students that questioning is better than answering – but why? What is the philosophy behind this approach? Surely it has to do with modeling inquiry-and the belief that the ability to come up with deep, complex, incisive, core questions and then explore them is an important step toward becoming an empowered agent of our own learning.

But surfacing questions is extremely hard because of the uncertainty space it puts us in. how do we support teachers and students in trusting and asking questions.

Fortunately, many educators, authors and artists have been poking around in the uncertain spaces that open up when you begin asking and exploring big questions and have useful things to say and show us about what they’ve found there. Rebecca Solnit’s book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost offers instructive insights about why being in uncertainty is a generative place to dwell sometimes. Lynda Barry’s artistic explorations of questions in her book, What It Is offer us vivid and productive models of creative inquiry. Peter Turchi in his book, Maps of The Imagination: The Writer As Cartographer  makes the case that getting lost is an essential phase in mapmakers’ (and writers’ and artists’ and by implication all of our) work.

The National School Reform Faculty has done groundbreaking work, creating strategies, structures and protocols designed to bring learning communities through spaces of inquiry and uncertainty. The “choosing a question protocol” is just one of dozens of simple yet incredibly helpful tools the NSRF offers free on its website.


Tina Blythe and David Allen’s The Facilitator’s Book of Questions (Teachers College Press, 2004) offers a wealth of strategies, centered around the types of questions useful when looking at and unpacking students’ and teachers’ work.

The National Equity Project’s work focuses on transforming schools into more equitable spaces for learners, teachers and families. Toward this end they offer coaching workshops modeling Cycles of Inquiry designed to bring all school stakeholders through the process of creating equity where it was previously missing. A large part of this process involves creating safe and courageous spaces where all members of learning communities can ask and address tough questions.

Re-Seeing and Demechanization

“In most of the places we’ve investigated, we find a landscape vocabulary that is taken for granted. We are interested in how this vocabulary has become embedded — in how these places are imagined and visualized, what images and maps show and demarcate, and what they exclude.” -Dilip da Cunha and Anuradha Mathur

One of the goals of the different kinds of mapping we are talking about in accordion book practice is to begin to see those “taken for granted” landscapes anew. By visualizing, juxtaposing and applying coding strategies to both literal and metaphorical terrains we can see and understand them in new and different ways. This process is akin to what Augusto Boal called “demechanization” a term the theater artist, educator and activist came up with to describe the breaking down of our habitual, conditioned, reflexive ways of seeing and acting in the world. Boal accomplished demechanization via engagement in a variety of theater games. We think a similar process can occur when we apply different mapping strategies to our previously taken for granted terrains.

Publication: Augusto Boal’s Games For Actors and Non-Actors (Routledge, 2002)

The cartographer Denis Wood has also done groundbreaking work modeling different strategies for creating “narrative maps” that allow us to see much more and much deeper into places.




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