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Making the Mundane Memorable


As I write this intro I have my coffee and pen in hand and I can't wait to share with you the story of this amazing teacher, Molly Castner. We met at EdCamp GCC and she did an app smackdown presentation about sketchnoting apps. My teacher heart was so excited to learn more about how to use this way of documenting knowledge I had to know more!

I love Molly's thoughts on educational practices, "Teachers can’t afford to rest on the foundation of past practice from 20 years ago. The world and our students aren’t the same as when we started. We have to stay juicy and bendy if we are to continue growing with our students." This is so true, right? One of those ways is to try out sketchnoting. Molly was kind enough to write a guest post about her experiences, tips, and strategies to creating super sketchnotes. I know you will enjoy this read and hopefully will be inspired to try out some sketchnotes for yourself.

You might be too young to remember the days of copying notes from the teacher’s overhead, but I bet you can remember some teachers making a “fancy” PowerPoint and waiting to advance the slide until the entire class copied the information--word for word. How tedious! And did you ever look at them again--maybe not. Notes don’t have to be boring, and let’s face it, if they are, your students probably won’t learn much.

So what’s the answer? You want your students to personalize and internalize critical content in a meaningful way...but you aren’t quite sure how to accomplish the feat without boring them to death Visual thinking, which is the backbone of visual note taking, is nothing new. (Check out this Muppets skit which is an update from the original in 1959). Students remember more when they can picture it in their minds. The metaphorical thinking used in designing these notes is also at a higher level of cognition. Sounds amazing, right! But where to begin?

Start by creating a climate that allows students to doodle and draw information to represent their learning. I used “Doodle Challenges”—with help from Sylvia Duckworth—at the beginning of the year as a daily warm-up. Sylvia is a former French teacher from Toronto, who has helped to bring sketchnotes into teachers’ classrooms around the globe. (Check out her amazing #sketchnotefever videos and her social media presence @sylviaduckworth.) Students are excited to draw along on their iPads (paper-pencil works too) and add to their visual vocabulary. The step-by-step drawings help even the least artistic students find success.

Sketchnotes are never about ART and always about the IDEAS.

Early on, I make assignments where students can practice their new skill. One-pagers, (see Spark Creativity), are a great first step in helping students put their sketchnoting skills to use. Within the first two weeks of school, I have students create one-pagers introducing themselves. I encourage students to use a blend of images and words to create an “About Me” sketchnote. Students also complete one-pagers analyzing various elements of their independent reading novels. These are colorful, engaging interpretations of the text. I have found that students enjoy thinking and conveying their knowledge in this way. I know what your thinking, “But what about that kid that insists they have zero ability to do this.” It’s hard to silence the inner critic sometimes and that’s where our friends at The Noun Project can help. Students can draw from or copy millions of different icons with a simple search.

Once we have a climate where doodling is seen as part of learning, we incorporate this skill into our assessments. One of my favorite projects is a research project about resilient people who have changed the world. Students choose a person to research and then create a sketchnote synthesizing their research. We do these final presentations analog, but you could just as easily complete them digitally. Students have creative license over the assignment, and the outcomes are beautiful and inspiring, regardless of artistic talent.

Sketchnote student example of an event
Sketchnote student example

Students also practice sketchnoting different podcasts. Sketchnoting “live” events can be quite intimidating and requires students to think quickly in real time about how to represent only the most important information. Live sketchnoting is quick and messy, but it is likely the most functional use for students. The first podcast sketchnote was a practice opportunity where I walked around and asked students to share what they sketched. I was impressed by the students’ ability to tell me the story based on pretty messy sketches. So at the end of the week I told students we were going to try an experiment. I asked students to sketchnote a new podcast, only this time they would be writing a summary of the podcast the following week. They sketched on Thursday and wrote their summaries on Monday. Most of the students did well remembering the basics. The students were able to utilize their notes to recall the important parts from the story. It also was helpful in giving me insight into who understood the story and who had some misunderstandings.

Revisiting the notes and retrieving the important content is the magic of sketchnotes.