#sketchnotes: Time to Give Kids More Freedom

I'm on the verge of a BIG shift in the way I empower my students to record day-to-day learning in my classroom.

I've blogged about doodle notes before to show how my students:

My students have edited primary source quotes.
They've taken digital notes directly on primary source images and art.

But I haven't really gone full tilt with student sketchnotes. Sketchnotes are a more creative and engaging way to take notes.  They're posted all the time on Twitter.

With all of the versions of doodling I've allowed students to use in the classroom, there is a clear structure I've put in place first.  I haven't really given them the freedom to doodle in a their own way.  I was worried that without some kind of linear guide my students would not get down the essential content I'm responsible for teaching based on our school curriculum and state standards.  On the other hand, as this school year has carried on I've been giving my students more and more choice and they've responded by raising the bar for themselves.  Since they've proven themselves over and over its time to give them more freedom in their own notebooks, even if they are paperless notebooks, or precisely because they are paperless and they aren't limited by paper and writing utensils.

But if I want my students to try something new and stretch their thinking, I have to practice what I preach first. I recently had the tremendous opportunity to attend and speak at the Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference. I saw keynotes and panels and I took part in a school site visit to a charter middle school that is changing student achievement in New Haven, Connecticut. Of course, conferences are a great opportunity to learn from others, take notes, and look back at them once it's over to figure out how it can have an impact on my own professional practice. Normally I take notes in a linear way: bullet lists, key phrases and quotes, title and subtitles, etc. This time I doodled; I created sketchnotes and shared them.

First I attended the opening panel on school reform and transforming failing schools.
Note the emphasis on the words "turnaround" and "transform" that was apparent from the panelists. They discussed and debated their differing strategies for making schools more successful in Connecticut.

Then I went on a site visit to the Amistad Academy in downtown New Haven.
Amistad Academy is an Achievement First charter school. They are in the midst of transitioning, enthusiastically I might add, to a Common Core model.

The conference keynote was shared by Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade and Dr. Howard Fuller, two charismatic men who are passionate about justice in education:
This was perhaps the most powerful keynote I've ever witnessed. These two men walk the talk. They have immersed themselves in education reform for minorities and the poor. Their messages are clear and urgent.

Finally, I went to a panel on the implications of early adoption of edtech in schools:
The panelists included Patrick Larkin, Asst. Supt. in Burlington, MABenjamin Berte, CEO of Socrative; Jennifer Medbury, CEO of Kickboard; and Chris Bostock, Principal of Achievement First Amistad High School.
There is no doubt that I lack the artistic ability to make these sketchnotes beautiful, but I'm giving it a shot. I have to admit, I found this method rather thought-provoking as I was doing it for a few reasons:

  • Since my notes were not a mere list, I had to think about how big/small certain words were. It would show emphasis, as the size of words in a word cloud does.
  • Placement was also important. I know intuitively that people read from top to bottom and from left to right, so that had to weigh into my choices.
  • Color choices and double-backing on certain words to make them stand out was another way I showed importance of ideas.
I've found myself looking back at these notes quite a bit in the 48 hours since the conference ended. I have to admit that in the past, I haven't really looked back at my notes with any consistency. Maybe there is something to this. Would my students be more likely to look back at sketchnotes from class than they would to look back at linear/outline style notes?

My next task is to figure out how to teach my students to develop this skill, without being so structured that their own personalities and ideas fail to come forth in the resulting sketchnotes.

Stay tuned!

Note: The sketchnotes above were created using Paper by 53.


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