Sketch noting for classrooms-a creative stress buster

An artistic form of notetaking, sketch notes have taken the adult world by storm. There was a time when I would scroll through Twitter and spot two or more posts exhibiting magnificent sketch notes for professional development sessions or workshops. I found myself scrutinizing each arrow and stick figure, moving from one section to the next, in awe of the creator’s thought process. It struck me that I would never have taken a second glance at their effort had they shared traditional bullet points or lists. Instead, I speculated on what sorts of artwork the other attendees would have conceived and whether they would tell an entirely different story.

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Sketch noting with my third graders has been on my mind, and when the new session rolled around, I squandered no time getting down to business. I commenced getting to know my students in mid-July, and towards the end of the month, I had already established that they were a creative bunch. It was time to present our first unit to them, and I chose to begin by giving them a glimpse into our conceptual lens, ‘Impact’. A conceptual lens is the focus of a unit, and although our unit was centered on waste and how we manage it, the ultimate emphasis was the impact it has on us and the environment.

The introduction

I began by showing them samples of sketch noting. They were astonished at the intricacies attained through simple materials powered by an artistic touch. Next, they viewed exemplars and even some uncomplicated designs that were within reach. Finally, I presented them with the necessities of sketch noting- creative doodles with headers and text. 

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The Process

Learners were raring to go by the time I was done with my presentation. I informed them that I would give them the whole lesson to talk about the word ‘Impact’. Words and ideas began tumbling forth, and without any inputs from me, we had a full-fledged discussion on our hands. I intervened as little as possible, with students adding on to their peer’s opinions. The deal was- every time a classmate said something relevant, they had to sketch it. The sketch had to have some words or headings affixed to it so that it wasn’t too abstract. Pens flitted furiously on paper, and the doodling had begun.

Talking points

  • What do you understand by the word ‘impact’?
  • What do you think of when you hear this word?
  • Is it positive or negative?

Thoughts flowed freely from one student to the other, and they made connections with the impact pollution has on our planet, the impact that Covid 19 has had on the whole world, and much more. 

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What astounded me most was the shift in the pace of the children’s speech. They would typically be bursting with information and talk over each other, but now they measured their words as they drew. Since they were also sketching, they took their time formulating their thoughts before pitching a new idea. They relished the process of creation as much as the discussion itself.

Student work
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Classroom observations while sketch noting

  • Even students who didn’t like to write/draw found a middle path that involved both.
  • Each child’s work was unique. Learners put up their work Microsoft Teams channels to inspire their friends.
  • Learners used better vocabulary since they had time to think about what they wanted to say. 
  • Doodling removed the anxiety of taking notes from the equation as the conversation moved at a slower pace.
  • The act of doodling while learning appeared to be cathartic. Even I scribbled as students spoke, and I found it difficult to lower my pen when we were done!
  • A firm understanding of our conceptual lens was built as students will most likely remember this activity and associate it with greater perception.
My own sketch note-always work with your students when you can!

Takeaways

Aristotle said, “Excellence is not an art. It is the habit of practice.” This quote encapsulates everything that this learning engagement was meant to achieve.

The goal is not to create artists, but to bring a spirit of mindfulness to everything our pupils do. If we could bring that kind of focus to all realms of student learning, envision the healthy habits we could nurture within them!

Peace was almost palpable in my classroom today, and I hope that I can capture that mood again in my class through other mindful activities that promote student expression.

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