I began this year with a vow to be careful about how much technology I required students to use. In the past, I’ve been completely paperless and purposefully forced students out of their comfort zones when it came to integrating technology. However, after pandemic teaching and learning that were entirely virtual at some points, I knew this year had to be different. One of the first things I noticed about my students was that their stamina was really low. Fifteen minutes of sustained silent reading was really a big struggle, so I planned a mini-unit that would help me get to know them better, help them share ways that they “related,” and push them to read a short biography in a week. The Relatable Biography Project can be found here and the blog here.
What is Sketchnoting?
I wanted students to have some accountability for their reading, and I wanted them to engage with the text, yet I didn’t want to interrupt their “flow” of reading. I wanted students to have an opportunity to “stay with the text,” but also take a breather from reading without resorting to the same old journal prompts I’d used before. When I surveyed students to start the year, more than the usual number noted that they liked to doodle. I decided I’d take the leap into a topic I’d considered for some time: sketchnoting, bullet journaling, doodling—visual representations of student learning. I’ve always wanted to include this type of note taking, but I haven’t had a good way to assess it, and I’m also not a great artist by any means. I’d feel like a fraud if I proclaimed to know what I was doing!
So, in true “teacher-as-lead-learner” fashion, we watched sketchnoting videos together, trying out techniques and gathering a collection of “tools” we’d use as we read. Here’s the lesson plan. Learning some basic icons, lettering techniques, and the like made the process fun and gave all of us a little more confidence. Students did, in fact, struggle with the sustained silent reading, but I noticed that when they did take a break, they’d work on their sketchnoting, which kept them engaged in the task at hand.
I was really impressed with the sketchnotes, and I wanted to know how students felt about using them to complete the Relatable Biography Slideshow. I sent my students a survey, and their answers really captured my attention; this may become an option for all of my reading assignments this year. Cole explained, “I liked that if I was looking for something, I could just look for the picture and it would be right there. It was very helpful and kept me organized.” Jamie articulated what I suspected to be true for many of my doodlers: “Well, growing up I always got yelled at for writing on my paper, it always got my thoughts down. It felt like such a relief when we were told that we could draw on our paper! I love drawing, and I do it often.” Olivia explained the advantage when it came to finding information: “I like not having to write everything in a list and not have to write word for word. Another part that I liked was having pictures go with what I wrote, especially since pictures help me understand more. With the pictures, I also liked how it summarized what notes you wrote down so you didn't have to go read through all of the notes again.”
This anecdotal feedback was helpful, but in the end, one of the most important ideas that emerged was that it was fun. Simply fun. In the end, that seems to be a good justification for trying something new this year, especially when school can be, decidedly, not very fun if we focus too much of our attention on what is lacking. In this activity, the notes the students shared weren’t about what they were missing, but instead were a way to measure what they were learning!