Sketchnotes Trial #1 Reflections

I am now through 2 cycles of classes using sketchnoting as an opening activity. What I am learning about this technique is that it is a mentally engaging activity for the person taking the notes. Like any classroom activity that requires a mental effort some students were reluctant to begin the process on both days we have used sketchnoting. Interestingly, the reluctance evaporates after we begin and they are allowed to doodle. Like I said, though, the sketchnote process does engage a part of the students’ brain different from a traditional note taking session. It is more strenuous than traditional note taking.

My new favorite phrase for notes is “shallow transcription”. Student can take notes in a number of different settings -from traditional lecture, to summarizing a written passage, to taking notes on a recording – but a common problem is the student’s desire to just copy whatever is said or whatever is in the screen/paper nearly word for word. In this scenario the note taker doesn’t have to actually thibk about or deeply process the information in any meaningful way. Technology exacerbates this problem. The speed of typing, the ability to turn on YouTube closed captioning, or the literal ‘cut and paste’ option are the epitome of “shallowly transcribing” and the student is never forced to engage with the content. I have attempted to overcome this with QWIQR Notes. This helps for the Flipped Lessons but I still see students that are trying to just copy what is being said. Sketchnotes seem to force the listener to process and summarize the information and takes away the ability to simply and mindlessly transcribe.

With this in mind I had a student come up to me after todays sketchnote activity and she told me

“I really like doing notes this way. It just makes more sense and I like doing it”

The really important part of this is that this is one of my “at-risk” students. If she is finding this helpful in anyway it is amazing.

After 4 days of tinkering with the process I have modified my delivering. I have students every other day so each class has done Sketchnotes 2 times. The first day I followed the plan I wrote about in my post on Sketchnoting. By the second day I had modified the groups down to only 3 per group and had three “jobs” that rotated for each small chunk:

  1. Reader – reads the small chunk of text. The other 2 students are taking sketchnotes in the margins.
  2. Display Person – shows their sketchnotes. Person 1 and 3 can add to their own notes if desired.
  3. Summarizer – this person orally summarized the main idea. Person 2 and 3 can again add to their Sketchnotes.
  4. (If necessary) Predictor – this student quickly predicts what they think the next text chunk will be about.

This system worked pretty well. Some examples of the work can be found below.

By the fourth day I wanted to try another modification. I was filtering among the groups and listening to conversations and in several cases the students didn’t understand key vocab or concepts but were not stopping to question the terms. On day 4 I decided that I would read the text chunks and students would each take the sketchnotes. While reading I could give an alternative word along with the more advanced vocab to assist. The process went something like this.

  1. I read the chunk of text. While I read the students took the sketchnotes.
  2. I reread the text. This was to give students a bit more time to finish the doodling but also to let them hear the words one more time. This was only the second time so they are still working on the “mental queing” that Carrie (@heckawesome) talks about on her vlog Imagine That.
  3. Students then share and discuss their sketches with their “elbow partners.
  4. I opened the floor to questions about the text chunk.
  5. I moved onto the next text chunk and repeat the process until am the text was finished.

This worked very well. This sketchnoting session lasted about 20 minutes which I think was about the maximum amount of time my Juniors were able to sustain that level of mental engagement.

Overall, sketchnoting is so far showing itself as a valuable tool that will fill in several gaps in my classroom!


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