By Ali Kusky, Fifth Grade Assistant Teacher
As we continue to foster creativity and critical reasoning at Trinity, we want to change the way we understand information. Our goal, always, is to increase knowledge and retention. Doodling, or the art of applied visual thinking, is one way for Trinity students and teachers to deeply engage in learning.
Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently, says, “Tracking content using imagery, color, word pictures, and typography can change the way you understand information and also dramatically increase your knowledge and retention.”
Doodling is one approach to note-taking and brainstorming that makes these activities become more active, personal, brain-compatible, and shareable. During a lesson, we can incorporate symbols and doodles to improve listening, better express ideas, summarize and synthesize learning, and make connections.
In the past, I always took notes in the traditional way – using shorthand and bullet points, writing outlines, and copying from the board. To study for a test when I was a student, I would pull out these lengthy pages of notes and attempt to focus long enough to memorize the endless amount of words. I didn’t know there was a different way—perhaps a better way—until I was introduced to doodling last year.
“[Doodling] allows for greater retention and creative problem solving. Doodlers have to use critical reasoning to capture the big ideas.”
I have never considered myself an artist and most doodlers I know don’t either. When I first attempted doodling last year during the Sentence, Phrase, Word introduction to Fifth Grade, a research-based approach to visible thinking that began at Harvard, I was doodling very literal images of text. It was a good start, and my style quickly evolved.
I learned fast and easy ways to represent people thanks to Jill Gough [Director of Teaching and Learning], and then I began doodling abstract concepts and ideas. I soon realized that I enjoyed this approach to note-taking much more than the techniques I was taught 20 years ago. Also, I didn’t have to be an expert at drawing to do it.
By helping me clear my mind and stay in the moment during a presentation, doodling makes me a better listener and allows me to focus on what is important. When I reflect on my doodles, I can recall details around a conversation, piece of writing, or speech better because I now associate it with the images I drew. I doodle because not only does it help me retain ideas, information, and details much more deeply than if I use my traditional way of note-taking, but also it is pleasing to the eye and fun to do.
Doodling is very easy to incorporate into the classroom, in all subject areas. Students draw what they hear, see, and feel. We then discuss how their pictures represent what was learned. In addition to reiterating the information to students, these discussions around their doodles also provide the opportunity to assess whether a student grasped the lesson’s main themes or focused on side topics.
There is no right way to doodle, and for the child who likes to draw, doodling is a great way for them to stay engaged. Like it does for me, doodling helps our students process information and visualize their understanding. It allows for greater retention and creative problem solving. Doodlers have to use critical reasoning to capture the big ideas. By teaching our students that doodling is an option when taking notes and a way to maintain active listening, we give them choice, we embrace
their love of drawing, and we continue to foster their creativity, and ours, too.