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March 3, 2016

Visual Note-Taking: Keep Focus and Improve Retention

By Meghan Everette
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    If you’ve ever read author Dav Pilkey’s story on his school years, you know that our young doodlers shouldn’t be shunned for their artistic pursuits. He tells about years of being in trouble for writing and drawing in class, only to become a favorite children’s author and illustrator today. Have you sat through a conference or presentation lately? A meeting where you found yourself playing online instead of paying attention? Maybe some artistic time would help you focus. Guess what? It would help students too.

    Visual note-taking is nothing new, but it is making waves online as we share more and more information visually. Also called graphic visualization or sketch noting, you might be taking notes this way already. Visual note-taking is more than just doodling. It is a way to synthesize information; carve out the most important points and use images to convey the message simply and effectively.

    Two educator friends, Amy Mount and Amanda Koonlaba, shared some of their recent notes as examples. Koonlaba says she has just always doodled with her note-taking. Mount also wrote a post about using sketch notes professionally and comments that using the hashtag #sketchnote can lead to shared note-taking. These women show how varied our creative skills can be, and also that we don’t have to be artists to take meaningful sketches.

     

    digital sketchnotes sketchnotes amanda koonlaba

    conference sketch notes Amy Mount sketchnotes

    It’s Research Based!

    Studies show that note-taking enables recall and the synthesis of new information. Doodling can significantly increase the amount of retained information, according to a 2009 study. It says that even if doodling is not intentionally related to the listening task, more recall occurs. And while an article published through the Center for Teaching Quality suggests students might initially push back and be unsure of their artistic ability, I’ve found young students are willing to break out the markers. It’s a great opportunity for capturing their enthusiasm at a young age and building note-taking skills.

     

    Selecting the Right Lesson

    Young students need lots of scaffolding and direction for any new skill. First, think about the information you want to tell students and what’s most important for them to know. We were covering different kinds of folktales. I don’t care if students remember or memorize every element, but I wanted them to understand how these types of stories are related and how they are different. We were practicing reading and responding to various genres (RL.3.2) throughout the week.

    For our lesson, students worked with a different type of folktale each day, from the Grade 3 version of 25 Complex Texts to Meet the Common Corefolktale notes cover. (Side note: These come in every level and I’ve used them for years. They are great texts and easy to differentiate while keeping the rigor!) Students had previously read some myths and fables from our reading series, but we had not broken the genre apart. I folded two sheets of 8" x 14" paper into a booklet for each student because I thought they would be more likely to doodle when they didn’t have lines.

     

    Laying Ground Rules

    We discussed what a sketch is and how that differs from drawing. Since my students are new to taking notes, we also talked about what it means to pick out the main idea of information, which conveniently doubled as a great review of main idea!

    I had to slow down my talking to make sure students were ready to move ahead and listen, as well as give time for illustrations. We discussed how for some students, drawing a picture might help them remember, but only if the picture was related. I showed students some visual note examples before we got started. We discussed how arrows, charts, and related images might help support the information, but how random drawings of cars or dinosaurs wouldn’t make sense.

    After we worked each day, we discussed the characters, setting, problem, solution, and typical characteristics of each story type. I talked, and then modeled how I would pick out the most important words to write down. I had students give suggestions for images. As we went through the week, I had students take over the picking out of important information, but we still discussed what to write before they completed work.

    I only covered one genre a day so students could retain information. More than that, and students would confuse the content too easily.

     

    fairy tales sketchnote fable sketchnote sketchnotes tall tales

    Different Strokes for Different Folks

    After working for a few sessions, we shared some drawings. Most students were drawing exactly what I modeled, which is great for starting out. A few students already have their own style. We showed how some students chose to use all one color, some students only used pencil, and one of our class artists has his own stickman, comic-book style. I acknowledged a few students that I know do not enjoy illustrating and how they had tried it this week, but that it might not be for them. Another note-taking possibility comes from fellow blogger Rhonda Stewart. She incorporates graphic organizers into classroom note-taking.

     

    black and white sketchnote pages of visual notes

    Student Release

    The last day of this project, I told students they would sketch their notes on their own. We discussed what genre they were reading and then students told me what they felt were the salient points to include in their notes. They then selected the type of pictures they wanted to use in their note-taking sketches.

    Earlier in the week we moved quickly through the process so that students had to keep going and could not labor over “artwork” in their notes. Now, however, as they worked independently, they slowed down considerably. I took time to go over with them why this labor-intensive process does not work while note-taking.

     

    visual notes all blue visual notes illustrated illustrated visual note taking

    Results

    Classrooms today are active and vibrant. We know that “sit and get” is not best for student learning. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to give students information that they can’t learn through hands-on work. When that happens, allowing some creativity and taking the time to teach synthesizing skills will engage students and keep them thinking and doing.

     

    How do you cultivate note-taking skills? Have you tried sketch notes? Share your experiences!

     

    @bamameghanMeghan Everette RSS feed

    If you’ve ever read author Dav Pilkey’s story on his school years, you know that our young doodlers shouldn’t be shunned for their artistic pursuits. He tells about years of being in trouble for writing and drawing in class, only to become a favorite children’s author and illustrator today. Have you sat through a conference or presentation lately? A meeting where you found yourself playing online instead of paying attention? Maybe some artistic time would help you focus. Guess what? It would help students too.

    Visual note-taking is nothing new, but it is making waves online as we share more and more information visually. Also called graphic visualization or sketch noting, you might be taking notes this way already. Visual note-taking is more than just doodling. It is a way to synthesize information; carve out the most important points and use images to convey the message simply and effectively.

    Two educator friends, Amy Mount and Amanda Koonlaba, shared some of their recent notes as examples. Koonlaba says she has just always doodled with her note-taking. Mount also wrote a post about using sketch notes professionally and comments that using the hashtag #sketchnote can lead to shared note-taking. These women show how varied our creative skills can be, and also that we don’t have to be artists to take meaningful sketches.

     

    digital sketchnotes sketchnotes amanda koonlaba

    conference sketch notes Amy Mount sketchnotes

    It’s Research Based!

    Studies show that note-taking enables recall and the synthesis of new information. Doodling can significantly increase the amount of retained information, according to a 2009 study. It says that even if doodling is not intentionally related to the listening task, more recall occurs. And while an article published through the Center for Teaching Quality suggests students might initially push back and be unsure of their artistic ability, I’ve found young students are willing to break out the markers. It’s a great opportunity for capturing their enthusiasm at a young age and building note-taking skills.

     

    Selecting the Right Lesson

    Young students need lots of scaffolding and direction for any new skill. First, think about the information you want to tell students and what’s most important for them to know. We were covering different kinds of folktales. I don’t care if students remember or memorize every element, but I wanted them to understand how these types of stories are related and how they are different. We were practicing reading and responding to various genres (RL.3.2) throughout the week.

    For our lesson, students worked with a different type of folktale each day, from the Grade 3 version of 25 Complex Texts to Meet the Common Corefolktale notes cover. (Side note: These come in every level and I’ve used them for years. They are great texts and easy to differentiate while keeping the rigor!) Students had previously read some myths and fables from our reading series, but we had not broken the genre apart. I folded two sheets of 8" x 14" paper into a booklet for each student because I thought they would be more likely to doodle when they didn’t have lines.

     

    Laying Ground Rules

    We discussed what a sketch is and how that differs from drawing. Since my students are new to taking notes, we also talked about what it means to pick out the main idea of information, which conveniently doubled as a great review of main idea!

    I had to slow down my talking to make sure students were ready to move ahead and listen, as well as give time for illustrations. We discussed how for some students, drawing a picture might help them remember, but only if the picture was related. I showed students some visual note examples before we got started. We discussed how arrows, charts, and related images might help support the information, but how random drawings of cars or dinosaurs wouldn’t make sense.

    After we worked each day, we discussed the characters, setting, problem, solution, and typical characteristics of each story type. I talked, and then modeled how I would pick out the most important words to write down. I had students give suggestions for images. As we went through the week, I had students take over the picking out of important information, but we still discussed what to write before they completed work.

    I only covered one genre a day so students could retain information. More than that, and students would confuse the content too easily.

     

    fairy tales sketchnote fable sketchnote sketchnotes tall tales

    Different Strokes for Different Folks

    After working for a few sessions, we shared some drawings. Most students were drawing exactly what I modeled, which is great for starting out. A few students already have their own style. We showed how some students chose to use all one color, some students only used pencil, and one of our class artists has his own stickman, comic-book style. I acknowledged a few students that I know do not enjoy illustrating and how they had tried it this week, but that it might not be for them. Another note-taking possibility comes from fellow blogger Rhonda Stewart. She incorporates graphic organizers into classroom note-taking.

     

    black and white sketchnote pages of visual notes

    Student Release

    The last day of this project, I told students they would sketch their notes on their own. We discussed what genre they were reading and then students told me what they felt were the salient points to include in their notes. They then selected the type of pictures they wanted to use in their note-taking sketches.

    Earlier in the week we moved quickly through the process so that students had to keep going and could not labor over “artwork” in their notes. Now, however, as they worked independently, they slowed down considerably. I took time to go over with them why this labor-intensive process does not work while note-taking.

     

    visual notes all blue visual notes illustrated illustrated visual note taking

    Results

    Classrooms today are active and vibrant. We know that “sit and get” is not best for student learning. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to give students information that they can’t learn through hands-on work. When that happens, allowing some creativity and taking the time to teach synthesizing skills will engage students and keep them thinking and doing.

     

    How do you cultivate note-taking skills? Have you tried sketch notes? Share your experiences!

     

    @bamameghanMeghan Everette RSS feed

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