No More Notes! Or Why I Love Visual Notetaking

I am a terrible note-taker.  I blame it my poor handwriting, but really I just don’t enjoy taking notes.  I never go back and look at them and it drives me crazy that I spent what feels like years of my schooling being forced to outline, use Cornell notes, and otherwise take notes in class. I have nightmares of sitting in a crowded classroom, being forced to copy pages of notes from physical science, written on the chalkboard in my teacher’s tiny handwriting.  We would sometimes spend the better part of a week just copying the notes she came up with.  Then I would go home and study for the test from those notes.  I never interacted with the text, I never made meaning out of it.  And that’s probably why I can’t remember much from middle school science! It’s also why I avoid taking notes today.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do take notes, whenever I attend a conference or workshop.  But I create notes.  I don’t take them.

Create vs. take.

What’s the difference?

Purpose.

When I create notes I sketch, use words, doodle, and make connections.  I don’t worry about copying down every slide or asking the presenter to repeat the

jQuery Summit Notes

jQuery Summit Notes (Photo credit: Robert Banh)

statistics they said a minute ago, which I missed because I was trying to copy down every word they said verbatim. It’s not that notes don’t work. Note taking is an effective strategy to increase’ recall, comprehension, and retention of material (Kneale, 1998). It also produces a deeper analysis of the material than reading without note taking(Czarnecki et al., 1998).  But my anecdotal evidence and my own experience shows that visual note taking produces even deeper analysis of the material and more interaction with it.

I started sketchnoting a few years ago, without realizing that what I was doing had a name.  I didn’t realize other people did it until I started following TED conferences through Twitter and blogs.  Then TED started sharing the notes from various conferences on Pinterest and I was hooked.

I love sketch noting or visual note-taking because I feel like I am curating information rather than doing rote copying.  I think about the information and I make connections.  I started wondering why this format of notes works for me when traditional notes don’t (and research shows that I am not the only who doesn’t learn by copying notes).  My wondering led me to a TED talk from Tom Wujec, a Fellow at AutoDesk, who asked, ” What is it about animation, graphics, illustrations, that create meaning?”  He concluded that the brain makes meaning three ways and that there are important lessons in these visual curations.

First, use images to clarify what we’re trying to communicate. Secondly make those images interactive so that we engage much more fully.And the third is to augment memoryby creating a visual persistence

And that’s when I had my “Eureka!” moment.  Why don’t we teach kids how to do this?  Shouldn’t they be making meaning out of their lessons rather than just copying what someone else says?  Don’t we want students to engage with information and interact with it? And why do so many teachers scold students for doodling when it could be their saving grace?  This led me to do more research on doodling and the brain, and I discovered a fabulous article written by pre-eminent doodler Sunni Brown.  In “The Miseducation of the Doodle” she discusses the metacognitive benefits of doodling and encourages us to try it.  I took it one step further and began designing a unit around visual note-taking.

Sunni Brown begins her article it the story of Virginia Scofield, a celebrated immunologist credited with some of the biggest advances in the study of HIV, who almost didn’t make it out of organic chemistry.  Now let me tell you, I had a lot of friends who took organic chem in college and I did not envy them at all.  It was the type of class where they studied for days on end and would be thrilled to get a 45 on the test.  Then that 45 would be curved to a B after looking at the class average.  So when I read that Dr. Scofield struggled with the class, I understood why.  And I explained this to my STEM students.  Most of them will take orgo, or an equivalent class, and sometimes reading your notes and the highlighted portion of the textbook just doesn’t work.  Dr. Scofield began drawing the concepts in the class and she soon aced the tests.  Doodling works.  And we need to teach students how to doodle constructively.

So for the past few weeks we have been watching TED talks in class and at home, experimenting with sketch notes.  My students started with the visual alphabet and sketches, and we have no advanced to adding frames, connectors, and color.  They watch TED talks, choosing any one that interests them, and they create a sheet of notes to share with the class.  It can be a struggle at first, because they are so used to traditional note-taking.  But  doodling unifies the three major learning modes: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Students stay engaged and focused while playing and innovating.

And that’s the point, right?  I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the importance of play lately, and how it leads to creativity and innovation.  Too many students come to me afraid of failing, afraid of trying anything new.  They want to know how to “get an A+” and not “how do I learn more about this?”.  As Bruce Nussbaum says in ‘How Serious Play Leads To Breakthrough Innovation‘, “When we play, we try things on and try things out.”  Visual note-taking allows students to play with ideas, to play with knowledge, and to play with connections.  The material becomes more meaningful and they connect with it on a deeper level.

One of my favorite activities in my unit is a collaborative sketch noting activity.  The students watch a TED talk together and take their own visual notes.  Then, the room is divided in half and each group gets their own whiteboard.  They get ten minutes to combine their individual notes into one collaborative sketch note on the whiteboard.  It’s so cool!  They talk deeply about the topic at hand and the results are always great.  Below are some shots from this year.

photo

(last year’s post)

We are about halfway through our unit this year and I am loving the results so far.  The students are engaged and enthusiastic and they are taking more and more risks with each assignment.  Eventually we will work up to making infographics (making meaning with visuals in another way!), but I’m content with sketch noting right now.  I can’t imagine not doing this unit and I wish I had done it with my 6th graders when I taught middle school.

Do you sketch note?  Would you be willing to try visual note-taking in our classroom?  I’d love to know!

Resources I Use:

Speak Now: Note-taking at TED

The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde

The Miseducation of the Doodle by Sunni Brown

From Text Messages to Essays….

My husband and I were out to dinner this weekend at a local hibachi restaurant and we were seated with a group of high school girls.  I would guess they were freshman or sophomores.  The girls spent the entire dinner on their cell phones or making comments about each other, which my husband could not understand. “Why are girls so catty?” he kept asking me.

I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the care they took when crafting their text messages.  One of the girls was in the middle of some sort of fight with a boy and every time he texted her they all crowded around her phone and dissected his short text messages.  But what I was intrigued by was the time they spent in crafting the perfect response.

*Imagine this conversation taking place with all four girls constantly talking over each other.*

“What should I say?” the girl with the cell phone asked her friends.

“Just say that’s ok”.

“No!  Not ok.  Say something else…”

“That’s not cool?”

“You’re an idiot? Ha!”

“Try that’s fine!”

“Yeah, that works. But don’t use an exclamation point. You don’t want him to think you’re excited.”

“Right. You don’t want to be nasty but you want him to know you’re annoyed. Not angry, just that you’re annoyed at him.”

“Ok. So I wrote ‘That’s fine.” period.”

“Perfect!”

This took about three or four minutes.  But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  These girls took such care to choose exactly the right words and punctuation in order to convey the tone they desired.  They knew what they wanted the audience (the boy) to think when he read the words they crafted.

How do we get these girls, and all students, to care this much about the writing they do in the rest of their life?  I don’t just mean in school- having a teacher read your essay isn’t exactly a real audience. But what about the words they write online? The Facebook updates, the tweets, the tumblr posts…..all of these deserve the same care in word choice and punctuation.  We need to capture this scene and transfer it to all writing.

One way to do this in school is by providing opportunities for students to write for a real audience.  A great way to do that is publishing online. I’ve started doing that this year and the response has been great.  My students just finished writing creative nonfiction literature responses about books that have influenced their lives and in my search for the perfect online publishing space I discovered posterous.com

Posterous is a lot like tumblr but I find it to be a bit more academic.  There are more controls (moderated posting and moderated comments for instance) but the ease of use is still there, which is key.  And the best part, for teachers, is that students can email work directly to the blog account and with a quick once-over I can post them. It’s practically instant!

I gave my students the option of publishing this last writing piece and about 25% of my freshman followed through. Those who chose to publish are thrilled with the response and love getting comments.  If you are interested in taking a look, the essays can be found here.

Where online do you publish your students? I’m always looking for more outlets and I’d love to hear from you!

National Day on Writing Round-up

I am the luckiest teacher in the world.  I work with the most fantastic teachers and this year I’ve connected with some of the English teachers in other buildings in our district.  Michelle and Kelly are awesome and we are so on the same page when it comes to tech and promoting English in our STEM-oriented schools.

Earlier this year Michelle and I were brainstorming ways to do more inter-academy activities in the humanities.  Michelle mentioned that she used Googledocs to run some fun writing contests in her classes and I brought up the idea of taking that idea and extending it to all of our academies.  Thus was born the first annual inter-academy writing contest!

We ended up holding a flash fiction contest.  Students were charged with writing a 6 sentence story (no more, no less!) and were give about two weeks to enter.  All entries were collected via the Googledoc survey.  Students could enter as often as they wished until the deadline and we advertised the contest in all five of the academies.  Within just a few days we had entries from every school!

After entries closed, we all popped into the Googledoc to choose the finalists.  We wanted two finalists from each school and we were able to hide the column showing the name of the student who submitted the entry, so we were able to judge “blind”.  Using the chat feature in Googledocs, we were able to discuss our choices as we made them.  We ended up with 160 entries, which was INSANE.  It took us a lot longer than we planned to narrow down the choices so we didn’t have the finalists chosen for the National Day on Writing, as planned.  However, I’m ok with that because we managed to get so many students involved in the contest!

Our finalists have been chosen and the anonymous stories are now posted in a single googledocs survey.  We posted the survey tonight and students are able to vote until Wednesday.  The winner will receive two trophies- one for them to keep and one for their school trophy case.  The school trophy will be passed to the winning school every year, like a Super Bowl trophy.  Yay for writing!!

How did you celebrate the National Day on Writing?

#WhyIWrite

I write because I have always written.  I write because it feels strange not to write.  I write because I want to write.

 

Why do you write?  Today is the National Day on Writing and thousands of people all over the world are participating in #whyIwrite.  The National Writing Project has compiled a list of the following ways to participate today:

Participate in Why I Write

Here are different ways you can participate or celebrate “Why I Write”:

Submit student essays to Figment.com: Figment will be accepting submissions from September 28 through October 29. Since “Why I Write” is a celebration of writing, there are no prizes, but a curated anthology of selected submissions will be available as an e-book later this winter. Submit to Figment.

New York Times Learning Network: The New York Times Learning Network will present a series of interviews with reporters who cover a range of beats and explore their writing process. These interviews will serve as the basis for lesson plans, prompts for students, discussions, and inspiration.

Edutopia: Edutopia will be celebrating “Why I Write” with a series of blogs by NWP writers. Each blog will then invite readers to share why they write with others in the Edutopia community. These conversations will take place on the Edutopia.org website and within our communities on Twitter and Facebook.

NWP Radio: On October 20 at 7 p.m. EST, the National Writing Project will air a live radio show to celebrate the National Day on Writing with interviews with New York Times education reporter Fernanda Santos, New York Times Learning Network editor Katherine Schulten, Figment founder and New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, Figment teen writers, and NWP teacher and author Ashley Hope Perez, among others.

Tweet #whyiwrite: Tweet why you write and include the hashtag #whyiwrite so that everyone can see the many reasons people write.

Post on Facebook: We’d like everyone to post why they write on their Facebook pages on October 20 and encourage others to do so. Let’s create a national dialogue about writing!

 

Visit Why I Write for more information and links to essays from tons of authors about why they write.

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

If you teach writing at the secondary level, you need to order this book immediately.  I ordered it on a whim last year and couldn’t believe my luck when I read it.  It was like I stumbled into a gold mine, full of little nuggets of writing genius.  I started using it with my freshman writers and their analytic writing improved dramatically.  They referred back to the lessons all year long and I was stunned by their growth.  The ideas really stuck with them.

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing is intended to guide writers away from the pre-packaged five paragraph essay. Instead, it leads students into deeper analytical thinking by having them respond to the ideas in the text they are reading. It’s full of sentence starters that help kick off writing, but then the students have to carry it the rest of the way. It’s the perfect blend of a template and the freedom to write. And it doesn’t encourage a five-paragraph essay! Instead, it encourages essay writing. That’s it. Just writing. No silly length requirements. And I love it.

Highly, highly recommended to writing/English teachers.

*copy purchased by me

Writer’s Notebooks: Literacy Outside of School #sas2011

Many children love to doodle, write stories, and decorate empty notebooks found laying around the house.  How can we capture this energy and help kids develop their literacy skills outside the classroom?  We know how important it is to read, and we’ve talked a lot about reading this week. But what about writing?

There is nothing better than a writer’s notebook!  Every child should have a notebook, that they can decorate, doodle in, write down their stories, and cherish.  This should not be something that is graded, checked by mom or dad, or made to be a burden in any way.  A writer’s notebook is a special place, and individual place.

A writer’s notebook isn’t a diary.  It isn’t a journal.  It’s something different.  Something special.  A writer’s notebook is a place to jot down ideas and sketches, to write stories and paste in ephemera.

And the best part?  Lots of published authors cherish their writer’s notebooks and use them daily!  Some of those authors have been kind enough to share a photo of their notebook(s) and a little bit about how they use them.  I hope they inspire you to start keeping a writer’s notebook, and to hand a writer’s notebook to a child in your life!

Courtney Sheinmel:

Like most authors I know, I write my books on a computer.  The problem is, some of my best ideas come at completely inconvenient times – like when I’m on the subway and nowhere near my computer, or when I’m in bed with all the lights turned out.  Late at night, so warm and snug under my down comforter, the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer.  I used to think, Well, this idea is so good there’s no way I’ll forget it.  I’ll just write it down later. And then, invariably, I’d forget my brilliant idea.  In the morning, all I’d remember is the fact that I’d had a brilliant idea, and it would leave me devastated that the book would have to exist without it.  So I started keeping a notebook by my bed, and carrying it  around with me when I left the house, small enough so it fit in my purse – the book under the BlackBerry in the picture is one that’s all filled up now.  My handwriting is especially messy in it, since so often the notes were jotted down in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve graduated from an old school notebook to something way more technological, i.e., the “notes” application on my BlackBerry (that’s why the BlackBerry is atop the notebook in the picture).  I’m completely addicted to the device, so it’s never too far away.  Not sure you can see it in the picture, but I have all sorts of categories, and I’ll type in whatever idea just popped into my head.  They’re certainly not all brilliant, but at least there never has to be another idea lost.

Megan McCafferty:

I did research for about a year before I began writing Bumped. I jotted down passages from relevant books in my black and white speckled composition notebook and ripped out dozens of articles and put them in this “IDEAS” folder. On the clipping titled, “16 & Pregnant: No Fairy-Tale Ending” I wrote,”What if society DID encourage sex? Why?” These are the questions that inspired the novel. The whole story can be traced back to that torn piece of newspaper.

Mitali Perkins:


I start the mornings with a good cup of coffee and a time of reading and reflection through journaling. My preference is a standard composition book and a good, fine-tip pen. I write only on one side of the paper, avoiding backs of pages, always in messy, free-flowing cursive. What do I write? Poetry, ideas for stories, prayers full of angst and anxiety, gratitude and celebration. My journal is supposed to be as private and safe as a fire escape, and one of the reasons I like to use that metaphor in my online life. Recently, however, my dog Zipper (with my son as scribe), violated that privacy to leave an interesting request (see photo).

Barbara Dee:

I have a blue 4X6 spiral notebook that I bring along most places, because you never know when you’ll have your next idea for a book! Here’s what I scrawled one day on a bumpy train ride into New York City: the inspiration for my new tween novel, TRAUMA QUEEN. On the upper left, you can see the names of the characters (the main character is Marigold, but apparently I was also considering Zinnia.) Below it is the plan for the first chapter, which is pretty faithful to what actually got written. On the right page, I’d started to work out Marigold’s/Zinnia’s mother, a performance artist in the Karen Finley mold who “teaches improv workshops-colleges.” After that it gets weird– I’ve written “thumb/bendy straw/ self-esteem.” Huh? I’m completely baffled by these scribbles. Maybe they reflect some idea about where I meant to go in Chapter Two, and the train arrived at Grand Central Station before I could flesh out my thoughts. That’s one of the hazards of writing on trains, I guess: you can lose things even when you write them in your notebook.

Jonathan Auxier:

The first is just my closed Journal. I’ve been using one type for the last ten years (Canson 7×10 field sketch) and same pen (pilot v7

clipped into the spine).  I’ve got about 25 of them now on a shelf.

The second picture is putting down an idea for a book character. I happened to tap
e some old paintings I found online in the corner (which I often do). This character — like many I draw — didn’t make the cut.
The third pic is an example of what I like to do when I read . I take down quotes, new vocab and images that struck me. These notes are all from Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.

 

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As you can see above, writer’s notebooks are differentiated and individual  Each person treats theirs differently, so there is no right or wrong way to use your writer’s notebook.  It is a great habit for kids to get into, and a great one for adults, too.  If you are interested in learning more about writer’s notebooks and getting some additional ideas, you must check out Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You!
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Do you have a writer’s notebook?  I would love to see some photos in the comments!

Words of Intent

On Sunday afternoon I sat down and started to sketch the upcoming weeks for my freshman class.  After having 10 days off, it was difficult to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go before midterms.  Plus, I knew that it would take a day or so to get back into the swing of things (for the kids! And maybe for me).  I started tweeting about my dilemma and then checked out the English Companion Ning.  I was inspired when I found Jo Hawke’s blog post about Words of Intent.  The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it.  In the past I have done One Little Word with my middle schoolers, but I wanted to make it a bit more reflective for my advanced 9th graders.

On Monday I ended up having a double period with both of my classes and we spent about 25 minutes on our Words of Intent.  I started by having my kids do a quickwrite on New Year’s Resolutions.  I asked them to write whatever came to mind when they heard the phrase “New Year’s Resolutions” and then we shared some of our thoughts.  After discussing why we thought that people tended to “quit” on their resolutions, I introduced the idea of intentions.

After a bit more discussion, I projected a list of intention words on the document camera and asked the students to reflect on the words that stood out them on a personal level.  After they chose their word, they took an index card and wrote the word on the front.  I allowed them to write their name on the front or back, depending on their comfort level.  They also got to decorate the front of the card.  Om the back, I asked them to write 2-3 sentences explaining what the Word of Intent meant to them and what they hoped to accomplish in 2011.

It went really well!  Even the students who joked around while filling out the card ended up writing serious words of intent and explanations.  After class ended, I hung all the words on my closet door, forming a “Wall of Intent”.  I plan to keep them there all year, but give them back in June.  As I told me students, we will be halfway through 2011 when school ends, so that will be the perfect time to reflect on how we are doing.

And yes, I participated.  My Word of Intent for 2011 is Creativity. :)

Wall of Intent 2011

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