Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sketchnotes: What I'm Most Excited About

My discoveries at  Edcamps have really kept me excited about my teaching for the past four years. Sketchnoting turned out to be one such discovery last June that I didn't know I needed.  
After our first year of 1:1 digital device integration last year, the Biology teachers decided to abandon digital notes since they noticed that students were not as engaged or learning as much as in previous years.  They decided to get back to basics by having students take paper-based notes. I wrestled with this shift throughout the summer because I felt the larger issue was that students were just copying notes and not processing the information; the medium, paper or plastic didn’t matter. In a session facilitated by Amber McCormick at Edcamp Magic, I came to the conclusion that Sketchnotes could be a powerful process to help our students understand the overwhelming number of concepts in our Biology classes.  
Throughout the summer I played around with the concept and decided to write an EdCamp Impact grant to purchase supplies, unlined composition books and black pens to go big with the strategy.  I received the grant.  After sketching on my own, however, I still had instructional practice questions. To take that leap with my teachers another  Edcamp session in October at EdCamp TampaBay helped me figure out my next steps.  I also got many many days of practice when I attended NCTE.  All of the steps helped me make a plan to introduce Sketchnotes at my school.
 I first taught the fundamentals of Sketchnoting to a small group of teachers.  Then began teaching the process to Biology students using the gradual release model with their teacher so that she could do the same lesson with her students and continue to implement the practice in her room.  My friend challenged me by having me teach her toughest class first. She was amazed at their response. I also then taught all of my students and more teachers.  I have another teacher waiting to start the process with her students.  
What I have noticed is that students have increased their engagement and test scores. Beyond that there is a joy that has been missing too.  Students have been energized by the process and have reported liking Biology more. They have started to use Sketchnotes in many of their other classes as a habit of mind.  I think the buy-in has also been that we have provided students with THE pen for Sketchnoting.  It is a tangible signal that we are doing something different and also investing in them. Students have run up to me in the hall and proclaimed that they went to Amazon and immediately bought all the Flair pens to keep working on their Sketchnotes.   Students also have smartfully shared different layouts that they have come up with such as the PokeBall or the Ying Yang for pages with two important components of information.
Sketchnoting is not a district or school-based initiative.  Other teachers are witnessing the impact on students’ learning because students are sketching in their classes.  This has led some teachers to seek out  how to use Sketchnotes in their classes.  As I walk classrooms now, I see evidence of Sketchnoting not only in student journals, but also on the teachers’ boards and student-created posters.  I have noticed that the teachers who Sketchnote have become more intentional in their organization of notes for students. They have recognized the disconnect between the way that they presented information and how their organization and identification of the most important concepts needed to shift.  I have also witnessed more sharing because all the members of the community are sharing their sketches.  They are integrating the sketches into their learning and teaching me new icons and containers.  
Bringing Sketchnotes to my learning community is just one way I have kept my teaching fire alive and hopefully stoked others.


  1. wow - this looks cool - love how it is just growing and spreading - way to go

  2. I love the idea of sketchnoting. I want to know more about how I might use this with my elementary age readers. I have a class of students who can't stop doodling all day long, so this feels like the year to try it!

    1. I’ve been playing with sketchnoting with 5th and 6th graders for several years. This slice has me re-committed to doing it better again next year. One of the pieces that has stuck best in my classroom is a shared sketchnote on poster paper for our read alouds. We sketchnote the most during science and social studies; I’ve integrated it into interactive notebooks. The books above are must-haves; they are the how-tos. You can find a ton online, of course, but I’ve also enjoyed Sketchnotes for Educators by Sylvia Duckworth and Visual Note-taking for Educators by Pillars. I hope that helps!

  3. Your post is full of the energy of new learning and engagement. What a way to build community. I love sketchnoting with my elementary students and I think using it in high school Biology is inspired! I wish I could be in your class.

  4. Love this. You can tell how excited you are and that's infectious! Thanks for sharing the slices of your students' work. Sketchnoting is such a powerful tool!


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