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Sketchnoting in the Digital Age

Updated: Jun 5

Last week, I told my students to create sketchnotes on the poems we studied in class. I didn't really specify what I was looking for, I just said do your thing. I showed a few examples on the internet and said, do that. I organized about fifteen poems using three topics: the meaning of existence, race, and gender identity and sexual orientation. Other times this year I used topics like time, power, or art to link a group of poems. The sketchnotes then could revolve around a single topic and then branch off into other topics or quotes.

I've been trying to let my students have as much fun as possible, and to give them as much freedom as possible. They've been spending so much time in front of the screen, so I told them to listen to what their classmates say about the poems and go wild. I'm amazed by the results - so much variety! Each student did what made sense to them. Some submissions were full of text. Some were completed with Google Drawings. Most were done by hand and used arrows, circles, and lines to organize and connect their thoughts.

I strongly believe that a student learns the most while they take notes. They first determine and identify what they think is important from the text or conversation and then make sense of it for themselves by writing down their immediate ideas. Those ideas can be loose, casual, fragmented, and undeveloped. They may even be questions that could be answered later. When they look back on their notes, that's when the magic happens. That's when the independent thought flies out. They catch it, and formalize it in a full, coherent, cohesive sentence.

So the unfolding of a great, creative thought happens like this: first the student reads the thoughts of the writer, then listens to the thoughts of their peers and teacher, and then the student formulates their own, independent thought. Sometimes that thought or realization appears as analysis, but eventually it grows into fiction, the world where they can say whatever they want. They understand how someone else sees the world, and then, slowly and surely, they learn how to express their own view.

There's a great quote in a poem called "Academic Tectonics" by Tenaya Darlington where she describes taking notes in class:

I took notes like most people write love letters

and believed that the man with the dry erase marker

had an even more dry erase head

which wrote even in its sleep and drew information

like moths to a light.

So much listening and thinking needs to happen before an epiphany occurs in the classroom, so I try my best to make note-taking fun for my students.

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