Taking Notes in the Art Room (Ep. 181)

After a couple of weeks away, Nic makes her return to the show today to talk about one of her very favorite topics, sketchnotes. Listen as she discusses how her approach to sketchnotes has changed over the years, why she still wants her students taking notes, and why the concept is so valuable in her classroom. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: I’m back from a little bit of a leave from the podcast. And I first want to just give a shout out to Tim Bogatz and of course Sarah Krajewski as they helped me navigate the last couple of weeks and covered for me. It was explained in a previous podcast that I had some loss in my life and I just had to spend some family time. So thank you, thank you for allowing that and helping and supporting me. So thanks to Sarah and Tim for sure and the rest of the team. There’s other people behind the scenes that helped out a ton.

In saying that, yes, I was dealing with grief and still am, but turns out, life goes on. So today we’re going to talk about something that I’m working on in my classroom with my students and have been for many years. So I feel like I have a little bit of background to share with you and some different ideas. We are going to talk about taking notes in the art room. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I’ve been working on sketch notes with my students for probably 10+ years. I am one who uses sketch notes in my own practice, in my own thought process. And in fact, I’m looking at sketch notes right now as I speak about this subject. And so I felt like it was important to introduce in my art classroom, but I didn’t ever see it fitting really well in the elementary. So when I made my move to the middle school several years ago, I brought along sketch notes and I started experimenting with how to teach it and why it was important. So there was a TED Talk in 2011 that really inspired me to start working on sketch notes within my classroom. It is by Sunni Brown and it is talking about doodling.

She is a person who goes in and teaches corporations how to doodle for information, how to retain information and create information. In fact, she gives doodling a brand new definition in her TED Talk. She says, “It’s making spontaneous marks to help yourself think.” What a great way to explain what do I doodling or sketch notes, what that really is. I think this is a perfect definition for how it looks in the classroom as well. And she goes on to explain that we learn in four different ways. We learn visually, auditorily, reading and writing, and then kinesthetically, so through movement. If you use two of these so if you use both your visual and auditory to learn something, it goes into your brain a little bit deeper. You’re going to retain that information better.

But if you pair one or more with these and you include an emotion. So as you’re writing about you’re in FACS class, in home ecs class, and you’re writing about how to make an apple pie. And you think about grandma making you an apple pie, and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Now you are writing about it, drawing about it, thinking about it and feeling about it. Again, this creates a deeper understanding within your brain. This is the research that Sunni Brown goes on to tell us.

This has been in my brain for, well, since 2011 when I first saw the TED Talk. How do we make sure that students get the information from our classrooms in multiple different ways specifically so that they learn the best? So now, okay, let’s go back to that. Visual learners, we have auditory learners, people that learn through hearing. We have written and writing learners and we have kinesthetic learners, people who a movement would it be best for? Okay, we have all of these students in our classroom. And if we provide notes for them in a written way only, they’re not going to get the information the way that they need it. It’s not going to be meaningful to them.

So I start from kindergarten. Now that I’m back in the elementary, I started re-evaluating my idea of sketch notes or notes in general with my students. So I actually now currently practice using notes from kindergarten all the way through 5th grade. Let me tell you the scaffolding that I use for that. So kindergarten and 1st grade, what I’m doing is I’m using some visual instructions on the board. Especially in my kindergarten, I probably have those instructions already written up as the class comes in. So maybe we are talking about how to create pattern and in this instruction, I want them to divide up their paper. So I’m asking them to take their piece of paper and add five lines across.

And then the next step is they’re going to add shapes inside those lines in-between those lines. So they have lines and now they’re picking a shape and they’re going to place it in between each of the lines. This is creating an AB pattern. The next thing I want them to do is outline the pencil that they just created. And then the third thing, fourth thing, whatever we’re on, we are going to go ahead and pick up our Sharpie and outline everything to make it nice and bold. Those are the instructions. I could say. “Now go” and we all know the first question would happen. “What do I do? How do I do it? What do you want?” Okay.

So instead, we give them visual notes or I do. I know that our kindergarten and 1st grade are non-readers at this time or beginning readers. So we have to have pictures. So I draw, I give the instructions usually on video in my classroom, but maybe I demonstrate. And then I write down on the board number one, what’s the first thing that we were going to do? Okay. We have a piece of paper. We’re going to draw our lines with a pencil. So I have some magnets on my board as well that I’ve made for this purpose. And I place a pencil magnet above my instruction. So number one, pencil.

And I draw my piece of paper and then I add the lines. Okay, what was the next idea? What was the next thing that we did? And what was the next step? Hands go up. You draw shapes. That’s right. So number two, I’m drawing the shapes. I first draw my lines and then draw the shapes very quickly. Number three. Now I pick up my Sharpie and my Sharpie marker magnet. And then I placed that up on number three. Now we’re going to outline explaining how that looks. And then four, I pick up my crayon magnets, and I place them up there, and now we’re going to color. Okay, this allows students to have a resource in the classroom that they can go to anytime they have a question. I don’t know what to do. I simply point to the board.

I see a student who’s off-task or not doing what they’re supposed to do. Instead of saying, “Ugh, please get back to work.” I bring them up to the board and I say, “What step are you on right now? Are you on step number one or two?” So now I’m bringing them back to the curriculum rather than getting after them and making them feel poorly for maybe being off task a little bit. So just bringing them back to the curriculum by using this resource, these notes that we created as a class. When you have the students actually call back the directions to you and help you through that whole process writing it down, this allows your students to take ownership in what’s happening.

As I mentioned before with kindergarten, I might have it all ready to go because I know that I have them for such a little amount of time as far as their attention goes. They’re going to come into my classroom and they are five and six-years-old. So that means that I have them attention wise for five or six minutes on the carpet. So I might do a tiny task, a little part of the demonstration and then have the notes ready to go. Okay, first you’re` going to do ABC, whatever it is. So I might have it ready to go, but in 1st grade we’re definitely developing that, “You tell me what the directions are and I’ll write them up here.” So they’re taking part in that.

Now, in addition especially for my littles, I am definitely adding in those kinesthetics quite a bit. So we’re doing chants and we’re doing motions with our hands. One of my favorite ones is shapes and lines make the best designs. So I had the students show me a shape with their hands, create a shape with their body so their arms go out and then we boogie it down for make the best designs. Shapes and lines make the best designs. So their little fingers are up and their little butts are a-wiggling. It’s so dang cute. But I can say to them the very next class time, “What is it that makes the best design? And in unison and they will say, “Shapes and lines make the best designs.”

So these are not notes that are written down. These are notes that are acted out. When we create notes for our youngest artists so that their bodies move or they have a rhyme or there’s some kind of motion or a sing-song to it, it’s going to stick into their brains longer. 2nd grade, I have them definitely help out with the words. And as we’re going through the written steps on the board, they’re calling out to me, they’re telling me the steps, I’m drawing it, but I’m also writing the words now. We have young readers. Sometimes I’ll even say, “Wait, how do you spell that one again?” And we’ll sound it out and we’ll work together, and we’ll talk about spelling as well.

We get the order down and often always I ask for questions at the end, and there’s a lot of the time someone who will raise their hand and ask them the question like, “Where do you want our name on this project? Do you want us to write our name? Oh, thank you so much.” Right, we didn’t put that on here.” “Where should we write our name, guys? Do you think it would work best here or here? Okay, I agree. Let’s write it right here.” And so I’ll interject with a new marker color, the new direction, we’ll put that in. Again, this allows for so much ownership.

Now, the students are becoming smarter than the teacher, right? And that’s always a goal. You want them to definitely be using their brain, thinking about those steps and then helping their peers who just aren’t there yet. So we’re doing it as a team and we’re modeling our notes can look written and in pictures. And then in 2nd grade, I’m still getting away with lot of chants and mimicking different motions. And that sort of thing. So that is totally beneficial in kindergarten, first grade, 2nd grade. I still bring it into 3rd grade a little bit, but in third year we have a big, magical tool that I give to all of my students.

In 3rd grade, our parent group, our PTO, has purchased us a sketchbook for every student. You guys, this has been a game changer for me, and I’d like to get it in the 2nd grade as well. When these sketchbooks come into the classroom, they are going to be with the students for 3rd grade and 4th grade, and 5th grade. So I did have to have storage within my classroom in order to make this happen. And I had to have some major organization to make this happen, but it’s super beneficial. So now when students come in and the first instruction that they see, I usually hold a sign as they walk in telling them what their first job is. And a lot of times they will see grab your sketchbooks.

I have sketchbook captains. So the captains will walk to the back room where I have all of my sketchbooks lined up and they’ll gather the containers. I have filing containers, those plastic containers for file folders. I have about six, five or six sketchbooks that I can fit in one of those containers. So every class has about four or five of those containers. They’re all marked and color coded because, well, because you got to color coordinate these things. And they grab them and pull them out, and hand them out to the rest of the class. And then at the end of the hour, the sketchbooks are placed back in the center of the table, the captains go around and pick them up, and the next class comes in and we repeat it again.

So 3rd grade, this is when that happens. We start working on that organization of what a sketchbook can be. And a sketchbook can be so many things. It can be pre-planning, it can be assessment, it can be practice, it can be exploration and it can be notes. So when we’re talking about notes in the sketchbook especially in 3rd grade, I am modeling the heck out of it. I mean, we are doing it step-by-step. So every single time that they are taking notes or any kind of sketchbook work in 3rd grade, what I’m doing is I’m actually writing the data on the board and I’m writing the title on the board, and I’m showing them how to set up their page.

“So let’s see, we’re going to talk about two parts today. So divide your page in half, and then actually there’s going to be four steps in the second part. So in the second part, I need you to draw one, two, three, four containers.” Containers are just shapes that fill up the space so that you are able to have an organized area for the information to go in. And in 3rd grade, these are less than perfect definitely. There is a lot of learning that happens in 3rd grade as far as setting up our sketchbook, but I continue to model and it continues to get better.

By the time that week get to 4th grade, I’m going to talk about that same method, but we’re going to add on another part. So I’m not modeling it 100% to begin with. I’m actually asking them to give me the steps of the process. So we might watch a video and then I’ll say, “What were the steps that were taken now?” I’m not giving them the steps. They aren’t as simplistic as they were in the earlier grades. Now I’m asking them, “What was the first thing that I did?” “Well, you used your pencil and you drew a circle.” Okay, so on the left-hand side, so we open up our sketchbook and there’s two sides. On the left-hand side, we’re going to write number one, and then we’re going to write make circle. So we’re writing the words right now.

Number two, “What was the second thing that we did?” “Oh, let’s see. We drew ears on the circle.” “Okay, let’s write that. Number two, draw ears.” We go through all the steps. Maybe it’s six, maybe it’s 12 steps. Once we are done with all the steps and it’s different for every class, which is amazing as well like the number is different for every class because they might think of different orders or different instructions that they saw from the same video, which is great. So we write that down on the left-hand side and then we make the containers over on the right-hand side.

So I say, “Okay, we have six steps right now. You’re going to make six containers on the right-hand side. So they draw six circles. Maybe some of them use rectangles. Maybe some of them use a combination of shapes. They divide out their paper so that they have six different spaces. Now put the numbers in those containers. One, two, three, four, five, six. Now draw the step in those containers. Well, the first one was draw a circle. So they draw a circle in the first step. The second one says create ears. They draw the circle and they add the ears. I’ve been demonstrating this now for four or five years for them. So they do an okay job.

If you are an artist who finishes up quicker than others, you can go back and give color to this. You can add additional designs around it. You can go in and give more detail to your notes. We are going to use X amount of time to create your notes. So everybody takes their time and creates their own notes for themselves. This is really important because now what they’re doing is they’re creating their own style. Maybe they’re going to have words and on the right-hand side, maybe they’re going to have drawings. Maybe it they’re going to, like we said, associated with some kind of emotion.

So instead of Ms. Hahn teaching them or telling them, they have SpongeBob drawings of I don’t know what it is, but the kids have done an amazing job of making these notes unique to them, which I think puts it into their brain a little bit deeper. Most recent in this last couple of weeks, what I have been struggling with is we’ve gone from distance learning to in-person to distance learning to in-person. And I am still amazed that there’s still students in my class who just can’t do it. They can’t watch a video, retain the information and create or demonstrate the learning.

I don’t understand where I’m missing. So I’m questioning myself. Have I given them the tools to really take those notes and then watch the video, use the video without me modeling it? So this was my test that I think went really well because of the conversation that it really provoked with my classes. For my fourth and 5th grade, when they walked into class, I had a sign that said, “Go on to Schoology. Watch the first video.” And this was unusual. The students usually come in and we have a little welcome on the carpet and we talk about what the day is going to look like.

So it was a little bit like, “Oh, wait, what?” But I had the notes on the board saying the same thing, “Go on to Schoology. Watch the first one video.” So the students do and what they first see is my lovely face. And I say this to them, “Apple, apple, apple square, square, square, apple square, apple square, apple square, pear.” And then I explained this in the video. “Okay, that was some crazy words that were just thrown at you, but this is what I’m going to ask you to do. You’re going to write down that pattern.” I want you to take the scrap paper that is in the classroom or the scrap paper that you have at home and write down what I just said to you. When you have that done, you’re going to come back to the carpet so that I know that you’re done and we can talk about it. Or if you’re learning from home,” because I’m teaching both learning from home students and in person.

“If you’re learning from home, you’re going to go to the next video to hear the conversation that we had. So I did actually record the conversation in one of the classes so that my students at home were able to have the same discovery with the classes that I was teaching. Once the students were back onto the carpet, I showed them another slide on my presentation. And the first line, there was three lines. The first line said apple, apple, apple, square, square, square, apple square, apple square, apple square, pear, all written out full words. The next line said A, A, A, S, S, S, AS, AS, AS, P. And then the last line had a picture of an apple, apple, apple, square, square, square. Okay, you guys get the picture.

These are pictorial representations of that pattern. The students look at their answers and are super excited if they got it correctly. They’re like, “Yes, I got it. Yay. I got it too.” And then I say, “Okay, raise your hand if you wrote out the words like this.” And in about a third of the class raises their hands. I said, “Hey, you guys, you did it right. Raise your hand if you wrote out letters AS.” About a third of the class raises their hand. “You guys did it right. How many of you, I drew pictures like this?” About a third of the class raised their hands. “You guys did it right.”

Okay, what we just learned is that all of us take notes differently according to how it works in our brain. We take notes so that it works for our thought. “You guys all did it differently and that is awesome. How did you get that information?” And they look at me and they’re like, “What do you mean?” “How did you write down this pattern?” Well, the first kid will raise their hand and they’ll say something like, “Well, I rewatched the video. I rewound it and kind of watched it again.” Oh, that was a great trick. Now the kids are figuring this out. So hands go flying up. “Oh, Ms. Hahn, Ms. Hahn. I slowed down the video. I slowed it down.” “Oh, oh, that’s right. We have that capability of speeding up our video or slowing it down, don’t we? Yeah, that’s a clever way of doing it. Does anyone have other tips and tricks for us?”

“Oh, Ms. Hahn, Ms. Hahn. I hit pause.” “Oh, you know what? That’s one of my favorite things. I call that the power of pause. The power of pause. We can pause a video any time. That is a great idea.” “Oh, oh, Ms. Hahn. I used captions. I made the video go into caption so I could see the words as well.” That is a great tip, too. And as we’re having this discussion in the rest of the class, the kids are all nodding their head and saying, “Yeah, I did that too or captions, I never even thought of that. That’s such a good idea.” Oh, I loved it. I loved the conversation.

Then I said, “The next step that you’re going to get here is a long video. It’s 11 minutes. Some of you have done parts of this video already. Some of you need to start at different parts. Some of you might need to watch the directions a couple of different times. It’s going to be a new project and it’s going to be complicated. So you’re going to have to really take your notes the way that you want to, the way that works for your brain in order to get this. When I come to you, when you raise your hand and you say, ‘I don’t know how to do whatever,’ I’m going to say, ‘What part of the video didn’t you understand? How can I explain the video differently?'”

So there, those words right there. “Show me on your notes where you’re confused.” By saying those words to the students, you’re putting that emphasis back on their own learning. They’re responsible to actually seek the information out themselves. If they need clarifying questions, of course, we’re there to answer them. But most of the time, the students are able to rewatch and something that is new and specifically in this case on technology, we were using WeVideo for the first time and it was complicated and brand new to them, but so engaging. They didn’t panic.

And if they were panicking, I was able to ground them again by saying, “Watch the video. You have the tools. You can do this. What part didn’t you understand on the video?” So it forces them to take ownership of their learning. This is the skill I want them to learn. It’s not WeVideo, although WeVideo is amazing and I’ll get into that in a later episode. I want them to know how to obtain information later on in life for themselves, not ask someone else how to do it. Figure out how they can make their brain work properly for them to obtain information generally on a video or someday in their job.

Taking notes is incredibly important. And I think it’s something that we can bring into the classroom. No matter if we’re teaching kindergarten through 12th grade. This is an important part of students obtaining information and making sure that they have ownership on their own education.

As I mentioned, I have been talking about sketch notes for years now. In fact, I even have a PRO Pack on sketch notes. So if you’d like to see how I have broke up a sketch notes for my middle school students in the past, how I’ve taught my students to take notes in the art class in the middle school, please jump on to the Art of Education University’s website and check out the PRO Packs. You can watch a couple of, I don’t know if they’re called episodes or you can watch a couple of videos before you make the choice to actually purchase if that’s what you choose. But it is an amazing resource, guys. PRO Pack is one of my favorite parts of the Art of Education. So check that out and I will chat with you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.