Sketchnoting As A Tool For Revision

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I first came across the idea of sketchnoting last summer when I was reading the tweets from #ADE2014 the delegates had been encouraged to arrange their thoughts on each of the talks as sketchnotes rather than “real” written notes, all done on iPads of course! Sketchnoting is doodling whilst listening, the doodles emphasising your notes.

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The good news about sketchnoting is that you don’t have to be good at art to do them -phew! And the second piece of good news is that there are no rules to sketchnoting it is very much an individual thing – Hurrah! There’s something soothing about doodling isn’t there? Afterall, who hasn’t done this during a long phone call to their mum/mother-in-law?IMG_4012 In 2009 Jackie Andrade a professor at the University of Plymouth created a psychological experiment to see if doodling was of any benefit to your memory.  One group was asked to doodle whilst listening to a phone message and the other group didn’t.  The group that doodled retained 29% more information than the group that didn’t.  Whilst this is hardly conclusive proof that doodling is a huge aid to memory it does point towards its potential. If you are still unconvinced watch Sunni Brown’s TED talk on doodling.

Lots of my students doodle in the margins of their books, in spite of my control freakery I try not to let this annoy me!  A surprisingly large number of doodlers are in my Y11 class. This class is full of unbelievably creative young people; dancers, actors, musicians, artists, needle workers… and so I decided to try and teach this class some sketchnoting skills as I believed some students would find it to be a really useful revision tool. I am no sketchnoting expert but I was encouraged by Joe Dale to have a go at it at this year’s #ililc5 conference and I loved it and I hoped some of my students would too. What’s required for a sketchnoting lesson?  I did this with tech naturally, so each student had an iPad and the app Paper 53, I love this app it’s so beautifully designed and you can save your sketches to camera roll which is always a bonus. Each student also had a stylus.  I bought these styluses off ebay they are made by the Friendly Swede and they cost £20 for 40

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To begin with I showed my students some “professional” sketchnotes just to give them the idea and then I showed them some of mine just to prove that we are all still learning.  We talked about the app and some of the functions of it, zooming in and mixing colours, rewinding etc.  Next I got them drawing.  The thing about sketchnoting for me, is that you have to have a bank of simple drawings in your head that you can readily draw without thinking.  I gave my class a list of things eg a watch, an alarm clock, an iPad, a car, a tractor, a train, a coffee cup and they had to draw them with no fuss. Now, at this stage we had a lot of “oh I can’t draw..” comments to which I kept saying  “wait until we paint them..” and so, once we had sketched we painted our sketches and this was when the students started to enjoy the process because the paint makes the sketches come alive. IMG_3952 Next we looked at text and emphasis. We played around with words and underlining and boxes so that when we sketched we could highlight the important elements of our work. The final thing that we looked at was layout.  You can sketch using columns, a web, from left to right or in sections. Ordinarily you would sketchnote whilst listening to someone speak but as we were at the beginning of our learning journey the students chose a topic and sketchnoted some key words from that topic.  An air of calm and relaxation pervaded the classroom that lesson as students got to work on their sketchnotes, examples of which can be seen below. IMG_3804 IMG_3805 IMG_3806 image (1) image Where would I go with this next in the MFL classroom? Students could record themselves reading out a text and then either listen to their own recording or that of another student and sketchnote the salient vocabulary.  They could also read a text and then sketchnote.  It could also be used as part of a listening exercise. All of my students enjoyed the sketchnoting experience and many of them noted that it is a skill that is transferable across subjects. If you’ve never had a try I suggest you have a go.  You don’t have to use tech you can use a pencil and paper. Mike Rohde’s website is a good place to start.  Have a look at his sketchnotes and his sketchnoting book is also well worth buying. Sylvia Duckworth is also a fan of sketchnoting, she has also blogged about it.

What of me and my sketchnotes? Well, here’s a few of mine that I did during #ililc5 IMG_3730 IMG_3747 IMG_3722 IMG_3730


Failing but not a failure

Holidays are all about rejuvenation and prepping yourself mentally and physically for the next undoubtedly hectic term. The Easter holidays normally sees me in France relaxing with lovely family but this Easter was a totally different ball game, I was entering the toughest kayak marathon in the world. The Devizes to Westminster – 125 miles. It’s tough and I knew that going into it but the reality was something else!


I was nervous because my partner and I hadn’t had a great deal of practice in our double kayak. There is very little flat water on the Isle of Man, no flat rivers or canals so you have to practice on the sea and we hadn’t had enough.  I had trained hard on the rowing machine and had been out running. I was fit enough. Our race started at 1pm there is 16 miles of kayaking before you hit the first lock on the canal – there are 77 in total and you have to carry boat around them all and this,let me tell you, is bloody hard work especially with our boat which was a sea kayak and not a super light K2.  I was struck by how tough it was to paddle the canal, there is no feedback from the water, no tide, no flow just resistance it was really unnerving for a sea kayaker.  Once you hit the locks they are relentless, at times one every 200m. You have to haul yourself and your boat out of the water walk it round the lock, get back in and pick up the pace (4mph in case you are interested)

We had to make Newbury 36 miles into the race in 10 hours. An 1hour and a half out I knew we were pushing our luck but I was determined to get there and push my partner as hard as I could. Mentally tough – hell yes but I knew I could do this! We drove as hard as we could for the last 10 miles down the canal as the light faded.  Paddling the canal at night in the moonlight was awesome as were getting the drunken cheers from revellers in the pubs on the canalside in Newbury!  We didn’t make the cut. We missed it by 20 mins.  We were allowed to continue to the next time check 20 miles and 20 locks down the river but we knew we weren’t going to make it. Time to call it a day.  Devastated, gutted, sad but we had to make that decision.

As with all experiences, where does it leave me?  I learnt a lot. I discovered that I have way more drive and mental strength than I ever thought possible.  I hit the wall at about 11pm and still kept pushing and only let myself accept this when I knew we weren’t carrying on, then I had a bit of a girly cry! I have lots to tell my students about my endeavours.   All of these experiences make you a better teacher  especially if you share them with your students.  They see the real you and connecting with them is so very important. It’s also important to let them know you failed at something but that it hasn’t broken you. I failed but I am not a failure, what’s the quote? in 20 years time you will only regret the things that you didn’t do.  I have no regrets, I have come out of this experience, humbled yet stronger, tougher and ready to seek out the next challenge… I