Saturday, April 23, 2011

doodling and stuff

I have been having conversations about learning strategy with our 7th and 8th grade class and their teacher, and it is somewhat difficult in a classroom with bench vises and a variety of tools. Students' hands become engaged at any and all opportunities, and those noises can be distracting. I realize that students hands are expected to be taking notes. But to be engaged trying to transcribe words onto paper may actually interfere with the process of anchoring fresh input to the child's foundation of prior experience. How can you say ahaaa, when you are trying to get someone else's words down on paper? And how can you write and listen at the same time, each requiring engagement of the same parts of the brain? And so what about doodling? Teachers, used to the highly discriminatory college model of information management tend to think of doodling as evidence of distraction, but it is not.

I bumped into a student from my last summer's class for teachers at ESSA, "The Brain, the Hands and the Arts" at the grocery store. Michael is a teacher in a neighboring community and had taken the class to help improve his own teaching effectiveness. He was excited to see me, as it gave him the opportunity to tell me how much engagement of his students hands had brought to his classroom success. He said he's told all his fellow teachers about what he had learned and how he has been applying it to his classes. A teacher's success is found when his students surpass him, and I'm expecting great things beyond the reach of my own hands.

If you watch carefully the inner workings of your own mind, you may observe that the note taking model is not necessarily what it is cracked up to be. As you begin to attempt to write down what the professor is saying, aren't you actually taking your mind off and missing what he or she has been saying next? And so here comes the value of doodling. Because it involves a different part of your brain, you can do it while listening. In fact, the research shows that it increases memory of what you have heard.

Robin was student at Clear Spring School who doodled during math class. She got in trouble with her teacher for making paisley doodles on the desktop. Rather than stopping her sketching entirely, her mother encouraged her to doodle on her jeans as a compromise. When she would come to wood shop on Monday, one leg would be covered with exquisite paisley patterns, on Tuesday the next leg would be covered. On Wednesday, that pair pair of jeans would be in the wash and Robin was working on a next leg. The important thing to note was her perfect scores in the class. She later went on through four years at the University of Arkansas with straight A's in class and is now working on her masters degree.

And so, how do we reshape classroom learning to be more effective? If the hands are engaged, the mind is not necessarily distracted, but may actually be more deeply engaged than would be the case if the hands were stilled. The following is from CNN:
"It's generally thought scribbling indicates daydreaming, but a study published... in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology says doodling may actually decrease those wandering thoughts and help focus the mind."
You can download the full paper What does doodling do? here.

And so, how do we develop effective classroom strategies for engaging the hands (and mind) during boring lectures and discussions? There are all kinds of wonderful, quiet ways to engage the hands creatively during lectures and discussions that should be used. If American corporations can use these strategies and the best corporate trainers in the US understand them, why not use them with kids in school?

Today in the wood shop, I am finishing my small products so I can ship them on Monday. The photo above is from an earlier production run.

Make, fix and create. Teach what you know. Allow children's hands to be creatively engaged toward the development of character and mind.


  1. Anonymous1:35 PM

    When I was in high school I would obsessively write down what the teacher was saying to later study for "the test." By the time I reached graduate school, I would just show up to class and actually engage and listen (it probably helped that I didn't have to worry about memorization-based tests any more). I was there for a focused purpose, and my "notes" would be occasional references I'd jot down to look up later. And yes, doodling was a good focusing aid.

  2. I wonder how much I missed by trying to write things down as notes in high school and college that I never looked at again. Similar to that was going to one of my daughter's ballet recitals a few years ago, when I was also expected to video tape it. It may have been nice to have the tape afterwards, but the price for that was to have missed the recital by watching it through a view finder and being obsessed with things like lighting, focus and zoom instead of her performance.

  3. Anonymous4:43 AM

    When I taught note-taking, I would tell students to write down maybe 5% of what teachers said, or less, but to write more if it was a formula, definition or something else that was written on the board. It worked for me, as I can still remember a lecture by Buckminster Fuller from my notes on the back of an envelope. The lecture was 40 years ago.