In teacher training or meetings you usually find that teachers fall into different categories. One is the active participant – the teacher that constantly has their hand up with a point to add. Then there is the tech wizard – the colleague who is tapping away at their iPad in the corner. You usually have a joker – someone who is ready with a quirky one-liner to lighten the mood. Finally, you have the note taker. That’s me – and I may be addicted to it.
I find it really helps my memory when I note take. It ensures that I am actively considering the points that are being made, and being able to re-read what has been said is really useful for my learning style. Abbreviating or annotating the important words or phrases really cements them in my permanent memory, whereas without note taking my memory of the session is far more limited.
As you can see above, my notes usually are scribbled sentences in a colour that brings them to life. I write short sentences, sometimes with a numbered or bullet pointed hierarchy. I also connect or link ideas on a continuous basis. I have piles of pages of notes (sorry environment), which I do occasionally revisit. In class, my students note take in lessons every now and then, though I can imagine that it is certainly not as frequent as with older students, especially in high schools.
I have taught my students to note take in a similar style. They know how to abbreviate certain words or phrases, they know how to link connected notions, and they also know to only write the important details.
I have not yet considered a more visual form of note taking, for my pupils and for myself, and this week’s readings/videos have given me a host of ideas for how to diversify styles of note taking for all of us. The readings also drew my attention to how and why we should use info-graphics more in our teaching to help our students to remember what they learn about to a greater extent. But why is this useful?
Why use visuals in note taking?
The University of Waterloo conducted a study into the use of pictures when trying to remember information, detailed on this site, and they found that we remember things twice as much when we commit them to paper as pictures as opposed to words in lists. Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, stated that: “We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information.”
The video Sketcho Frenzy: The Basics of Visual Note-Taking, expands upon this idea with the notion that utilising sketching as a part of our note taking leads to further benefits. It explains that we have better understanding of the concepts, can add a hierarchy, give certain elements distinction or emphasis, we can show trends using charts or graphs, and we can quite simply do things our way! Here is the video:
…transforming ideas into visual communication; structuring thoughts and giving hierarchy to concepts… – Sketchnotes 101: The Basics of Visual Note-taking by Craighton Berman.
This is also so true for how we can utilize info-graphics in our classroom. But, it is note taking that I will primarily focus on here. What methods might be most effective in our educational settings?
Helping ourselves help ourselves
The style of notes that we take is really down to the individual. If we are to order information and help ourselves remember the central content, then we need to experiment a see what works for our brains the best. Yet, there are certain strategies which really aid those synapse connections and visualization of the concepts at hand.
Abbreviations and lists making certainly make the process quicker, and a faster job of re-reading when you need to. Using flash cards is another way to go, so that you are forced to summarise points in order to simply fit the writing into a smaller space. Charts and graphs are another way to quickly draw the information at hand, and to aid the interpretation of data particularly.
Doug Neil, in his brilliantly created bank of resources about sketch notes, draws attention to how we can use mind maps in this video:
This is certainly a good way to synthesize the information that we are reading or listening to, and is an obvious way to categorize or link data. I am a particular fan of a more ‘branching’ style of mind map (especially with colour) as I think that it is a really effective visual, such as:
Yet, it is the Cornell Method that I would like to teach my students and to use myself, with many elements of the sketch note style that the aforementioned Doug Neil teaches us about. In the following video he marries these two approaches, which is something has really inspired me to do the same in my classroom and own practice:
…sketchnoting is a journey – Sketchnotes 101 by Sonya terBorg.
The above video nicely summarises a range of simple techniques which we can use to note take visually (as well as clearly explaining the Cornell method). I like the idea of using icons regularly, stick figures for verbs, faces for emotions, speech for quotations and thought bubbles for thoughts. It is clear that we have to keep our pictures simplistic but clear, and a good way to do this is to follow a pattern or make adjustments to a similar ‘formula’ of icons as you draw.
Graham Shaw in this video shows us how we can all draw and how our pictures can follow an extremely simple set of shapes and patterns. He says, “…drawing is more to do with beliefs than talent or ability…how many beliefs and limiting thoughts do we carry with ourselves every day?” He, and I, would argue that this is the same for drawing. Give it a go!
On a practical basis, this Haiku Deck presentation lists some basics for what to include when note taking with visuals, and the previously quoted Core77 website gives us lots of ideas for what we need and how we can get started with this practice. I will be taking many of these ideas on board in my own classroom.
Practice, practice, practice
In my Course 1 Final Project, the RE Unit that I redesigned used independent research as a focal point. These lessons are now being taught across the department in my school, so it is a perfect time to pair sketchnote techniques within the Cornell method, to further aid my students in their studies and understanding of the Sikh faith. As ever, we have further exceptional videos from Doug Neil to help us with this. This video explains how to structure a sketchbook practice session and this video details fun games with which to improve further.
I look forward to showing my class how to sketchnote within the Cornell method and hope that it will help them to learn so much more with their learning. Below is an info-graphic which I designed to get them going with these new concepts, designed on Canva: