When Melaine D’Cruze saw that her fourth-grade son could use some support in remembering the concepts he was learning in school, she did some searching online and came across this thing called visual note taking.
“The educationist in me felt that this could be such a useful way to teach kids and students concepts that they find difficult to absorb,” she said.
Not only did it fit with her views on education (she manages a professional development center for in-service teachers at a university), it also gave her an opportunity to tap into her interest in art.
“Although many stress that visual note taking is not about art, the artist in me saw it as a useful and visual way to ‘see’ ideas and present them in a meaningful way,” she said. “My whiteboard at work and at home is my best friend.”
Because of her background as an artist, Melaine was an easy convert to the idea of taking visual notes. But what about her fourth-grade son Brad?
“Initially, he thought I was joking, but I explained to him how this might help him study all that content, but in a much simpler way. I drew pictures and added words from the prescribed text and discussed the topic and facts with him as we worked on the notes. He took to the idea after we finished the first ‘infodoodle’ and he loved the fact that we had converted tons of content on one topic onto one A4 size page and it had everything that he needed to review and remember.”
We don’t have to take Melaine’s word for it. Here’s what Brad had to say:
“I like to discuss my schoolwork with my mom and she and I both love to draw. Visual notes are a fun way to take and remember notes. It is easier to remember facts per topic, from one page, than to remember them from the 10 pages in my textbook.”
The process is about more than just preparing Brad for success in school – it’s also about the time spent together and the conversations that crop up while drawing.
“For one, I feel that it engages both of us to the topic,” said Melaine. “So while we doodle the notes out, we also discuss several related concepts, thoughts and ideas. Just the act of putting pen and pencil to paper gets us to commit to the topic and creatively describe what we are thinking in words and pictures. When he reviews the visual notes before the quiz, I’ve noticed that he adds things to the notes (little squiggly lines, colored underlines, etc.) himself to highlight what is important for him. Secondly, we bond as mother and son – this exercise gives us time together and he feels that I am taking interest in his schoolwork.”
As far as Melaine can tell, the analog and visual style of note taking that she and her son engage in is rare where they live – in Karachi, Pakistan. The push toward the use of technology is no different there than in many schools around the globe.
“I think the idea of visual note taking is unheard of in my context. People either take entirely text heavy notes or go to the other extreme of just using technology to take notes and present ideas. In a developing country, we are so keen on keeping up with technology and getting things to be perfect that we do not look at other ways in which we can present thoughts and ideas.”
In addition to helping her son develop creative skills detached from digital technology, she’s also helping him approach learning from a different angle than what he sees in school.
“The schools here stress a lot on rote memorization and regurgitating that information during assessments and I am thinking of ways in which I can make his school experience more meaningful. When we do visual notes, we move away from the stress of memorizing everything verbatim and find ways to discuss the facts and remember them. We cannot change the educational system, but I can make a difference to the way my son learns and retains information.”
More power to you, Melaine. Here’s hoping our education systems catch on en masse to the benefits of deep learning and the use of non-digital tools.
If you’re interested in doing something similar with a friend or family member, here are Melaine’s tips:
- Never be afraid to draw. Anyone and everyone can. If you can write, you can draw.
- Draw/doodle anything and everything, e.g. a thought, an idea, a plan, what you ate at breakfast, your kids, info about a book you just read.
- Carry a small notepad and a pen or a pencil everywhere. You never know when inspiration can strike. If you don’t have a notepad on you draw on anything you can get your hands on e.g. whiteboard, envelopes, napkin, an old bank statement.
- Caption your drawings – words and visuals are a really good combination to get an idea across.
- Read up on concepts such as ‘visual note taking’, ‘sketchnoting’, and ‘visual thinking’.
- Make mistakes and learn from them.
- Share what you learn with everyone – friends, family, colleagues at work – visually.
Here are the resources that Melaine has been using to develop her own visual note taking skills and share them with her son:
- The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rhode
- The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown
- The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
- Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
- Gamestorming by Dave Gray
- Mind Maps For Kids by Tony Buzan
- Verbal To Visual
- Brain Doodles
- Discovery Doodles
- Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything
Any other parents out there doing something similar? What are you learning from your experience? What additional support do you need?
Share your thoughts and ideas with a comment below.