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140: Every Student can Sketchnote, with Sylvia Duckworth


Do you love sketchnotes and just wish your students felt the same? You’re not alone. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. In today’s episode, find out how to give your students the building blocks to sketchnotes success and have fun doing it with special guest Sylvia Duckworth.

You can listen in below, or on the podcast player of your choice. Or, read on for the written highlights and links!

PSSST. Before we dive in, I’m happy to say that another free session of Camp Creative is opening up in a few weeks! You can sign up below to be at the top of the list for this five-day mini-course to ignite your choice reading program in 2022. If your students have drifted towards their phones and away from your shelves during this pandemic, get ready for a done-for-you First Chapter Friday program, accountability options that won’t ruin the joy of reading, a list of the 50+ books most likely to hook readers, and much more! Sign up below to reserve your seat and get updates from me.

    Why Sketchnotes Matter

    First things first, why are sketchnotes a big deal? Well, for one thing there’s substantial research to support the idea that drawing helps improve information retention. In one memorable Canadian research study, adults who doodled while listening to a pre-recorded phone conversation retained almost twice as many words from the conversation as adults who did not.

    When students come into your classroom, they’ll all have different ways of capturing ideas and taking notes. When you introduce the idea that doodling and drawing can be an important feature in students’ note-taking and pre-writing, they can become more engaged and interested in the process. It can also help them to formulate ideas for their papers and projects. PLUS, the process of sketchnoting requires a great deal of concentration, and can help them stay engaged with whatever they are listening to.

    You Don’t Have to be an Artist to Sketchnote

    Like so many others, Sylvia decided she wasn’t a good artist and stopped trying to do art when she was about ten. She didn’t start up again for decades. Does that sound familiar? Lots of people give up on their own artwork sometime in elementary school, convinced they just don’t have any talent. If your students arrive in your classroom feeling this way, having already decided that they are not artistic, it can be hard to convince them that sketchnoting is worthwhile.

    But look at some of the examples of Sylvia’s work now.

    So here’s the thing. Sylvia doesn’t believe anyone has natural artistic talent. You either practice or you don’t. You get better if you choose to put in the work. When she presents about sketchnoting, 90% of her audience usually states that they can’t draw at the beginning. By the end, 90% usually agrees that they can sketchnote.

    Which brings us to a key point.

    There’s a Difference between Sketching and Sketchnoting

    When it comes to sketchnotes, icons are everything, and it just doesn’t take that long to “put in the work” to learn how to draw them.

    It’s a matter of showing kids how to draw easy things – a lightbulb for an idea, a laptop for technology – to help them overcome the intimidating feeling that they must create art. Icons should never take more than 20 seconds to draw, says Sylvia. This is the big initial hurdle. Helping kids see that they don’t have to create a canvas in their notebook pages to be effective sketchnoters.

    Lucky for us, Sylvia has a huge library of short-and-sweet videos and printable slides (called “Sketchnote Fever”) that teach kids a helpful vocabulary of tools to use in their sketchnotes. Check it out here. You can print the slides to pass out now and then, create a gallery wall with them that students can use as reference, or project helpful icons while kids are taking notes.

    Another option would be to play one of her videos once a week throughout the year. Clocking in at about three minutes, it’s a perfect quick warm-up before students sketchnote during a podcast or a First Chapter Friday session. Little by little, they’ll expand their skills exponentially throughout the year.

    Further Resources

    Karrie Baughcum shares the lovely idea of having kids brainstorm the icons they’re going to need before upcoming units. They come up with ideas and create a display everyone can refer back to throughout the unit. (So cool!)

    On The Noun Project website, you can type in any word and then the icon will pop up to help you as you sketchnote.

    Educator Adam Juarez in CA has built up a wonderful gallery of sketchnotes by students that you can use as models if you wish. Check out the many pages of the high school gallery, or jump right to these examples from 12th grade ELA about Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

    Connect with Sylvia Duckworth

    Sylvia is an award-winning teacher from Toronto, Canada, with more than 30 years teaching experience in the classroom. She is an Edtech consultant and sketchnoting evangelist on a constant quest to find ways for teachers and students to “Connect, Collaborate and Create”. She is a Google Certified InnovatorGoogle Certified Trainer, Apple Distinguished Educator, and author of the books “Sketchnotes for Educators” and “How to Sketchnote: A Step-by-Step Manual for Teachers and Students”

    Check out Sylvia’s website.

    Follow Sylvia on Instagram.

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