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Sketchnoting for a brighter tomorrow.


Their world: Introduction

I love the quote by education reformer John Dewey (1944), where he said, 'If we teach today, as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of their tomorrow' (p. 167). It makes me think of the importance of continually reflecting on our pedagogy so that we are not robbing our twenty-first century students of their tomorrows. Kendrick, McKay and Mutonyi (2009), state the 'distinctive features of the twenty-first century is the dominance of the visual' (p. 55). Creative and critical thinking are considered to be the top skills of the twenty-first century needed in the workforce (Griffin, McGaw, & Care, 2012). Yet in school, Sir Ken Robinson has famously said, 'schools kill creativity' (TED Talks, 2007). So how can we teach differently?

Their world: Their today

In early childhood settings children are encouraged to pick up a pencil and make markings. This is a non-threatening, natural and intrinsic practice for any child. They express their wonder and curiosity for the world around them creatively through their drawings (Thompson, 2005). Teachers encourage this 'doodling' so students can communicate before formal verbal and written language is formulated. Kendrick et al. (2009) note 'young children use drawing as an alternative mode to conceptualise literacy in their lives' (p. 56). Writing was originally based on a simple drawing and the teacher would scribe the verbal thoughts for the student.

However, as schooling progresses through the upper grades, drawing seems to gradually diminish and becomes insignificant as a communication tool; as the mode of writing begins to dominate. Just imagine if Leonardo and Shakespeare were your students today. Would you argue with Leonardo by saying, 'Stop drawing Leonardo; I want to see your writing.' Then turn to Shakespeare and say 'I love your writing, but have you really drawn a picture in the readers mind?'

All jokes aside, I feel guilty as I encourage my students to recount their stories by writing first and then drawing if time permits. It is hard to be critical when my colleagues and I are teaching to assessments that are in the dominant written mode. Literacy in schools is dominated by print-based literacies even though children live in a multimodal visual world (Duck & Hutchinson, 2005). Yet, children can encode and decode meaning easily from pictures without being taught (Olshansky, 2008). Think of the students who feel anxious when words fail them.

Their world, their today: Their funds of knowledge

Richardson (2015) declares that we can no longer frame the education experiences of students today based on the education of the past. He further adds that, 'we not only have to do better, we have to do it different' (p. 13). On this notion, our lenses should be focused on what works for students, capitalising on their funds of knowledge and strengths, such as 'drawing', in which they conceptualise literacy, to equip them for the twenty-first century skills (Rodriguez, 2013). A Brisbane based creative industries company called, 'Doodles' is empowering children by adapting their drawings and converting them into animated stories (Kids Doodles, 2015). This supports the power of literacy through drawings, which leads me to my inquiry.

Their world their today: Sketchnoting a different experience

To further embed visual literacy in my classroom practice I explored using a technique called 'sketchnoting' or 'doodling' as a communication tool to enhance creativity and critical thinking in students' writing.

There is a rapid movement into visual facilitation in the business world, also known as 'visual sketchnoting' or 'doodling'. There is little research into using the strategy of sketchnoting in classrooms, however what has been discovered by neuroscience has many possibilities for transferal into classroom practice. For instance a small study, the first known of its kind, examined the effects of doodling, as an aid to concentration. Researcher, Jackie Andrade (2010), found that concentration was higher when doodling with a 29% improved recall. Mike Rohde (2013), author of The Sketchnote handbook, concurs that sketchnoting helps with concentration and engagement by activating both verbal and visual modes to capture content. This activation of modes is well encapsulated within a pedagogy of multiliteracies (The New London Group, 1996).

I began by teaching my class some key elements of sketchnoting:

* How to think about main ideas/concepts and organise their thoughts on paper using elements such as speech bubbles, arrows etc.

* Drawings were to be kept simple, no works of art!

Then I applied sketchnoting when opportunities arose.

Their world their tomorrow: Results and observations

My first observations of 'doodling' were positive, immediate and effective. The first week back at school, after the holidays, I experimented with the 'drawing before writing' technique, in our morning ritual of a yarning circle. This time I told the students that we were going to try something different. So I held my little whiteboard and marker and began drawing and talking about my holiday. My students were fully attentive. When I finished, I asked, who would like to have a turn. Every little hand was raised. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, only 5 children were able to have a go.

Moaning followed when I told them they could write about their holidays; then after saying they could draw first, a loud cheer erupted! All children were at their desks busily drawing! One of the students who had an opportunity to draw on the whiteboard earlier began writing, instead of drawing. Writing was always challenging for her, as she would struggle for ideas, however she wrote more than ever. I could immediately see the potential in this method.


From my observations, sketchnoting clearly helps with the thought processes. A study by Bresciani and Eppler (2009), into the effects of information visualisation, found that visualisation supported thinking by 'reducing the cognitive load, offloading short-term memory, allowing for easier comparisons and facilitation of inferences' (p. 1). This helps to explain why the student mentioned earlier wrote so much. By having the opportunity to draw her holiday first and talk about it assisted in 'reducing the cognitive load' and she was able to concentrate on writing.

Sketchnoting was able to assist the students to communicate more effectively based on their drawings. Bamford (2003) asserts that visual literacy is about 'interpreting images of the present and past as well as producing images which effectively communicate the message to an audience' (p. 1). During guided reading groups, by doodling, the children were able to clearly communicate their thoughts and inferences about the book. The opportunity to express themselves, using their visual language, was powerful. They were more intrinsically motivated to share and discuss their thoughts more than ever before.

Also, sketchnoting increased metacognition and helped them make connections to what they read. As well as making connections, the discussions that followed based on the students' drawings allowed them to listen to their peers' perspectives. Comments such as, 'Oh I didn't see it that way', and 'I see what you mean', are proof of this.

A brighter tomorrow: Reflection and conclusion

I found that sketchnoting or doodling creates a safe and supportive learning environment for students. Through being free from the normal anxieties, which surround writing time for some of my students, there was lots of laughter in the classroom. Sketchnoting also provides an environment where children are able to take risks and make mistakes, which are key essential creativity skills. The open-endedness of sketchnoting also encourages creativity as there are no wrong answers. I also note that the non-linearity of the expressiveness of sketchnoting expands thinking, memory and learning.

Further to this, sketchnoting also gives students a voice. They are allowed to be themselves within their drawings. The visual nature of the work facilitates easier and deeper critical thinking, by making connections to concepts that lead to rich reflections. The students are able to develop their language by discussing their work and by receiving feedback from their peers.

The children's enthusiasm for this technique has also taught me to adapt my thinking and to extend my own imagination further. Overall, given the fast-paced nature of students' lives, the benefits are that children really slow down and are more mindful about their work when doodling. I will continue to Sketchnote in my classroom practice and thoroughly recommend more research into this technique in the classroom.

In conclusion, using sketchnoting in my classroom has proven to be very successful and it can be easily implemented across the curriculum. It harnesses simple skills, which enhance twenty-first century learner requirements as well as building self-efficacy in students so that they continue to be motivated and become empowered learners. They are present and in the moment. By being present today, this contributes to a brighter tomorrow.


Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(1), 100-106. doi:10.1002/acp.1561

Bamford, A. (2003). The Literacy White Paper. Retrieved from

Bresciani, S., & Eppler, M.J. (2009). The benefits of synchronous collaborative information visualization: Evidence from an experimental evaluation. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 15 (6), 1073-1080. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1944). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan Company.

Duck, C., & Hutchison, K. (2005). Animating disenchanted writers. In B. Comber & B. Kamler (Eds.), Turn-around pedagogies. Literacy interventions for at-risk students (pp. 15-30). Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.

Griffin, P., McGaw, B., & Care, E. (2011). Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills. Dordrecht, New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-2324-5

Kendrick, M., & McKay, R., & Mutonyi, H. (2009). Making the invisible visible: Assessing the visual as spaces of learning. In Burke, A., & Hammett, R.F. (Eds.), Assessing new literacies: Perspectives from the classroom (pp. 55-75). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Kids Doodles. (2015). Making of doodles. Retrieved from

Olshansky, B. (2008). The power of pictures: Creating pathways to literacy through art, grades K-6 (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Richardson, (2015). From master teacher to master learner. Sydney: Solution Tree.

Rodriguez, G.M. (2013). Power and agency in education: Exploring the pedagogical dimensions of funds of knowledge. Review of Research in Education, 37 (1), 87-120.

Rohde, M. (2013). The sketchnote handbook: The illustrated guide to visual notetaking. USA: Peachpit Press.

Robinson, K. (Presenter). (2007, January 6). Do schools kill creativity? TED Talks Retrieved from

The New London Group. (1996). Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1), 60-92.

Thompson, S.C., (2005). Children as illustrators: Making meaning through art and language. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Rosa Alexis is a Year 3 teacher at Jamboree Heights State School. After meeting her guru, Sir Ken Robinson in 2014, she commenced a Masters in Education at the University of Queensland. She has a passion for knowledge, innovation and creativity. Her life quest is to empower and inspire kids!

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Author:Alexis, Rosa
Publication:Practically Primary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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