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For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…

During the 2014 IATEFL conference last week, a few people noticed me doodling away in a notebook (with real pen and paper!) during talks. Several people were even so kind as to ask to take photos of my notes, compliment them, and share them with our friends on Facebook. I’ll be sharing my notes on this blog as I finish coloring them (yes, like a 5-year old!), but since so many people seemed interested in the process of visual note-taking, here are a few resources and tips if you too want to start doodling rather than typing or writing your notes. It’s done as a sort of FAQs, based on questions I got during the conference.

What are sketchnotes?

Basically a visual form of note-taking that combines drawings, lettering styles, colors, icons, dividers, arrows, and whatever else you want to put into them to make your notes pretty and relevant to the content you want to capture.

Do you have to be a good artist to sketchnote?

Nope. I’m certainly not, unless you count stick figures, cubes, and the cat I learned to draw when I was 8 (and have been drawing that way ever since). That’s not modesty, it’s honesty. When I did do lots of artsy stuff in high school, I did collages. Why? Because you don’t have to draw, you just have to cut and paste. You don’t have to be an artist to create sketchnotes. In fact, the fact that the drawings are just sketches adds a certain graphic appeal. The whole minimalist design thing seems pretty trendy at the moment, so maybe that’s why. But you certainly don’t need to be an artist or even a good drawer to do sketchnotes! Just start doodling and keep at it!

How long does it take to learn how to sketchnote?

That’s like asking “How long does it take to learn English?” The answer depends on what proficiency level you’re aiming for. Before the IATEFL conference, I had done sketchnotes for 2 talks and 3 webinars. Not exactly years of experience then. Which means that it doesn’t take tons of training. You just have to start and keep at it. Of course, the notes you create will probably become more fluid, better organized, and more concentrated in key info as you get more experience, but there’s not better way to get experience than to just practice, practice, practice! (Hint: try sketchnoting the videos of all those IATEFL talks you missed but that are now available online. And there’s no stress of someone watching you create your notes!)

How do you draw and write and listen at the same time?

This does take a bit of practice, and I’m certainly still working on it! In my notebook there are several spots that are just blank and that will be filled after I get the speaker’s slides, read other people’s blog posts about the talk, etc. Presentations often contain some spots of intense info and some spots of down time (or “talk to your neighbor” time). You can use these to complete your notes, add little embellishes, or sketch a quick figure that can be fleshed out in more detail later. This has the added advantage of encouraging you to go back to your notes after the talk because you really want to fill them in, so you make that extra bit of effort. Again, storing things in your short-term memory while writing, drawing, and listening is a skill that improves with practice, but we’re all teachers, so don’t we enjoy a bit of mental work?

Why bother?

Sketchnotes are just prettier than scrawls of text that never get looked at again! But on a deeper level, there seem to be some cognitive benefits:

  • Trying to find images to illustrate the message helps you connect with and process the words.
  • Non-linear note-taking means you can arrange concepts on the page in a way that makes sense to you. You can also easily draw connectors to show relationships between similar or contrasting ideas.
  • You may be more artsy-fartsy than you think. Most people stop drawing because they think they’re not “good at it”. You don’t have to be good at drawing to sketchnote, but it does help to master a few basic shapes and ways of combining them to make simple images.
  • People (especially yourself) will want to read and re-read your notes. This means you review them more often and the stuff sticks better than if it just rotted away in a notebook (or computer file) somewhere.
  • The mind-body connection, or embodied cognition comes into play, since you are physically creating representations of the ideas you are processing. Scott Thornbury wrote a great article on this, published in the TESOL France Teaching Times in 2013.

How can I learn more about sketchnotes and how to do them?

There are lots of resources out there!

The first resource I’d recommend is the book The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. There’s a Kindle version, but I personally prefer the paper version. It’s just nice flipping through the pages!

Sketchnoting has also carved out some cyberspace for itself. Here are a few resources you’ll likely find useful:

Not sure what’s with all violent metaphors, but it makes me think of this endless Soviet-style army marching forth wielding a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other!

Hope that answers some of the questions that you may have had about sketchnoting as a way to record your conference experience! If not, feel free to add other questions in the comments below! And keep your eyes out for the posts of the sketchnotes that I made–they’ll be posted here as I finish them!

 

 

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Lesson 8: Surrendering power

This week, I took a step into the unknown.

At the end of every lesson, we spend the last 15 minutes or so doing structured feedback. By that I mean, the students have a form that they fill out every lesson with four criteria, based on the suggestion in Teaching Unplugged:

  • What I liked about this lesson
  • What I didn’t really care for
  • What I found useful
  • What I found less useful

Students fill out the feedback form, I flip through them, and we discuss their feedback. Last lesson, one student suggested working with a text in class. So, naturally I asked for a volunteer to find a text for the next class. And the next class was today.

StudentA sent me the text by email the evening before the lesson. His last-minuteness maybe was a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t tempted to create all sorts of worksheets to scaffold, pre-teach vocabulary, etc. It was a short text, about 3 short paragraphs, easy enough vocabulary.  Oh, and the title was “An Introduction to a Modern Theory of Color.

I gave the students the title and asked them to think of any words that came into their heads. We mind-mapped their concepts and ideas, then they got into small groups to read the text and sort out the ideas.

Then I asked them how they could relate to the text. What did color mean for them? How do we use color in our lives? Here was where the ideas flowed.

Each group spent about 20 minutes preparing a presentation on their ideas. Some mentioned cultural aspects of color–how red meant luck and happiness in China, while black was worn for funerals in Western cultures. Some mentioned how we use color when decorating our homes to encourage different moods or how “blue and white in the bathroom reminds of beaches in Brittany.” Another group took a more artistic perspective, talking about high-contrast, b & w, or sepia-toned photos and how they effected the way we saw the photo.

After each presentation, I encouraged questioning to find out more and then I asked the listeners to summarize what they had understood to check that they had indeed followed what was said. In most cases, they got a surprising amount of info right!

Then the last group, which included StudentA, explained the real modern theory of color–that artists should use opposing colors on the color wheel to create deeper and more natural shadows in their art. This was the most interactive presentation, where the other students really seemed to want to know more (because I didn’t have to prompt them to ask questions afterwards!)

I was relieved that the students took to the subject. The night before, I was worried that the text was too narrow in scope, that some students just wouldn’t care for the subject, or that it would be so “everyday” that they would have nothing to say. I guess you don’t always need the “big” topics to get students’ ideas flowing.

However, on the feedback forms, the “less useful” activity that came up most was the reformulating stage. They didn’t really seem to see the point in it. I could tell as we were doing this–I either had to do hardcore eliciting or let the class sit until the silence got, well, awkward. Not sure if this is the route to go, but I know that I do thave a bad tendency cut thinking time short after asking questions.

Perhaps this activity would have been more engaging had there been a real need to summarize what was said. We may have relapsed into “display chatter” here, which would explain the reticence.

Overall though, I was pleased to see their reaction to the text. They even thanked StudentA for bringing it in. That’s powerful feedback.

Lesson 7                                                                                                                           Lesson 9

 
 

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Lesson 6: Judgment Day!

The lesson started with the same error correction as in lesson 5 and everything went smoothly—student corrections and explanations, with a little teacher intervention as needed to clarify.

Then came the big question. Will we continue using a Dogme approach during the 2nd half of the semester?

I put 5 questions on the board to get students thinking about the approach:

  1. Describe your vision of a Dogme approach.
  2. What is your opinion of it?
  3. Say one thing you like about it.
  4. Say one thing you don’t like about it.
  5. Do you want to continue using this approach for the rest of the semester?

The questions were in English, but I let students know that they could respond in French or English. The important thing here was the information and if they felt too limited in English, French was ok.

After about 10 minutes, I asked students to discuss their answers in small groups then as a class, taking about 10 minutes total. I, however, would leave the room during this time so as to let them express themselves more freely about their feelings towards the approach.

Of course, I glued my ear to the classroom door. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, but it sounded more like English than French! I left them be and headed toward the coffee machine.

10 minutes were up so I popped my head in. “5 more minutes, 5 more minutes!” they shouted. So I slipped back out to wait until a student opened the door to let me back in.

Here’s a condensed version of what they reported:

The postives:

  • Students bring their questions to the class and the professor helps them with them.
  • It is easier to memorize the rules and explanations because they have to find them on their own and work out the explanation.
  • They like choosing what they want to work on, because the class centers on their difficulties
  • They enjoyed being able to vote on the format of the final exam
  • Lots of opportunities to speak to each other.
  • Speaking is easier because they feel comfortable with each other

The criticisms:

  • They would like to go faster through some of the grammar—it takes a long time to work out the rules on their own
  • More interaction on a specific topic would be nice, maybe divide the time more evenly between working on language and working with language
  • Needs more focus during the student-created explanations. It’s not always easy to understand the correction.

I’m glad they feel comfortable about speaking and I have noticed that overall the students are more forthcoming than in some of my other classes. I’m not sure if this is due to the students’ personalities or to the approach, because there are also a few shy students who voluntarily contribute rather little.

As I imagined, we have been spending too much time talking about the language and not enough actually conversing. I think we’ll start lessons with a more topic-based discussion rather than a grammar-based activity, which has been the case.

Their feedback shows that this approah works for this group of students, but the first few weeks haven’t been perfect.

Grammar focus has been a bit too dominant and I need to include little grammar bubbles, but as they come up and as needed. Or as that golden opportunity for a meaningful discussion of the language strikes. Or at students’ requests. However, the lessons need now to move towards a real exchange of ideas, with communication at the core.

Which is just what we’ll get a chance to do—they voted unanimously to continue Dogme for the next 6 weeks!

Lesson 5                                                                                                                          Lesson 7

 

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Lesson 4: The SAYA dilemma

Since, ago, yet, already. These four little words seem to plague French learners and for obvious reasons. Since translates to depuis. So does for. The idea of ago has a structure that when translated looks like there are four years, I went to the US for vacation. As for already, well, its French equivalent can also translate to yet. In some contexts, that is.

Not what I had predicted doing, but it came up and incidentally SAYA could fit well with the jump-start idea that I had chosen (thank you, ELT gods!)

We began the lesson with a little revision from the regular “Lesson That Was” form that I fill in and photocopy for everyone at the end of each lesson (See Teaching Unplugged, p. 63). Students made mental notes of questions they still had about any language. We boarded this and then students grouped in 4s to try to answer some of their classmates’ questions by going to the board and playing teacher. I monitored and corrected as needed. Although the students seemed reluctant to take the place of the teacher, they do it and they really try. Best thing is they explain in their own words, which are probably better understood by their peers than my explanations.

This was when SAYA came in, probably sparked by last lesson’s work on the present perfect simple.

I explained it to one group, who then went to the board to explain it to the rest of the class. We elicited a few examples together, and I circled the words in red to set up for the next activity. Maybe we could have done some more SAYA-specific work here, but I thought the activity I had planned would lend itself nicely to some natural emergence. I was hoping this would be shed light on these little linguistic trouble-makers in a more organic, holistic way. Did it?

My own "headline"

I asked if any of the students had a newspaper on them. Since they give out freebies near the tram stop, I was pretty sure the answer would be yes. Bingo! We opened a page, I read the headline and asked if they could guess what the article was about. Luckily, this one particular headline was a bit enigmatic–something about a Salkin-Magnani face off. Then I pulled out my grassroots “front page” based on “Headlines” (Teaching Unplugged, p. 38) about my weekend spent purging my apartment of unneeded clothes, books, papers, and general clutter. Students asked a few questions about what sort of home purification took place, but I stopped them before they could get all the details (oh, the suspense building up to next week’s lesson!)

Students were encouraged to create their own headline, and if desired, to exaggerate their exploits. 6 of them lined up with their own front pages, the other half stood in front of a partner to ask him/her questions to learn more about their headline.  After a minute or so, the questioners rotated until they had spoken to each headline-holder. All the while, I circulate to help with vocab and make notes on what I hear.

Afterwards, group summary of the stories to check what they had understood and to consolidate the stories.  We went over some of the new vocabulary as we pieced together the stories and I pointed out where SAYA could have been used to try to tie the day’s bits together.

During the Headlines activity, SAYA didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but I think that I was less disappointed than if I had done a traditional PPP lesson. In a way, it was a bit liberating and at the same time, a signal to say that this aspect would need some recycling in future lessons.

Which is why their homework is to write the “article” to match their headline, making a special effort to incorporate since, ago, yet, and already when possible. In the meantime, I’ll try to think of a catalyst likely to draw out this language again for next week.

Any suggestions?

BONUS: A few memorable headlines and their stories:

–On a Culinary Quest for Taste: about a girl making crepes with her mom

–Boomerang Rock Strikes: one guy threw a rock against a wall when he was a kid. It bounced back and left a small scar on his lower lip.

–Nightmare in the ER: this poor girl spent her week of vacation at home with stomach flu that required a trip to the hospital

–Young Painter Wins Prize: one of my students won his height in paint thanks to a miniature octopus woman figurine he created.

Lesson 3                                                                                                                       Lesson 5

 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Experimental practice

 

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