Category Archives: Visual Thinking

Drawing to Learn X 6

Drawing to Learn X 6

In today’s second meeting of my Drawing to Learn class, I introduced six “drawing to learn” strategies to my students with the icons above: drawing to calm (coloring), drawing to listen (doodling), drawing to record (sketch-noting), drawing to create (handmade thinking), drawing to see (representing), and drawing to present or show (illustrated speaking).

The main focus of today’s class was drawing to calm.  I had previously distributed to each student a set of colored pencils, and today I provided them a number of mandalas to choose from and to color in class.  This drawing to calm strategy has lately become a more valued anti-stress, meditative, and even spiritual practice.  This is also evidenced in a number of popular articles and coloring books.

Coloring Mandalas

Given the amount of anxiety and stress first-year college students experience in their first week of classes, they easily understood the value of sitting quietly and focusing their energies on a practice that builds their abilities in present mindfulness.  More on mandalas here.

I also ended class by assuring them if their parents or friends had any concerns about why they were coloring in college, I’d be happy to talk to them. :)


Look at Them Go – Drawing to Learn

I’m teaching a course this semester for first-year students called “Drawing to Learn.”  It’s one of about 50 courses offered by our Freshman College to help students become acclimated to college learning.  Faculty get to choose a topic they’re interested in and design a course around that interest.  My course is grounded in the idea that drawing can be a more efficient process for learning, communicating, and leading than textual or numerical languages.

Here are the supplies I handed out during the first class.


Each student received a package of 12 colored pencils, a Palomino Blackwing pencil, and a Moleskine notebook.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks, students will learn the following six drawing-to-learn strategies:

  1. Drawing to Calm – Coloring
  2. Drawing to Listen – Doodling
  3. Drawing to Record Learning – Sketchnoting
  4. Drawing to Create Learning – Handmade Thinking
  5. Drawing to See – Representing
  6. Drawing to Present Learning – Illustrated Speaking

Look at them go.

first day of class


A Poster Syllabus – Update

Update: Friday, July 31, 2015

Posters back from printer between texts.  I’ll be rolling these up and passing them out first day of class.

photo of poster with books


Original post: July 26, 2015

Last summer, I developed a comic book syllabus for a course I taught on comics.  Here is one of the pages from that syllabus.  I liked how that format forced me into boiling down the class information into the most basic descriptions of expectations.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_04

This fall I’ll be teaching an advanced creative writing class focusing on poetry and poetry writing.  For this class, I decided to create a one-page syllabus poster that will be approximately 17 X 22 inches, or about 4 times larger than a regular syllabus.  Once again, this format (while much larger) still provided some nice constraints that forced me into thinking about how I could be as direct and clear as possible about the course and expectations.  Click on the image below to enlarge and zoom in.

Syllabus Poster ENG 3365

First sketch:

First sketch



Drawing is Learning Comic Article Published in JAEPL

I’m happy to report that a 12 page comic article co-authored by my daughter Myra Musgrove and me has just appeared in Volume 20, Winter 2014-2015, the 20th Anniversary Issue of The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning.

JAEPL Cover Winter 2014-2015

I would like to thank Joonna Trapp and Brad Peters, co-editors of JAEPL, for inviting me to submit an article for this anniversary issue on the topic of visual thinking, and especially for allowing Myra and me to create and present the article in a comic format.

Page 1 Drawing is LearningI’d also like to thank my daughter Myra for drawing such a beautifully drawn comic article.  This is our first published article together, and I look forward to many more collaborations.

Drawing is Learning - Top of Page

You’ll see “Musgrove & Musgrove / Drawing is Learning” at the top margin of the right side facing pages.  I can’t tell you how wonderful that makes me feel.

Drawing is Learning Internal Pages

I’d also like to thank Scott McCloud for inspiring me to teach comics and offering all of us new ways to conceptualize and compose non-fiction visually.

Drawing is Learning Notes and Resources Page

I’d also like to thank Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde, Dan Roam, and Brandy Agerbeck who have helped me understand the power of visual thinking, teaching, and learning.

Notes Detail Drawing is Learning

The Notes pages is one of my favorite pages.  Rather than using numbers to signal footnotes, we used actual notes.

Drawing is Learning Bio PageAnd the final page shows the proud father with his awesome daughter.

The electronic version is here.


Illustrated Grammar Handbooks: The Sequel

Two years ago, in an advanced English grammar course, students created original and illustrated grammar handbooks on a theme of their choosing.  Here are examples from that class.

This Spring 2015 semester, I had the opportunity to teach this course again, and 22 students in this class had the same assignment.  Here below are the students in the class along with photos of the covers of their handbooks.  They selected a wide range of themes from which to draw their examples in order to show grammatical elements at work.



P1010465 P1010464 P1010463 P1010462 P1010461 P1010460 P1010459 P1010457 P1010456 P1010455 P1010454 P1010453 P1010452 P1010451 P1010450 P1010449
P1010447 P1010446 P1010445 P1010444 P1010443



Visualizing Sentences

This semester, my English Grammar students have been reading, among other texts, Florey’s Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, a nice cultural history/memoir of sentence diagramming.

Books for 2015 Spring

Yesterday, I asked them to get in groups of three, to invent their own visual representation of sentence diagramming, and to apply that system to three sentence types:  a simple sentence with an introductory phrase, a compound sentence, and a complex sentence.  I also asked them to include a legend that would explain their diagramming system.   Here below are some photos of students at work, as well as a few very creative systems.  They pulled this off in only about 45 minutes.








Drawing on Index Cards

I am just finishing up teaching an eight-week, one-hour course I developed for our Freshman Seminar Program here at Angelo State.  In this course, called “Drawing to Learn,” I introduce students to drawing as a tool for concentration and learning, including coloring mandalas, doodling, creating handmade responses to reading assignments, or sketchnoting.

Here are the 21 formats I teach for handmade thinking

My students and I have been using drawing as a learning tool in all of my classes for some time now, but this is the first course where I’ve focused the entire class on the topic of drawing to learn.  The main ideas for this course are rooted in the work of Ed EmberleyDan Roam, Sunni Brown, Dave Gray, Scott McCloud, Lynda Barry, Austin Kleon, and Mike Rohde.

When I began designing the course, I ordered Lynda Barry’s new book Syllabus to gain some insight into how I might incorporate more drawing into this class.  Here on the bottom left of page 58 is the idea that seemed most immediately useful to me.  Lynda writes:  “We begin each class by writing our name, the date, and drawing a two-minute self-portrait on an index card.  The cards will serve as a record of your attendance.”

Lynda Barry Index Cards Attendance

Actually, this idea was at least doubly useful.  It was not only a way for students to record attendance (a chore I hate), but also a way for them to create a sense of presence at the beginning of each class through drawing.  Here are some samples of those index cards from my class, bundled by student.  The front sides with names and dates:

Index Card Student Name and Date

(By the way, another use for these cards:  if I’m going to put students in groups for team activities, I can put symbols on the top right corner of the index cards before passing them out to the class.  Then I can ask them to form small groups based on the symbol randomly assigned to them.)

Here are samples of the back of the cards with hand drawn images.  I started having students draw self-portraits as Barry suggested, but later began suggesting other topics for drawing; the prompt for this day was “Draw a tool you use regularly.”

Index Card Student Drawings

In addition, before each class I sketch out each of my lesson plans on index cards.  Then I redraw this plan on the whiteboard while students are completing their attendance cards.  Here are some of my lesson plans for this class, including icons I normally use to signify particular activities or mini-lectures.  (More on visual lesson plans here and here.)

Index Card Class Agenda

And here below are some index cards I sketched to help me remember what to draw on the board as I was teaching my students the basic vocabulary of sketchnoting.

Index Card Notes for Sketchnoting

(For more on sketchnoting, see Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook.  Here’s one example of a sketchnote from the class.  It’s a response to this video lecture by Hank Green on 8/5 X 11 paper.)

Sketchnote on Human Population Growth

And here are a couple more drawings on the attendance index cards.  The first one is a response to the prompt, “Draw your secret superhero identity.”  The second is a response to the prompt, “What is your major?”

Attendance card sample 1

Attendance card sample 2

The point of these attendance cards again is to record attendance and to give students a chance to create a sense of physical, mental, and emotional presence at the beginning of class so they can better attend to the work ahead.  But they also give students practice in drawing quickly, simply, and without judgment, practice that helps them gain confidence in their drawing abilities.

index card

In the age of iPads and smartphones, I’ve found another simply designed, lightweight, inexpensive, and remarkably thin handheld device that can do so much good work for me and my students in the classroom.


Drawing the Learning Organization

Dear Dave,

My wife, Marie-Clare, and I decided to read The Connected Company together and have our own little discussion group.  She’s a training and communication specialist in human resources.  I’m an academic department chair.   This morning, we were talking about the first couple of chapters, and I began to sketch out my understanding of what a connected organization might look like.

Here’s the first sketch I made as we were talking.

Learning Notecard First

And the second one just after we finished our discussion.

Second Sketch

Because we work for a university, I was trying to think of what a “connected learning” organization might look like.  I realize that’s probably redundant.

Learning Organization xy

So yeah, I began with multi-variable chart.

Learning Organization xy  with flexible

And I was thinking of the vertical axis representing the degree to which a company can be flexible in understanding and responding to the needs of its customers (and employees or students).  I thought originally this would be called something like “responsiveness,” but Marie-Clare rightly identified it as the organizational structure or company hierarchy.

Learning Organization 3

And then I was thinking about the degree to which it might be too rigid in its organizational structure or bureaucracy to understand or respond effectively.

On the horizontal axis, I was thinking of the available resources a company employs, such as its people, materials, equipment, and financial assets.

Learning Organization 4

In the worst of situations, we experience the inability to hire and replace personnel or we don’t have access to the resources we need to manufacture or serve our customers effectively, or even to invest in new projects.

Learning Organization 5

At the other end of the resources spectrum, we are fluid, not only in the sense that we have the resources we need, but that we can easily access the resources we need for the customers we want or as customer needs change.

Learning Organization 6

Then I began to think about the quadrants on this chart and what might be located within those relationships.

Learning Organization 7

I was thinking about the emotional effects on employees when working in a company with the lack of resources it needs and an organizational structure unable to serve itself and its customers.

Learning Organization 8

On the opposite end of that emotional spectrum would be the feelings we might have when working for a responsive organization with the resources to fulfill its vision, mission, and strategic goals.

But what about those other two quadrants?

Learning Organization 9

I would think it would have to be quite frustrating if an organization has a flexible structure but no resources to fulfill its objectives.  But if the organization is working to gain the resources necessary, leadership would have the opportunity to point to the courage necessary to follow the company’s strategy, to speak hopefully about the potential for new engagement with customers, and the new opportunities and freedoms that would come with success.

Learning Organization

In the final quadrant is a reminder that even though resources may be plentiful, a rigid organizational structure can result in stagnation via unresponsiveness to customer needs, as well as the resulting decline in revenue, leading eventually perhaps to further oppressive rigidity, fear, despair, and isolation from its customers.

I’m guessing, Dave, you’ve probably thought of all of this before, or perhaps you’ll be talking more about these ideas and the emotional terrain in chapters to come.  But I just wanted to share how your book has prompted our thinking so far here in West Texas about the responsiveness of learning organizations.  (In addition, because any family or relationship might be considered a learning organization, it’s possible this visual might also be applied to those as well.  Marriage, for example.)

Onward in kindness,




Illustrating My Song

After reading at the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers conference last week in Dallas, I had several nice comments from folks on a poem I read “My Song.”

My Song another version

Last night, I talked to my daughter Myra about illustrating it and turning it into a picture book or poster or both.   Here’s a draft sketch I drew this morning of a comic version (with the poem divided by line or phrase) for what might be a color 11X17 poster with images drawn by Myra.  Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

My Song Design Draft