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.
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 Emberley, Dan 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.”
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:
(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.”
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.)
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.
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?”
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.
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.