Tag Archives: drawing to learn

Drawing Attention

Self-portraits on index cards from students on first-day of class yesterday in English 1301: Freshman Composition:

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And from English 2307: Introduction to Literature and Creative Writing:

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I distribute index cards at the beginning of each class and ask students to write their names and the date on one side and draw an image on the other.  These cards have two purposes.  I use them to track attendance, and I use the drawing exercise to help them dispel distractions and begin to focus on the work of the class to come.

As for the images, I ask them to draw all sorts of things, some related to the work of the class or what they did over the weekend or something related to their major or the weather.  What they draw is ultimately not as important as the act of drawing and the focusing of their attention.

At the end of the course, I return all of the index cards from the semester to the students as one way for them to review their journey through the class.

Drawing to Learn Comics

Here is a slideshow of comics from my upper division Reading Graphic Novels class. (See slideshow toggle at top right of flickr screen.)   Here’s a sample image:

Midterm Comic Sample copy

The midterm assignment asked students to draw the life of comic or cartoon artist in at least 12 panels and 3 colors. Out of the 20 students in the class, no one chose the same artist. That’s kind of a miracle.

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


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.


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.


Final Comic Expo in Reading Graphic Novels

About two weeks ago, I described my summer Reading Graphic Novels course and my students’ remarkable midterm comics.


Today, they submitted their final comics to share with the class.  And WOW!


We also had donuts.


For this assignment, I asked my students to compose a comic of at least 2 pages and 12 panels and 3 colors that communicates a thematically or emotionally unified personal narrative.

Final Comic 4381 Summer 2014_005

There were also to include annotations on the comic vocabulary they used while drawing their comics.


The annotations would appear on a separate page, typed or handwritten, that detail the comic vocabulary used in panels selected for annotation.


They were to refer to the comic vocabulary used by panel number and page number.  For example, the comic vocabulary of a motion lines used in panel 1 on page 1 would be signified as follows:  P1P1: motion lines.


They were required to include at least 10 annotations from the following list, and none could be repeated. 

  • Bordered panel
  • Panel border
  • Panel with no border
  • Gutter
  • Motion lines
  • Emanata
  • Inset panel
  • Panel within panel
  • Narrative box
  • Speech bubble
  • Thought balloon
  • Close up
  • Medium shot
  • Long shot
  • Polyptych
  • Image echo
  • Transition – moment to moment *
  • Transition—action to action *
  • Transition—subject to subject *
  • Transition—scene to scene *
  • Transition—aspect to aspect *
  • Transition—non sequitor *

* Each transition annotation should explain how the transition works between the panels.


Here below is a slideshow of photos of today’s class along with closer views of the amazing comics they created.  Choose fullscreen and pause for closer inspection of comics.  You can also access the slideshow here.

Handmade Thinking – The Video

This video includes an overview of my book Handmade Thinking with student examples, including photographs of students working in collaboration on handmade responses.

The primary inspiration for my book and this video comes from Dan Roam and his book The Back of the Napkin.  Other visual thinkers and artists who influenced my work include Brandy Agerbeck, Austin Kleon, Dave Gray, Ed Emberley, Jessica Hagy, Sunni Brown, and Mike Rohde.

I’d also like to thank a number of teachers who’ve shared their students’ drawings with me, including Sharon Fabriz at St. John’s School in Houston, Martha Cox at Rotan ISD, Rotan, Texas, and Kathy Brotherton and Beth Crawford at Shelby County Schools in Columbiana, Alabama.

Also thanks to John Wegner and especially Brian Beck in the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research at Angelo State University for technical help on this video.