Why drawing makes the difference

How schools are using sketchnoting to improve outcomes

The sketchnoting revolution in education and why every school should join in

Let's get straight to the point, sketchnoting works! Multiple research papers show that combining words and pictures or dual coding as it is known, deepens understanding and aids retention(1). It works for the creator of the sketchnote but it is also the best format to share information with an audience if you want that audience to connect with, understand and actually remember your message.

So how does it work? For the creator of the picture the process of turning words either written or spoken into a visual, means creating a mental model (2) and that process means they have to really understand the concept and think about how best to represent that concept visually. For the reader of the sketchnote it limits cognitive overload (or getting too much information all at once), and allows them to really engage with the pictures, drawing their attention to the key messages and allowing them the cognitive space to elaborate on the information they are receiving. In other words, to read and digest and think things through.

So, we know sketchnoting works, but how are schools actually using it? Well, there are two really exciting things going on at the moment. There's the sketchnoting revolution in the classroom with pupils and there's also the sketchnoting revolution for teachers and school improvement.

Let's have a look at pupils first. There are hundreds of examples of where sketchnoting made a marked difference but none more marked than that of Brodie S. Brodie is a student diagnosed with dysgraphia, who was introduced to sketchnoting by Sherrill Knezel an elementary art teacher in Milwaukee. The effect is dramatic. His notes at the beginning of the process were messy and difficult to read, but within a year his notes were well organised, intelligible and showed real promise. And this was just from the permission to include simple drawings and concept maps as part of his note-taking process (see Figure 1 & 2 below). Not only is his understanding now clear to the teacher but also to himself. He now has the option to go back and revise from his own notes and retrieve information he has deeply processed to create the sketchnotes in the first place.

What about sketchnotes for school improvement? Again there are so many examples we could show you of schools and school improvement teams using sketchnoting to deepen engagement and understanding of a key message. We'd like to share with you the progress of Suffolk Borders Teaching Alliance, who emailed us to let us know how they had been using our sketchnotes in the NCTL National Professional Qualification for Middle Leaders training, getting them to think about school improvement in a very practical, hands on way (figure 3 below). Getting staff to engage with the latest educational research is a best practice model many headteachers would encourage, but how often do staff these days actually have the time to sit down and critically read a research paper, which unfortunately is often full of impenetrable academic language. Using sketchnotes to start that discussion is a manageable and accessible solution.

Another development we are seeing in the sketchnoting world which is hugely exciting is the way schools are using sketchnotes to succinctly describe their own improvement journey, in a way all audiences can truly engage with including parents and the wider community. Have a look at Chrissie Gemmell's excellent Reading Developments sketchnote (figure 4).

So, how do you get started on your own sketchnoting journey? The first thing to do is to have a go! Google 'sketchnotes', start doodling, reawaken your sketching muscles and remind yourself of the fun of drawing. The most important thing to remember as you start in your sketchnoting journey is that it is about "IDEAS not ART". You don't have to be a brilliant artist, you just have to be willing to have a go. Stickmen are more effective at getting your message across than spending hours recreating the Mona Lisa. If you want to really get stuck in and find out about simple, accessible strategies for use in both the classroom and for school improvement then contact us at enquiries@impact.wales for our groundbreaking 'Sketchnoting for Educators Workshop'. Our practical workshop gives you all the tools you'll need to go it alone for the first time, and a few more you never knew you needed!

So, what you are you waiting for, grab a pencil and get cracking with the most simple strategy to improve pupil outcomes we've seen for years!

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Figure 1 - Brodie S before sketchnoting

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Figure 2 - Brodie S After sketchnoting

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Figure 3 - Suffolk Borders Teaching Alliance - Middle Leader Training

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Figure 4 - Chrissie Gemmell - School Improvement, Reading


(1) Clark, James M., and Allan Paivio. "Dual coding theory and education." Educational psychology review 3.3 (1991): 149-210.

(2) Smith.M.A. (2014). The process of elaboration and implications for retrieval processes. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 76(5-B)(E) http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3669553/

A Little More About Us

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

Can you trust us? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Publishing...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

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