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Will Doodling Help Students Learn Better?

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The post Does doodling make you smarter? summarizes a study that apparently shows that people doodling had a much higher recall of information they were listening to than those who were not doodling, perhaps because ” doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming.”

I try to talk as little as possible in front of the room, and certainly not for a lengthy period of time in one stretch. “Lecturing” for more than six or seven minutes is deadly, and I try to keep it under five (anything above that and I will repeatedly break for various activities like “think, pair, share”).

When I am talking, though, I’m generally pretty insistent on students looking at me. I’ll make exceptions for certain students with whom I’ve negotiated “deals” who tell me that they can pay attention to me while drawing/doodling. Of course, those deals are off if students need to see something on the overhead projector.

I’ve generally been pretty resistant to these kinds of deals because I’ve thought it was important for students to give me their undivided attention during the limited periods when I speak. This study has me wondering now if it’s really that important. Of course, there’s much more to learning than just “recall.”

What do you think and do?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

6 Comments

  1. I used to doodle all through high school and university because I found it was a controlled distraction and prevented me from getting distracted by other things. I never reflected on it too much, but I felt like I let my subconscious mind focus on doodling and it frees my conscious mind to listen. My doodles were not always unrelated to class either–in math I would doodle math symbols, in art history, I copied pictures from the book, etc…
    It definitely drove some teachers nuts.

  2. From what I’ve learned, and what has worked in my former elementary classrooms, doodling about what students are learning is really powerful. I have used Corbett Harrison’s (www.writingfix.com) “Mr Stick” to have students go back into notes and revisit important information. (http://writingfix.com/classroom_tools/journals.htm#MrStick)
    Since we know that there is no comprehension without being able to picture what we are learning, it is important for us to “doodle” and use visuals as much as possible as we are teaching. Color is also important– if you take notes in color and with quick sketches, you are more likely to remember the content. I don’t know how I feel about having them drawing while I am teaching– maybe older students can handle that… I’m not sure about the average elementary student. Maybe we can give them time to draw quick sketches related to the content during “think pair share”…. great ideas to think about….

  3. It’s great to know that there is research out there on this and that you are considering the research. I never really took issue with students doodling in class, because I abstract doodle constantly, through lectures, PD, classes, staff meetings, etc. The paper I bring with me may contain 5 sentences of notes, but it is always filled with a page full of abstract doodles. Thanks for the validation that I’m not just being rude. I always felt like it helped me concentrate more and retain information, but I always had a guilty feeling about it being unprofessional.

  4. Maybe we don’t have to think of doodling as bad, what if we turned it into a sort of backchannel? We could encourage kids to doodle about our mini-lessons and then share out what they drew and have them explain how their drawings helped them understand the information.

    Great post!

  5. As a teacher, I’ve never cared whether a student is doodling or not, as long as it is not disruptive to others. I do ask for eyes when I make important announcements, but during lectures, I require only respectful quiet. However, as a parent of a child who has autism, I know how conterproductive it is to force eye to eye attention. In fact, looking at the teacher when s/he is talking almost assures you that my son is NOT listening. It is important to remember to respect all learning differences. You would never know my son has autism since his cognitive functioning is above average and he is a generally easy going kid. For some, doodling during lectures is a way to remain focused on what is being taught, and I’d be very careful in my assumptions that eye gaze equals attention.

  6. Thanks for all the great feedback!

    Larry

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