Brain Science + Share + #Sketchnotes=1-2-3 Win for Students!

So This Is Christmas

A favorite time of year for me is most definitely Christmas. I freaking love it. The decorating, the shopping for others, secret Santa fun, giving back to the community, the family and friend get-togethers are just a few of the reasons I love this time of year. As of last year, a new reason for absolutely loving December is the Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit put on by author and speaker, Matt Miller (Twitter handle @jmattmiller) . In it’s debut last year, #DitchSummit was a huge success with a stellar cast of educators leading us through all types of PD done at home, in your jammy pants, with a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate (well, that’s how I did it). Much to the delight of educators everywhere, it’s back for this year too, and it has blown my mind in its first three days already. The following post is a direct result of day 3 of #DitchSummit and a collaborative sharing of ideas on Twitter with it’s guest, Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal. Hold on tight. An ah-may-zing idea for classrooms and students everywhere has been born.

So who is Pooja K. Agarwal? To save time, and since I linked to it above anyway, here’s how Matt introduces her on her Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit page:

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. is an expert in the field of cognitive science. She has conducted learning and memory research in a variety of classroom settings for more than 10 years. Passionate about evidence-based education, Pooja has extensive teaching experience in K-12 and higher education, as well as expertise in education policy at state and national levels. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, teaching psychological science to exceptional undergraduate musicians.

And What Have You Done

Matt and Pooja have a wonderful discussion on retrieval practice during their session, and then they veered off the beaten path for a few minutes, discussing ways to bring retrieval practice together with dual coding into the classroom.  My brain started connecting the dots as I got ready for church, listening to the two of them entertain thoughts of ways to bring retrieval practice into the classroom. I tried to interrupt them a few times to interject a thought or ask a question, but they were oblivious.

Now, I am not going to go deeply into the brain science here, but I will hit the highlights and provide links and resources as well to help you wrap your brain around this idea you can take into your classrooms after break, or tomorrow, if you are still in session for a few days. There are three steps or stages to this, hitting three different brain`based, research proven strategies that help students learn.

Another Year Over

Step One-Retrieval Practice with a Brain Dump:

According to Pooja’s website, “Retrieval practice” is a learning strategy where we focus on getting information out. Through the act of retrieval, or calling information to mind, our memory for that information is strengthened and forgetting is less likely to occur. Retrieval practice is a powerful tool for improving learning without more technology, money, or class time. To that I will add that I plan to use it in class, so it will require a tiny bit of class time. One of the methods Pooja talked about with Matt during the Digital Summit interview was my new favorite friend, the Brain Dump.  You can structure it a bit when using it in class, but usually with my high school students, I structure only with the time I give them and not a content constraint, though it is all effective.  To use a time constraint, give students only a couple minutes or so of class time, either to begin the class or end it, to dump onto paper everything they can remember from class that day or from the previous day, days, or week.

And a New One Just Begun

Pooja and Matt then discussed that there can be more benefits if you add the dual coding component, which is the strategy that combines pictures or an image with text. This method gives our brains two ways to learn and remember something. The picture can be the container of a graphic organizer, a doodle that helps students remember the vocabulary word or concept, or a clip art that students label or caption with information. I created templates recently with Google Drawings that marry the graphic organizer idea with #sketchnotes, a current favorite of a lot of us educators out there on Twitter. That post was a direct result of my listening to podcast 81 of Jennifer Gonzales’s Cult of Pedagogy. Those templates and the resources can be found on that post, The Cranky Student Makeover: Graphic Organizer + Sketchnotes=This Doesn’t Suck.

Without further ado, here’s the idea that was born today.

And So This is Christmas

Brain Dump Mondays:

Every Monday, have your students, either at the beginning of the class (to recall from the previous Friday or week) take 1-5 minutes to write down EVERYTHING they can remember about the content you covered, whatever that is. They are to use their own paper and the method of their choosing. This is for them, remember, so try to be hands off on HOW and just encourage and prompt them to DO it. That’s it. Have them either turn it in to you for safekeeping (not evaluating or grading) or put it away in their folder, binder, or whatever. There. You are now a facilitator of Retrieval Practice. But wait! There’s more!

I Hope You Have Fun

Feedback Wednesdays:

To be more effective for student learning, there needs to be a feedback component with the Retrieval Practice. Pooja and Matt discussed that a bit, and I really liked the idea of using peers for that feedback. Pooja suggested having students exchange their Brain Dump papers in a Think/Pair/Share activity. Students will review what their peer remembered from the lesson or week, discuss with each other what they had in common or what they missed, and bam! Now you have that very important feedback piece. Again, since I only have students for fifty minutes daily, I will be limiting the time we spend here. You know your classrooms and students, so tailor this to fit your needs as well.

The Near and the Dear One

#Sketchnotes Fridays:

The final strategy that is really a must in my teaching now is #sketchnoting. (I learned of this through Twitter, so while I have tried, I just cannot write it without the hashtag. You will have to bear with me on that.)  Please spend the time teaching your students the how and why on dual coding and #sketchnoting before you begin this part. I strongly suggest you give them the how and why on all three, well, four strategies as you roll them out. For a few minutes in class either at the beginning of the hour or toward the end, I will have students take their Brain Dump pages that have been refined through the Think/Pair/Share process, and now create #sketchnotes from that information.  Students who want to completely do their #sketchnotes from scratch should be given blank printer paper and allowed to do so. The students who are uncomfortable with that, at least when you begin this, can use the graphic organizer #sketchnotes hybrid that I created for my cranky students. Instruct the class to now organize their Brain Dump notes into a more fluid and visual way of thinking with containers, sketches, and color. This may need a few minutes longer than the other two, but it could be finished at home as well. Since it is their #sketchnotes, for their own benefit, it again should be low or no stakes. Encourage the fun here, maybe with music or to work with partners, small groups, whatever your students need to get the most out of creating their #sketchnotes.

The Old and the Young

The Secret Weapon

Those of you who did not follow my conversations with Pooja on Twitter as I bounced my ideas off of her may be wondering why I didn’t do all of this in one class period. Well, that, my friends, is because of the other brain based strategy called Spaced Practice. I first learned of all of this through an earlier Cult of Pedagogy podcast,  58: Six Powerful Learning Strategies You MUST Share with Studentswhere Jennifer Gonzales had The Learning Scientists on as guests, and they briefly discussed 6 strategies that educators can use in class, or at the very least, teach their students how to use on their own. With Spaced Practice, it benefits students to create small spaces (a few days) to recall and study information, and by doing a little bit over time, so it adds up. By separating the activities over the course of the week, we are able to combine Retrieval Practice (with the all important feedback component), Dual Coding through #sketchnotes, and Spaced Practice. That, my friends, is a 1-2-3 win for our students.

Section headings are the first lines of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon, Yoko Ono but in my head I hear the version sung by Tommy Shaw on the We Wish You a Metal Xmas & a Headbanging New Year CD.


Pooja’s website 

The Learning Scientists

Cult of Pedagogy (Jennifer Gonzales)

Cranky Student Makeover blog post (#sketchnotes plus graphic organizers)

One thought on “Brain Science + Share + #Sketchnotes=1-2-3 Win for Students!

  1. I love using #SketchNotes- it really helps me see where my kids are zoning in on & if I need to address additional learning techniques so that they come away with the whole picture.

    I’m going to work on drawing these principles & techniques out in my “tiny classroom” (since I homeschool my 2 kids)! I’ll have to adapt some things, but I love the peer review concept. It will totally empower especially my daughter to be proud in her learning (particularly when she will end up remembering things that her big brother doesn’t!).

    Liked by 1 person

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