The Doodle

We are solidly into the school year. I am working with seniors this year which means that we are solidly into the rhythm of DP 2. In history that means that we are analyzing text, comparing and contrasting, evaluating sources, and looking for historical process. I am proud of my students as they develop their skills as young historians. However, the other day I stepped back and reflected on what we had been doing so far in class. While the rigor was high, as was the engagement, I realized that I had very much been teaching to the test. We were practicing skills they would apply on their world exams, over and over and over again. It began to feel like we were in a rut.

It was time for a mix up. How could I have students engage with history and thinking at the high level that I wanted them to but change the way I had them unpack their thinking? Then it came to me — doodling. Why not challenge students to doodle their interpretations of history. I felt like it was a good idea but still wanted to know if doodling would engage my students, engage  their brains, and promote thinking in a different way. With a quick search on Google I was overwhelmed with people advocating the power of the doodle. In particular, the Ted Talk by Sunni Brown had me sold.

My first attempt with using the doodle to decode a historical text came when we examined the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence. Students were given the text and a blank piece of paper. Their task was to doodle their understanding of what Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh stood for. I read the text and they doodled.

At first they seem unsure but by the second paragraph I saw pencils flying. By the third paragraph of the text I saw multiple colors being used to represent different ideas and emotions. When we were just half way through the text students were flipping to the backside of their paper. Their construction of understanding was messy and scribbled but individualized and specific. After the text students were given time to catch up with their thoughts and still the doodling was rampant.

Next students paired up to share their understanding of Ho’s ideas and had to use their doodles to support their ideas. As I moved around listening to conversations I was amazed by not only the ideas but how they connected their doodles to their ideas. Some students took they doodles very literally while some were more metaphorical. After the sharing in pairs I facilitated a conversation around the driving question of the day of Ho’s ideologies. The level of conversation was high as was the level of understanding.

I do not know if it was the doodle that supported their understanding or if it was something else. However, as I watched them doodle their understanding I could see them thinking. Students would pause, think, then attack their papers with doodles. I think that the doodling pushed students to think about their thinking and understanding in a way they are not used to. They rose to the challenge and because they had to think more about what they were doing I believe they were more aware of their thinking. While students will not be doodling on their world exams in history I hope that they can still think like a doodler as they apply other skills.

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