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.

TOK meets Visible Thinking

The IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay. Like many assignments students are tasked with in their high school careers, the TOK essay is a chance for them to demonstrate their critical thinking, analytical writing, and communication skills. In 1600 words students this year will tackle ideas and prompts such as

“In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss the statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

“Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.

“In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity.” Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

When I initially saw these prompts I thought to myself, wow! The prompts students are asked to write on are hefty. It is my first year teaching TOK and maybe I am naive to it all, but I am still amazed at what students are asked to think about. As a teacher and a learner myself, I had to take some time to unpack these questions, make meaning, and create understanding. I wanted to really think about each of the prompts and what they were asking. By unpacking the prompts myself, I hoped that I could help to support my students as they selected the prescribed title of their choosing.

Due to time constraints and holidays at the school where I am, my students did not have the luxury that I did to slowly pick apart the TOK essay prompts. In order to help them think about about what prompt they would want to select for their essay , I utilized a Harvard Project Zero Visible Thinking routine. Specifically, I used the See-Think-Wonder routine. According to the project Zero website, See-Think-Wonder “encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.”  For me this was perfect. I wanted students to unpack these questions while interpreting and wondering so as to set their stage for both inquiry and for essay success.  

Often times Visible Thinking routines are associated with elementary or middle school learners. I am one that would strongly advocate the use of these routines at the high school level. As my students used this Visible Thinking routine, they discovered and created very complex ideas and connections that will aid them in their selection of a TOK prompt, in completing an outline, and hopefully in the writing of their essay.

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Overall I was very happy with how this Visible Thinking Routine allowed my student to make meaning of the prompts in a simple, clear, and uncomplicated way. With the structure of the routine to keep them on track students were able to work together collaboratively to unpack ideas, support each other, and even challenge one another in their understanding of the prompts. What is also great, is that rather than having these ideas be vocalized and then forgotten as they head to their next class, students produced visual representations of their thinking that they could refer back to later as they jumped into essay writing.

Why do I think that this exercise was relevant to my students on a greater level? These are all students that intending to go to university next year. They will undoubtedly be given questions and tasks that they find confusing or overwhelming. I would like to think that this exercise could be relevant to them because now they have been given a simple and straightforward tool to approach and unpack complex tasks. Instead of reacting to challenging assignments in a negative way, these students have three clear questions they can ask to provide clarity and make sense of their own thinking. What do I see? What do I think? What do I wonder? Three short questions that can provide such depth and understanding.