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.

Why do I Study History?

History provides me with a context of the world. It’s comforting yet disturbing as the world is more than today yet greater than myself.

I study history to appreciate the opportunities and advancements we have in the present.

I study history because it promotes critical thinking.

I study history to understand the human race, and why/how people act/think the way they do.

I study history because it helps me to evaluate (IB,IB,IB) the world’s conditions.

I study history becuase the eternal knowledge that it represents allows me to almost time time travel and teleport. It inspires me to leave my own eternal mark.

This year I am working with seniors in high school. I feel lucky that I get to be part of what is a very exciting year for them. There are countless things for these students to anticipate such as graduation, university, and world exams. I hope to be an adult that can support them as they begin their transition into their post secondary life. In addition, I hope that I can be a teacher that can keep them focused, grounded, and living in the present so their high school experience culminates in a way that is memorable and meaninful for them–not experienced in a blur.

My fear is, along with all of the excitement that comes with being a senior in high school, there is also lots of stress, anxiety, and potential burnout. Students can fall victim to going through the motions of school as they wait for the year to finish out. The hard work, critical thinking, and love for learning could be put aside as their next chapter is about to begin.

In an effort to set the tone for the year and hopefully encourage students to reflect and draw focus on the year ahead of them, I asked them the most of basics questions for a history teacher. I asked them, Why are you here? Why do you choose to study history?” The class I teach, SL/HL IB History is an elective for these students. There are other classes out there for them to select from. However, for one reason or another, I have 40 individuals that selected this class. I hoped that by helping students reflect on why history class is meaningful to them I would help to ground them on all the learning that is still to come this year and also rekindle that study of history spark.

In addition to wanting them to be grounded and focused on this year, I also wanted their voice to be heard. Last year when they were first year DP students they did not necessarily get the chance to answer this question. Instead, as the teacher I made the call to start the year off by using a piece by Peter Stearns entitled Why Study History to answer this all important question. While I think that there are many excellent ideas in this piece, the more I reflected on it, the more I became upset that I stole my students opportunity to create this idea for themselves. A year later I tried to redeem myself by giving them the voice.

The responses that I got blew me away. Their responses helped me see that there are many student who are passionate about history and that they find value in the study of history for a wide variety of reasons. Also, by soliciting their response to this question it can help me create a path for the year that can incorporate my students ideas on the importance of history by relating back to the themes and ideas they think are key. Yes, there may be off days and moments of high-stress and unknown for my students, but overall I am so amazed by the insightfulness that my students bring to their learning. It will be my job to keep this level of engagement up all year especially when the future, via their lens, could seem more important than the present. Challenge accepted.