Don’t Forget the Power of a Drawing

This year was my first in my new school. While the experience has been rewarding for myself and my family, there is one aspect of my new job that has been frustrating: subpar whiteboards! The whiteboards in my new classroom are difficult to write on and even more challenging to clean – resulting in images that are hard to see and obscured by stains and smudges. 

But, this is 2023, so a malfunctioning whiteboard is no biggie, right? In this high-tech era, tools like ChatGPT, Google Classroom, Google Docs, Zoom, and digital projectors have made whiteboards seem a little tired and obsolete. And, for the most part, I’ve been able to use my projector to present all sorts of audio and visual material, like YouTube videos, images, gifs, writing examples, and animations, to support student learning. 

Not so fast!

This week I was working one-on-one with some ELL students and, despite my vast arsenal of technology, I found myself reaching backwards in time – for a paper and a pencil – to help my students understand the abstract concepts that I was trying to explain. 

Yeah, a pencil and paper. What was next, a cuneiform stylus and a clay tablet? 

I was trying to help my students understand the impact of early humans shifting from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the more stationary life of a farmer. This explanation would have required LOTS of words: oodles of specialized historiographic terms and other academic vocabulary (in English) that would have left my students a little dizzy. And sure, maybe it would have been better to find a YouTube video that would have done the trick. But, who has the time to scour through countless videos, curating the results to ensure the content is age appropriate and actually on topic. At that moment, I needed something quick and simple. 

In past schools, I was able to use my whiteboards to create mind maps, charts, timelines, and other visuals to convey meaning to students. But, because of the issues I was having in my new classroom, I had (over the course of this year) fallen out of the habit of supplementing classroom discussions/presentations with visuals. I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until April that I realized the impact of this change in my teaching practice. 

Worst of all, because I was using less drawing in my instruction, I was not challenging my students to demonstrate their understanding with drawings. 

And this is not a good thing.

According to the Edutopia article The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2022 by Youki Terada and Stephen Merrill, purposeful doodles can help students organize and connect ideas:  “Organizational drawings that link concepts with arrows, annotations, and other relational markings give students a clearer sense of the big picture, allow them to visualize how ideas are connected, and provide a method for spotting obvious gaps in their understanding.”

So, when I was working one-on-one with some ELL students this week, and I struggled to find an effective way to explain an abstract concept, it took me much longer than usual to turn to a drawing for help. But, as soon as I grabbed a pencil and paper and began to sketch out the ideas, I had one of those “Duh!” moments. 

As educators, we possess a wide array of tools in our arsenal to support our students on their learning journeys. However, with the constant influx of new and exciting tools, and occasional setbacks like malfunctioning whiteboards, it’s easy to misplace or forget some of the powerful strategies we’ve acquired. That’s why it’s crucial to intentionally take the time to reflect on our practice, stay connected with our colleagues, and prioritize our own mental and physical well-being. By doing so, we can stay sharp, continuously acquiring new tools while also maintaining and enhancing our existing skills and strategies. It’s through this intentional effort that we can ensure we are at our best for our students’ benefit.

Time for this post to draw to a close. 

Did you see what I did there?! Pretty quick on the draw, right? Huh?

I’ll see myself out…

Ed X!


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