Looking for a flexible, online teaching idea that reinforces students’ reading, writing, and discussion skills? Check out these tips for getting started with digital annotation.
My co-editor Dr. Emily Hodge and I are thrilled to announce the publication of the 2020 issue of New Jersey English Journal: “What’s Next? Embarking Upon a New Decade of English Language Arts.”
“This issue addresses a variety of topics, including Young Adult literature, social justice, artificial intelligence, climate change, and mindfulness. We are proud to share work from writers across the country, including pieces by first-time authors, graduate students, and early-career teachers” (Editors’ Note). [ . . . ]
Ink & Ideas is an indispensable guide for any teacher looking to introduce or enrich sketchnoting (aka visual notetaking) in their classroom. Read the full review for several examples of how McGregor uses visual notetaking to enhance “engagement, comprehension, and thinking” across P-16 classrooms and subject areas.
Here’s an quick excerpt from my review posted on Twitter:
To learn more about my experience teaching sketchnoting and to access my favorite instructional resources for visual notetaking, check out the following posts:
- “Sketchnotes: An Educator’s Adventure in Visual Notetaking”
- “Students Sketchnote Classic Kafka and Contemporary Black Mirror”
Be sure to follow the author on Twitter @TannyMcG for regular doses of sketchnote inspiration!
Congratulations to Tanny McGregor on such an important achievement!
Thank you to English Journal for allowing free access to my article.
And special thanks to “Books-in-Action” column editor Nicole Sieben for editorial support throughout the publication process.
I am happy to report that their sketchnoting is being featured on the Sketchnote Army website, an international hub for the sketchnoting community.
Special congrats to Kendall S. and Emily B., whose notes were chosen by sketchnote extraordinaire Mike Rohde to be highlighted in their blog post. Head over to the Sketchnote Army website to read the featured post. You can also read more about my journey as a sketchnoting educator.
Join the Sketchnote Army
Experienced and amateur sketchnoters alike will find ample resources to choose among on their site, including their blog, newsletter, podcast, and Slack channel. They also organize annual festivities for January’s World Sketchnote Day!
Special thanks to Mike Rohde and Sketchnote Army for sharing our work!
My high school students all wrote beautiful poems, and they were especially proud to see a classmate’s entry selected as a winner. For more information about how students crafted their poems, see this post.
Brianne’s powerful and timely poem (pictured below) reads, “to be in a School is to survive algebra, social studies, and gun violence.”
The NYTimes also published the following author’s note about the inspiration for her poem:
As a tribute to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting tragedy, my poem is 14 words to symbolize the day that innocent students, sons, daughters, teachers, and friends lost their lives and loved ones on February 14th, 2018.
Congrats to Brianne on behalf of her teachers and classmates!
To introduce the task, I first shared Austin Kleon’s “How to Make A Newspaper Blackout Poem” video, and then shared the New York Times contest website and rules. Lastly, we searched for inspiration on Twitter, looking up the hashtags #newspaperblackout and #blackoutpoetry and finding countless student examples. For many students, looking at mentor texts generated some healthy, competitive energy.
The activity fit perfectly into our modern and postmodern fiction course— students noticed the “fragmented” nature of the found poetry exercise, and also commented on the modern feel of their short but powerful poems. I also timed our poetry writing day to coincide with state testing, so the exercise itself brought a welcome change of pace.
Here’s an example of a poem we read for inspiration:
When all three of my classes had completed their poems (and submitted photographs of their work to the New York Times contest), one class suggested that we create a hallway display. That class worked together to first mount the poems against white paper, and then arrange them on a large bulletin board in a high-traffic hallway.
Here are some fantastic student examples (shared with permission):
How did you celebrate April’s National Poetry Month? It’s not too late to get your students involved in this contest! All entries must be received by Thursday, May 9.
In the piece, we describe our chance meeting on Twitter that inspired a collaborative learning experience between our high school and higher education classrooms. We detail our use of KAHOOT! as a teaching tool to review MLA format and academic integrity, reflecting on the value of play and games in the classroom. Additionally, we discuss the benefits of collaboration across grade levels and institutions, sharing opportunities to facilitate such collaboration through professional organizations and virtual networks.
The spring issue of JoLLE also includes podcast interviews with all of the issue’s authors. In our podcast, we discuss topics such as the role of technology in the classroom, the value of games and play, and professional uses of social media.
We really enjoyed the process of working together—first by connecting our classrooms, and later as collaborative writers of this piece—and we hope that our authentic joy comes through in the podcast and the article itself.
Zucker first introduced students to sketchnoting by using excerpts from Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook, a YouTube video of Rohde’s “Sketchnote Mini-Workshop” (that allowed students to draw along with Rohde), and McGregor’s Ink & Ideas, a sketchnoting book for educators.
*SPOILER ALERT* Students’ sketchnotes contain plot spoilers.
Sketchnoting The Metamorphosis
Zucker suspected that Kafka’s highly descriptive and visual text—in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, famously transforms into an insect—would lend itself to beginner sketchnoting. Though Kafka himself did not want readers to draw the insect, even Nabakov ignored Kafka’s wishes, doodling a rendition of the bug in his personal teaching copy of The Metamorphosis.
After showing students several ways to structure sketchnotes from The Sketchnote Handbook (e.g., modular, vertical, radial), Zucker suggested that students organize their notes for The Metamorphosis in three sections to match Kafka’s three-part structure for the novella. For a more detailed post about Zucker’s introduction to sketchnotes, see here.
Students were given the option to complete their work digitally or on paper. About two-thirds of her students created sketchnotes digitally, while about one-third opted to take notes on paper.
Depicting Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch
When the class viewed Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, students were instructed to take notes while viewing the film; though visual notes were not required, many students elected to take sketchnotes. This might be due to the story structure itself—a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative path determined by the viewer’s decisions.
Here’s a pair of sketchnotes that depicts all of the narrative paths in Bandersnatch. [Note: Major spoilers ahead!]
World Sketchnote Day “Daily Doodle” Activity
To celebrate World Sketchnote Day, which coincided with this series of assignments, Zucker’s students did a variation of the Sketchnote Army’s “daily doodle” activity, in which participants spend one minute sketching the word of the day on a post-it note—anyone interested can participate on the Sketchnote Army Slack Channel.
In Zucker’s class, students had one minute to depict a topic (related to Bandersnatch) on a post-it note: technology, mirror, or adventure.
Since completing these tasks, several students have opted to continue taking visual notes in Zucker’s English class.
See the slideshow below for examples of these talented high school students’ Metamorphosis sketchnotes!
Are you a teacher using visual notetaking in your classroom? Comment below with your feedback and ideas!
Lastly, see below for Daisy L.’s (11th grade) Metamorphosis sketchnotes drawn in OneNote. Scroll down (or zoom out) to view them in full.
Here’s some student pieces highlighted in the article. Click the stories themselves to see the full compositions published on the Six-Word Memoirs site:
Her students expressed positivity (“Rainy day or blue skies, smile”) and passion (“She uses a brush to dream”). They told of the importance of standing up for who you are (“Don’t let stereotypes define your character”) and not caring what people think (“Be silly, dance confidently, think later”). They shared stories of both their values (“Brother, Mother, Dad. Family Comes First”) and their backgrounds (“One parent. One Child. One story”, “two coasts, six houses, thousand stories”). Finally, one student summed up how it really feels to be at this stage in life: “Highschool Student — Confused, But Having Fun.” [ . . . ]
Six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.
At the start of every school year, I look for a fun way for students to introduce themselves to each other and to me. Last year, I asked students to craft visual autobiographies on Padlet. This year, since I’m teaching a course for 11th and 12th graders on Modern Fiction and Nonfiction, I also wanted a quick activity to get my students writing their own modern stories. Enter the Six-Word Memoir! (Just in time for the National Day on Writing! #WhyIWrite)
An invitation originated by Smith Magazine, everyone from NPR to Oprah has invited writers to pen their own stories in exactly six words. This activity turned out to be an easy way to get students back into writing mode after the summer break. As a bonus, the legend of Hemingway’s six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) was a perfect way to begin a conversation about modern writers.
I asked students to introduce themselves to the class in six words. “It doesn’t have to capture your life story,” I reassured them. “It just needs to reveal something about who you are.”
They got right to work. They wrote at different paces, so I encouraged students who finished early to write additional stories, while allowing more time for those who needed it.
Towards the end of the shortened, first day class period, we had barely enough time for each student to say their name and read their six-word story aloud.
The next day, I projected my own six-word memoir that I had published on the Six-Word Memoirs website.
I joked that the open-source image I paired with my story didn’t exactly look like me.
Then, I talked about my challenges as a writer and enlisted their assistance in revision. I wanted to capture a tension between being content in the present and itching to make progress, I explained. We played around with my verb choice. (We were already talking about diction and copyright on the second day of school!)
All-in-all, six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.
I gave them a chance to revise their stories, talking with a partner about what they were trying to accomplish through language. Some students asked to draft new stories, which I happily allowed.
After writing their stories, students enjoyed pairing them with images and posting them on the Six-Word Memoirs website. I later realized they could embed their stories into their first posts to welcome readers to their class blogs.
Here some examples of their six-word memoirs (posted with permission by eager volunteers):
A few students were interested in the website’s monthly writing contests, especially when I pointed out that with the right six words, they could boast that they’d won a national writing contest. I hope to announce the contest topic each month (October’s topic is “Secrets to Take to the Grave”) to encourage participation.
For a relatively low-maintenance writing assignment, the six word memoirs yielding great rewards. It helped us introduce ourselves to each other without having to share a recycled “fun fact” about ourselves. In just a few minutes, students were able to see themselves as writers and talk about our writing choices. And we were all able to have fun with a digital publishing without the pressure of a graded assignment.
I’ll leave you with several student examples. If you decide to try this out yourself (or in your classroom), feel free to comment with additional ones!
Special thanks to Lindsey Caruso for feedback on this blog post–especially for your suggestions for the conclusion.
In the article, Hicks reflects on the evolution of digital writing instruction and highlights five educators’ innovative practices. Hicks describes his purpose as follows:
Reflective digital writing educators themselves, DLC members should have a lot to say about Hicks’ suggestions for our next ten years of work. October 20 is NCTE’s National Day on Writing, so October is the perfect time to reflect on our digital writing instruction.
**Plus, Troy Hicks will be visiting Drew University on October 25 as the featured speaker to kickoff the #DrewTEACH Lecture Series.**
This is why I’m inviting DLC members (and anyone else interested in technology and/or the teaching of writing) to write about writing with me by reading Hicks’ article and joining the ongoing intratextual conversation (via Hypothes.is).
Using Hypothes.is for Social Annotation [ . . . ]
How I Got Involved
Scrolling through social media, I was intrigued by a playful invitation that teased the possibility of a transmedia, collaborative story.
“Come. Join us,” the invitation stated.
“Take a chance. We’ll be right there with you. Together, we hope to create something magical.”
The sign-up sheet made the following, modest offer:
“We’re hoping you will be open to working on creating one digital piece of art or story. We will then stitch our stories together into an interactive Alchemy Lab.”
I later learned that NetNarr referenced Networked Narratives, a co-located class taught by Alan Levine at Kean University and Dr. Mia Zamora at the University of Bergen, Norway. (Learn more about the structure, here.)
A colleague had suggested I try out Adobe Muse to create digital animations, and I figured that a CLMOOC invitation was the perfect time to “tinker, fail, and explore,” to borrow a phrase from Renee Hobbs.
Enter the Alchemy Lab
My Contribution to the Lab
In case you can’t guess from the image above, my contribution to the lab is a lock (located on the bottom shelf of the purple case at the center of the above photo). The lock graphic itself — and all of the others in the lab — were drawn by the talented Susan Watson and shared via a Google doc that asked contributors to first claim an image, and later drop in a link to their finished product.
Even though I was tempted by other images (the already-claimed neon green flask, especially) I chose the lock because I thought it would be a convenient method, conceptually, to move from one piece of the transmedia text to another.
Clicking on the lock in the Alchemy Lab links to a website I created using Adobe Muse. Taking a cue from the style of the original invitation, my goal was to make an animation that moved a key graphic towards the lock to open the next page of the lab. I was somewhat successful.
Media Jumping: Triumphs and Challenges
In the spirit of Connected Learning, here are my reflections on creating my piece of the Alchemy Lab.
✓ Win: The design of my site matches the look and feel of the original invitation to join the NetNarr media jumping experience.
X Fail: The original invitation did not really inform the look and feel of the finished Alchemy Lab.
✓ Win: I found a cool looking key image. After hours of trial and error with animations in Muse, I was able to move the key (down and to the right) to meet the lock.
X Fail: The key meets the lock perfectly on my Windows-based work computer. Unfortunately, it does not perfectly meet the key on my Mac, or on my mobile phone.
✓ Win: At first, I was unable to publish my Muse webpage on this WordPress site. After a few false starts, I was able to host my Muse website using Adobe’s free service, Adobe Business Catalyst.
X Fail: About one month after the Alchemy Lab was published, I received an email from Adobe Business Catalyst that it will be discontinued in March 26, 2020.
✓ Win: After a few days of research, and several emails with patient WP developers, I was able to migrate my site from Adobe Business Catalyst to this WordPress site, using the free, MWuse plugin. [Luckily, digital texts are especially conducive to revisions.]
[ . . . ]
Drawings were created on Surface tablets (using OneNote and Sketchpad), and the final composition was created with Padlet.
On Valentine’s Day, a day when emotions are heightened in high school, for better or worse, I trotted out an assignment that would invite students to have fun writing poetry. These were ninth graders—generally willing to play along when I call something fun even if they don’t think it is—but I did my best to present them with options they’d find inherently appealing. They even laughed politely when I joked that if they wanted, they could write their poem on colored paper and cut it out in a heart shape.
I introduced them to the epistle, a poem in the form of a letter. I’d like to think that they were as interested in my definition of the word as they were in the sound of the word itself. They first responded with giggles, but after some coaxing, joined me, unabashedly pronouncing “epistle” in chorus while I repeatedly pressed the speaker icon on Merriam Webster, my computer corroborating our pronunciation.
I went over some options for the “recipient” (audience) of their epistle, starting with the classic love poem. I reminded them that love poems aren’t always interesting to people outside of the relationship. Then, I shared several variations.
[ . . . ]
- A student taking digital notes with the stylus and touch screen (using the highlighter tool to emphasize key words)
- A student taking notes by hand in a spiral notebook
- A student typing notes using the keyboard
While some research worth sharing with students suggests that handwritten notes may be better for learning, I’ve noticed that now that they have the option to type, my students are less reluctant when I ask them to take notes, and even more likely to start taking notes on their own without my prompting.
I think my student’s pencil case (bottom right) says it all.
When educators talk about authentic writing, they are talking about assignments written for real audiences—not just for the teacher—that provide students with opportunities to make choices and write about ideas that matter to them. Ken Lindblom argued in a recent Writers Who Care blog post that good writing instruction offers opportunities for students to write in a variety of genres, invites students to write for real audiences and make meaningful choices, and incorporates feedback from multiple audiences throughout the writing process.
I’d like to reflect on a project from my tenth grade classes last year that challenged students to craft authentic writing by reaching out to experts and writing for real audiences.
When I learned that the school would be providing tablet computers to all students for the following school year, I wanted to encourage my students to consider the implications of such a significant change in their schooling. The school had distributed Windows Surface tablets to teachers a year ahead of the students, and through my experience using the tablet, I grew concerned that it was not designed for extended use, such as the sustained reading and typing that often occur in the English classroom. I launched an inquiry project, inviting students to “investigate how using a Surface tablet impacts health, formulate recommendations, and present an argument.”
Over a period of three weeks, students worked in small groups to investigate the question. Many groups reached out to experts for information, contacting clinicians such as local eye doctors and chiropractors for their recommendations, interviewing teachers to learn about their experiences using the tablet, and talking with students from nearby schools who were already using computers in the classroom. In their research, students encountered high level texts, such as scientific research studies and government publications, and culled facts and details to support their arguments. They even contacted vendors for price quotes on ergonomic furniture and computer accessories.
Choice in Designing the Final Product
I gave students the freedom to design their final products, encouraging them to select the genres and audiences that they deemed appropriate for their arguments. As a result, students crafted a wide range of texts: letters written to the Board of Education, original video PSA’s for the student body, fact sheets for teachers, and digital presentations designed for students, faculty, and administrators. Students raised concerns about posture-related strain on the neck and shoulders, referred to as “text neck” or “tech neck,” and many offered recommendations for ways to protect the eyes, wrists, arms and back from injury, including free suggestions such as stretches and posture tips, and purchases like computer accessories and flexible furniture.
After the presentations, we talked about how to use students’ findings to effect change. We selected volunteer representatives from each of the small groups across both classes to develop a master presentation for the administration, pulling the best information and resources from all of their classmates’ presentations together.
During the last week of school, the students invited the Superintendent, Principal, and Director of Technology into our class to view the final presentation. Three students volunteered to deliver the presentation, meeting ahead of time to go through a dry run in front of their classmates before the administrators arrived. They hoped to share the health risks associated with extended device use, and to convince the administrators to consider their recommendations for what they called “healthy device use.” Watching the students passionately present their argument to the administration in front of an audience of their peers, all of whom had contributed in some way to this final product, was a highlight of the school year.
Authentic Writing Yields Authentic Results
Regarding feedback on authentic writing, Lindblom argues that “the best kind of authentic writing results in something tangible that shows the writing was successful, such as a letter written in response, a change of policy, a series of good questions (from an in-person audience), and so on.” After the administrators viewed the presentation, they gave a variety of feedback, asking questions about the writing process itself, and offering their opinions on the recommendations. Following the extensive Q&A session, the Director of Technology promised to include some of the students’ findings in that summer’s mandatory student training. Immediately, the students’ efforts had resulted in a policy change that would impact the entire student body.
The students also recommended training for staff, so the Principal agreed to allot some time to these issues at an early faculty meeting. I enlisted the help of a physical education teacher and an athletic trainer in September to co-present the students’ findings to the faculty—I shared some key slides from the students’ presentation, and the athletic trainer led the staff in a short movement routine consisting of stretches that teachers could use in their classrooms with students. The Principal encouraged teachers to give students breaks from device use, pausing instruction to invite students to move out of their seats and stretch. To follow up the presentation, we shared a list of “healthy device use” tips and resources with the staff. Later that week, a faculty member informed me that she’d purchased computer stands for her colleagues.
In my own classroom, I continue to incorporate students’ suggestions. I’m more mindful of the time that students spend in their seats, so I create opportunities for students to get up and move around. I worried that the short movement routine might disrupt the flow of instruction, but that has not been a problem. I’m still working on the “20−20−20” rule for eye health: taking a break from the screen every twenty minutes and looking twenty feet away for twenty seconds. I’m hopeful that as students spend increasing amounts of time on devices, they must they remember to take breaks, to get up and stretch, and to be mindful of their posture.
This school year, I will continue to encourage students to engage in inquiry, pursuing the answers to questions that matter to them, reaching out to experts, and crafting their writing for audiences to effect change.
Special thanks to Julie Goldberg, John Wodnick, and my period 6 students for their feedback on an earlier version of this post.