Why I’m Doodling: Quickest of Case Studies

I’m a wee bit obsessed with Sunni Brown’s Doodle Revolution at the moment.

Visual notetaking, visual literacy, viz think and sketchnotes have been following me around for a few years now.  It started when the RSAAnimates first hit the scene: my first was Steven B. Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From,” with Sir Ken Robinson and Dan Pink close behind.

Around the same time, Austin Kleon’s work came to my attention and he was doing keen things and I started seeing more and more and I started giving it a try and I got . . . well . . . I got discouraged.

Worries about doing it wrong.  Worries about teaching it “right.”  Worries about . . . gah.  Everything.

Well, Kleon broke that worry in me with Show Your Work.  Warts and all, baby,  I’m putting it out there.  Transparency.  It matters of my students.  It matters to my parents. (I think.) It matters to my colleagues. (I hope.)

In the meantime, I’ve got Amy Burvall and Brad Ovenell-Carter mentoring me down these pathways of creativity, critical reflection, capturing process and drawing things all over the place.  (Big ups to Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson for being catalysts of best SXSWEdu lunch — ever.)

And now Sunni Brown’s Doodle Revolution has given me a how-to that speaks my language in that it is wide formatted, lays flat nicely, isn’t on my screen, and reminds me of Jack Hamm’s Cartooning the Head and Figure.  (Hamm’s book was the pipe-smoking gin-and-tonic drinking neighbor to the soda-pop swigging How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way from John Buscema and Stan Lee on my art table growing up.)

Brown’s book is great.  I want to write about it  — its design, its content, its intent — later.  For right now?  Why it matters to me today that I’ve taken up doodling with intent.

I’m teaching a 12 Brit Lit CPI course for the first time in eons.  1 semester, 80 minutes, every other day.  CPI stands for college prep intermediate, meaning it prepares you for post-secondary education and career, but not necessarily with a four-year bachelor’s program in mind.  And the Brit Lit?  Every senior takes Brit Lit.  Put these two factors together and a unique challenge presents itself.

A college/application essay is one of our common assessments for seniors.  I figured it as good a place to start as any, thinking that the sooner we begin this year, the more opportunity for revision and development, more time to writing workshop in class, less emphasis on getting reluctant work done at home.

I sat with notebook open to plan the start of this unit next week.

And then I just started writing and drawing and shading and making boxes and thickening the lines and found myself remembering an IDEO method of a POV want ad as empathy exercise, a segment I heard just this morning on NPR about Classify Advertising,  20140905_002746(2)

As I made notes about those ads, I got thinking about students sharing them . . . sorting them . . labeling . . . I drew a little volunteer “I’ll do it!” and that idea of applying a design thinking lens with both a method and a processing . . . well . ..  that got me wondering . . .


Perhaps a mini-design challenge is in order . . .

How might we (HMW) write something that matters and solves problems?


Ahh design thinking, my favorite of favorites right now — and for the foreseeable future, in particular Mary Cantwell and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation’s DEEPdt.

That got me drawing DEEP, apparently while broken out in hives.   And in thinking about discovery phase, asking, “When do we need effective writing?”  It made me wonder about contexts and audiences these seniors may be facing: colleges, scholarship committees, employers, recruiters, lawyers, judges . . . ahh . . .  judges.  What if we talked to some of these folks?  What if we interviewed these folks to find out what they each want to see in a piece of personal and purposeful writing?   Something there sparked Frankenstein.


What if Frankenstein served as the mentor text?  What if we looked at how Shelley wrote it to win a scary story contest, initially, but really published it to prove she could do it?  What if we looked at Walton as a narrator trying to inform his sister, entertain himself, and provide self-therapy?

What if I read it aloud to them, as I do Of Mice and Men to my ninth graders, providing them the option to read on their own in another room, so long as they are using the literacy strategies provided to demonstrate understanding?

And what if this work on writing and reading lead to students asking, “If Victor wanted to create something that matters, how might we do the same?”  And what if they did?

I doodled a pic of Victor’s face though I’m not sure if it is more gothic bio-alchemist or 1960s Kirby-an space deity.  I also doodled a trophy.  And then one with blood in it.

I’m used to planning on blank paper and writing in big, all-caps font with lines swirling this way and that.  Here’s the thing about doodling with intent: now I’m trying to create my own sense of order in the chaos, trying to make it make sense at a glance, trying to keep my thoughts as legible as my words.

And it seems to be working.


By the way, Brown’s book is also fantastic for the why, too.   though I’m already a convert so . . . . actually.. the front of the book . . . very clever and genius “index” double page spread of “how to use this book if you are . . . ” . . . ahh fun with verbal processors and the blogs they write 

— Dan Ryder

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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