Making Learning Visible

Making Learning Visible img_1752

One of the challenges I noted in my class is finding ways for students to capture their thinking in a way that is meaningful yet developmentally appropriate for them, while maintaining high expectations. Recent research has focused on the power of visual note taking or sketchnoting when students doodle and annotate to record knowledge and understanding of content. “It causes you to listen at a different level,” Gough  Visible doodling helps memories stick by Katrina Schwartz 2015

This is a strategy I was keen to try myself and used in a recent online learning course I was taking. I then incorporated it into my teaching as a way for learners –no matter what their English Language Level – to find success and share thinking.

Creative risk-taking: My Grade 2 students experimented with doodling as a way to keep focus and “capture thinking” while listening to stories, mathematics videos, presentations and podcasts. They recorded in their creative journals. Erasers were removed and students were asked to mark make only using black sharpie – to encourage them to take creative risks and free of the idea of “right” and “wrong” – a way of embracing mistakes as part of the learning process and a way of valuing all thinking.

The next step was to build on this visual note taking as a way of recording thinking and understanding from a science experiment about germs. The emphasis was not on following an imposed scientific structure (this is after all the beginning of G2) but as a way of recording their ideas or “hypotheses” and conclusions about the experiment without becoming too focused on the vocabulary,


The experiment – samples from toilets, unwashed hands on bread

Self-direction:  Children were given a few basic ideas of how they may use sketchnoting to record ideas and the sheet below was placed on their tables.


Sketchnotes Fundamentals


A large piece of paper with a photograph of the end result of the experiment was given to each of them. On the whiteboard we brainstormed basic vocabulary they may need and they and “think-pair-shared”  to agree on common understandings, such as what ‘mouldy’ meant.

Students liked the idea they were empowered to own the learning process. Initially the class were given 20 minutes to work on this. The classroom quickly fell silent as everyone was engrossed in showing their thinking.  They naturally drew conclusions, made connections and asked questions.


The class asked for more time to work on this and after forty five minutes proudly shared their thinking with each other. As I moved around the classroom I was able to support individual students.


System Thinking: This creative work required constant systems thinking. Figuring out ways to connect with an audience students built on their experience of navigating other systems, for example, the previous work on visual note taking and mindmapping, while learning how to create their system to show their own thinking.


Examples of students work

Collaboration: Students worked independently; however, mid-way through they conferenced with each other and gave each other feedback. This collaboration led to refining and extending ideas. The process of explaining their ideas to someone else clarified them and helped them move forward with the next steps.


Divergent thinking: As a culmination to this reflection they re-shared their learning. It was interesting to watch the different approaches students took. They mentioned the value of how “it showed what was happening in my brain.” They talked about flexible thinking. Many alluded to the freedom they felt without the constraints of a structured worksheet.

Many students reflected that at first they thought it would be more difficult but once they were engaged in expressing their thinking they were motivated and found it fun.

This is an idea I certainly would like to continue to use in my practise both as a teacher and with my students.


Student feedback


IB PYP G2 Elementary Teacher

9 Responses to “Making Learning Visible”

  1. Jon Banules says:

    Very interesting idea Anita.

    I see you used this sort of sketching and doodling note taking as a reflective tool/process with the students.

    I’m wondering if students could use it actually as a note taking activity as described in the Mindshift article linked above.

    Would you model yourself doodling first perhaps while watching a short video?

    I may try this on Friday, while watching a video or two with the kids about nutrition.

    Thanks for the inspiration (and can I borrow your sharpies?)

  2. anita mathur says:

    Thanks Jon. Before using it as a reflective tool we used it for note taking for videos and guest speakers. Yes. I’ve been trying to model it to students by doing it myself. It really helps me focus. I noticed Courtney using this when she is reading aloud to students. Absolutely you can borrow sharpies!

  3. Wow, I am utterly inspired. This would be good for beginners to show understanding of the unit of inquiry, too. I’m amazed at the level of understanding the students are showing and sharing and how you have empowered them to take ownership of their learning. I will have to convince my teams to try this out!!

  4. […] teacher learning about how the use of sketch noting can make student learning […]

  5. Anita! This is so cool! I envy some people’s ability to sketchnote and you seem to have a whole class who may be very good at it by now! Maybe they’d be interested in having some KG students for a lesson? I have a beginner EAL student who communicates fantastically through drawings so he’d probably love a lesson like this! I’m definitely gonna lead a lesson and use your post for inspiration! 🙂

  6. Niels Zwart says:

    A very interesting blog for me to read as I am using similar creative strategies in secondary (in another school). What struck me in the reflection is your comment about the freedom students felt without the constraints of a structured worksheet. So true. In mixed ability classes of all types I often see students struggling to comprehend a worksheet that seems dead easy to a teacher or even a peer. Just goes to show how different we all are and trying different strategies allows the students to learn about how they learn, and then develop their own techniques.

    • anita mathur says:

      Thanks for your comment Niels. My inquiry group is inquiring into open-ended creative strategies to support language learners. Would love to hear more about the creative strategies you are using with your students.

      • Niels Zwart says:

        Some of the creative strategies are based around breaking down and visualizing students work path and content. With literature for example, this involves helping students find ways of remembering/understanding concepts of a novel/article by using background information, characters, literary elements, etc often visualizing the learning and thinking. It can be done individually, pairs, groups using pen and paper to tech (i.e.mind map apps). My blogs go into details…The more creative and adventurous I get, the better the learning gets.

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