Like the majority of people, I’m a doodler, whether I’m chatting on the phone, writing my list of food shopping for the week or at a meeting at work, if I have a pen and paper in hand there will be doodles. Some of my doodles are just swirls and rough shapes and some have given me inspiration for other creative ideas which I have put into practice. I even follow Mr Doodle on Instagram as I find the art of doodling fascinating! (If you’ve not heard of him then check him out!)
When we think of doodles, they are normally made up of squiggles, they are rough drawings that are made absent-mindely. When I think back to school days, doodling was often seen as a bad thing in class, students are perceived as not paying attention if they are seen doodling. However, what if doodling wasn’t the distraction we all thought it to be but actually had real cognitive benefits that perhaps could aid concentration and memory?
The importance of doodling – aren’t they just squiggles?
The need to draw is hardwired into the human brain. From our first scribbles at infancy to industry; doodles to explain complex theories and equations from scientists and mathematicians. In fact, it could be argued that graphic images predates verbal communication, when we think of parietal art or cave drawings by our primitive ancestors. Doodling can help communicate meanings to our ideas by giving them visual representations. When we put pen to paper, we open up our hearts to ideas, insights and inspirations.
Diane Bleck, an idea catcher and co-founder of the Doodle Institute, has taken doodling a step further and is on a mission to unlock insights, inspiration and ideas for large and small companies and schools through doodles. Diane shows how doodles can be used as a tool for strategic thinking, brainstorming and business planning. It can also be used for health and healing to relieve stress.
How can we use doodles in the context of education and learning?
Bleck explains how doodles can be used for brainstorming and business planning, in the context of a lecture, doodles or sketches could be used for visual note-taking. Visual note-taking is a way to synthesize information; carve out the most important points and use images to convey the message simply and effectively. Studies show that note-taking enables recall and the synthesis of new information. Doodling can significantly increase the amount of retained information, according to a 2009 study. It says that even if doodling is not intentionally related to the listening task, more recall occurs. If you would like to know more about retrieval practice, check out Achieving Mastery – How Important is Practice in Learning?
Doodling put into practice
Instructional coaches, Shelley Paul and Jill Gough explored how ‘doodling while taking notes could improve memory and concept retention’  in class. Before approaching their academics about using the idea of doodling, Paul tested out this theory by sketching her notes from a 2 day conference; ‘it causes you to listen on a different level’ . By the end of the conference Paul found that her drawings had improved and she was able to remember the information that was communicated from the conference just by looking at her sketches. These experiences convinced Paul and Gough that ‘something powerful happens when auditory learning is transposed into images’. In fact, ‘when ideas and related concepts can be encapsulated in an image, the brain remembers the information associated with that image’ and therefore aids memory and learning.
Doodle or not to doodle? There’s no wrong way!
We know as educators and from our experiences that we all learn in very different ways, some people are more focused when they are being creative. Doodling may help unleash our creative sides when learning and help us to retain new information and keep us focused. Who’s to say it’s a bad thing if it works? Doodling worked for children’s author; Dave Pilkey!
Like all new skills, or even old ones which we haven’t used for a while, we don’t know how effective they will be until we put them into practice – maybe this is something you could trial out with your students or yourselves the next time you attend a conference! I do think doodling does need an image makeover as it can lead to really engaging and imaginative creativity, especially in education!
I’ll leave you with this amazing ‘doodle’ by RSA Animate of a talk ’Changing Education Paradigms’ given by Sir Ken Robinson – world-renowned education and creativity expert, which shows how ‘doodling’ really can aid concentration and memory.