Drawing in class: Rachel Smith at TEDxUFM

Drawing in class: Rachel Smith at TEDxUFM


Translator: Carmen Costina
Reviewer: Denise RQ When I was in high school
I was a pretty good student and I took very good notes. My teachers really appreciated that. My notes looked a lot
like this most of the time. You look at these notes
and you say to yourself “This is great. This student is clearly paying attention
in my class.” That’s what it looks like. The trouble is that sometimes,
my notes looked a little more like this. And this was a little hard,
a little more problematic, because to the teachers
it looked like I was drawing in class, and so I would get a different reaction. But for me, it was just as easy to listen
closely to what the teacher was saying if I was drawing images
as it was if I was writing words. Sometimes, it was actually easier
for me to listen and pay attention if my hand was doing something, and it didn’t matter if the images
that were coming out had anything to do
with what I was hearing. It was just easier for me
to focus if I was drawing. But teachers would stand
in the front of the room and see me in the back of the room, because my last name started with an S
and so I was always in the back, and they would say,
“She’s drawing in class again.” And they’d make me stop and stand up in front of the class
and recite some exercises to induce me to pay attention
better next time. Maybe, after class, I’d have to stay
and clean off the blackboard and I’d always get the same lecture
which went something like this: “Rachel, you’re such a good student, but if you don’t pay attention,
you’re not going to do well.” Guess what I do for a living now? Any guesses? 25 years later, it turns out that what I do
for a living is pay attention. I get up in front of a group
and the group talks, and while they’re doing that,
I pay attention. I pay attention totally, and completely,
and with everything that I am. While I’m paying attention
to what the group is saying, I take notes. Those notes look something like this. This is called graphic recording. I use huge sheets of paper
on the wall, I use big markers, I listen to the group’s conversation
and I record it, using words and images. Sometimes there are more words
and sometimes there are more images, but usually the notes come out
looking something like this. This helps the group in several ways: It lets them see what they’re doing,
it lets them see their work in a way that’s not normally possible
in a meeting or a conversation. It lets them see the big picture together. They can make connections
between pieces of information that come up at different times
in the meeting. They can follow the thread
of a conversation through a multi-day meeting because it’s all around them
on the walls, all the time. It really helps the group to see
what they’re accomplishing as they do it, and that’s my contribution. I make the group’s work visible. I also use visual note-taking
to take my own personal notes, when I’m listening to speeches,
or lectures, or meetings, what have you. A couple of things are different
than when I was in high school. I’m using different tools,
so my notes look a little different. I draw on an internal library of images
that I’ve developed over the years and that I carry with me so I can draw
very quickly when I need them. They’re just ready for me to use. I’ve gotten better at pulling out
the key points that speakers are making, I’ve had a lot more practice. I’ve stopped worrying that people
will make me stay after the meeting and clean up because I’ve been drawing. Any type of note-taking is designed to
help the student take what they’re hearing and hook it
to their internal frame of reference. That’s how learning occurs. You take new information and hook it
to old information you already had. When you take notes, it’s very possible to write down word for word
exactly what the teacher’s saying and not understand any of it. Has that happened to any of you? I know it’s happened to me;
where I have no clue what’s going on, so I just write it all down
and hope I can figure it out later. When you’re using
visual note-taking though, you have to listen to what’s being said, you have to really hear it,
and you have to understand it, because that’s the only way
you’re going to come up with an image that connects what you’re hearing
with what you already know in your mind. Visual note-taking opens the door for more playful connections
between information, for students to use their imaginations in an activity that can often be
very passive: note-taking. It also helps students to create
a personal visual memory aid that they can study from later, look at,
and tell themselves the story again. When a teacher is teaching,
what they’re doing, really, is telling a story about something
they’re passionate about. And when a student takes visual notes, what they’re doing
is making that story visible. When taking visual notes, the critical thing is that your images
are very quick and easy to draw, and that they’re relevant
to the content that’s being said. If you find yourself doing
a really, really detailed image, and it has nothing to do
with what the speaker’s currently saying, — this happens to every visual note-taker
at some point — then you’ve lost track
of what’s going on, you’ve fallen behind, and what you need to do
is stop, leave a space, move on and keep up with the speaker. When I was taking the notes here, the speaker that I was listening to,
Chris Schunn, was talking about the difference between
low-success teams and high-success teams, and you can see that
in the lower portion of the slide here. And I had this image of how I wanted to represent his description,
of what those two teams were like, but I didn’t have time
while he was talking to work it out because I hadn’t had those postures
of the people that you see here. That wasn’t in my image library already. So I left a space and I went on with him, which is good, because if I hadn’t, if I’d tried to work out
that drawing right then, I would’ve ended up missing
the take-home points of the lecture which is the important thing, this is what the speaker wants
you to walk away with. So I waited until he was finished and when the talk was over, I went back
and I worked out the drawings the way that I want them. Now when I look at them, they remind
me of the descriptions that he used because this is the image that came
to my mind when he was saying that. I’m not saying this is the only way
to take notes, or the best way, I’m just saying it’s another way
to take notes, another option, and for some people
it can be very, very helpful. Some people have a very hard time
writing words while they’re hearing words; for some reason, it’s very hard. Other people naturally think
of images as they’re listening. For other people, like me, it’s easier
to focus and listen closely when you’re doing something
with your hands. We like to think that school has changed
in 30 years, gotten better, improved. I want to tell you a little story
about my niece, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is 13 years old,
she going into 8th grade this year. And Elizabeth is a really good student,
most of the time. Last year in school, she got caught drawing in class. Astonishingly, she got in trouble. I can’t believe
this is still happening, but it is. So, she got called up
after class to the teacher and he was going
to assign her a detention, but before he could say anything, Elizabeth, who is much sharper
at 13 than I was, showed him her paper and she said, “I wasn’t just drawing in class.” This is what she showed him. She said: “I was taking notes
in your class, I was paying attention.” She went over this paper
with him, point by point, and she used her words and her images to recall the story
that he had told in his lecture. She captured all the key points. It was clear
that she had been paying attention, and that she could read her notes. When she was finished, her teacher said: “That’s really good. If you want to keep taking notes like that
in my class, you go right ahead.” So, some things have changed. And she continued to do it
all through the semester. As you can see, her notes got better. She got better at
organizing the information. She got better at
choosing which images to use. In the end, she was able to demonstrate
that these notes could help her study so she was able to do it
in other classes as well. I talked to her recently and I said: “Elizabeth, how was this experience
for you, this visual note-taking in class? What was the experience like?” And this is what she said to me: “It helped me remember better because I could place the information
with a picture that’s relevant.” And that’s what it’s all about. But the key point here is that the picture and the information are not just connected
in Elizabeth’s notebook. The picture and the information
are connected in Elizabeth’s mind, that’s why visual note-taking works. What do you think
is the most common objection I get when I start to teach people
how to do visual note-taking? Any ideas?
Here, I’ll show you. OK. Say it with me, “But I can’t draw.”
(Audience) “But I can’t draw.” I get that all the time. The good news is it’s not about drawing,
it’s not about making beautiful pictures. It’s not about making detailed images. It’s not about accurately drawing
a person, or a car, or a light bulb. It’s not even about doing something that’s recognizable to anybody
other than yourself. The thing that you need to do
with visual note-taking is capture what you’re hearing
in a way that’s memorable for you. It’s a personal experience that needs to be personally relevant
and connect with what you heard, and that’s all. So, let’s say that you’re convinced
and you want to try this yourself, or, if you’re a teacher,
let your students try it. We’ll go over three simple steps that will get you set
on this road, get you started. The first one is to choose
a tool that works for you, the second one is to start building up
that mental library of images I mentioned, and the third one is to really practice
listening and capturing the key points. After that, it’s just practice; that’s all
you need to know and then just practice. Let’s go over these one by one.
Choose a tool that works for you. This can be anything at all, it can be paper, a pen or pencil,
a tablet computer or an iPad. You can use lots and lots of colors,
just a few colors, just one color, whatever you like. It just has to be something
that you’re absolutely comfortable with. Whatever’s happening, the tool cannot get
in the way of you taking your notes. It can’t get between you
and capturing that information. If your tool is too confusing,
or if you’re not familiar with it, it’s not going to be helpful to you. Whatever you choose,
you should practice with that tool before you record a lecture, or a class,
or a meeting that’s very important because you want the tool to be seamless
not in your way at all. By the way, the sketch notes here
have been done by Mike Rohde, and he’s a fantastic inspiration if you’re going to begin
doing visual note-taking, So I really recommend
looking at his books and his pictures. Second thing is actually
your most important tool. The tool that you write with
is important, but the most important tool is
your internal library of mental imagery. You start with one or two icons; when you see something
that somebody else did you steal it, you make it
your own, you modify it, and gradually you build up this library
that you can use whenever you need to. Every image that I use
in my digital notes, in my visual notes, digital or paper, I’ve done dozens and dozens of times. I know exactly what I’m going to do. I might modify it slightly to fit
the context, I might add a little detail, but I’m not making it up on the spot. It takes all of your attention to listen and capture
those points that you’re hearing. All of your attention is bound up in that. If you’re creating a new concept, if you’re creating an image
or an icon for a new concept or idea, that takes all of your attention. You can’t do them both,
it’s one or the other. Think of it this way:
if you are taking notes in a lecture, and you are just using words,
you are not using images at all, you would not dream of inventing
a language to take the notes in while you’re listening to the lecture. Can you imagine making up words and trying to assign
a consistent context to them while you’re listening to something else? No, you couldn’t do it. It’s exactly the same
with visual language. You need to have these words
in your vocabulary already. You need to be taking notes
in a language that you already know. Finally, and this is
the most important thing, If you forget everything else
that I said today — you’re working on a detailed drawing
of slide two or whatever — If you forget everything else,
this is what I want you to remember: visual note-taking works
if you capture the speaker’s key points. That’s all you have to do,
it’s capture the speaker’s key points. The images that you use
should be simple enough that you can draw them very quickly, but you can add details to them to capture additional information
that the speaker says, even if you don’t write it all out. For example, what I’m talking about here: this slide is visual notes that I made of a talk on key competencies
for participating in virtual meetings, especially where you want
to do visual note-taking, things that you have to know to be
in that kind of meetings, to run them. And one of the points the speaker made
was that you have to have patience. You can see the patience up there,
I have a little patient person. This is just my standard person,
modified to be like this, with a little halo to indicate
how patient they are, and next to them is a computer
that I draw all the time. But I’ve added lines
coming out of that computer; the computer’s unhappy,
there are these lines coming out, and what that one image reminds me of is that the speaker was talking about
being patient with technical difficulties, not being patient with people
who are difficult in your meeting or something else. So those lines remind me of that detail
without my having to write it all out. [Elizabeth’s story] I called Elizabeth and I said: “I’m going to be giving this talk, what’s the one piece of advice
that you would give to people?” And she said: “I would tell them
that you don’t want to take too long because then you get sucked
into the drawing and you can’t hear what they’re saying,” which is absolutely true. You get sucked into the drawing
and you can’t hear what they’re saying. It’s really not about the drawing, it’s about listening and capturing, listening and capturing. If you’re working on that detailed drawing and the speaker’s talking
about something else, I can guarantee you’re not listening
to the speaker anymore. You might be listening
to an inner critic who’s saying: “That drawing’s not right,
keep working on it.” Or you might be listening
to that voice in your head that says: “That’s not what a zebra looks like,” but you’re not listening to the speaker; and what you need to be doing
is listening to the speaker. When you’ve done visual notes, the way that you tell if you did it right
is if you can look at your notes and tell back the story
that you heard from that speaker. Then you did it right. That’s all there is to it.
It’s no more than that. Can you look at it and recall the story? After you’ve had some practice,
it’s meditative doing visual note-taking, it’s kind of like a conversation
between you and the speaker that takes place in your notebook, and you can recall
that conversation later. It takes a little bit of practice
to get to that point but I hope that you will give it
a try and practice it, and in fact, I’m going to
get you started right now. So please get out something
that you can write with. You can use a pencil and paper,
you can use a tablet, a notebook, an iPad. If you have nothing at all, you can draw
with your finger in the air, that’s fine. We’re going to start by adding
one icon to your visual library, and we’re going to start with one
that usually stops people in their tracks. We’re going to draw a person. It helps to have your objective
in your mind before you get started, so this is the person to draw. This is affectionately known
as a star person, because in its simplest form
it looks like a star. But I’ve done years and years of research and I find that people
rarely stand like this. (Laughter) So we’re going to give our person
a little more natural posture. Are you ready to go?
Everybody has something to draw with? I’m going to be zooming in and out
while I do this, so you’ll see things
get bigger and smaller. A star person starts
with an oval for the head, please draw an oval for the head. Then, the next thing is,
from the bottom of the oval, a line the curves up and out, and that’s the top edge
of the upraised arm. Doing the hand is very simple, it’s a line straight down
and two little bumps, and there’s your hand. And now we’re going to complete the arm
with a curved line that comes back down, and notice that this line stops almost
underneath where the other line started. You don’t want to go back under the head, or your person will have
too narrow a body later. That’s a protip. The other arm is a little boomerang that goes out and comes back down, and after that, we just draw
two straight lines for the legs, and these taper together a little bit
at the bottom but they don’t touch. Then, down at the bottom,
we’re going to add the feet, which is just two little curves,
almost like a W. We’re almost done, we just need to add
a few details and we’re finished. So the first thing
is a little triangle in this area, and that’s the negative space
inside the arm. Next, we’re going to give
the person a little personality, with two little lines for the eyes. And finally, one straight line for the leg, and that’ll divide the two legs. And there you have your star person. So it’s entirely possible
that you all walked in here convinced that you couldn’t draw, and now you’ve just drawn a person, there’s a first image
for your mental library. If you practice this guy,
he’ll be ready to drop in your notes whenever you need him. And he’s very versatile; for example, you can make him face
a totally different direction if you just draw the eyes
a little differently. I’m going to draw them close together
on one side of his head and watch what happens. He’s looking to the side now. Very versatile. So, he’s ready to pop into your notes, where he can hail a taxi, he can make an announcement, he can raise an objection, and he can rally a group of people. All with this one little drawing. And that’s how you get away
with drawing in class. Thank you. (Applause)

62 thoughts on “Drawing in class: Rachel Smith at TEDxUFM

  1. Она говорит – постройте заранее и освойте библиотеку простых символов и используйте ее для создания образов

  2. Rachel, I'm back again to share this once again. I've watched it several times and referred it to lots and lots and lots of people. This time it's my brother. In the past it's been the HR director for our (large!) K-12 school district. THANKS for doing this at your TEDx!!

  3. This is excellent! I experienced this in school, too and only recently discovered visual notetaking for me again. It is so helpful and so much fun. Rachel Smith's lecture is really inspiring and I love her little "drawing lecture" at the very end. This figure will get into my visual library!

  4. Thanks so much for the shares, the likes, and the positive feedback. I'm really touched by the number of people who have told me this video helped unlock their own inner visual notetaker. Keep on drawing!

  5. So mad….. my teacher told my class in his syllabus that drawing in class, even for notes is offensive. He also said that theres no need for it since the powerpoint is online for us to see the notes again. But to me I've always done better with my hands doing something. Humans aren't meant to sit for extended times and shouldn't be expected to regurgitate the info on recall. We aren't machines. As humans we tend to learn more through action. 

    Sure i can take notes outside of class with illustration, but in art history i can't tell you how much i've learned in the prior classes through drawing. Recreating works from master paintings allows me to connect with how the artist obtained a certain affect. This just frustrates me because drawing is offensive if you let it be. If i'm sitting in the back of the class drawing a picture of him dancing then yes that's offensive, but if my picture relates to the subject what's wrong with that. 

    I don't care who it is but i tend to understand more when i'm drawing. Whenever i talk one on one with anyone, friends, fam,etc. i have to have a pen in my hand to interpret what they are saying into art. Furthermore i use drawing during class to take my eyes off the speaker and don't take that for what it sounds like. What i mean is sometimes since i have a stigmatism in my eyes, they tend to feel like they are crossing. The room where the class is going to be held in, i've had before and its super dim lit. Every class i've had in the past 4 years have made my eyes dart sporatically, so instead of trying to focus on the teacher i look at my paper that is just white and draw to take my eye pain off of it. Some times the pain is so significant it will make me hop up unexpectedly. It sounds stupid but this is the only room that aggravates my eyes like that. 

    All of which i can't explain to the teacher because he illustrated his hate for drawing during class regardless of the subject matter.  Oh and get a load of this you can't even right a side note on the page that says don't forget dinner at this time. That aggravates me to because i tend to think of stuff like that at the most random times that i wouldn't have thought of at any other time during the day. Yes i have planners but it irks me i can't put a little tiny note saying that on the page. I get that he wants to be focused on only the class but when its a four hour class, then he needs to expect everyones mind to drift occasionally. I'm a focused dude, but come on. You can't tell me his mind doesn't think about other things during meetings, get togethers,etc. 

    This class feels mechanical

  6. Rachel, this is amazing.  I am linking to your video in my art appreciation class, with the notion that it will not only help think about art differently, but think about their learning differently.  

  7. Oh my god. I cant believe teachers prevent students from taking notes. this is why the american educational system is crumbling.

  8. I am a 12 year old student in England who wants to give a message to all art teachers since this is a simple wish that should be allowed….

    In art class i always start doodling when i have finished a task.
    I always used to be told off but when i had enough of being shouted at i told the teacher at the end of the lesson,
    'I was trying to practice not trying to draw some non sense that hasn't got a single thing to do with the lesson'
    its still art it helps you develop your style and if somebody wants to make a living of drawing, they need to be good
    not all mixed up in different styles like some sort of manga & photo-realistic drawings in my opinion.
    However if you still can't understand my main point its that doodling is not messing about in class its practicing.

    somebody will try to say that 'What if they are doodling while the teacher is talking'.
    My answer is that I'm not talking about whether to doodle while the teacher is talking, its about 'practicing' while you have spare time in class when you have done your task.

  9. Clever gimmick; I'm sure it sells well for consulting. A counterpoint is that the audience that this type of note taking works for is limited. It simply doesn't work for many people, learning is not always personally relevant. You could argue it provides sensory overload and is unorganized. I'm not buying it.

  10. As a child in the early 60's I was left handed. My teachers insisted I write with my right hand. The result is that I draw and write with both hands at the same time. I doodled all the time and I was punished for this. I continued doodling everyday as for me it is a meditation. I have worked in communications for over 30 years and I always draw when I am in lectures or training. My bosses and co-workers have never understood. I even draw when I am watching television. When I dream I am drawing. For me it's as essential as breathing. Thanks Rachel I really appreciate what you are doing.

  11. though i never had to clean up or anything, my problem was that teachers allways insisted that i take notes, but all notes did was distract me, i was perfectly good to just listen to what they said and remember it, i kind of lost it at some point but it was how i was with textbooks too, i guess i used to be interested in the material, at least in science and history(wher there was stuff to actually read about), i figure my mind got tired of reading the same stuff every year or so, so i now have trouble reading textbooks like that anymore. but it was great on the multiple choice tests because i remembered it all somewhere in my head subconciously and id just kinda know.

    reminds me it allways drove me crazy, the big multiple choice test would come around and they would have you write down what score you were aiming for and they'd suggest aiming for the score one higher than the previous time. id be like what the hell do you think im going for fuck that im going for advanced, everytime, why would i aim any lower? not that i expected to get particularly high in some subjects(fuck algebra, my mind works with geometry, but fuck algebra my brain just doesnt work that way i gotta know why i do these things im not just gonna take your word for it, i need to know the logic so that if i forget the process i can work it out myself) but its not like i was only going try a little harder than before, im trying to get as many questions right as possible isnt that the point?

  12. The art of taking notes. Still I would strongly suggest to abandon the use of tablets and laptops as they are very distracting and inflexible. Better a sketchbook and a soft pencil. Then have fun at home colouring your notes. The process of colouring helps to rethink the whole.

  13. If you know the Myers-Briggs personality types model and the associated cognitive functions, i think this works very well for Ne types. The brain of Ne people naturally works and learns by making connections between things in their own minds, so making these connections on paper usually helps them think and remember things later. I'm INTP and starting to take notes like this has been incredible for me. I also brainstorm like this.
    I think one thing to remember from this talk is not just visual note taking. It's also using tools and processes and systems that work well for how your brain works. Experiment with note taking, but also on your work flow, etc. See how your brain works and find the best way to complement it.

  14. Another visual person, so many visual people ..unfortunately our education system is not designed for visual people

  15. I'm 24 years old now and when I was 15 another student next to me told the teacher "she is drawing in class." The teacher didn't prich me. She said "some people concentrate better drawing or doing something else." than she asked me if I could say what she was teaching, so I did. I summarized and she said "See? she is paying attention. Please keep what you are doing. You have my permission"

  16. so for example , around 13mn, about virtual and patience, why don t u just write: people having patience in front of a computer problem. in fact, when wWHEN SHE EXPLAINS HER DRAWINGS IT S ACTUALLY WORDS SHE S SAYING AND THAT S THE LANGUAGE SHE CHOSE TO EXPLAIN HIS POINT IF VUE !!! 🙂

  17. Meh, I just draw on my sketchpad in class because whatever the teachers saying is boring. However I don't really get bad grades. I'm in highschool and quite frankly it's just one big joke, the material is so basic you don't even have to pay attention.

  18. Whenever I'm in social studies I anime-fy my notes, separating it from good guys to bad guys whether it be, Titan to scouts, vampires to humans, or demons to exorcists.

    It may sound weird but it help and it's funny when the teacher doesn't know what I'm talking about

  19. U know what? Japanese are good at visual notetaking. I have been involved with Japanese co workers since the 80's and most of them wrote visually.

  20. this. concept enabled me to using photographic memory to learn Braille. i also got a scolding. i was blindfolded in class.but at home I used a magnifier to see the design of the dots.

  21. Literally even watching a 15 minute TED talk is hard for me without extra visual and creative stimulus. Drawing is thinking

  22. I also read recently that drawing during class is linked to a symptom of disconformt, and it is how we manifest it. I kind of agree, I draw more frequently during class when the lecture is boring.

  23. THANK YOUTHANK YOUI had to fight for years for my kids to be able to "draw" their class notes!!!!!I shared this on Facebook _MrsGwennD

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