Drawing For Dummies

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Students learn about visual note-taking and RSA-style drawings


I prefer pictures over print. Always have, always will.

Yes, I do love a good book/article/blog post too, but since I was a child I was always drawn more to pictures and images than to printed text. I’ll never forget the used book sale at my school, when I was in 6th grade…lining up behind my peers…I looked at their collection of chapter books and noticed the large collection of picture books and comics I’d chosen for myself. It’s not that I couldn’t read…it’s that I felt there was so much more to be said by an image than words.

That’s why I wish I’d been introduced to concept of Visual Note-taking when I was in school. I first heard about it at the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Institute in Bali (2013), when I met Nicki Hambleton. She shared some of the amazing drawings she and her students created on Adobe Ideas and I was sold. I brought this back to my own classroom and had my EAL students use this form of communication to develop their ideas for oral presentations. We shared their migration stories (in conjunction with their G5 UOI on Migration) using an RSA-styled visual notetaking ‘story’ of how their family came to Indonesia. Since English was their second language, I wanted to see if they could articulate their story more thoroughly through pictures. Below is an example from one student:

This step-by-step project is outlined on my professional blog here: RSA-Style Animation with EAL Students

Below is a quick pictorial retell of some of the steps:

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We read a story about a girl moving from Vietnam to USA. Students noted the different steps in her story.
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Students documented the girl’s story, then below they made connections to themselves.
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The students started by mapping out their visual migration stories in writing first, then progressed to illustrating the different parts. They used the text to help guide them as they retold their migration stories in an iMovie voiceover.
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Students had practice using Stop-Motion HD app on the iPad to record their drawings.
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Students edited their personal migration stories in iMovie, using voiceover, transitions and themes to enhance their storytelling.


Since it was everyone’s first attempt at RSA-style drawings and Visual Note-taking, there were (and still are) multiple areas for improvement. However, it was a project the students really enjoyed because it allowed them to think more critically about ways to represent their story in pictures, and also allowed them to be creative with their hands and digitally.

In our upcoming October PD with staff, I’ve decided to focus one of my sessions on Visual Literacy and Visual-Note-taking. The goal is to help teachers see the connection to Visual Literacy across all grades and subject areas, and also to introduce a form of note-taking that enhances creativity and strengthens connections and understanding.

Our school has very few outcomes for Visual Literacy but teachers have access to First Steps Resources, including the Viewing & Presenting Map of Development. My Google Presentation (at the end of this post) outlines some elements from the map of development so teachers can be guided in their teaching of digital literacy.

During my research for this workshop, I came across Brandy Agerbeck‘s website who has several great resources and videos explaining the benefits of visual note-taking and thinking in the classroom and beyond.

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Screenshot of homepage from loosetooth.com


I particularly liked her free copy of the BrandyfestoHer quirky, visually-rich manifesto provides examples on how to adopt and practice visual notetaking and how to use it in your own profession.

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Screenshot from The Brandyfesto p.15


During her TedX Talk “Shape Your Thinking” she describes the importance of addressing the majority of visual thinkers. This infographic she drew was included to demonstrate how the majority of people are visual-spatial learners rather than auditory-sequential.

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I will use this infographic and her TedX talk as part of my workshop for teachers on Visual Literacy and Visual Note-taking. Below is a copy of the (nearly finished) Google Presentation I’ve developed so far. You will notice a lot of visuals, and very little text, keeping in line with CARP design principles.

Of course, visual note-taking is only one way of representing data and information in a creative and visual way. Infographics are another way to quickly summarise paragraphs and pages of data into one, clever image.

Infographics are an area of visual literacy I have not had much opportunity to explore and create with my students. I think it’s a hidden area of visual literacy few teachers think of explicitly teaching to students, but one that could link directly to visual literacy outcomes. This recent Edutopia Article highlights the benefits of creating infographics with students: Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content

The author, Brett Vogelsinger, writes:

“As texts compete for attention with soundbites, scrolling headlines, tweets, and vines, writers and readers alike are seeing the value of text that uses visual design features to organize ideas, provide background, and emphasize key facts in ways that make it easier for readers to engage a topic thoughtfully. “

The same way we may have taught students how to shorten lengthy pieces of text into a succinct ‘precis’, we now need to modify this skill for the 21st century and include visual elements. There are numerous tools for creating infographics with or for students and this recent post from creativebloq highlights the top 10.

Our edtech team will be leading another Tech Parent Workshop in November, and in my research for effective videos and data to share, I found this summary of how different popular social media tools are used:

Screenshot From Leverage New Age Media: https://leveragenewagemedia.com/blog/social-media-infographic/


This infographic succinctly showcases some facts and data about social media use across the globe. I think it also highlights the different purposes for social media and helps parents gauge their own use of different platforms, and how naturally their own children may be inclined to use specific platforms. We will also be surveying students over the next few weeks and presenting data using Google Forms. When the survey is complete, I would like to create a school-focused infographic to showcase social media tools and popularity within our particular community.

The motto K.I.S.S( ‘keep it simple stupid’) never had more weight than it does today – an age where we are constantly looking for quicker, faster ways to capture an audience’s attention. For many years, I also believed that, as Vogelsinger writes, “writing better equaled writing longer”…equally reading longer equaled reader better. I experienced this growing up as a student in the 80s and 90s, where the longer your book was, the better ‘reader’ you were. The fact that we are now making more of a push for understanding and making meaning of visuals is not just ironic and contradicting, but vindicating in many ways. How many students (like myself) have gone through their schooling feeling like ‘the dummy’ because they preferred picture books, or enjoyed doodling while they took notes? At last students who are visual-spatial learners have a place at the literary table, and at last they will have the opportunity to surpass traditionally strong ‘readers’ and be leaders in a visual world.

Drawing for Dummies: RSA-Style w/Paul Bogush

The excerpt below is from the post that inspired me to try a step-by-step approach RSA-style animation with my EAL students. I love his example on how he helped his students gain confidence in their drawing skills.


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Once Upon a Digital Time…

Flickr CC Image by Darren Kuropatwa


My Digital Storytelling Past…

Over the past 7 years I’ve been honing my movie-making skills and in my role as EdTech Coach am more focused on helping teachers realise the potential for digital storytelling and movie-making in the classroom.

I’ll never forget that very first iMovie I made, on an aging white MacBook (first generation) back in 2011. It was a competition for my G4 class based on Daniel Pink’s “What’s Your Sentence” competition:

This 2 minute video took me 6 hours. But practice made progress. And with time using iMovie became easier. I couldn’t wait to re-design assignments and tasks the following year. I wanted to provide opportunities for students to use this amazing tool to showcase their work.

The following year, I was in Beijing teaching a class of third graders. Needless to say they picked up this tool way faster than I did and were able to create a music video and dance using the Green Screen for our “How We Express Ourselves” Unit of Inquiry. Since this experience, I’ve led several workshops on using the Green Screen for different kinds of storytelling and showcasing. This Google Doc I created for teachers has some useful links and ‘How Tos’ for using the Green Screen and accompanying app:

Probably the most involved video I’ve ever created was using Final Cut Pro X in 2013 to showcase the G5 PYP Exhibition Journey for opening night. This took me several weeks as I needed to collect footage of students and edit their responses to fit within a reasonable timeframe. At the time I was aware of Copyright laws, and did ask permission from the original creator of the Rube Goldberg Vimeo, 2D House, if I could use some of his footage for my video. He was thrilled! It was a perfect example of the benefits of shared creative content and remixing for different purposes. In hindsight, I should have created my own music or used CC music for the video. At that time I wasn’t aware of accessible CC platforms like The Diner or Soundcloud.

Other forms of Digital Storytelling I’ve used are eBook Platforms such as Book Creator and My Story. As I’ve discussed and showcased in my professional blog Innovative Learning in the PYP Digital Storytelling tools allow students to document their learning and synthesise learning. Here is a movie I created using Animoto to showcase how eBooks promoted applied literacy skills and connected to the PYP Units of Inquiry.

The Future of Digital Storytelling…

Now that many students have had experience in movie-making, blogging and creating eBooks..what is the future for digital storytelling within a global network? DSJ writes:

“Networks for sharing and collaboration extend that voice; that voice can contribute to a conversation as a contributing member of a community.”

I decided to investigate and find that ‘perfect’ platform that encompasses many of the presentation tools I like to use, including banks of Creative Commons Images. After much searching through blogs, my PLN and various twitter feeds, I remembered that an EdTech Coach friend (and Coetail Grad) Sonya TerBorg (@TerSonya) had mentioned her love for different Adobe apps. I scrolled through the AppStore and  was thrilled when I discovered Adobe Slate as the perfect combination of all presentation platforms:

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Image: Screenshot of Adobe Slate App Icon


The App’s tagline is:

“Make a beautiful visual story. In minutes.”

From a teacher perspective, it enables students to combine a variety of features onto one slate:

Slideshow + Keynote + eBook + eMagazine + Blog/Website + Photo Collage

What excited me about this platform is the opportunity for publishing something in a unique way that also meets the CARP principles of good design. It addresses the modern way we look at images and text and stories…by scrolling through them, and accessing relevant links at the appropriate time. Even having a bank of CC images to complement any text you want to associate with your idea, helps to reinforce visual literacy skills. As the author writes in Towards a Framework for Visual Literacy, “Emotion, depicted through visual means, sells the message.” Furthermore, the features of Adobe Slate allow the creator to work in multiple mediums, adding links to videos/websites, images, text and the ability to share it easily with a wider audience helps to make the “content transportable” as DSJ also explains in his article.

Another Coetailer, @tracyblair, shared a fantastic example of an Adobe Slate Digital story example from the blog All Things Elementary. I love how this teacher transformed the journey of a Sunflower seed into something students of all ages, and languages, could draw meaning from.

Click here or the image below to view it.

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Screenshot from “All Things Elementary” Blog.


I see a lot of potential for upper primary students, especially the G5 PYP Exhibition Students who will be looking to create a platform for showcasing their learning journey. I’ve also shared this app on Twitter and look forward to hearing feedback from friends and colleagues across grade levels on how this modern platform could change the way we, and our students, showcase learning.