Getting Started with Sketchnotes

My very first page of Sketchnotes.
I spent the summer of 2014 working in Los Angeles. I celebrated my first day off by making the drive to Orange County to attend my first EdCamp. Overall, it was a great experience but the last session of the day on Visual Notes was the most powerful. Little did I know how that one hour session would transform how I process information.

I have always been a learner who needed to take extensive notes and write to help me remember information. It never felt like an efficient process but it worked for me. The only visuals one would find among a sea of words were typically flowers in the margins that only appear in cases of extreme boredom. During high school, I typically prevented the appearance of daisy chains in the margins by taking my notes in cursive backwards to keep my mind occupied. It took more cognitive effort to write in cursive backwards than the much of the material being presented so it kept me focused during class. Sadly, that seemed more socially acceptable than a garden sprouting up in the margins. I wish I had been exposed to visual notetaking 25 years ago. Visual notes force the reader and/or listener to approach text from a different angle. Similar to how writing in cursive forced me to focus. Now, I am making up for lost time but not out of boredom but rather to increase understanding.

This closely resembles most notes.
These are some of my first attempts at visual notes from June 2014. The book is 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling. It was one of two books selected for our Innovative Educator pilot program as our district begins its journey towards 1:1. This is exactly the kind of book that previously I would read rather quickly but then draw a blank several weeks later if someone asked me a question or for a summary. There would be little chance of me successfully carrying on an intelligent conversation on the topic.

Sketchnotes changed all of this for me. When I force my mind to process information and simultaneously create a visual schema that can be represented on paper, my reading slows and I am constantly looking for connections. I found myself rereading like never before. For example, when the author states that Education is built upon four pillars, you find yourself being able to represent that with images as shown above.  That would be how I would describe my first attempt at visual notes. They were very concrete, with lots of literal representations recreated from the text. In the end there were 32 pages of this. Most pages were extremely text-heavy with me replacing a word with an image such as "5 Key Characteristics" shown above. Even with this level of transcription, I still remember more about from this book than I would have having just read it prior to visual notes.

Sometimes you just need to label
a sketch. A cow? Really?!?
My sketchnotes today are much more visual and less dependent on text (most of the time). Just like everything in life, with more dedicated practice to learning visually I am becoming increasingly more proficient with constructing and communicating meaning. However, labels were useful during my first attempt as evidenced from my representation of a  "cow" and labels still come in super handy today!