They, um, sort of understand #SOL19 25/31

Paula Borque over at litcoachlady has been offering a wonderful list of ways to spark writing all month long. I’ve been tucking some away, trying some myself and sharing some with my students. On day 18, Paula shared an idea about using sketchnoting to synthesize our reading.  Since I’ve been actively trying to incorporate sketchnoting in my classes, I was instantly intrigued.

My students are in Grade 10 and many (though not all) arrive in my class without a strong reading base. They will admit to reading few or no books for several years, to fake reading, to avoiding writing and more. I’ve been using choice reading with conferencing to assess their understanding and development as readers, but all of this is mediated through words. I wondered what would happen if I used Paula’s spark and asked my students to sketch something from their reading after our independent reading time. The results were fascinating.

Some students clearly understand what they are reading. Below, I can see this student’s focus on character relationships, plot and even some emerging theme in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.img_8421

The next student is reading HP Lovecraft (!) and his sketchnote highlights his focus on sentence structure and diction. He chose to sketch a two-sentence paragraph that he found hard to understand because of its diction and complex structure. Afterwards, he said that sketching helped him figure out what it meant.img_8428

Another fascinating moment was this one, where a student who is really a novice reader tried sketching a moment from Monster. He originally thought that Mr. Harmon was the judge, but as he drew, he realized something didn’t fit. We spoke briefly, looked at the text, and learned that Mr. Harmon was the father not the judge. He was talking to his son in the visiting area of the prison. This sketchnote helped him clarify his understanding and helped me see his gaps.

The next day, that same student picked up far more details as he read:


Finally, one of my English Language Learners spends her independent reading time working with our (amazing, generous, talented) librarian on language development. Right now we’re specifically working on English vocabulary for everyday words in her home, since her family doesn’t speak English. Rather than sketch her understanding of a book, she sketched a room in her house and labeled as many items as she could. Then I was able to sit with her and identify some errors and add a few new words. This was incredibly effective. I was able to see that she hears/says “belw” for “pillow” and “cheer” for “chair.” Her pronunciation of those words improved almost immediately once we recognized this. Moving from “rog” to “rug” was harder. We also added “dresser” “sheets” and “bedspread” to her lexicon. Baby steps.


To be clear, I didn’t just walk into class and say, “Hey guys, draw today.” First, I sketchnoted my own reading – the graphic novel 7 Generations – alongside my students. We talked about my choices in terms of plot, character, important ideas and images. I’m never going to win any awards for my art, but I think the students felt better knowing that I really wasn’t looking for perfection.


Then, we did it three days in a row so that they had a chance to really “get it.” Some students moved quickly back to writing – no drawing for them, thank you very much –  but others stuck with sketchnotes. In the end, I think that sketchnoting our understanding of our reading expanded the way some students could express themselves and let them show me what they know in a way that isn’t exclusively mediated by words. Sketchnoting let me see some of the processes of student comprehension. It feels like this is another tool in my toolkit to help develop proficient readers. Thanks, Paula.