Cock- a-doodle do or do not!?

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Throughout primary and secondary school I was constantly told to stop doodling during classes as ‘I was not focusing on the lesson’! But the creative process of doodling has a potentially valuable place in education to aid our concentration, motivation and our process of understanding .

The word doodle first appeared in the early 17th century to mean ‘fool or simpleton’ supposedly taken from the low German ‘dudeltopf’ that meant fool. This led to the formation of the verb ‘to doodle’ that was used in the beginning of the 1800s that means “to make a fool of, to cheat or swindle”. The Oxford English dictionary defines doodling as scribbling or drawing idly or a meaningless scrawl. Or to dawdle or waist time.

So in spite of its negative connotations if teachers are constantly giving out to us for doodling why do we often feel the urge to carry on and does doodling have a role to play in aiding our learning, or is it really as the teachers believe directing our attention away from the task at hand?

Doodling  can be seen as a way for our minds to concentrate on the present moment when we begin to feel ourselves getting bored by a particular stimulus, or in intense information environments, so it grounds us in the present moment which prevents us from daydreaming. It allows our brain to work through understanding novel material in a different way. It also engages all four learning modalities at the same time visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and reading and writing along with the potential for an emotional experience required for  processing and comprehending material.

According to a recent study the act of doodling caused better concentration improved retrieval of past memories and  it focused the mind on the present task at hand. ‘The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial’ (Andrade,  2009).

Another study has looked at the effectiveness of doodling in helping novice computer programmers to understand the material they are learning, there results are in line with previous studies on the usefulness of ‘external memory aids’ on students remembering and understanding complex information (Davies, 1993, 1996, Hegarty and Steinhoff 1997).

 An article in “Science” highlighted the usefulness of drawing in science education as it’s inclusive to different individuals learning styles and inspired students to connect and investigate the material in a more consequential manner. Additionally learners did not just benefit from an improved understanding of ideas by drawing, but it allowed opportunities for innovative and divergent ways of thinking.

In terms of implementing and encouraging doodling in a classroom setting I found an interesting link to a site that shows how doodling can be used as an innovative strategy alongside classroom activities, to engage students in subjects such as mathemetics  Vi Hart’s Math Doodling. There are various videos that students can follow for example Binary Trees, Snakes + Graphs, and Infinity Elephants. These videos allow students to engage with the sometimes monotonous content of images and words in a syllabus in a novel way by allowing them to engage their visual thought processes to understand a particular concept.

Personally I do not believe that doodling should replace learning the core content of a particular subject and traditional forms of teaching for example writing, talking and reading, but implementing these strategies from time to time would be beneficial. Doodling can liven up the classroom setting and complement what students are learning. Allowing them to test their knowledge by engaging them with the content in a different way, and without a doubt encouraging improvement of students engagement, motivation, retention and understanding of the material can only be a good thing.

9 responses »

  1. Further to your blog, Ainsworth (2009) found that college students who ‘doodled’ during tasks in the classroom had improved memory recall than those students who didn’t doodle. Her explanation behind this was that doodling prevented day dreaming and therefore the students were still taking information in. However, when I think about Professor Ainsworth’s research, and the idea that doodling prevents day dreaming, I have to disagree. I have on many occasions found myself in a day dream whilst doodling, or quite possibly thinking of something totally un-related to the learning I was supposed to be doing. So yes, doodling does seem like it has benefits to students and I agree with many you have listed!

    • Yes that’s an interesting point. On the subject does doodling effect performance? Verbal and nonverbal processes are complementary.They both can be performed independently and don’t compete for the same intellectual resources (Doumont, 2011). So doodling should in theory not effect performance.

      This differs from sequential processes, on the other hand, which are mutually exclusive for example if students are talking at the same time as the teacher is talking this will effect their performance and drivers talking on the phone are less able to quickly react to unexpected situations that involve reasoned decisions. (Doumont, 2011)
      But I do agree with you from analysing Andrades research, the doodling task of filling in shapes with colours was also very controlled and differs greatly from the creative random marks we draw on our notebooks, that leads to daydreaming and us thinking and doodling about something totally unrelated to what’s happening in the lesson.
      So possibly conducting more research into the positives or negatives of doodling on performance and concentration specifically in the classroom would be beneficial.

  2. Nice to put a face to the blog and an insteresting talk topic today. I’m looking at the studies you mentioned about improved recall in memory tasks (Andrade, 2009) and I just have a hard time seeing doodling keeping you away from day dreaming and making you take more in, now I was never a doodler but when I did draw it was me day dreaming and I put all my focus on what I was drawing rather than what was going on around me.

    The difference could be I was “drawing” as opposed to “doodling” (if there is a difference) I could see relevant doodles to what is being said perhaps helping but off topic I’m going to need a lot of convincing.

    Perhaps it’s just me being overly poltite but I like to give whoever is speaking my attention and I appreciate knowing people are listening to me aswell, doodling in a class unless established as a valid learning technique could be seen as rude perhaps that is why it is also discouraged in schools.

    I do surprise myself with what I remember of tv shows I listen to in the background while working so perhaps there is something to it and its another excuse not to turn it off ^^

  3. One would have thought as you say that drawing would have more of an effect on your performance than doodling as if you become too engaged with the doodling image you will begin to lose concentration on the teacher talking for example. In my opinion it is about getting the balance right between attending to the lesson and potentially losing focus, or becoming engaged in a doodle which can be beneficial up to a point but as they say too much of anything can be detrimental. I think it comes down to what Sunni Brown in her TED talk (2011) talked about as her definition of doodling ‘ to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think’. I think the idea that we do not become too involved in the doodle is important and the doodles are simply ‘spontaneous’ but without a doubt maintaining this balance is challenging.

    I agree with your comment about being polite and it is a valid point, possibly if particular times of the day were set aside to work through programmes from Vi Harts Math Doodling site or given to students for homework to complement work in class this would be better and more respectful to the teacher.

    Alternatively teachers could encourage doodling by approaching it from a different direction
    by encouraging visual note taking. Possibly its the fact that students as supposed to be listening and taking notes but the note taking has been replaced by doodling so it would seen sensibly if we merged the two. http://sunnibrown.com/visual-note-taking-101/

    Teachers could also integrate more visual information into the classroom by showing topics that are being learnt that week through videos or for example by showing RSA animates which may be particularly useful in a secondary school setting were students feel disengaged with the monotonous dull material of a particular subject. These methods would certainly bring the classroom and the subject to life and reinforce and motivate students learning.

  4. In researching research to respond to your post, I stumbled across the concept of self- regulated learning (Boekaerts,2002). It is a complex notion, but at the core of it is the idea of choosing cognitive strategies and regulating processing nodes. This could be linked to the concept of doodling. If students can choose how they take notes- whether it be in a pictorial or written format, they should feel they have more control over their learning. This should motivate them and encourage a ‘deep processing learning style’. Whilst I have railed against the notion of learning styles, Marton & Saljo (1984) found that students approached reading an article in different ways. Some read for meaning,while others read to regurgitate the information.
    If students are controlling how they record the information, they should process it for meaning, in order to record it in the way they want.

    • I liked the way you linked the concept of self regulated learning (SRL) into doodling. From researching more into the area of SRL, I can see how many of its ideas are similar to Sunni Browns viewpoint and definition of doodling. Allowing students to have control over the way that they make notes and getting away from the negative non-intellectual attributes often associated with drawings, and recognizing the value of visual language is important. We must also appreciate that different individuals need different mechanisms to chew on and understand information.
      Zimmerman (2001) stated “self-regulated learning refers to learning that results
      from students’ self-generated thoughts and behaviors that are systematically oriented
      toward the attainment of their learning goals”. This technique is useful to learners as allows them to systematize their thoughts and organize and adjust them into skills
      that are focused on learning (Reid, 2008). So doodling can be seen in terms of SRL as essentially a way for particular learners ‘to help organize their thoughts’ and come to terms with all the information that is fired at them.

      http://www.auburn.edu/~witteje/ilsrj/Journal%20Volumes/Fall%202008%20Volume%201%20PDFs/Metacognitive%20Strategies%20and%20Learning%20Styles.pdf

      http://www.auburn.edu/~wit

  5. Very interesting perspective on education. I found the paper by Andrade (2009) particularly interesting, and Nick’s explanation of why lecturers find doodling offensive sounds near the mark.

    Reading through Jackie Andrade’s (2009) paper, I noticed that participants were selected and set up to be as bored and uninterested as possible. In fact, Jackie states that one of the reason’s doodling might be beneficial is simply because daydreaming might be more harmful. By this explanation, teachers might frown upon doodling because the student is already close to not paying attention. A way of minimizing damage, rather than increasing engagement. Attention and engagement being key to improving to many techniques to improve learning.

    Important to note that my point cannot be generalized to actual implementations of doodling in classrooms which could still be very beneficial to engagement.

    P.S Nice title.

  6. Looking at the research you have provided, the types of ‘doodling’ described here as effective seems to be another form of note taking, otherwise ambiguous, meaningless scribes like in Andrade’s (2009) study. De Leon, Espejo-Lahoz & Rodrigo (2008) has described doodles potentially being ‘annotations’ in a graphic form and Choi (2012) talked about the doodles being aids. Hence, some of those studies refer to doodles relevant to the subject matter, which could be supported by findings that suggest that image-based items are more memorable than word-based items and that picture-word presentations produce even greater free recall (Paivio & Csapo, 1973). This may also denote that these findings are not generalisable to irrelevant, more effortful drawings, which some possibly have referred to in their comments. Though those drawings could, too, benefit learning as memory traces can be better connected after taking rests or performing previously learnt tasks (Vincent, 2009). You may miss parts of the lectures, but you may remember more of what was attended to.

    References
    Andrade, J. (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 100-106. doi:10.1002/acp.1561
    Choi, C. H. (2012). Doodling may draw students into science: Research shows that illustrating concepts develops creative reasoning skills. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44276130/ns/technology_and_science-science/
    De Leon, M., Espejo-Lahoz, M. B., & Rodrigo, M. T. (2008). An analysis of novice programmer doodles and student achievement in an introductory programming class. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from http://curry.ateneo.net/~didith/2008ProgrammerDoodles.pdf
    Paivio, A., & Csapo, K. (1973). Picture superiority in free recall: Imagery or dual coding? Cognitive Psychology, 5, 176-206. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(73)90032-7
    Vincent, J. L. (2009). Learning and memory: while you rest, your brain keeps working. Current Biology, 19, 484-486. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.024

  7. Ha, I would love to go back to my old teachers and show them this!!! Looking into this further, I found a study that sugests that students understand concepts better when they draw it, eg in science when they draw a sound wave.Like you said, it also helps this feel more excited and engaged in learnind (Ainsworth et al, 2011).

    A recent CNN article (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/02/brown.creativity.doodles/)
    used google as an example of how important it is to balance innovation and creativity, as they have a ‘chief doodler’ on their payroll, to doodle new ideas for business opportunities.

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