Teaching with Contemporary Art

Taking Note

Johnny Hardstaff, "Sketchbook 3, Page 23". Image: johnnyhardstaff.com

This week I want to share what seems like a simple idea…

While many of us insist that students keep sketchbooks or journals in our classes, it isn’t as popular for students to actually use theme during critiques and discussions. I mean after all, most people would say, “They should be listening, not doodling.”

But having students keep their sketchbooks with them during critiques and discussion activities can specifically help when coupled with just a little time to think on paper, record ideas, formulate questions or outline constructive suggestions.

If the expectation is set up so that students will, for example, record in a sketchbook their favorite suggestions (let’s say three or more) during a class critique, students can then take those suggestions and run with them in order to improve a work in progress. If it is clear that students need to use their sketchbooks and formulate two or more questions on paper in preparation for a partnered activity, there’s probably a decent chance that it will go better than simply saying, “Now partner with a classmate, ask two questions about their work and write down the answers.”

Giving students time to think about good quality questions (vs. knee-jerk time killers) is worth it alone, especially when working with themes related to contemporary art. But when we get students to start paying attention to the trail of ideas, notes, questions and plans in their own sketchbooks…. then we’re getting somewhere.


  1. Flossie Chua says:

    That’s such a great idea, Joe! 🙂 I think having students track the development of their own ideas, as well as the suggestions provided by peers and teachers, in such a visible way is going to put them in good stead to develop metacognitive skills, especially about how they learn. If we are able to support students to become active learners who are able to diagnose the barriers to their own learning and to develop strong thinking strategies, we are effectively building their capacity to engage in a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly complex. So I’m all for developing a culture of note-taking and committing ideas to paper in the classroom. 🙂

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