figure 1-a. doodling a Charlie with my notes helps me remember important ideas for structure and flow during the editing process.  
   When I was a kid (and teenager, and college student), I always drew pictures in the margins of my spiral-bound notebooks, reading handouts, and back pages of textbooks. Teachers would kindly ask me to stop drawing during their presentations, and I’d cease for as long as I could… which usually wasn’t long. When I went to study for whatever test was coming up, I’d kick myself for forgetting to take actual notes; Instead of information there’d just be goofy faces staring back at me.

Despite my inability to write anything of value in notebooks, I’d still end up with high scores on tests. Studies have shown that doodlers actually -aren’t- goldfish people (a silly assumption anyway; the average human attention span is 8 seconds — which is actually 1 second less than the average goldfish), but we still have a collective tendency to regard seemingly distracted folks – doodlers, fidgeters, etc. — as bored, daydreaming, or plain uninterested.
    In truth, it’s a pretty understandable reaction; when we ask for the attention of others in a social setting, work setting, or otherwise… anything less than eye contact and stillness can be interpreted as “I don’t care enough about what you have to say to refrain from doing _____.” However (all comments about ego and self-importance aside), I think these kneejerk interpretations have created a very strange expectation of student behavior and a poisonous idea that’s becoming increasingly common in some educational settings: that a lack of attention points to a lack of intelligence.

Why aren’t you paying attention? 
You don’t want to be held back, do you? 
Don’t you care about getting into high school?”

These are questions that have been posed to my elementary school-aged brothers, who have also been (in my opinion, overly eagerly) diagnosed as attention-deficient and subsequently medicated… and I know they aren’t the only ones. This immensely concerning to me not only as a sister, but also as someone who’s worked with public school elementary teachers firsthand… and witnessed a rather desultory approach to curriculum and very real reluctance to cover any material not required on standardized tests – namely, the Virginia SOL.

It’s not a matter of lack of caring or lack of investment — it’s a matter of engagement, and further, being permitted to engage with subjects in a way that makes the most of your natural learning styles. For me, it’s a mesh of visual and tactile; information thrown at me synthesizes when my hand makes lines and shapes. Synapses fire and facts are committed to memory when I tweak the details on a shadow. The brain works in the same way for many with a million other activities — exercise, listening to music, raking leaves; My dad’s best thinking sessions come while making mailboxes. However, these predominantly kinesthetic learning styles can’t be supported in today’s rigid classroom –and they get shut down.

     This was supposed to be a post about fun doodles but it turned sort of heavy. Oof. All this goes to reinforce the old adage: don’t judge a book (especially a doodler’s book) by it’s cover. But beyond that, don’t be so quick to assume someone else is going to get the same story by reading the book. Watch them illustrate the book, make annotations at the bottom of the page, adapt the book into a play, or song, or even turn the pages into original origami sculptures. A good teacher accepts the fact that the brain works in mysterious ways; a great teacher (and learner) embraces it.




2 thoughts on “Distractions

  1. Blogger lets me click and drag to arrange my page layout — I've only had to go into the XML code ONCE! Blame the hands-on learner in me for that preference. 🙂 Thanks, Tom!


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