Let it Gogh

How art saved my class from (my) boring lectures

I started my first teaching job with nary a lesson plan.

But who could blame me? It was Christmas week, then New Year’s week, then Holiday Hangover week, and then the Pope’s euphoric visit to Manila before the semester started!

After much self-loathing, I told myself, “Heck, let’s just wing it.”

The semester barged in like a train in full speed. Every week became a bloody crash of reading books, writing lecture notes, and creating Keynote presentations (I’m teaching college English).

But adding graphics to the presentations slowed down the process. With mediocre broadband connection at home, it takes me eternities to find the (free) images that fit well with my words.

The first sketch I made for my presentations

And I knew I couldn’t do away with the graphics. I’m a rabid advocate of the one-idea-one-graphic-per-slide principle of presenting. I believe that each slide should only communicate a single idea, partly driven by an interesting visual element.

That means I hate bullet points. And I’m not afraid of reaching a hundred slides if the presentation demands it. Yes, Nancy Duarte fan right here!

Brooding on the problem led me to doodling on my Sketches app. I’ve always found solace (or excitement, depending on the situation) drawing imaginary scenes or sketching whatever is in sight.

And then it dawned on me: Why don’t I draw my own graphics?

The eureka moment. Finally, I thought, work and play are married!

From then on I added another stage to the class-preparation process: drawing images. It takes me about 3 minutes to finish a simple sketch. So the additional work is okay with me.

Oftentimes it’s not even a burden at all; it’s my time to relax. Doing the sketches gave me the freedom to express my imagination, giving my students a glimpse of what I consider funny.

So far, they seem delighted:

I try to imitate Sir Quentin Blake’s drawing style. He’s the guy famous for illustrating most of Roald Dahl’s books.

Slide after slide, I feel delighted, too, as they anticipate the sketch on the next slide.

The strategy I use is wackiness. The crazier the images look, the better. They make a stronger impression, it seems. Sometimes students even mimic the characters on the sketch. Like kids. It really eases up the mid-lecture tension.

Turns out, many things in this world are like inverted pyramids. Like a research paper’s introduction. So.
When challenging your brain.
About creating mindmaps.

But aside from imaginary characters, pop cultural icons are also effective “attention-getters”. Throw in a Spock and a Dumbledore, and you’re in for some more ooohs and giggles in the audience, and then silence in rapt attention — or so I like to believe. Haha.

Mr Spock is always there to help me advocate for logical thinking.
Ever-wise Prof. Albus Dumbledore teaches my students note-taking — except that he does it with a Pensieve.
Like you, perhaps, I do wonder if these illustrations help in memory retention, if it does indeed facilitate true learning and not just momentary attentiveness.

And since I still have an entire academic career to answer that question, three things I know for sure — things which might help you in your classroom as well:

1. On-point images do help in grabbing attention — especially if you have a younger audience. After all, millennials are a visual generation. No wonder their digital life is composed mostly of photos, emoji, memes, and, of course, the ubiquitous selfies.

2. If you’re into drawing and have a tablet, then it’s time to put that talent (and that gadget) to good use. Draw original cartoons; use your imagination; express your sense of humor. It’s liberating.

3. Observe your students: what are their likes and dislikes, their expressions and inside jokes? If you can incorporate the everyday little things they talk about into your teaching tools, then you’ve established a common ground — indeed a playground of sorts, where learning and “leisure” are one. (But don’t stalk them.)

Those are just my observations, of course — after three months into my first semester as a teacher. Now I can’t wait to learn more and bump into more (pedagogical) surprises soon.

Here’s to education, art, and love!

That’s all, folks!

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2 thoughts on “Let it Gogh

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