Sketchbooks and ZoneDoodles

“Fostering thinking requires making thinking visible.

Thinking happens mostly in our heads, invisible to others and even to ourselves. Effective thinkers make their thinking visible, meaning they externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or some other method. They can then direct and improve those thoughts. Visible Thinking also emphasizes documenting thinking for later reflection.” – Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins Educational Leadership Feb2008

“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” – John Singer Sargent

This is the fourth year we’ve made sketchbooks in my 5/6 art classes, (after all, we are makers) because making them ourselves helps to create greater student investment in using them. In prior years, students had been asked to purchase sketchbooks as part of their school supplies. They were asked to purchase 9 x 12 sketchbooks and I provide them for those who couldn’t/didn’t buy them. This worked well when students remembered to bring them to class, which they didn’t always, and sometimes they lost them for good. That was pretty frustrating. One year I squirreled away copy paper boxes and kept them as storage bins for sketchbooks for each of my nine classes. That kept them in the classroom – no longer lost or forgotten. However, those nine boxes took up a lot of space.

In 2015, I attended a Project Zero Classroom workshop for a week in the summer. You can read my reflection on that experience here. I found myself inspired and consumed by thoughts on learning both in content and instruction, especially in comparison to what I was seeing in my school and reading about from educators across the country. I realized I was teaching in a way that guided kids through projects, which although deep in layers of content, were more project/product based than process-based. At the end of the week at Project Zero, my cohort group were assigned the summative task to come up with a headline that captured each of our take aways, or going forward goals. Throughout the week, my international group of educators had gently teased me about my Boston speech mannerisms (I can’t help it!) which ended up being captured in my headline:

Actual Headline posted on the wall at Project Zero Classroom

As I prepared for back-to-school throughout the rest of the summer, I focused on Slowing Down The Learning by developing deep and rich projects that allowed for a focus on process, whether creative, collaborative, or communicative. This is when sketchbooks became very important in my classroom.

Students use the sketchbooks for daily Creativity Sparks (bellringers), planning projects, and reflection. They use them as Discovery Logs as they progress through units. These handmade sketchbooks are an integral to the learning in our classroom.

Here is Bridget M to give a tour of her sketchbook:

Prior to teaching, I had a twenty year career in the printing industry. I well knew the process of making books, I just had to simplify it enough to ensure success for all of my students. I settled on a 16 page saddle-stitch book which would end up at 7.5″ x 11″, and fit well in the locker bins which were being discarded at school.

Here is how to make the books:

Cover stock varies year to year, from 26 x 40 sheets of actual cover stock donated by a local printer to Manilla Tag, which is what we used this year. And this is the paper I order for the text:

We call these extra-long staplers “turbo staplers”…
These steps are shown through a demonstration and are posted as a reminder…

In my school most electives teachers get all new classes in January for the start of term three, so I facilitate sketchbook making twice each year. Each time we make sketchbooks, we try out a new process for the cover artwork, including Collage, ZoneDoodles (my version of zentangle), Compass Shape Watercolor, Paper Circuits, Blown-Splatter-Drip Painting, Mandalas, and this year – Colorful ZoneDoodles, which will be shared in an upcoming post.

ZoneDoodle with metallic Sharpies
Compass Shape Watercolor
Paper Circuits
Blown (straw), Splatter, Drip Painting
Colorful ZoneDoodle






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