A scenario with which you are probably familiar: You are giving directions for an upcoming project, or explaining a complex math concept, or leading a discussion about the story the class just read in the reading book. Dozens of eyes are focused in your direction as the students hang on your every word. You glance to the left, where you see one of your gifted students, eyes down, pencil drifting lazily across the page of her notebook in elaborate, abstract swirls and angles. Interrupting your speech, you call her name. She looks up, you ask her to put the pencil and notebook away and pay attention, she complies, and you go on, confident that she is now engaged in the important stuff.
Most of us have been in that position. I’m certain, though, that you can recall more than once in class (or as likely, graduate school) being where that student was.
Why do we doodle? It is entirely possible that by making your students stop doodling, you are actually harming their ability to focus on what you’re teaching. A report about this on NPR last week has some interesting implications for teachers of gifted students. Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth, has studied doodling and its effects, and found that it is a coping mechanism that people use to give their brains something to process when they are not being sufficiently stimulated:
But even more, consider the possibility of being proactive in your approach:
- Whenever possible, plan high-engagement and high-stimulation activities
- Give your students scratch pads or paper and allow them to keep them out at all times
- Switch modes frequently to keep the brain alert
- When students doodle, don’t take it personally
- Look for cues that you need to take breaks or shift gears
Understanding the brain and recognizing the outward signs of what it is doing will help you stay in tune with your students and meet their needs more easily. And the next time you’re in a faculty meeting, glance around and see how many of your colleagues are keeping their brains occupied.
I am so glad that you posted on this research and your experiences with it. I was that kid! It’s all I can do not to hunt down my previous teachers and email them your post. I tried to explain that doodling HELPED me pay attention. I experience the same thing with something like a crossword puzzle. These things keep me grounded and often provide me with a visual and muscle pattern memory that allows me to make a better connection. Thanks for sharing!
I love this post. I was that kid, too! I still doodle at meetings, during sermons, etc. Sometimes I do 3‑d “doodles” by folding small pieces of paper. It keeps that part of my brain busy that would otherwise lead me totally off the subject. Thanks for drawing attention to this.
I was that kid, too, and still am. I can remember sitting in graduate classes and creating the most incredibly detailed doodles. One of my classmates once commented that I should frame them. I also know that I tend to rush to judgment about what my students are doing and what constitutes “paying attention”. This story really got me thinking about how I need to put myself in my kids’ shoes and try to see it from their point of view.
I read this same report last week. I allow my students to doodle. Some students need to keep their hands busy while their brains work. More teachers and administrators should realize this. When our students are at home, they are always multi-tasking. They are accustomed to doing more than one thing at once and then we expect them to stay single focused at school? Doesn’t happen.
This is true as far as I’m concerned. There are many instances of what you have just mentioned in my classroom.I used to take it personally although I knew these students were gifted 🙂 Now I know I have to be tolerant when they doodle …