Freshman year in my history class, recalls junior Nayana Vuppala, we had so much reading. I didn’t know how to absorb the information because I’m a visual learner. I started drawing my notes. I didn’t even know the name for what I was doing until last year, when we had a project in English 10 that was about the intersection of science and art. We had to find a video that made us think critically and intrigued us. I found a video on sketchnoting [shown below]. It was a voice-over and someone speed-drawing, all diagrams, no words, and I was thinking, “This is how I want to learn.”
There’s a population of students at Randolph who learn differently. I wanted to try something new so I could maybe lead some kind of discussion for the future for how Randolph could give us ways to learn a little better.
I’m in Randolph's Youth Leadership Council and I needed a service project my sophomore year, so I approached Dr. Hargett at Greengate School. She and the teachers were very interested with my concept. And from midwinter on I started going to Greengate every Wednesday morning, when we have late-start, and worked with their middle schoolers.
My first step was to teach the kids at Greengate a new way of retaining information. From kindergarten until probably graduate school, visuals with words really make a difference. You remember them a lot more easily. Everyone has a different thought process. Just like with math, there are always multiple ways to do something.
When I first presented sketchnoting at Greengate, I started with single words. If you start with sentences it is already too overwhelming, so I started with the word “king.” Everyone has some association. I kept going with words that have a common meaning. The different ways that people depict the words makes them their own. It has to be individualized or else it won’t be effective. When you look back over your own drawings you will remember what was being said. How much can someone take in in the classroom and relay it at home? It calls for independence.
I kept on working with some of the students into the spring. They would say, “I’m interested in this, but I don’t think I’m doing it right.” They didn’t get that there’s no right and wrong, no rules, no limitations, it’s how you want to think. If a student wants to learn a certain way there shouldn’t be any restrictions on them because the more we set restrictions on how they want to learn, the less they will want to do it.
If someone with a learning disability or anyone for that matter is struggling, they need to find an outlet to best suit their needs. If my outlet helps you, that’s great.
I’d like to share sketchnoting with anyone here at Randolph who would find it useful. I’ve been watching TED talks and trying to figure out if I can voice this to the community. I went to a local TEDx event and talked to the director and to Mr. Bernick, who is on their board. Seeing a TED talk in real life was surreal. It was like meeting a celebrity. I have also been in touch with Swapna Kakani ’08, who inspires me and who is a motivational speaker.
My mom knows people at Greengate and says they’re still using it this year. When I heard that, I was over the moon. I would have cried if she hadn’t been in the room. The kids know that even if someone wouldn’t understand their notes, they’ll be okay. I really want people to understand that everyone has a different way of thinking, and the visual forms we use to express ideas are just a physical representation of that.
Anna Grace Johnson ’18 photographed Nayana for her editorial photography project in Advanced Photography: “In my picture, the camera will be at eye-level with the people, making the viewer of the picture feel like they are in the classroom with Nayana and the kids. I am inspired by the effect of fluorescent lighting, and the uses of postures and props, in the work of An Le and Justin Van Leeuwen. I want the children and Nayana to stand out from the white board with the sketchnoting. I will use accessories and props to show that Nayana is a teacher and that they are in a learning environment. The positioning and the props allow the picture to look more natural. I also like how the fluorescent lighting creates leading lines, while having even lighting throughout the photo.”
This story is from a series of thumbnail portraits in the forthcoming Spring 2017 Randolph Magazine, in a feature titled “Learning in the Community: Transformative Experiences.”