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Documenting Learning

Making learning visible is a 21st century pedagogical movement. There are various leaders in this visible-learners field, including a colleague, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano. Tolisano’s model: Documenting OF/FOR/AS Learning is one that I embrace, as it provides schools, district, and higher-ed programs with a strong learner-centered assessment-evidence framework for students, teachers, and administrators.


Questions educators (and students) need to ask, explore, and agree on as part of a documenting-learning implementation, such as:

  • What do we accept as evidence of learning?
  • What is the difference between display and documenting?


The first question is not an easy one to answer! Oftentimes, educators (and students) think they are comfortable with what defines evidence. Once the process of peeling back the layers of conception (and at times, misconceptions) begins, robust dialogue takes place that leads to a collective agreement and a common vocabulary.


The second question is important to explore as it lays a foundational understanding of documenting in general, and later aids in differentiation among OF, FOR, and AS learning. Here is an example that expresses the difference between displaying and documenting thinking.


The first photo (found on the standards-resources gap analysis page) displays a moment in time when a team of elementary teachers were working on a standards-resources gap analysis focused on their use of the EngageNY English Language Arts modules coupled with state-assessment score trends that revealed areas of concern. Since I am the one who took the photograph, I am the only one who can “see” what is taking place in real time. 


Teachers workign on EngageNY Modules


For you to be able to "see" the learning, the display needs to be annotated (which I did using Skitch) to convey my documented observations associated with the photo's captured actions.


Annotated Photo


Take a moment to reflect on how you are reacting to the photo display versus the photo documentation.


What are you thinking in relationship to how your teachers, students, and administrators currently visibly document their learning (e.g., textually, visually, aurally, multimedia)? Activities (such as this photo display versus documentation exercise), as well as personalized application challenges, experienced during training and coaching sessions aid learners in understanding the documenting OF/FOR/AS learning components, including documentation phases, workflows, characteristics, and strategies.


Documeintg OF/FOR/AS Learning Infographics
Image by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano @langwitches


To discuss your organization’s documenting OF/FOR/AS learning needs, please complete a Curriculum Design Survey.

Janet will respond within 24 hours.

To contact Janet directly, please call her at 520.241.8797, or email her using this contact form.




A method for making learning visible is sketchnoting. Sketchnoting is a powerful combination of doodling (making spontaneous marks to help yourself think) and minimal text either “in the moment” or “after encountering the learning” (not quite as spontaneous), which helps formulate creative problem-solving and deep-information processing


Sketchnoting deep-information processing is an excellent tool for documenting learning—especially for summarizing and paraphrasing key points and ideas visualized by student learners and adult learners. 


For example, here is a reflection sketchnote I did to process an article I read exploring how those who take online courses stay engaged and learn best (Campfires in Cyberspace).


Caves, Campfires, Water holes, & Mountiain Tops




I shared my sketchnote with a professional triad I learn with—and from. We meet virtually using Skype and share our sketchnotes via Google Doc slides to collect, curate, and share our feedback. It has been, and continues to be, a meaningful professional-learning process. We all agree that having to visually make note of the most important information is a challenge worth taking on. We find that introspectively contemplating the “just right” visual image (doodle) to capture the key point being conveyed causes that point to become imprinted in one’s brain and easier to mentally retrieve as time passes.

Sunni Brown comments at the end of her TED Talk:


So here is my point: Under no circumstances should doodling be eradicated from a classroom or a boardroom or even the war room. On the contrary, doodling should be leveraged in precisely those situations where information density is very high and the need for processing that information is very high. And I will go you one further. Because doodling is so universally accessible and it is not intimidating as an art form, it can be leveraged as a portal through which we move people into higher levels of visual literacy. My friends, the doodle has never been the nemesis of intellectual thought. In reality, it is one of its greatest allies. 


I wholeheartedly agree. 


There are a plethora of sketchnoting how tos, guides, and resources available on-line—some with an education focus, others not. Googling sketchnoting will create hundreds of results. YouTube and Vimeo have myriad videos relate to sketchnoting or visual note taking. Twitter is another portal to find those embracing sketchnoting using the hashtags: #sketchnoting, #sketchnotes, or #visualnotes. While this cache of information is wonderful on one hand, the other hand can get quickly overwhelmed! 


A helpful filtering question is: 


What do my students, teachers, and administrators need to know and be able to do to use sketchnoting as a documenting learning strategy? 


To discuss this question, and your organization’s sketchnoting needs related to documenting learning, please complete a Curriculum Design Survey. Janet will respond within 24 hours.


To contact Janet directly, call her at 520.241.8797, or email her using this contact form.