Sketch! Boost Creativity and Brain-Friendly Learning in Class with Adobe Fresco

Image source: Adobe Stock / Chinnapong.

by Matt Miller

posted on 12-20-2019

Our brains adore visuals. We watch people’s faces while they talk. People constantly watch videos on their phones. Facebook posts with visuals get twice the engagement.

People drew on cave walls in prehistoric times.

Today, we look at billboards while we drive and visit art museums to stare at paintings.

If visuals are so powerful, why don’t we see more of them in the classroom? Why are so many PowerPoint slides filled with bullet points and text? Why are so many students’ notes just words?

That can change.

Adobe Fresco is a FREE app that gives students and teachers a powerful medium for creating and sharing their thinking and creations. This digital drawing and painting app is intuitive enough to get the beginner started right away, and is advanced enough to spur the seasoned artist to greater heights.

Fresco can be used in dozens of ways to spark creativity and demonstrate visual thinking in the classroom.

Why visuals?

Put simply: it’s how our brains are wired.

Picture superiority effect states that even your worst images – including my stick figures – can have a much greater impact than your greatest text-based presentation slides.

Dual coding theory suggests that our memories are stored either as pictures or verbally. Using images has an advantage – it encodes those new ideas using both the picture route and the verbal route. Using words only gets remembered verbally.

I learned the power of visuals when I started sketching for my students. In my own high school Spanish classes, I started teaching without textbooks by using conversational Spanish.

We practiced Spanish by telling live stories in class. Many days, though, it fell flat because the stories were missing a critical element — visuals. When I started sketching our stories as we made them up, they soared to new levels of engagement with my students. They even asked to take cell phone pictures of those sketches when class was over. (#Winning!)

When I saw how powerful these sketches were for instruction, I started empowering my students to sketch in class. I started by making sketchnotes — verbal/visual notetaking — an option during our vocabulary work. We progressed to storytelling through time-lapse sketch videos.

I found that some students loved sketching, especially when the classroom culture rewarded them for trying.

And I found that everyone seemed to benefit when I used those sketches in my instruction.

Sketchnoting in the classroom

Sketching can take many forms. Students get the same brain benefits when they sketch on paper or on a whiteboard as they do digitally.

But sketching digitally has very distinct benefits:

Adobe Fresco is the app I wish my students had when I taught Spanish. Students can sketch in multiple layers. They can mix colors to get the perfect tone and hue. They can customize their brushes to their heart’s content, and live brushes make oil and watercolors perform like they would on a real canvas.

Beginners can pick a simple brush and just start drawing. Advanced artists have so many customization options that there are virtually no limitations.

You can use this app on an iPad, Microsoft Surface or Wacom Mobile Studio Pro. The base version of Fresco is free to download and use (with a paid upgrade for pro features). It’s part of Adobe Creative Cloud, which students and teachers can save 60% on monthly, but you don’t need a Creative Cloud subscription to use Fresco.

It’s about ideas, not art

Teachers and students often have to contend with a barrier to using sketches in their learning.

“I’m not an artist.”

“I can’t draw.”

There’s good news, though. You don’t have to be a great artist to sketch.

Getting the brain benefits of sketching — and the student engagement — isn’t about creating beautiful works of art. It’s about creating visuals that mean something.

In short: sketching is about ideas, not art.

Start with the stick figure. It looks like a person. It creates the idea of a person in our minds. It doesn’t have to be great art — or even good!

Practice makes proficient. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. And even when you start, even if you don’t think your sketches are good, they’re still doing the job of communicating ideas.

4 ways to sketch in class with Fresco

What could this look like in your classroom? Need some “plug and play” ideas to try tomorrow? Here are four ways you and your students can benefit from brain-friendly sketching — and have fun!

Students can display their learning and their creativity with Adobe Fresco. With a variety of free brushes, custom color mixing and a variety of sharing options, students can create with what they learn and share it with an audience.

  1. Vocabulary sketches — This is how I got started. I made verbal/visual vocabulary notes an option to for my students. Some of them thrived by sketching images with their vocabulary words. Sketching didn’t play to some students’ strengths, so I had other options for them, like traditional flashcards or practice games. When it’s time to study for a quiz or a test, students will turn to their own vocabulary sketches to study — or they’ll share them with very grateful friends!
  2. Sketchnote summaries — Do a web search for “sketchnotes” and you’ll probably see intricate, detailed works of verbal/visual art. Many people assume sketchnotes are done live as a keynote speaker speaks or a teacher teaches. Actually, live sketchnoting is the hardest way to sketch! Encourage students to do sketchnote summaries after they’ve learned new material. It’s a form of retrieval practice, where students learn by recalling from memory.
  3. Sketch study guides — Teachers can get in on the sketching fun, too! Instead of typing out study guides for your students, consider sketching them. Create an image on Fresco for each concept or step or part of a chapter — however you want to organize it! Share them with your students digitally through Google Classroom or your learning management system. Post them on a class website. Your students will thank you if you replace boring bullet points on PowerPoint slides!
  4. Sketchy videos — Student-created sketches can work beautifully in videos created with Adobe Spark Video. Students can sketch out their ideas. Demonstrate learning. Show a process. Tell a story. Then, they can download those images and add them to a video in Adobe Spark Video. Students can narrate with their voices. They can add text and additional images. The built-in storytelling frameworks guide students in best practices for writing and creating.

Be brave and take the first step

You don’t have to be a great artist to use sketching in your class. Neither do your students! Sketching is about ideas, not about art.

Take that first step and incorporate some sketching into your instruction.

Encourage your students to add visuals to their learning through notetaking, visual thinking or creations to demonstrate learning.

In the end, new ideas will crystalize in their minds more clearly. Learning will soar. And you’ll see creativity flourish!

We partnered with Matt Miller to create this blog post. As such, this should be considered sponsored content.

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