MIDLIFE MUSINGS: “You’re just a kid, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about” – Sean in Good Will Hunting

By Jennifer Miles Davis

Recently I found myself in the tediously familiar position of defending my daughter. Because she doodles. If I were to use emoticons in this column there would be a lot of rolling eyes. Doodling, it seems, is synonymous with laziness, daydreaming and not paying attention. How dare students disrespectfully draw pictures while scintillating and absorbing lessons are being taught?!

I distinctly remember her very first parents’ evening at secondary school, where the heinous crime of doodling was mentioned by pretty much every subject teacher. “I’m guessing she likes art!” quipped the maths teacher. (Eye roll.) Over the years, having been brainwashed that doodling is bad, she reined it in. But occasionally the compulsion would overcome her and cartoons would mysteriously appear in the margins of books. In the end, sadly, the problem was driven underground, which came to light when a secret notebook full of doodles was discovered in her blazer pocket. 

So there we were, discussing my daughter’s future*, when the teacher leaned across the desk intently to deliver some solemn news. “I’ve noticed that sometimes she doodles in class,” he said. He sat back, nodding gravely, and a little smugly. Shocked and mortified, we looked at our daughter, who had bowed her head in shame. He then dispensed another crushing blow. “I’ve also received reports about the same thing. From another teacher.” What could we say? Caught doodling not once but twice! How mortifying! Why can’t she be like normal sixth formers, and slope off during break to smoke weed, for goodness sakes?

For forever, doodling has been thought of as an idle and mindless activity and a distraction from the Real Work of learning. But – who’da thought it? Research has shown that doodling helps the brain to process information – particularly that imparted through talking (e.g., teaching). In a psychological experiment published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Professor Jackie Andrade from Plymouth University discovered that doodling while listening increases attention and memory by almost 30 percent. The theory behind this is that it is mindless enough not to cause “cognitive overload” but just stimulating enough to prevent daydreaming, which is detrimental to concentration because the mind wanders off too far and uses up too much of the brain’s processing power until before you know it … Ooh! Squirrel!

This is exactly how one student responded when questioned about doodling in class. “It keeps me in the room and helps me to concentrate,” she said. “Otherwise I would lose focus.” Jesse Prinz, a philosophy professor at City University in New York, says doodling keeps people in a state of “pure listening”. “Doodling helps hit that sweet spot between listening too much and listening too little,” he told HuffPost. “It keeps you in a state where your mind can’t wander, and your mind also can’t reflect or think more deeply about what you’re hearing.” 

As Sunni Brown, leader of “The Doodle Revolution – a global campaign for visual literacy”, says in her TED talk, “the doodle has never been the nemesis of intellectual thought. In reality, it is one of its greatest allies.”

So there, Mr Teacher, how do you like them apples?
* This is a completely fabricated version of events.

Contact me: jen@jennifermilesdavis.com




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s