"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

I Doodle to Listen


          [doodle:June 2014]

"Am I boring you?"

I was doodling during a university faculty meeting. My department head noticed I was working on an elaborate abstract shape while he was talking about research budgets and changes in the grading policies. He assumed I wasn't paying attention. But I was doodling in order to pay attention.

And I was paying attention in a very focused way. Brain studies suggest that when listening to complex or tediously delivered input, doodlers retain far more of the key information than non-doodlers. It has something to do with how doodling keeps you from daydreaming. Daydreaming during a lecture, explanation, or presentation, takes up so much complex processing power, what cognitive scientists call "executive functioning," that your brain turns off the comparatively boring stuff and you retain almost nothing. Doodling, in contrast, takes up very little processing power, and in a weird way, keeps the brain from daydreaming by using just enough executive functioning to assist the listener's focus and retention.

A little personal background: I'm a lapsed painter who walked away from art about 25 years ago and moved to Japan. I didn't do any art to speak of for years. But I've always doodled. University meetings, church sermons, lectures, conference presentations--I was the one with a pencil and paper, sketching abstract shapes as I listened.

But then I got an iPad and stumbled into the world of art apps. My long buried art persona was revived and I started "painting" again. And along the way my iPad became my doodling tool. I was curious if it would be possible to make art while using very limited processing power, while listening to someone talk. And what the art would look like.

Art apps are uncannily tactile, simulating the feel of doing art. The only thing missing is the expense of art supplies, the smell, and the mess. And a lot of the steps of doing art are automated with redo/undo functions, layers, copying and pasting, magnification, and instant filters. No stretching canvas or waiting around for oil paint to dry. No cleaning brushes. And once you've climbed the learning curve of a new app, art comes really fast. 

          [doodle: September 2014]

Doodling has become more sophisticated as I am creating what look like finished works of art during a sermon or a lecture. However, I'm reluctant to consider them more significant than they are--they're still just doodles.  Doodles are disposable. Doodles are free. The fact that my doodles are digital make them substantially different from what I used to do as a painter, which is in a way liberating for me. Maybe it's a cop out, but it's nice not having to submit them for any sort of aesthetic critique.

My doodles tend to be stream of consciousness. I don't try to illustrate a sermon or a lecture. I paint and draw as I listen, not planning the image, but letting it develop on its own. People sometimes ask me what the sermon text or topic was, and then look at the doodle, trying to decipher some hidden meaning. It doesn't work like that.

My primary aim is to remember what I'm listening to, and not daydream. Sometimes the image is successful and pleasing. If so, I might share it online, and some people might even enjoy it. If it isn't, I toss it. It's just a doodle.

Doodling works for my brain to focus my attention. What works for you?  Why? 


Sylvan Payne sylvanjpayne@me.com teaches academic English skills in the PACE Program at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

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20 Images x 20 Seconds: A Tool Worth Considering


Tired of “death by PowerPoint?” Do you struggle with dull, endless, listless, droning presentations? It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’ve attended a PechaKucha Night in one of the more than 800 cities around the globe, it’s probably occurred to you already that his could maybe work in the classroom to make things a little more zippy.

“What’s PechaKucha (PK)?” you ask. Well, it’s a presentation format that started in Tokyo in 2003. Each presentation is made up of 20 slides and each slide advances automatically after 20 seconds. The result is a high-speed, high-energy experience for both presenter and audience.  (Check out the PK website for lots of example presentations.)

I’ve used the PK 20X20 format in a university setting with Japanese English as a foreign language (EFL) students. The results have been overwhelmingly positive: improved skills, increased confidence, engaged audiences, and heightened community satisfaction. Here is a student 20x20 presentation.

As an EFL teacher doing a lot of content-based instruction, I’m mostly concerned with teaching language skills. If there’s time and energy remaining, I’ll work on critical thinking skills. I sometimes ask my students to do reflective discussions and/or journaling for feedback. Sometimes I’ll ask students to prepare questions for post-presentation discussions. All these are concerned with language skills primarily. I use 20X20 because it meets so many needs while being an entertaining, engaging experience.

Why it works for me

The slides are highly visual and low on text. Presenters tend to talk about the ideas illustrated by the visuals instead of reading the screen to the audience.

The time factor helps the teacher manage things on presentation days. When you know it’s going to be 400 seconds exactly, you can easily plan how many presentations to work into a class period.

Nobody dies of boredom. If it’s bad, it comes to a merciful end at 6’40”.

The time factor makes practice do-able. Practice is the single most important issue determining whether a presentation succeeds or fails. A presenter can practice one of these eight or nine times in one hour. Supervised practice can be part of classroom work. And with increased practice, presenters tend to do better in areas of voice inflection, gestures, posture, movement, and eye contact—all vital parts of a successful presentation.

The time factor also forces presenters to work within strict boundaries to create something compelling. As one of my students put it, it reminded her of haiku. What she meant is: it’s compact, it follows rules, and in doing so, the meaning somehow overflows the boundaries.

And yet it’s flexible. It’s possible to work it out in teams with say, two or three people working on one 20X20 presentation together. Or doing mini PKs of ten slides.

Try it out with your students, your colleagues or at your next meeting; attend a PechaKuchaNight; or, create a 20x20 and present it yourself. It’s fun, easy to use and helpful.

What ideas do you already have about how you could integrate PechaKucha into your Dialogue Education approach?  If you have experience using PechaKucha, what tips can you share with the rest of us? 

For a fuller understanding of PechaKucha and the 20x20 presentation tool, read the article “Helping Students Develop Skills for Better Presentations: Using the 20x20 Format for Presentation Training” by Mark Christianson and Sylvan Payne (Language Research Bulletin, 26, ICU, Tokyo).

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Sylvan Payne sylvanjpayne@me.com teaches academic English skills in the PACE Program at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

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