documentation,  playground

Sketching as a method of pedagogical documentation

Preamble: Although the terms “drawing” and “sketching” are often used interchangingly (Hoffmann, 2019), I have chosen the word “sketching” to indicate as work preliminary to a drawing; a draft, a visualized thinking process. Practically, this choice hopes to alleviate some of the pressures of the I-can’t-draw-I’ve-got-no-talent mantra that adults often utter in response to the invitation to sketch. Conceptually, the choice of “sketching” is a gesture towards the gerund-making intentionalities of the Common Worlds scholars (in turn, inherited from the veritable becoming (animal; woman; child; flower-becoming-bee and bee-becoming-flower) of Deleuze & Guattari), to indicate the unfinished, ongoing labouring.

April 2022:
Sketching a method of pedagogical documentation by Tatiana Zakharova-Goodman – on the gallery at ARTS RESEARCHERS & TEACHERS SOCIETY [ARTS SIG] website

The play-on-words lover in me also enjoys the common root between “sketching” and “sketchy” – thus already building in the contamination of the practice with something that is wanting in completeness or clearness (Merriam-Webster) or exceeding in unpredictability (Urban Dictionary).

When proposing sketching as a method of pedagogical documentation alongside writing and videography / photography, each educator was presented with a traveling notebook with its first page already filled with a sketch of my own doing. This marking of the new notebook had the intentionality to wrestle against the fear of the blank.

While educators were somewhat reluctant to try sketching, worried with by a common claim of not knowing how to draw, sketches began to populate pages of the notebook…

I do not propose sketching as a form of realistic drawing. Instead, I think of it as writing-executed-differently: take the familiar process of hand-writing, and modify the physicality of marking on paper traces of that which is being noticed.

Are hand-written notes and sketches not simply a build-up of small pencil lines? Are both not practices of mark-making? In thinking this way, sketching stops being an unfamiliar act requiring a specialized artistic talent.

Within the practice of pedagogical documentation, sketching is thus proposed as a form of the act of writing: same lines but differently composed. Such proposition has historical roots, too. Throughout the Renaissance, drawing and handwriting were considered analogous, both depending on “the manipulation of the line” (Bermingham 2000 in Hoffmann, 2019, p. 9).

Sketching as a method of pedagogical documentation is not offered as means of revealing the subconscious (art analysis) , nor as a problem-solving tool (diagrams, charts and flows) or a technically-sound replication of forms and contours (realistic drawing). It’s not even offered as a communication tool, the way sketching is commonly used in the field of design. Instead, the invitation to sketch is fueled by the same desires as the invitation to document: to notice, consider and narrate that which is (pedagogically) significant within curriculum-making (CECE, 2020; Delgado Vintimilla & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2021 with reference to Rinaldi, 2005).

Sketching is a process of visual response (Reason, 2018), a practice of “drawing-enhanced seeing” (Causey, 2017, p. 13) that puts educators into an embodied and intimate dynamic with both the who and the how of documentation.

It’s a dance between that which pulls at our attention, and the eye, and the gripping hand and fingers, and the materials that support the line drawing…

Unlike an image taken from a singular position of a lense, sketching may allow us to move in different directions – horizontally, diagonally, spirally, chaotically, transversally etc.

Sketching is a rhizome, where “everything is drawn and flees”:

What are your lines? What map are you in the process of making or rearranging? What abstract line will you draw, and at what price, for yourself and for others? What is your line of flight? What is your BwO [a Body without Organs – TZ], merged with that line? Are you cracking up? Are you going to crack up? Are you deterritorializing? Which lines are you severing, and which are you extending or resuming?

– Deleuze & Guattari, 1987/2018, p. 203

While manifesting itself as a physical act of paying “exquisite attention” (Lather, 2007) to everyday moments, sketching as a method of noticing offers us also the room to situate ourselves. Unlike the process of documenting by taking (digital) images or videos, sketching is not mediated by a third-party digital algorithm “veiled in proprietary codes and corporate secrecy” (Zakharova & Agarwal, 2022), but by the turn of our heads, the pressure of our hands, the stance of our legs, the rigidity of our backs. Sketching argues for the same point as Donna Haraway had more than a decade ago: “…for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity” (1998, p. 589).

For me, sketching as a pedagogical method differs significantly from sketching as a tool of design (and perhaps art). While the latter, as an instrument for thinking visually, is a reflective process involving a designer looking inwards for a solution (Hoffman, 2019), the former should be considered as a diffractive movement (Barad, 2007;  Haraway, date ). Within a pedagogical context, educators are invited to notice and capture differences, to consider traditional education narratives through the often-unexpected outcomes of the process of sketching or its result.

An educator shares a sketch of “Child inside the plastic tube of the climber”:

The sketch is accompanied by two paragraphs, the first considering what a child is feeling (“comfort”), the second describing child’s actions (“looked”, “shuffled”, “raised hands”, “peeked”). In a group discussion (in-person and via online message board platform) of the sketch and the small write-up, one phrase in particular captured attention: “were crouched in, arms folded over knees, back curved into the shape of the tube”.

With that phrase in mind, we return to the sketch. We note the points of connection between the body and the outline of the play tube, head, torso, lower back, feet. Despite the fact that the accompanied writing describes a wide range of physical activities that educators ‘look for’ in outdoor play, the moment captured in a sketch is deeply intimate and relational. Another educator comments about the fluidity of the situation: play takes shape of a body taking shape of a play instrument. She continues writing, returning to the sketch: “Maybe a better way to describe it would be symbiotic. There is no separation between the child and the tube”. 

While educators may return to their sketches as part of their reflective practices (Reason notes in particular the great potentiality of “reflective contemplation” (2018, p. 49) in drawing as a research practice), I am more interested in exploring the pedagogical potential of sketching. Some of these consequences have been captured, more broadly, by propositions of art as a source of new imaginations and untapped critical thinking in educational and curriculum building practices (see Eisner, 2009; Greene, 1995; Grumet, 1978). More specifically, though, the practice of sketching as part of pedagogical documentation may speak to the critical attention to nuance (Eisner, 2009).

The small situated and embodied particularities of sketches resist the universality of developmental early childhood practices as well as their instrumentality and linearity. Sketching removes some of the distance between the sketcher (an educator) and a (human or more-than-human) “object” of attention. Here, detachment is no longer possible, replaced by vulnerability where own situatedness is exposed with strokes of a pencil.

Materials: sketchpad, HP pencil

To think with Ingold (2013), the sketching materials are transducers, in that they “convert the ductus – the kinetic quality of the gesture, its flow or movement – from one register, of bodily kinaesthesia, to another, of material flux” (p. 102).


Feature image: sketch “Weeds” by educator S.

Photos of sketchbook and sketches by Tatiana Zakharova

Sketching loop photo collage photo by T.Zakharova and “Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes” by Marie-Denise Villers

Image: sketch “Child inside the plastic tube of the climber” by educator K.


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