At right is a photo of a symbol set for thumb nailing — rough
Symbol set for thumb nailing outlines of Titles, Map, Subheadings, borders, bullet lists, text blocks, portrait and landscape images, graphs and symbols and piecharts, and so on.  All the rough parts of a student’s visual presentation design in rough, easy to draw symbolism.

And below, just few samples of more than a dozen designs for posters that I produced (along with another sixty or so that my students produced) in the space of about fifteen minutes, using basic thumb-nailing skills.

I showed students these symbols, and then set a timer.  As the timer wound past every two minute mark, I asked students to switch from portrait to landscape and then back again. Each student created about a dozen thumbnail sketches of visual presentations that they might do in the future.

The Challenge of Preliminary Work

One of the things that’s really hard for students is to get past the monkey-mind fear-of-failure.  There is so much concern about doing a specific assignment “right” that they can’t often let go of themselves enough to do a lot of interesting preliminary work.  So we have to model or imagine that work for them and create opportunities for them to do that work despite themselves.  How do we get students to do enough preliminary work that they can imagine more possibilities for themselves than just their “first go” at a problem that we the teachers set for them?

We have to create opportunities for them to brainstorm multiple pathways forward.

Which is what I did on Friday.  I taught kids to brainstorm using thumbnail drawings, and to generate multiple possibilities in four minutes or less.


It’s a great way forward. Require them to produce quantities of work, without giving them too much time to think about the quality of any one piece.  It’s a radically different kind of training, of course.  Rather than asking for one piece of work, I asked them for an indefinite number of pieces of work.  And the result is that they (and I) generated about a dozen possibilities each for their (and my) work moving forward.

In essence, I taught them to brainstorm without telling them they were brainstorming.  I gave it a name that even took away the fear of brainstorming.  But by generating all these thumbnail drawings, I gave them the possibility of solving problems in multiple ways.

We’ll see if it last through vacation.

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