“Post-it® notes came out when I was in college.” I mentioned this to a group of students as I was passing out stacks of the colored sticky notes, along with a Ziploc® bag full of Sharpie® markers: tools for an article annotation and mapping exercise.
I continued, “In fact, I recall my friend Jeanne buying a pack — they only came in yellow at the time — and her marveling to me at their coolness. Secretly, I was thinking that the little pad with adhesive strips was about the stupidest invention ever: Don’t paper and a piece of tape do a sufficient job?”
How wrong I was, I concluded. “It’s hard to imagine school life today without sticky notes.”
Teachers, not just students, need sticky notes too. In the past few weeks I’ve been thinking through and organizing a presentation, for the WAC International Conference, on “The Professional Poster Session and Its Simulation in the Undergraduate Setting.” I interviewed four PhD students on their first experience as poster presenters at professional conferences in their disciplines, and I had about 80 pages of interview transcripts. That’s a lot of material to boil down into an interesting 15 min and 12 slide talk. So, I decided to walk my own talk, get out the sticky notes and markers, clear off the kitchen table, and sit down and sketch first… with words.
Here are a few images from my presentation drafting. This, to me, was akin to freewriting in the composition process. Generate, generate, generate.
How does this differ from writing? Certainly, freewriting, note-taking, or even composing would have been other valid ways to begin. In my experience, however, those methods generate more elaborate and sustained thoughts, as well as a commitment to those thoughts, and less a sketch. I believe, too, that the visual aspect of discovering a story this way helps the producer (me) see vividly where ideas and interest are clustering. This is less visible in straight text: 3,000 words in 12 pt font on paper or a screen seem equally important when there are no visual cues.
Using Post-it® notes this way helps me to see — and to shape — what I’ll call the landscape of the story. And it’s physical, and malleable, and can be moved around.
Image at the top, of a stack of sticky notes, by angelamaphone via creativecommons.org