Discover more from The Educationalist
Do you keep a diary?
The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”! If you are a “regular” in this space you will know that reflection is one of the topics I am most fond of in relation to teaching and learning and, as a consequence, I have been tackling it from various angles in the past. This week I want to bring to your attention one particular reflection instrument- the journal- and explore why and how it can be used by both students and educators. I am adding, as usual, a set of resources I hope you find useful in case you want to delve deeper into this topic. Wish you happy reading and I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences with learning and teaching journals!
Reflection is a very important part of the learning process, providing us with the space to “sit” with our thoughts and experiences, make connections and ultimately take an active role in our learning- whether we are students or educators. But reflection takes time. Reflection requires us to create new habits. It requires us to pause (often in silence) and resist the urge to respond immediately. For all the above-mentioned reasons (and more), while we are aware of its benefits, it is not always easy to implement reflection in our teaching practice.
In past issues I wrote about how to design reflection moments in our courses and how to create and explore both individual and social reflection spaces for educators and faculty developers. If you are interested in designing learning spaces with a large reflective component, you can read more about ePortfolios here. You can also find some ideas and resources about students as reflective practitioners and how to encourage reflection on their personal and professional development.
This week I want to focus on one particular tool- the journal- and explore its potential benefits for both students and educators. Moreover, I’ll also try to provide some thoughts on how to best embed this tool in our learning and teaching practice respectively.
Keeping a learning journal can have many benefits, both for the learning process (and the course-specific requirements) and for personal development. This is by no means and exhaustive list, just the ones that stand out for me:
Ownership of learning: journals can support students in taking a more active role in their learning, first of all by understanding their learning habits better and becoming more aware of what they need (in terms of tools, support, environment) to be effective;
Better understanding new and/ or complex concepts: by recording personal observations, linking them to research, taking the time to let new knowledge sink in, journals provide students with a venue for deeper learning;
Relevance & transferability of what is being learned: in their journals students can reflect on how what they are learning- knowledge and skills- relates to their own experience and their future goals;
Safe space & sand box: integrating a journal in their learning routine gives students the time to think about what they hear, read, experience and consequently make connections and explore new ideas, allowing for a more authentic engagement with their learning;
Personal development: journals also have an impact beyond the learning process, helping students create new habits, develop self-discipline and a more accurate sense of their personal and professional development path.
Like every reflection instrument, learning journals work best when they are well embedded in the course. Here are some of my tips on what you should think about:
Design the learning journal as an integral part of the course, not a mere optional afterthought; it can also be useful to offer students a framework for reflection as well as providing them with some evidence of the effectiveness of reflection;
Be transparent about your expectations: it’s important that students know the place of the journal in the course, whether or not it will be assessed, and how (see below) and what you expect to see/hear/ read from them; providing some examples can help, especially when students are new to reflection;
There are different types of journals you can choose from, depending on the learning objectives and the nature of your course; you can read more about that in the resources below. One important thing to consider here is the balance between the structure you want to offer students (in the form of regular reflection prompts) and the freedom that such a space inherently promises;
You can be pretty flexible in terms of format; technology provides a variety of media students can use for their journals, so you can let them chose what works best for them- writing, making videos or podcasts- unless one specific medium is closely linked to your objectives;
Consider whether the journal will be assessed or not. If you plan to assess it, it’s useful to create a rubric, even if (or especially because) the evaluation may seem quite subjective. Make your criteria explicit to students- don’t worry, if anything it will help not constrain them!
Every journal they have to write helps students develop a reflection habit; be clear, consistent and supportive, this will mean a lot to them in the long run;
One extra tip: like with every new habit we are working on, it helps to be accountable to someone, so you may want to consider a buddy system, whereby students pair up to review each other’s journals and support each other in the process.
Now that you have some ideas on how to embed learning journals in your courses, how about trying one yourself? Yes, I know we are (seem to be?) always too busy for that, but let’s stop for a moment and consider why it could be useful.
Supporting learning design: journals can be of real help in the process of designing/ redesigning your course; keeping track of what worked, what didn’t and adapting new course iterations accordingly is much easier if you take regular notes to document your experience;
Becoming aware of our own teaching style & philosophy: yes, what I mean is getting to know our “teaching selves” better. This works best when we articulate our values and principles and a journal can be a great venue for this;
A tool for professional (and personal) development: by mirroring our experiences and adding a reflection layer to them, teaching journals can help increase our awareness of progress, of continuous transformation. It can be quite satisfying to see how far we came and it can also be a good place to set goals for the future;
Enhancing our connection to students: while this may not be immediately obvious, the process of constantly reflecting on our teaching (and implicitly on our interactions with students) often brings us closer to our students and allows us to be more responsive to their needs;
A gateway to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): from closely observing and reflecting on what is going on in your classroom to transforming this knowledge into research there is one step- and journals can ease this transition as they provide a systematic way of gathering data, analysing it and reflecting on it.
Whereas for students it is a matter of integrating journals in their learning routine, for us as educators it’s all about managing to embed them meaningfully- and efficiently- in our day to day practice. Here are some ideas (although I must confess I have not found the perfect recipe yet):
Make it as regular as possible: here’s the thing about reflection: it will always seem a chore until it becomes a habit. So try to block time for it, ideally immediately after class as that’s the moment when your impressions are still fresh;
Don’t worry too much about the format: if you don’t feel like writing, record yourself for a few minutes- it’s better than skipping it altogether. Find whatever format works best for you: for some it may be free writing, for others a bit of structure may help so you can give yourself some prompts to guide your reflection;
Try to link to the course/ lesson planning- this will make it easier as you can annotate it directly with your comments on what worked and what didn’t. It’s also useful to keep a record of all the “spaces” you use for reflection, as it makes it easier to go back and make sense of it later;
Accountability: like for your students, this process may not come easy for many of us either. So why don’t we try to make our lives easier by finding a “buddy” to reflect with or at least share our intentions and check in with from time to time?
You can find some more ideas in this Twitter thread- thanks so much to everyone who contributed, your enthusiasm about learning journals made me dedicate this issue to them!
Learning Journals and Logs, by Jennifer Moon: a comprehensive document that provides a great framework for starting with learning journals, including rubrics and examples from different disciplines;
Exploring a learning journal: some useful examples of prompts to guide you in designing activities that involve learning journals;
20 types of student journals that help students think: an overview of different types of learning journals;
Reflective Journals and Learning Logs, Northern Illinois University: a useful overview of different types of reflections you can ask students to focus on in their journals;
The benefits of reflective journal writing: reflections on the benefits on learning journals and how to communicate them clearly to students;
Journal Writing as a Teaching Technique to Promote Reflection, by Stacy E. Walker: article discussing techniques and strategies to implement journal writing;
Reflective or Learning Journal: some tips regarding structure and style, including a guide on journal writing;
14 Reasons Teachers Should Keep a Reflective Journal, by Dana Di Pardo Léon-Henri: great overview of why educators can benefit from keeping a teaching journal;
Reflective journaling: a tool for teacher professional development, an article by Lorna M. Dreyer;
What to Write? 50 Journaling Prompts for Teachers: some useful ideas for prompts we can all use to reflect on our teaching and professional development.