Journaling expands our horizons

Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn… writing and learning [are] the same process.”      —  William Zinser from Writing to Learn

I used journaling many years before I read about it – long before teachers tried using it in the classroom. I kept a A seated woman writes in her journal.diary starting in  7th or 8th grade, but it was the usual recording of the events of the day, going shopping, spending the night at a friend’s house, the movie we went to see, etc.

Today, there are many teachers who believe journaling helps students learn — and it would if the students did it on their own. But teachers ruin the experience when they require students to keep a daily journal, when they collect the journals, read them and grade them.

Horrors!  Having a teacher require a journal, knowing that a teacher will read and  grade your journal are all guaranteed ways of making students hate journaling.

Marlena, the woman in the picture, is writing in her journal, reflecting on the events of the past semester, meeting a man she really liked, taking a heavier load of classes than usual and doing well, getting a part time job, organizing her finances to pay off half of her credit card debt. As she reflects on what she learned, she begins to plan her goals for the next semester. With her job, she intends to pay off the rest of her debt and keep her finances under control.

My first experiences with Journaling

When I went to college, for some reason, I started keeping three separate journals. I cannot imagine why.  I didn’t know anyone else keeping even a single journal.

1.  One journal, much like my earlier diaries, included daily events but included personal reflection including my ongoing struggles with questions like “Who am I?” and “What is the purpose of life?” It took me two years, but I finally came up with answers I could live with.

2. For the first year, I kept a financial journal, complete with detailed spending records and reflections on how I could spend less.

3. The most important journal was my “Boyfriend Journal”.  Yes, I know this seems silly. Actually, I could have called it my “Breaking Up” Journal.  As each relationship ended, I wrote a long summary of how we met, why I was attracted to this boy, what led to the end of the relationship and, then the important part: How had this relationship changed me?  What had I learned? As I went through this process, it became clear that, if I didn’t ask myself what I had learned from these experiences, I wouldn’t have learned anything at all.

A Book that changed my life

Many years later, I discovered a book by Ronald Gross called Peak Learning: How to Create Your Own Lifelong Educational Program for Personal Enjoyment and Professional Success. He includes a section on what he calls “Learning Logs.”  These were similar to my journals but more intentional.

In this book, he suggests using a learning log while you read his book, doing the suggested exercises in your notebook.

For example you will be creating mind maps, conducting instant replays of significant experiences, idea breeding to create your own new concepts, posing penetrating questions that will guide your inquiry in new fields, and using dozens of other new techniques. By completing these activities in a learning log, you will multiply the benefits of each one.  p. 13

In this single sentence, you might see foreshadowing of this website on study skills. This single sentence led me to my first experiences with concept maps (and reading the books by Tony Buzan on mind mapping) and to understand the immense value of asking great questions. Ronald Gross continues to say:  “The most important benefit of your log will be the picture you will be building of yourself as a learner.”

Since then I’ve kept many different sorts of journals:

1. As a writer, I make notes on stories I read with reflections on the plot development, characters, setting, etc. because reflecting on good writing is the best way to learn to be a better writer.

2. I make detailed notes on nonfiction and reflect on how I can use the information personally and what parts of it might be helpful on this website.

3. When we travel, (mainly for birdwatching) my husband and I each keep a daily journal. I include more detail. He lists the three important things that happened that day. His pictures and our journaling helps me put together a “Photo Journal” of the trips to help us share our experiences and help us remember the trip.

Another Book describes the way journals are used by “history’s greatest minds.”

Michael J. Gelb (Discover Your Genius, p 21) discusses Catherine Cox’s study of “300 of history’s greatest minds. .

..She discovered that geniuses enjoy recording their insights,observations, feelings, poems, and questions in personal notebooks or through letters to friends and family.

Gelb goes to suggest that, as you read his book, you should “keep a notebook to express your insights, musings, and observations as you journey through these great minds.”

Near the end of each chapter (each of which describes a particular genius), Gelb suggests possible questions you might reflect on. After the chapter on Plato, Gelb suggests: “In your notebook, make a list of ten wonderful things, memories, imaginings, observations, dreams, or experiences that fill you with amazement, reverence, and awe.” p. 39

After the chapter on Brunelleschi (1337-1446), an architect who helped design cathedrals, Gelb suggests these questions: “How does short-term thinking manifest in the world around me? Use this question for a week. … What’s the longest amount of time I’ve ever invested in a project?, What are my long-term goals?” p. 78.

Gelb considered Columbus especially great, saying

Before Columbus, most explorers hugged the coastline because they were uncomfortable with the uncharted waters and unfamiliar winds of the open sea. …

In your notebook, make a list of safe and comfortable habits from your everyday life.   …. Think about the anxiety or fear you may have felt before making a big change in your life. What happened to that fear after you decided to act? What’s the greatest thing you’ve ever done?… If you could do anything, have anything, be anything, what would you choose? If you could explore, learn, or know anything at all, what would you be? I f you could summon the optimism, vision, and courage of a Columbus, in what ways would you ‘go perpendicular’ (leave the safety of the coastline) in your life now?   pp. 91-107.

I would certainly suggest that, as you read pages on this and related websites, as you read books on study skills, as you go through your years of college, you might keep a journal o study skills and on your preparation for the future. You could list quotes you’d like to remember, new insights on how to learn, important experiences in yor life and what you learned from them, and about your dreams for the future.

This kind of journal increases your awareness of and understanding of what you are doing and and leads to more thoughtful decisions about what and how to learn, what kind of education is important to you, and what changes you need to make in your life. It will also help you reflect on your future and make choices now that will help you reach your goals. It increases your inner awareness and explands your horizons.

You might also want to read:   Evaluate and Critique

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