Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is Journalling the way to improve the learning experience?

EDITORIAL by Myrna Loy

“Learning journals provide a framework to support the process of reflective learning in individual courses and in the portfolio process as a whole. Their use not only documents the developmental process of the portfolios - making it more than just a presentation of selected work - but supports the self-assessment of processes and their documentation. It 'keeps records', encourages metacognition, ownership and control, and provides guidance” [University of Oldenburg and UMUC]

I have recently changed my career towards teaching – well when I say teaching, I should say I have a teaching qualification which I intend to use to support my inspirational mentoring service. I have also been developing counselling skills as a part of my continuous professional development. Why counselling? Counselling skills develop not only listening skills, but empathetic, cognitive, behavioural and social skills as well - all of which should be a prerequisite to the effective teaching and learning experience.

In pursuing my PTLLS Award and BTEC in Counselling this year, I noticed that Learning/Reflective Journals seem to be a mandatory part of the portfolio development process and not a recommended tool of support. Both Teachers and Learners are now required to produce learning or reflective journals as a form of evidencing their work and documenting the impact of the way they learn/teach. It seems to me, that the current school of thought is that documenting thought processes while learning (i.e. thinking about the way they learn and/or teach, and writing it down) will improve the learning and teaching experience.

According to the University of Worcester’s Study Skills Advice Sheet: “a learning journal helps you to be reflective about your learning, this means that your learning journal should not be a purely descriptive account of what you did etc but an opportunity to communicate your thinking process: how and why you did what you did, and what you now think about what you did”.

I am not sure about other learners, but I found that by thinking about how I was learning, and trying to track and record that process by writing it down, very inhibiting. I found that thinking about the way I was learning prevented me from absorbing information being given both verbally and visually. Another part of the reflective process is to observe what was happening in the classroom, how was I reacting to colleagues, was their questions/interruptions conducive to my learning experience; and were the learning techniques of the teacher effective and if so how. Can you imagine trying to think about all of that while trying to absorb new information?

Many teachers have complained about the journaling process and I can’t say I blame them! They are saying that they cannot concentrate on their lesson plans or schemes of work because their brain is thinking about how they are teaching as opposed to achieving their objective, in order to be able to document it after the class is finished.

According to Laurence E Morehouse, Author of ‘Maximum Performance’, he states that “When you start thinking about what you are doing, you try to reorganise and/or add extra motions. Your motions become uncoordinated, and because you are tracking almost counting your movements, you inevitably slow them down.” He further goes on to say that: “If we were to try to read or write or think word by word, the mind simply couldn’t carry all those details. So the words have to be simplified into a single thought. We focus on a central theme....” “.... The object in a performance is to shut off your thinking which you do by shifting your focus from the details of the action to the goal of the action...”

“... Even in that instant during a sharp exchange of volleys at the net you have predetermined where you are going to hit the ball. Two things are accomplished in the process. First, you have established a strategy. Second, by committing your thought to your objective, you have pre-empted the time; you are only thinking about getting there, not how you are to get there. The first is important, but the second is crucial.”

What these extracts tell me is that journaling is actually inhibiting teaching effectiveness and performance. It is not natural for the brain to analyse every process it takes to learn something! We all know that if we start concentrating on how we are doing something – even something as simple as walking, our steps become awkward and unnatural.

Journalling may have benefits in therapeutic or emotional situations where the client is stressed or has been abused and needs to revisit the causes, but in a learning environment, I am not convinced that reflective journalling is an effective or efficient way to improve the teaching and learning experience.