ERIC Identifier: ED399413
Publication Date: 1996-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Journal Writing and Adult Learning. ERIC Digest No. 174.
"The value of journal writing to a course with adult students cannot be
overemphasized." (Sommer 1989, p. 115)
Journals and diaries have a long history as a means of self-expression.
Several themes prevalent in adult learning--coming to voice, developing the
capacity for critical reflection, and making meaning--are reflected in the way
journals can be used in adult education. Journals are useful learning tools in a
variety of adult education settings. Dialog journals, for example, have become
popular in adult literacy and English as a second language classrooms. This
digest focuses on several types of journals, exploring their value in assisting
adults through their learning journey and summarizing advice from the literature
on effective ways to use journals.
TYPES OF JOURNALS
One type is the reader response journal
or literature log, in which learners record their responses to readings. Used on
all levels from adult basic education through graduate study, such logs enable
readers to enter the literature in their own voice (Perham 1992), placing
themselves in relation to the text and discovering what they think about it.
Over time, the log itself becomes another primary text to which they can respond
(Perl 1994). Usually, entries are shared with the class, stimulating discussion.
In one variation described by Perham, a looseleaf notebook accessible to the
whole class becomes a collaborative journal in which learners and teacher make
ongoing comments. Both Perham and Perl feel that these response journals have
the power to build a community of learners though the process of critical
co-reading and co-writing.
The learning journal is a systematic way of documenting learning and
collecting information for self-analysis and reflection. When used in an adult
education class, they can be more or less structured depending on the objectives
and degree of self-direction of the learners. Examples from Schatzberg-Smith
(1989), Oaks (1995), and Clark (1994) illustrate the wide range of learner
levels and applications. Adult students in community colleges who are
academically underprepared (Schatzberg-Smith 1989) use them to record their
study habits and attitudes; through journal dialog with a more academically
skilled adult, they receive support, insight, and feedback; learn to connect the
abstract and the concrete; and develop metacognitive strategies they will need
for higher education.
Distance learners lack the physical presence of co-learners for dialog and
collaboration. At Empire State College (Oaks 1995), a structured learning
journal replicates for distance learners many of the functions of a
collaborative writing group. The learners are given specific questions that
stimulate their journal entries and reinforce their movement through the writing
process. In a sense, the journal substitutes self-dialog for communal discourse.
Clark (1994) explains how structured learning journals further the goals of
experiential learning for gerontology students preparing to work on
interdisciplinary health care teams. The ongoing developmental dialog in their
journals is expressed through three types of entries: (1) observational notes,
with little interpretation; (2) theoretical notes that attempt to make meaning
of the observations and experiences; and (3) methodological notes, a "kind of
written bulletin board" (p. 352) on which to post metacognitive reminders about
the learning process.
The reflective journal is being widely used in the education of health care
professionals as an instrument for the development of reflective practitioners.
For example, nursing students may read fictional and nonfictional texts and
write structured and free responses that facilitate connections between
classroom and clinical experience and enable them to examine and clarify their
attitudes about caring for patients (Fitzgerald and Weidner 1995). Such journals
are "an intentional pause in their often technologically oriented studies"
(ibid., pp. 7-8). Paterson (1995) discusses how nursing students' reflective
journals are a place in which to practice ways of knowing and envision new ways
of thinking and responding. They empower students to challenge the status quo
and disagree with teachers, giving them a safe place in which to try out and
defend their ideas.
Reflective journals are also used in the preparation of adult educators.
Cognitive activities stimulated by this type of journal include observation,
speculation, doubt, questioning, self-awareness, problem stating, problem
solving, emoting, and ideation (Holt 1994). The reflective dialog journal
becomes a professional conversation between the mentoring teacher educator and
the preservice teacher trainee (McAlpine 1992).
Electronic journals are being used in distance education and other settings.
McIntyre and Tlusty (1995) explain how preservice teachers conducted a
reflective dialog on teaching practice using electronic mail. As with many
computer-oriented learning situations, the biggest problems were discomfort with
the technology or difficulties in access. However, electronic dialog journals
increased collegial relationships with teacher education supervisors and
provided moral support for isolated student teachers through joint reflection on
BENEFITS FOR ADULT LEARNING
Why should adult learners keep
journals? According to Schneider (1994), journal writing is closest to natural
speech, and writing can flow without self-consciousness or inhibition. It
reveals thought processes and mental habits, it aids memory, and it provides a
context for healing and growth. Journals are a safe place to practice writing
daily without the restrictions of form, audience, and evaluation (Sommer 1989),
one reason for their popularity in adult basic education/English as a second
language. They are a less formal, less threatening way for older reentry
learners to approach writing in a course, to "talk" in a way they might not in
class (Grennan 1989).
Journal entries can provide tangible evidence of mental processes. They make
thoughts visible and concrete, giving a way to interact with, elaborate on, and
expand ideas. Clark (1994) and Grennan (1989) explain how journal entries
demonstrate movement through Kolb's modes of experiential learning: recording a
concrete experience or feeling, reflecting on and observing the experience,
integrating the observation into abstract concepts or theories, and using the
theories to make decisions and solve problems.
Journals are tools for growth through critical reflection, for it is not
enough to observe and record experiences, but "equally important is the ability
to make meaning out of what is expressed" (Clark 1994, p. 355). Writing is a
critical ingredient in meaning making, enabling learners to articulate
connections between new information and what they already know. The journal
becomes another text on which to reflect, but it is a text written in the
learner's authentic voice, and this personal engagement adds a necessary
affective element to the learning process.
USING JOURNALS EFFECTIVELY
Of course, merely writing in a
journal does not automatically ensure critical reflection or other learning
outcomes, as several studies have shown. Six of the 10 adult educators who kept
reflective journals in Holt's (1994) study did not find them helpful; the
journals served more as a recordkeeping than a learning tool. Holt concluded
that either the guiding questions they were given did not motivate reflection or
they did not know how to write reflectively. Three nursing education studies
(Fitzgerald and Weidner 1995; Miller et al. 1994; Paterson 1995) found that
students wrote more descriptively than reflectively; some resisted journals as "busy work," or their writing slacked off after initial enthusiasm. Journal
entries by teacher trainees (Surbeck, Han, and Moyer 1991) were classified in
three stages: reaction/response, elaboration, and contemplation; however, few
entries reached that third, reflective stage. These examples show that
proficiency with reflection is a key to success.
Sommer (1989) identifies another potential difficulty: "as a completely
open-ended assignment, journals are doomed to failure" (p. 115). In fact, much
of the resistance of Grennan's (1989) students to journal writing was connected
to open endedness. Similarly, nursing students (Miller et al. 1994) found it
difficult to know what to write about.
A third area of concern is related to privacy and the teacher-learner
relationship: "How can you encourage students to write freely and also require
them to share what they have written?" (Sommer 1989, p. 116). There is also the
danger that learners will write what they think the teacher wants to see
(Paterson 1995). An aspect of journal writing that can inhibit its potential to
stimulate learning "is the learner's perception of the educator's role and any
position power imbalance that implies" (Cranton 1994, p. 180). For example, in
dialog journals they might feel overpowered by the instructor's voice if
traditional power relations are maintained (Roe and Stallman 1993).
To overcome the terrors of the blank sheet of paper that open-ended journals
present, learners should be given some guidelines:
is a journal?--describe for learners the various types and formats.
do I write?--give specific exercises or guiding questions. For example, What did
you learn today and how will you apply that learning in practice? List 100
people who have touched your life; select one and carry on a journal dialog with
him/her (Paterson 1995; Walden 1995).
keep it?--explain the variety of purposes, including a memory aid, learning
documentation, tool for negotiating the curriculum with teachers (Grennan 1989).
will it be used?--discuss whether and how it will be shared with the class or
with the teacher only; whether it will be for personal use only, or to generate
material for other assignments; explain that it will not be "graded" for writing
style, grammar, or content, but in some cases a regularly maintained journal may
count as part of the overall assessment (Paterson 1995).
Paterson identifies four factors that affect willingness and ability to
reflect: (1) individual developmental level; (2) perception of the
trustworthiness of the teacher; (3) clarity and nature of the expectations of
the journal; and (4) quantity and quality of feedback. Cranton (1994) provides
some strategies to encourage reflection:
learners use one side of a page for observations and descriptions and the other
for thoughts, feelings, related experiences, and images stimulated by the
a theme or perspective to be explored, such as "my role as a professional."
that learners establish a routine for journal writing.
experiments with various styles. Schneider's (1994) examples include writing
letters to a friend, letters to an authority figure, letters to yourself when
older or younger; record dreams, drawings, doodles; write dialogs between
yourself and someone no longer in your life or one of your dream images; make
Either through dialog entries or the way journals are presented and used, the
teacher should function as a "'metaguide,' helping the learner to focus on the
reflective moment" (Paterson 1995, p. 219). In the roles of coach, mentor, and
dialog partner, adult educators can serve as the "seasoned traveler" steering
adult learners to document their learning journey through journal writing.
Clark, P. G. "Learning on Interdisciplinary
Gerontological Teams." EDUCATIONAL GERONTOLOGY 20, no. 4 (June 1994): 349-364.
(EJ 485 857)
Cranton, P. UNDERSTANDING AND PROMOTING TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.
Fitzgerald, L. F., and Weidner, H. Z. "The Use of Personal Narratives,
Literature, and Journals to Foster Caring in Nursing Students." Presented at the
Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1995. (ED 386 727)
Grennan, K. F. "The Journal in the Classroom." EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE 24, no.
3 (Fall 1989): 38-40. (EJ 412 581)
Holt, S. "Reflective Journal Writing and Its Effects on Teaching Adults." In
THE YEAR IN REVIEW, VOL. 3. Dayton: Virginia Adult Educators Research Network,
1994. (ED 375 302)
McAlpine, L. "Learning to Reflect." ADULT LEARNING 3, no. 4 (January 1992):
15, 23-24. (EJ 437 121)
McIntyre, S. R., and Tlusty, R. H. "Computer-Mediated Discourse." Presented
at the American Educational Research Association conference, 1995. (ED 385 232)
Miller, C. et al. LEARNING STYLES AND FACILITATING REFLECTION. London:
English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, 1994. (ED 390
Oaks, S. "Talking with One's Self." Presented at the Conference on College
Composition and Communication, 1995. (ED 385 850)
Paterson, B. L. "Developing and Maintaining Reflection in Clinical Journals."
NURSE EDUCATION TODAY 15, no. 3 (June 1995): 211-220. (EJ 507 736)
Perham, A. J. "Collaborative Journals." Presented at the National Council of
Teachers of English conference, 1992. (ED 355 555)
Perl, S. "Composing Texts, Composing Lives." HARVARD EDUCATIONAL REVIEW 64,
no. 4 (Winter 1994): 427-449. (EJ 492 462)
Roe, M. F., and Stallman, A. C. "A Comparative Study of Dialogue and Response
Journals." Presented at the American Educational Research Association
conference, 1993. (ED 359 242)
Schatzberg-Smith, K. "Dialogue Journal Writing and the Initial College
Experience of Academically Underprepared Students." Presented at the American
Educational Research Association conference, 1989. (ED 308 737)
Schneider, P. THE WRITER AS AN ARTIST. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1994.
Sommer, R. F. TEACHING WRITING TO ADULTS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989.
Surbeck, E.; Han, E. P.; and Moyer, J. "Assessing Reflective Responses in
Journals." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 48 (March 1991): 25-27. (EJ 422 850)
Walden, P. "Journal Writing: A Tool for Women Developing as Knowers." NEW
DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION no. 65 (Spring 1995): 13-20. (EJ