ERIC Identifier: ED479358
Publication Date: 2003-09-00
Author: Dyment, Janet E.; O'Connell, Timothy S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
Journal Writing in Experiential Education: Possibilities,
Problems, and Recommendations. ERIC Digest.
Educators who work in the field of experiential education often encourage
their students to keep journals. Journals are a time-honored venue
reflection, an important component of experiential education (Bennion
& Olsen, 2002; Priest & Gass, 1997). Despite their popularity,
however, surprisingly little is published about the theory and practice
of journal writing in experiential education.
The purpose of this Digest is to explore the literature related to journal
writing from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, language studies,
outdoor education, and experiential education. It begins with a discussion
of the history of journal writing, and then explores the possibilities
and potential problems of the journal writing process. This Digest concludes
with several recommendations for educators who use journals in their teaching.
EVOLUTION OF JOURNAL WRITING
The recording of daily events, personal reflections, questions about
and reactions to experiences has been an enduring human practice. Some
earliest journal writers included the Greeks and Romans, women of 10th-century
Japan, and "enlightened" individuals during the Renaissance. Among the
greatest historical influences on contemporary journal writing in North
America have been the recorded accounts of explorers such as Lewis and
Clark and John Wesley Powell.
Writers such as Gilbert White, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Anne
Frank, Margaret Mead, and Aldo Leopold have also impacted modern journal
writing. It was not until the early 1960s that researchers recognized the
value of journal writing in educational settings. Since then, the use of
journal writing as a learning exercise has flourished (Janesick, 1998;
Moutoux, 2002; Raffan & Barrett, 1989).
Instructors from a wide range of disciplines have used journal writing
contexts. English and literature teachers often ask students to record
their thoughts and feelings about stories or to deconstruct what the author
is saying (Cole, 1994). Instructors in teacher education programs and psychology
require students to write
about how they connect course content to practice (Anderson, 1993;
Researchers have examined how journal writing impacted business students'
listening behaviors and related thoughts about how they could improve those
skills (Johnson & Barker, 1995). Journal writing has been used with
nontraditional students and women who have returned to school in adult
degree programs (Walden, 1995). While many instructors ask "individual"
students to keep journals, some teachers have found "group" journals to
be an effective exercise as well (Kohut, 1998).
Outdoor and experiential educators also have used journal writing in
a variety of ways. Natural science and environmental educators use journals
to assist students in deepening their observations about their surroundings
(Hammond, 2002). Perhaps one of the most popular uses of journals is to
reflect on experiences that occur outside the traditional classroom, such
as internships, student teaching, field trips, and expeditionary learning
activities (Raffan & Barrett, 1989). Instructors also use journal writing
to help students reflect on self-discovery, group dynamics, professional
development, sense of place, and academic theory, as well as to record
such factual information as weather conditions, activities of group members,
flora, fauna, times, and locations.
It is not surprising that journals are used so often in experiential
education, given their generally recognized benefits. One of the most recognized
uses is to help facilitate reflection, a critical component of the experiential
education cycle. Through journals, students can record a concrete experience,
reflect on and record their observations about the experience, integrate
the observation into abstract concepts or theories, and use the theories
to make decisions or solve problems. Writing helps students to construct
their own knowledge by allowing them to express connections between new
information and knowledge they already have.
Journal writing also can improve students' writing, enhance critical
encourage observational skills, and develop creative skills. Journal
students develop their writing skills as they are encouraged to "experiment
with writing, to experience, perhaps for the first time, writing that may
be highly personal, relatively unstructured, speculative, uninhibited,
tentative, in process, in flux" (Anderson, 1993, p. 305). As a result of
this freedom and success, students often take pride in their journals.
From an environmental perspective, journals can help students develop intimate
connections with the more-than-human world as they learn to observe and
record patterns and processes in the natural world.
Despite the numerous benefits associated with journal writing, several
problems should be mentioned. Major concerns identified in the literature
include (1) the overuse of journals, which results in students feeling
"journaled to death" (Anderson, 1993, p. 306) and that journals are "a
pointless ritual wrapped in meaningless words" (Shor, 1992, p. 83); (2)
students writing "whatever pleases the instructor" (Anderson, 1993, p.
305) in order to get a good grade; (3) students writing purely descriptive
entries, with limited reflection (Kerka, 1996); (4) misuse of journals,
in which students attack other students or make inappropriate comments
about other students (Anderson, 1993); (5) limited training opportunities
for students to learn more about journal writing (Dyment & O'Connell,
in press-b); (6) the overreliance on journals as a reflective tool; as
well as (7) the challenges associated with evaluating journals (Chandler,
1997; Moutoux, 2002).
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EDUCATORS WHO WANT TO USE JOURNALS
The literature about journal writing offers several recommendations.
1. "Offer thorough and detailed feedback." Educators who want to capitalize
potential of journal writing must be willing to spend the time and
effort to offer students feedback on the substance of their journal entries
(Anderson, 1993). Feedback will also help students identify their own areas
of strengths and weaknesses in journal writing (e.g., writing technique,
making connections to theory).
2. "Improve students' journal writing skills by offering workshops."
Educators who include journals in the curriculum would be wise to offer
students formal and informal training in journal writing (Dyment &
O'Connell, 2003). Educators may also consider giving students loose guidelines
to help focus their writing. For example, students may be asked to write
a poem or draw a concept map that explains their understanding of the subject
of study, or write from the perspective of another person or object involved
in an experience.
3. "Recognize that students will have varying interests in journal writing."
students will be generally supportive of journal writing, it is important
to remember that some students may dislike journal writing (Shor, 1992).
Educators should consider offering alternative means of facilitating reflection
(e.g., video journals, focus group debriefing sessions, Web pages).
4. "Recognize the different ways that males and females perceive journal
appears that males and females have different perceptions of journal
writing. Females often are more open and receptive to the journal writing
process (Burt, 1994; Dyment & O'Connell, in press-a). Some males may
need additional training to feel comfortable with journal writing as a
reflective technique. Positive, constructive feedback from educators may
influence how males perceive their journals and may lead to a more powerful
reflective experience (Dyment & O'Connell, in press-a).
5. "Set aside semi-structured time for journal writing." If educators
truly value journals, they must remember to provide adequate time for reflection
and writing (Dyment & O'Connell, in press-b).
6. "Model good journal writing behavior." In addition to providing time
for journal writing, educators should model good journal writing behaviors.
If an educator is supportive of the journal writing process, keeps a daily
journal, and helps to facilitate reflective activities, then students may
have more positive experiences with journal writing (Dyment & O'Connell,
7. "Consider alternative models for evaluating journals." Educators
multiple ways of evaluating journal writing, including self-evaluation,
and coevaluation (i.e., student and teacher) as alternative methods
Moutoux, 2002). Educators also might consider allowing students to
percentage of the final grade that their journal is worth.
8. "Establish a trusting relationship between the journal writer and
the journal reader." It appears that trust is a critical factor that influences
student perceptions and behaviors of journal writing. Educators must work
hard to develop trusting relationships with their students to maximize
the potential of journal writing (Dyment & O'Connell, in press-b).
9. "Avoid journal writing students to death." Educators must coordinate
journal writing assignments with other instructors who ask students to
write journals to ensure they are not overused. Instructors within the
same department or institution may consider allowing students to keep a
single journal for a number of classes, or ask students to reflect in other
ways (Anderson, 1993).
While journal writing holds great potential for enhancing learning in
education, for this potential to be fully realized, educators must
pitfalls and develop effective strategies for avoiding them.
Anderson, J. (1993). Journal writing: The promise and the reality. Journal
of Reading, 36(4), 304-309.
Bennion, J., & Olsen, B. (2002). Wilderness writing: Using personal
enhance outdoor experience. Journal of Experiential Education, 25(1),
Burt, C. D. B. (1994). An analysis of self-initiated coping behavior:
Diary-keeping. Child Study Journal, 24(3), 171-189.
Chandler, A. (1997). Is this for a grade? A personal look at journals.
English Journal, 86(1), 45-49.
Cole, P. (1994). A cognitive model of journal writing. In M. R. Simonson
et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations
at the 1994 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications
and Technology (16th, Nashville, TN, February 16-20). (ERIC Document Reproduction
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Dyment, J. E., & O'Connell, T. S. (2003). Getting the most out of
journaling: Strategies for outdoor educators. Pathways: The Ontario Journal
of Outdoor Education, 15(2), 31-34.
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of journaling as a reflective tool in experience-based learning. The Journal
for the Art of Teaching.
Dyment, J. E., & O'Connell, T. S. (in press-b). Journal writing
is something we have to learn on our own: The results of a focus group
discussion with recreation students.
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Hammond, W. F. (2002). The creative journal: A power tool for learning.
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Hettich, P. (1990). Journal writing: Old fare or nouvelle cuisine? Teaching
Psychology, 17(1), 36-39.
Janesick, V. J. (1998, April). Journal writing as a qualitative research
technique: History, issues, and reflections. Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 420 702)
Johnson, I. W., & Barker, R. T. (1995). Using journals to improve
listening behavior: An exploratory study. Journal of Business and Technical
Communication, 9(4), 475-483.
Kerka, S. (1996). Journal writing and adult learning. ERIC Digest. Columbus,
OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. (ERIC
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Kohut, A. (1998). Group journal, a high ropes course element. Zip Lines:
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Moutoux, M. (2002). Evaluating nature journals. Green Teacher, 69, 39-40.
Priest, S., & Gass, M. A. (1997). Effective leadership in adventure
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Raffan, J., & Barrett, M. J. (1989). Sharing the path: Reflections
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Walden, P. (1995). Journal writing: A tool for women developing as knowers.
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