How Does Journal Writing Support Mindfulness?
Journal writing supports intentional or mindful behaviour in a variety of ways. Firstly, its very presence acts as a tool to predispose people to think – to plan, monitor, and reflect. This helps overcome the difficulties of not even thinking about performing these tasks.
- Sometimes it is not that the student doesn’t know how to plan, it just isn’t a salient option. It does not come to mind to do so. The journal, therefore, reminds students to think.
- In addition, it has been noted that students often jump at the first solution strategy that comes to mind. They often “are not allowed sufficient time to ponder a problem” in advance (Cappo & Osterman, 1991, p.35). The presence of a journal, not only reminds them to think ahead, but also affords them the opportunity to do so.
- Novices also, by nature, don’t pause and reflect upon completion of a task, whereas experts do. The journal, therefore, can serve as a cognitive trigger both before and after a task.
Secondly, journal writing allows for the externalization of knowledge through language. Language plays an important role in making knowledge explicit by objectifying experience (Valtin, 1984; Vygotsky, 1962; in Dickinson, 1986, p. 358). So as students engage in writing about their knowledge they are indeed exploring, stating and questioning what they know (Britton, 1970). Journal writing is a form of self-assessment (Zuercher, 1989). As students communicate their ideas, “they learn to clarify, refine, and consolidate their thinking (Cappo & Osterman 1991, p.35). Journal writing allows students to state their ‘understanding’ of a topic or problem replete with all the associate ‘bugs’. These buggy statements are then explicit and can act as a medium for mediating new understanding. This, I believe, is somewhat analogous to writing programs and as Psotka (1985, p. 4) says,
“In order to debug in such an environment (programming), the proper metaphor seems to be one of ‘tiptoeing’ through one’s knowledge structures, carefully trying not to destroy what one steps on…Given this metaphor, debugging is very closely allied to self-reflection, since being able to examine clearly what one knows (the existing code) is a precondition for further learning and restructuring.”
Journal writing encourages the consideration and expression of strategies, ideas and plans that one brings to the situation. Brown, Collins and Duguid (89, p. 36) suggest that school generally disregards the inventive heuristics that students bring to the classroom. Journal writing allows for expression and social sharing of these. On the other hand, Lave (1988c) tells how some students actually hide the strategies they use because they are not the ones of the predominant culture. Journal writing can serve to encourage expression of these strategies – perhaps through sentence starters.
I like Peter Skillen’s exposition on journal writing. In his article he touches on the history of journaling, the characteristics of a good journal, its contribution to personal learning, and forms of journaling. While most journaling is private, it can be used collaboratively. Our blogs are journals of this nature.
I have not yet successfully integrated journal writing into my student’s learning. It was my intention to have them use their reflective journal daily to aggregate ideas from across the curriculum. In my mind, their reflective journals would be the best evidence of the learning they had done throughout the year. Parents concerned about their child’s progress could look at their journal and gain better insight than they might by flipping through the pages of their binders.
I think I need to recommit myself to this journaling project. It should not be simplified to a single subject. I would love to see it illustrated as well. Some of my students express themselves best through their art.