Becoming a Reflective Learner, Part 1
Editors’ Note: The Importance of Journaling
some years ago from my good friend and longtime homeschooling co-laborer Manfred Smith, founder of The Learning Center here in Maryland. I wanted to share it with all of you.
Why suggest using a secular discussion on reflective learning? Because it represents a very helpful tool that can cultivate thinking in children and young adults that wonderfully parallels Scriptural expressions of Meditation. The key to this article is that it centers around journaling as a way of life. In fact, this is the first secular discussion on journaling I have come across, except in nature journals. It is a simple fact that Scripture represents God’s thoughtful journaling to man – using men as the scribes (2Pet. 1:16-21)! Moreover, Christians are challenged to intentionally control their thoughts and bring them into conformity to our obedience to Christ (2Cor. 10:5).
The command of Paul in Philippians 4:6-9 says it best, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The manner in which Scripture was written can be labeled Divinely Inspired Journaling. 100% of Scripture springs from very thoughtful reflections of the writer who has spent his daily life immersed in situational, spiritual reality. Look at the genre: Historical Reflections, Poetic/Proverbial Reflections, Prophetic Reflections, and Instructional Reflections; all of these writings have sprung from the deep reflections of the author and guided by the Holy Spirit. That is Christian journaling! Our lives are immersed in particular situations that require our reflection in order to ascertain spiritual reality. This is also guided by the Holy Spirit! (However, that doesn’t make our journaling scripture. But it does make it a very personal reflection that ought to result in changes in our behavior -obedience to Jesus Christ-, by the grace of God. – See 2 Cor. 2:6-16.) For beginners, this article has several approaches to get started with.
One practical tip is to recognize that self-awareness is more important than personal interpretation of the biblical text. It’s not that we are lax regarding how to rightly divide the Word, but rather, journaling is active recognition that The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword; able to divide between the joints and the marrow, and able to discern between the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Heb. 4:12-13). Proper reflection on the Scripture results in our own transformation by a conformation to its truth, helping us to, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2 ESV).
Becoming a Reflective Learner
Many of us have had experiences as passive learners. That is, we have been required to read textbooks and journal articles, listen to lectures and write exams dependent on rote memory. Your journey through this TRU Open Learning program will be of a different kind. You will be an active learner, a participant in a community, engaged in dialogue with your group facilitator and cohort members. Equally important, you will engage in a form of dialogue with yourself, as you become a reflective learner.
Reflection is a practice that facilitates the exploration, examination and understanding of what we are feeling, thinking and learning. It is a thoughtful consideration of academic material, personal experiences and interpersonal relationships. Reflection is a form of internal inquiry that extends the relevance of theory and deepens our understanding of the practice of our everyday life and work.
Through reflection we challenge our assumptions, ask new questions and try to make sense of our experiences. Instead of being passive receivers of external expert knowledge, we become active creators (and co-creators) of our own knowledge. As reflective learners we test our informal theories (those that we develop through our experiences as practitioners in the world) against formal theories (those that are developed by researchers and academics). We integrate theory and practice through a process of reflection-on-action, i.e. trying to make sense of experience after the fact and reflection-in-action, i.e. trying to make sense of experience while it is occurring.
Some learning theorists suggest that the concept of reflection-in-action alone misses the “social nature of practical knowledge.” They contend that “reflection strategies are maximized when co-learners are encouraged to make [and articulate] connections between theory and practice.”