Becoming a Reflective Learner, Part 1

Editors’ Note: The Importance of Journaling

I (Gary) received the following article by Thompson Rivers University

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.[1]

Some learning theorists suggest that the concept of reflection-in-action alone misses the “social nature of practical knowledge.”[2] They contend that “reflection strategies are maximized when co-learners are encouraged to make [and articulate] connections between theory and practice.”[3]

Consistent with the view of the socially constructed nature of knowledge, we have designed a program in which you will be encouraged to share and explore your reflections with your fellow learners. You will be invited to interweave theory or formal knowledge with practical knowledge and to work with both your individual reflective techniques and group learning strategies.

Different Forms of Reflective Learning

The practice of reflective learning can take many different forms. Here are some descriptions and examples:

For assigned readings, you will be asked to read book chapters or journal articles or visit web sites. You may then be asked to have an on-line dialogue with fellow learners to share your reactions to the material. Your dialogue may be guided or stimulated by questions from your facilitator as well as from each other. Such questions might include:

• What are your initial reactions to the readings? • How do the readings fit with your own experiences? • How have your ideas changed as a result of the readings? • What new behaviors are you encouraged to try? • If you could have a conversation with the author, what would you say or ask?

You may also be asked to keep a reflective log or journal in which you will be asked to record and consider such issues concerning the readings as: how they have helped you to make sense of an experience; the questions they have triggered for you; whether you agreed or disagreed with the material; how you have reacted to it and whether your understanding of a personal or work-related situation changed after studying them. As well as being asked to comment on the contents of the study material, you also may be asked to comment on the manner in which it is presented.

During the process of your studies you may decide to use or be asked to experiment with new behaviors - such as being more assertive at work. Instead of just describing what you said or did, you also will be asked to record how you felt when you tried the new behavior. You may be asked to describe the factors that influenced your behavior, the impact these behavioral changes had on others or yourself, and if theory played any role in helping you to understand the experience.

Keeping a Reflective Journal

If you have not kept a reflective log, a diary, journal or sketchbook, you may have some questions about how to do it and why it can be useful to you. You may wonder about the purpose as well as what it should look like.

What is the purpose of keeping a reflective journal? Keeping a journal will help you get in touch with your reactions to readings, behaviors, experimentation, cohort dialogue, work experiences, and interpersonal relationships. It will help you "think about the way you think", encourage the integration of theory and practice, and serve as a record of your experiences and learning in the program.

What does a reflective journal look like? —A reflective journal is a personal expression of who you are so you will choose how it looks. Everyone has different qualities that make him or her unique. Therefore a journal can take many different forms. It can be an electronic journal, a sketchbook, a notebook, a binder, an audiotape or a combination of some or all of these forms. A "record" in it can include such things as written reflections, drawings, "doodles", pictures, poems, colors, clippings, quotes, descriptions of dreams, double entry journaling and mind-mapping or branching. The benefits of each of the different forms or styles may only become apparent as you try them. We encourage you to experiment with forms that you have not used before. You may find that through this process certain forms open up more ideas, feelings, energy and creativity for you. You should not feel constrained or limited to one style. You may find that what works for you is a combination of different styles, or you may find that you lean toward a particular style depending on your needs or feelings at the time. Journal keeping can be a lifelong process with many benefits. You may choose to continue to receive these benefits even after your courses are complete.

Next month: the different types of reflective journaling!

Originally published on March 4, 2008 by Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada, for students enrolling in their Open Learning Program. The article can be found here: [1] Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [2] Usher, R., Bryant, I. & Johnston, R. (1997). Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge: Learning Beyond the Limits. London: Routledge. [3] Schell, J. W. & Black, R.S. (1997). Situated Learning: An Inductive Case Study of a Collaborative Learning Experience. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, Vol. 24, No. 4

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