Becoming a Reflective Learner, Part 2

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).

Different Types of Reflective Journals

Process - How do I do it?

Use a binder or notebook in which you can use each of the two facing pages for a specific purpose: the left hand page to take notes from the readings and the right hand page for your reflections. On the left include the source of the reading, quotations that stand out, a summary of key points, steps or procedures, models or frameworks. Use the right hand page for your reflections about the reading. You might include your responses to the material, how you are going to apply what you have read, any questions you have, something new you have learned. You can include points you agree with, ideas you disagree with, areas which were not clear, critiques of the clarity of the writing, or the ideas presented. 6 Be thoughtful in your comments - do more than say “I liked the chapter” or “The chapter didn’t make sense for me.” Reflect on how the information fits with your current knowledge or experience. Ask yourself questions such as “Did I learn something new?”, “Do I agree or disagree with this author?”, “What questions do I have for this author?”, “What irritated me about this reading?”, “What was helpful about this reading?” If you are keeping your journal on the computer, you could set up two columns to work with.

Benefits - Why should I try this?

This process will encourage active, reflective learning instead of passive memorizing of information (or skimming over material). It will allow you to engage with the reading as a form of dialogue, almost as though you were having a conversation with the author. The process will help you clarify your thoughts and reactions help you prepare for conversations with others. This does not mean that you have to have all the answers to your questions, puzzles or concerns before you talk to others. The double-entry process will help you extend your thinking about the reading so that the discussion can take place at a deeper level than simply saying you liked or did not like an article. Most importantly, the process will help you link theory with practice. It will encourage you to consider the ways in which theory can inform your work, and the ways in which your practical experience might inform theory.

Stream of Consciousness Writing