Developing Reflective Practice: Learning about Teaching and Learning through Modelling

By J. John Loughran | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Journals: An Insight into Students’ Thinking

Background to Journal Writing

Dialogue journal writing has been defined as ‘written conversation between two persons on a functional, continued basis, about topics of individual (and even mutual) interest’ (Staton, 1988, p. 312). Recent research (Rodderick, 1986; Bean and Zulich, 1989; Richert, 1990; Ferro and Lenz, 1992) illustrates the value of the data derived from journal writing with respect to students’ thinking about teaching.

By incorporating the use of journal writing in a pre-service teacher education course, teachers and students are able to explore topics of interest in ways that may not be possible within the time frame of a class, and an additional avenue of communication beyond the verbal is offered. Also, the ‘non-public’ nature of journal writing provides opportunity and encouragement to reflect on experiences in varied ways through writing.

Polanyi (1962) states that all knowledge has a tacit dimension through which understanding is possible, but experience alone does not lead to knowledge. Rational reflection upon, and examination of, an experience is necessary to develop one’s understanding. Polanyi calls this ‘personal knowledge’. In order to help student-teachers learn through reflection on their experiences there is a need to help them make the tacit explicit. In so doing, they might be able to re-examine their experiences and learn from them in new ways which may not have been initially apparent. Through deliberately and purposefully reconsidering their experiences and by reviewing their thoughts and actions in light of this type of rational reflection, they might gain a deeper understanding of the teaching and learning episodes they experience. In my Teaching and Learning class (TAL) I attempt to foster this reflection and examination through the use of journal writing. It is an integral component of the course and students are encouraged to maintain a journal throughout the year. Their course outline has regular reminders, questions and prompts to foster this, and individual tutors also adopt their own strategies. However, it could be argued that many structured journal tasks are simply an assessment tool, hence student-teachers may write what they think the teacher educator wants to read. They may also resent the imposition of journal writing and grudgingly consider it as an obligation rather than as a useful focus for their own learning (Krogh and Crews, 1989). I therefore use a number of approaches with my TAL classes to minimize the likelihood of student-teachers’ writing in ways similar to that described

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