Journals

Journals remain the cornerstone to most reflection during one’s service learning experience.  Journaling has evolved greatly through the years with many varieties are available.  We suggest looking at structured journals as a means to provide more guided learning through prescriptive questions.  As teachers, our task is not simply pointing out what students don’t know but, more importantly, what they do know.  A structured journal focuses on insights and how to capitalize on this learning in the future.
Creative ways to integrate the journal will enhance this assessment method.  For example having students voluntarily read a passage to the class and using it as a springboard for discussion will not only validate the journaling experience but help other students conceptualize their learning. 

Types of journals include:

  1. Open:  An open journal allows students to frame their own thoughts and questions.  This is a free flowing journal which has value under certain circumstances.  Instructors cannot anticipate all the challenges the students face on their service learning experience.  Having an opportunity to express themselves may allow for a cathartic release as well as capture those teachable moments.
  2. Structured Journal:  this journal has more prescriptive questions focused on the learning outcomes.  Statements can be made in a “fill in the blank” method.  For example:
    Most of the day I:
    The biggest challenge today was:
    I dealt with this challenge by:
    The highlight was:
    I learned today that:

    More effective use of structured journals centers on discipline specific questions.  Using learning objectives listed in your syllabus, you can design questions to determine whether specific objectives were met or guide students to consider in-class concepts.  For example, in a leadership class, questions could be:

    What leadership styles did you observe today?
    What leadership techniques did you employ?
    Did you solve problems with your team?  If so, how?
    What were the different learning styles you encountered during your service-learning hours?  Give examples.

    Some other questions specifically relevant to service-learning and community engagement are:

    What was the community need that your service helped meet?
    How did your service meet that goal?
    What skills did you develop to meet that goal?
    What were the best things you learned/did during your service?
    What were the challenges you had to meet during your service? How did you meet them?
    What did you learn about your value to your community?
    Did the service you performed help or change anything in you?
    If your thinking/opinion of community service changed during the semester, how?
    What was the competency or skill standard you selected as your goal for learning?
    How did the service you performed help you meet your competency or skill standard goals?
    Will you continue to serve the community? How?
    What changes would you recommend the service learning office make?
    If you are interested in being part of the service learning student leadership group, what
    would you like to contribute?
    If you are interested in being on the advisory board, what would you like to accomplish?
  3. Critical Incidents:  This type of journal follows a general format of identifying the incident, collecting the facts, discerning the issue(s), deciding on an effective action plan and, finally, evaluating the implementation of that plan.  Critical incidents also lend themselves to case studies.
  4. Team Journal: Many service learning projects are collective efforts.  Team journaling can be used to foster the team’s awareness of everyone’s contributions, insights, frustrations and personal development.  Using on-line discussion boards, wikis, or other collaborative tools on sites such as Blackboard can be used to facilitate team journaling.