How to learn English: Reflective journal

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Can keeping a reflective journal help you learn? Yes, but you need focus: good guidelines with a catalogue of questions. Is feedback neccessary? Not really, but it can be motivating – especially feedback from your peers.

At a recent conference on Personal Learning Environments, Marc Graber of the University of Zürich studied the progress that school children made who kept a journal like this. He had four groups: The online jourmal (a blog) with and without guidelines, and a pen and paper journal with and without guidelines. Those writing a blog made about the same progress as those who kept a pen and paper journal. The essential difference was not the medium; it was the method: Those who did not have a structured agenda didn’t make more progress than the control group – students who didn’t keep a journal at all. Writing is not a “Selbstläufer” – that means, it doesn’t do the trick on its own!

I’m convinced – though I don’t have proof – that this can also be applied to the way we adults learn. I’m sure that you can improve your English by writing on your own, but you will do better with an agenda. I’ve noticed that myself: Since I’ve found mentors, I’ve started learning much faster. I also think that we adults profit more from writing online, but (as they say): the proof is in the pudding (das muss ich erst noch testen!)

So you learners of English: I’d like to be your mentor and help you build your agenda. Come join my blog group, and start reflecting on how you use English!

Here are my amateur screenshots of Graber’s presentation:



5 Responses

  1. Anne,
    Interesting and informative post! I love to have my students keep writing journals. I have always given them guidelines to follow and every week I grade them I give them goals for the next week. If they follow the goals and rubric then it is a great mark for them!

  2. That’s definitely the way I’d like to go once I get back to teaching at college. But right now I’m only freelancing in Business English, and my one2one and company course students don’t really want to keep a journal. This “Blog Group” is an experiment: I wonder whether it’s possible to get interested people, including my old students who sometimes drop by this blog, to start a blogging group. Several people have said they don’t have time right now but really want to try writing something in August. Well, it may not work, you know, but I’m easy.
    In September I’ll be teaching a college summer writing class again – really looking forward to it!

  3. Hi Anne,

    This is a great post.

    I have been doing this with my students in the form of a note-taking sheet (Conversation Control) which can be bound. It focused my students to assess their speaking skills and progress there and has been very effective.

    Also have just! (thank yeah, the gods) signed a great contract to work exclusively for a software company and we will be working within a Ning Platform basically doing what you’ve suggested above.

    Will keep you updated on the progress we make – job starts in Oct!


  4. Great, Karenne,

    Congrats and good luck with your project. You’ve already run a writing group, haven’t you? I thought I read something in your blog or comments, but I can’t remember when or where. Or is that this new venture?

    About your speaking control assessment: Did/do you do self-assessment, then, or is/was it peer assessment? Have you written anything about it yet?


  5. Hi ya,

    My writers group is actually a real writers group – i.e. we’re novelists, poets, screenwriters even technical writers. But I shouldn’t say “mine” anymore as have stepped down as the leader (though still member). Have to really concentrate on all my online work nowadays!

    Re the conversation control sheets, here’s the link to the pdfs and the video explaining how it works. I haven’t yet made an online version (but have to before Oct).

    Conversation Control

    Hope they’re useful for you too!


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