362 | How Learning Journals Help Students Learn (Janice Campbell)
Long before textbooks and workbooks were invented, students kept notebooks and commonplace books to help them think, understand, and remember what they learned. Learning journals are a tool your student can use to do the same — here's how to begin using them!
Janice Campbell, a lifelong reader and writer, loves to introduce students to great books and beautiful writing. She holds an English degree from Mary Baldwin College, and is the graduated homeschool mom of four sons. You’ll find more about reading, writing, planning, and education from a Charlotte Mason/Classical perspective at her websites, EverydayEducation.com, Excellence-in-Literature.com, and DoingWhatMatters.com.
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Janice Campbell Hello and welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Janice Campbell and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we don't pretend to have all the answers to all the homeschooling questions. It is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ, that you may seek his counsel as you train your children in the way they should go.
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Janice Campbell Hi, I'm Janice Campbell, and I've been thinking this week about learning journals. I discovered early in life that I enjoy taking notes and creating my own learning journals. Although I began doing this somewhere around middle school. I've continued to do it as an adult as well. My learning journals contain notes on the many things I would learn and do, from academic subjects to how to homeschool, what plants grow best together, how to start and run a home-based business, and so much more. In today's podcast, I'm going to share about how to take good study notes and create effective learning journals. This is for both you and your student. So I hope you enjoy this episode.
Janice Campbell So how do you learn? If you wanted to learn about architecture, drawing, science, mathematics, literature, anatomy, whatever, how would you begin? Long before textbooks and workbooks were invented, people of all ages were keeping notebooks to help them remember important things. Students asked questions. They answered questions. They wrote down ideas, observations, and quotes. And they made diagrams, graphs and charts, and illustrations. At this time in history, very often our first point of reference is to go to an encyclopedia or to YouTube, and we can still do the same thing, ask and answer questions, write down ideas, and so forth. So one easy way to start is to keep a notebook or sketchbook filled with the study notes and the questions you're wondering about. And this is what I call a learning journal. It's a place where you can ask all the questions you want, and then you can answer them too from the information that you find, from whatever resources you discover or research about. So whenever you want to learn something new, write down the subject, start gathering information. For your students, the way that they began is to work with the curriculum or whatever you're having them study from--a living book, curriculum, whatever--and they will have page after page... We'll talk about that in a little more detail as we go through this.
Janice Campbell So one of the very best examples of learning through writing and drawing and learning journals is Leonardo da Vinci. We've all heard of him. And if you've ever looked up his notebooks online, you can see that he recorded his questions about all sorts of things: science, nature, and so much more in his notebooks. And he also recorded the answers, drew pictures, created ideas for inventions--including flying things, a major bridge that has since been built--and so forth. Over a period of about 30 years, he kept learning journals in which he wrote about and drew over 5,000 pages of study notes in countless subjects that interested him. And this learning process helped Leonardo da Vinci record information that he read and the research he did, and it gave him a place to work through ideas until he deeply understood them. Leonardo was a genius, but he used notebooks because they helped him think, understand, and remember. Countless other people in pre-screen days kept notebooks too--diaries, journals, logs, commonplace books, nature notebooks, and sketchbooks--many of which have been handed down for generations or entrusted to museums and libraries. You can see some of those at the United States Library of Congress and other places. Modern students in the United Kingdom do something similar with learning logs, and there's got to be a link in the study guide... I mean, in the show notes that is going to show you some of the student learning logs done currently in the U.K.. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers practice notebooking with learning journals, commonplace books, written narrations, and other types of written work as well. And these learning journals become like a personal encyclopedia for each student, with notes on the things that the student finds interesting and is discovering and learning. It's a lot different than having a stack of disposable workbooks or loose pages. A learning journal gives you that encyclopedia of what you've learned all year that you can look back through.
Janice Campbell So the thing is, you start with simple study notes because they make learning stick. It takes focused thought to summarize knowledge in your own words and images. Charlotte Mason had students do it with narration, and William Zinsser notes in Writing To Learn--another book, you'll find linked in the show notes--"Writing is a physical activity for getting our thoughts on paper. It compels us to go after those thoughts and to organize and present them clearly. Despite the modern addiction to technology. Studies continue to show that a deeper form of learning occurs when students take notes by hand. But that's a subject for another day." So when I was in high school, I just kept a little three-by-five notebook with me all the time and used it as a learning journal. It had my commonplace quotes, it had new concepts in math--because math was a challenging subject for me. It had the formulas I needed to remember and all that stuff. It also held my list of Spanish vocabulary, notes on conjugation and verb tenses, plus all the interesting quotes I found in books that I was reading, both in class and for personal pleasure or personal learning. By writing down the things I needed to remember, I created my own reference guide. And because I'd selected and organized and summarized it myself, when I was taking a test I could often remember to answer by visualizing the way I'd written it on the page, whether it was at the top or bottom of the page, what color I'd written it in, and so forth. In college, I still kept a small notebook, but now it began to have Latin vocabulary and a growing timeline of events from history all through Western civilization and so forth, and vocabulary from various science classes. I added a big 18 x 24-inch art pad for mind mapping research papers, reviewing for exams, and storyboarding intricate literature such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or Spenser's Faerie Queene. And it was also a good place to sketch maps, diagrams, and charts. My drawings were sketchy at best. People were mostly stick figures and diagrams were often lopsided with too much text squished into too little space. But just as they had in high school, study notes helped me remember important things.
Janice Campbell So one of the best things about using notebooks for learning is that it's easy to see progress and remember what you've studied each year. This allows learning to grow line upon line, precept upon precept. The best learning journals I've seen--these are from homeschooling students--have recorded studies on every subject except math, all in the same book. And even some math history and math principles appear in the major learning journal for the year. Science experiments are recorded, maps are drawn, commonplace quotes and historic events are included as they're studied, little timelines and all of it. Charlotte Mason wrote about commonplace books, that "such a diary, carefully kept through your life, should be exceedingly interesting, as containing the intellectual history of the writer." And the same is true of the larger learning journals that encompass so many subjects. Just imagine graduating from school with an entire shelf of books that document what you've learned in all the subjects.
Janice Campbell So a few tips for getting started with those learning journals: The point is that it's your student's learning journal. They are to record the things that interest them most, not every detail in a chapter read or about a battle or period of history or a science experiment. But mainly the details they find interesting and important, and not the details necessarily that someone else thinks are interesting or important, because that is going to be like a key that opens the subject in the student's memory. It's going to help them remember what they're learning. So let them decide what they want to record and how to record it. Since they'll be spending a lot of time with their notebooks over the course of the school year, make sure they have something sturdy, such as the hardbound blank sketchbook--like 8.5 x 11" size or whatever. They'll use it for both writing and drawing, so blank pages tend to work best. The point of all of this is that it's a process for learning, it's not the creation of a product. And I'm going to probably mention that again because that's super important. To begin creating a page, a student reads, listens to, or learns something from history, literature, science, or whatever subject that they're studying. And then the student would write the subject title on the page--in whatever creative or appropriate style they wish--and begin adding information. It could be timelines, sketches, diagrams, charts and graphs. You can use short bullet points or summary sentences. And write questions about what you're learning, if you need to. So the students can make each subject clear in their own memory by what they write. Some of the pages in the learning journal will have more text, others may be mostly diagrams or images, and both are fine. Students gradually develop a style of their own, as long as they have the freedom to try things and record in ways that make sense to them. They need to feel free to just cross out and move on if something doesn't go as planned. The learning happens in the process of writing things down and recording and drawing. The students are not creating a product with a predetermined format. Since notebooks are used instead of workbooks, they're created during school time. These notebooks are journals of the students' reading and thinking process, so you give them time to record something from each topic or book, but you're not correcting them in the traditional sense. You're not marking up a journal. This is the way that students remember.
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Janice Campbell Students who are just beginning to work with learning journals may be hesitant to start and may feel that they don't know what to write. This is normal, especially if they're coming from a textbook, quiz, answer-key type of background. The learning journal changes the learning question from "What does the teacher or the text expect me to say?" to "What is important or interesting about this subject, person, or story?" This means there's more freedom in the learning journal process, but it also requires a more investigative and creative thought process than textbook and workbook study. It's a bit like the difference between walking a mile on a treadmill versus hiking a mile up a mountain trail. One is automatic and virtually thoughtless. The other requires decisions, balance, and attention. So here are a few questions to help students get started with a learning journal page: "What are the most important ideas in this chapter?" Two, "What patterns or connections with other areas of learning do I see?" Three, "How can this historic event, science, experiment, or literary journey be recorded and illustrated in a way that is understandable and memorable?" And number four, "What elements should be emphasized by changing size, color, weight, or style of lettering?" And number five, "What questions do I still have about this subject, experiment, or character?" So you notice that I mentioned the size, color, style, and weight of your lettering. All of the notes in the student's learning journal can be vividly colored, they can be monochromatic, but I do suggest using a set of gel pins or something to allow the student to become more creative and make a more illustrated journal if they wish. Another thing that might help your student get started is looking at examples of what other students have done. I have a board on Pinterest with many examples of learning journal pages. You'll find a link in the show notes. These examples can help a student see how to fit information on a page in a clear and interesting way. And one thing that students like to see is the fact that you can fit a whole chapter's worth of information on a page in a way that helps you remember the points in the chapter that you need to remember and develop a clear picture of the history in your mind, or the clear picture of the science experiment or whatever it is. So if a student needs to take notes for lectures or from books, those notes may be not done as carefully or interestingly or colorfully as notes that you're taking while you're studying, but that doesn't mean they have to be sloppy or boring. They can include simple diagrams and quick sketches and so forth, just as more detailed notes do.
Janice Campbell The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde offers five tips for how to listen when you take good notes: Keep attention focused on the speaker or YouTube or whatever you're listening to, and try to filter or eliminate other distractions. Try to immerse mentally in the presentation. Don't multitask. Don't watch brothers or sisters doing their stuff. Don't keep writing necessarily, but try to cache some ideas--put some ideas in your short-term memory so you can keep listening. And then write at the end of a section or a logical point of pause. And recognize patterns in the speaker's speech, if they're giving you a list that you can make with bullets or whatever. So if you're reading or studying, you can choose to take notes as you go, or annotate the book while you're reading and come back later to write study notes. I usually prefer to come back later and write study notes. But if there's a book that has a lot of ideas or quotable bits on every page, I will put a straight pencil line beside the chapter or sentence or whatever, so that I can remember to come back and add it to my notebook. But sometimes I just wait till the end of the chapter and put everything in. You can start using simple learning journals as soon as students have decent pencil control in elementary school. As they grow older, learning journals get more detailed and have a greater emphasis on how they're put together, but they're still not corrected in the sense of marking them up. If you need to call attention to a misspelling or offer a suggestion for additional clarity, sticky notes can be a great way to do that without writing in the learning journal. We want students to understand that this is their work, their personal encyclopedia, and their responsibility. And when they're free to present things in ways that are comfortable for them, they usually do pretty well. Some students will need more scaffolding than others. And I'll talk a little bit about materials, because I've been doing this since my teens, and so I have a few favorite types of resources that are helpful and useful for me.
Janice Campbell So a good notebook for study notes can be any size, but it should lay flat and have paper that allows pens or pencils to glide smoothly. That's why I like to use those hardbound art journals that you get at Michael's or Hobby Lobby or wherever. Those are not usually very expensive, but they're very good and they won't show through if the child uses gel pens or things like that. Poor quality writing supplies can be so frustrating for a child who's struggling to master the techniques of writing. There's cheap pencils that squeak horribly or erase badly and make smudges all over the paper. Poor quality paper can have fibers that catch on sharp pencil points or ink and cause ink to bleed. And so learning journals are about learning, and the value is in the process and not the product. But when the student's investing a significant amount of time in filling up a notebook, it makes a difference to have a notebook that's pleasant to use and sturdy enough to last. So I usually have a notebook--a small Field Notes or Moleskine notebook in my pocket--plus an A5 size, which is about 5.5 x 8.5", in my planner that I use for all of my other life notes--almost a bullet journal kind of thing--and then a separate 5 x 8" or A5 size for commonplace quotes. And of course, I have my big art pad as well. You may not need, and your students don't need necessarily, that many to begin with though. But for younger students, you might want to start with the A5 or 5.5 x 8.5" size, rather than the 8.5 x 11" that I would do with high school students, because the smaller size is a little less intimidating. The blank page is maybe a little less intimidating. High school students may want to start with two notebooks: an 8.5 x 11" sketchbook for a learning journal, and a lined composition book for copy work and commonplace books, because some students do feel more comfortable with having lines. You don't have to have lines and you don't have to write in perfectly straight lines, and you can put a... If your pages of your learning journal are thin enough, if you have a drawing book, you can put a page of dark straight lines underneath the page you're writing on and the student can see through and usually keep writing straight if that's important to them. So anyway, those things are a few tips on the types of resources that your students might want to use.
Janice Campbell I would transition, and help students transition, to pens as soon as possible. Mid-elementary, if possible. Because it's just... It can feel intimidating to a perfectionist parent or a child, but since the study notes and learning journal are about learning and not perfection, it does help the student use different colors and become more creative. For most text the Uniball Jetstream is a nice fast-drying dark black pen that won't smudge or blob. It's so great for everyday notetaking, even for younger students, and even for lefties whose hands may go across the line of text that they've just written. There's a lot of options for keeping a great study journal and it's a creative process, it's a learning process, and, if Leonardo Da Vinci is a good example, it's possible to learn so much and remember so much and create so much once you have gotten into that routine of doing learning journals. So I hope you and your students will enjoy creating good study notes and working with those learning journals. As far as I'm concerned, an education centered on living books and learning journals is an excellent thing. And you can use these things whether you're classical, Charlotte Mason, or simply eclectic homeschooling. And even in the public schools you can use them. But I hope you enjoy. You can connect with me, Janice Campbell, and check out my books, including the award-winning Excellence in Literature curriculum, Transcripts Made Easy, and more at EverydayEducation.com. Thank you for listening and goodbye.
Janice Campbell Thank you for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare.
Janice Campbell If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents, like you, get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.
Janice Campbell Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the U.S.. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there.
Janice Campbell Finally, you can connect with me, Janice Campbell, at EverydayEducation.com where you'll find my Excellence in Literature curriculum, Transcripts Made Easy, and more, as well as at my blog DoingWhatMatters.com and my literature resource site Excellence-in-Literature.com. I wish you peace and joy in your homeschooling journey.