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May 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 8

How To Make Presentations / Using an Action-Research Journal

Instructional StrategiesClassroom Management
Recently, we decided to experiment with keeping an event journal, a kind of SwampLog of our daily experiences as educational consultants. As teachers, we had each maintained journals for periods of time, and looking back, we realized that we had kept the journals during periods of intense learning.
Presenters, too, we reasoned, could learn from keeping reflective journals. In some ways, our need for them is urgent because it's extremely rare that participants can or will tell us what is working or not working in our design or delivery. The event journal becomes a depository for our own ruminations, reflections, and insights; provides a place to record data and new ideas; and, in periodic rereading, helps us make sense out of what in the moment may seem a confusing array of complex interactions.

Organization

While an event journal can be kept in a three-ring binder, a spiral notebook, or on a computer disc, we've chosen to construct a light notebook with preprinted journal categories. On the cover, we write the word autoplasticity, to remind us of our ultimate aim: That is, from each event, I (auto) mold myself (plastic), actively learning from my experience.
We've organized our journals into three sections. The first section contains daily entries. On these pages we note the date, the event, and comments under four headings: (1) Outcomes and Evidence Procedures, (2) In-Flight Notes, (3) Reflections, and (4) Applications. Of these, the category that is the most valuable, and that requires the most discipline to think about, is Outcomes and Evidence Procedures. This is consistent with research regarding teacher cognition. Two questions are asked last, if at all, by many teachers during planning: “What are my outcomes?” and “How will I know I've achieved them?” This mental set regarding planning is not unique to teachers and may exist because from very early school experiences we learn to value moving through time instead of achieving a specific goal.
Observations about processes that worked well, or didn't work, are recorded under In-Flight Notes. Here too, we list new data we learn about our topic and record observations about ourselves: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and decisions. The last two sections we complete shortly after an event. In Reflections we record a comparison of what we hoped to achieve and what we got, our inferences about causal factors, an analysis of events. Finally, in the Applications section, we write summaries of personal learnings, self-prescriptions, and personal commitments.
The second section of our event journal contains summaries. We use it periodically to review our reflections, look for patterns, and construct new targets. Nicassio describes the rationale for journal summaries: Reading back is an important aspect of journal keeping. It is only in retrospect that we are sometimes able to apprehend the unique patterns of our own personal thoughts and actions as well as the subtle regularities of the environments in which we work.
The final section of the journal we reserve for reference notes we would like to have while we are presenting. In this section go notes about stories, citations, energizers, examples of processing questions, openers, and closers.

Habit is the Horse

Habit is the horse that takes us to the green pastures of inspiration, and regularity in journal recording soon leads to a heightened awareness of our decisions and their effects. For each of us, our event journal has become as important as our calendar. It goes where we go, and we write in it frequently. We make notes during the design stage for a presentation, during the event, when participants are at work or taking breaks, and later that afternoon or evening. About every 10 days, we take time out to read the past few entries, and record reflections in the summary section.

Abundant Benefits

So far, we've found the learning benefits are abundant and surprising. While we expected to gain insights about our work, we've been overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of personal learnings that we are harvesting. Some specific benefits include cataloguing new ideas, recording quotes, changing behavior patterns, overcoming personal apprehensions, increasing self-knowledge, discovering the match between stated and displayed values, achieving developmental growth, setting new targets, and receiving personal affirmation.
The event journals help us to live, as peak performers do, at the edge of our competence. They provide the reflective foundation from which we can experiment, and sometimes fail. But when we do, we fail forward, learning from our experience. As Sören Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.”
End Notes

1 F. Nicassio, (January/February 1992), “SwampLog: A Structured Journal for Reflection—in Action,” The Writing Notebook 9, 3: 13–18.

2 A. Costa, and R. Garmston, (1994). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, (Norwood, Mass.: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.).

3 F. Nicassio, (January/February 1992). “SwampLog: A Structured Journal for Reflectio—in Action.” The Writing Notebook 9, 3: 15.

Robert Garmston has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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