The Importance of Journals in Service Learning

Most people see keeping a journal as a way to chronicle experiences by putting pen to paper. Others see it as a means of reflection as they take in new experiences and learn valuable life lessons. Actively keeping a journal throughout a service learning project can offer students a window into their own minds as they become more and more immersed into a project. Often students begin a service learning experience thinking of the short-term benefits they will gain. It’s common for extra-credit or good grades to be strong motivators for getting students involved. However, mindsets quickly change once they are given the opportunity to make a positive impact with their own ideas and efforts.

Techy Tip: If resources permit, a fresh way of keeping track of progress is to start a project blog. Students can post updates, progress, lessons learned, and memorable experiences. This also gives parents and other interested parties the chance to keep track of developments.

The National Youth Leadership Council recommends that educators assign students to keep record of their service learning process in three stages.

1) Pre-service: Ask students to explain what motivates them to participate in the service learning project. Other relevant questions might revolve around preconceived notions and prior knowledge of current issues involving the project. For instance, if the mission is to help children of migrant workers learn to read, you might ask students what they know about migrant workers. It’s also a good idea to ask students what they expect to learn from the process.

2) Mid-service: Give students a chance to explain what actions they’ve taken to make the world a better place. Sometimes the process of recalling the work put forth to make a project work can open students’ eyes to the impact they are truly making.

3) Post-service: The opportunity for reflection can be the most important part of the learning process. Students get the chance to make a list of all they have accomplished, ideas that have changed, and people they encountered. This can lead to the desire to help out more outside of the classroom. It is a good idea to encourage students to read through their previous entries to track the progress and reflect on how their viewpoints might have changed throughout the endeavor.

Over the course of the service learning process both teachers and students will benefit from keeping a journal. From gauging interest to finding opportunities for improvements, a journal is an asset to any service learning project.

Appleseed Expeditions encourages educators to assign journals to students involved in planned service learning trips. The team can help guide you through the process of compiling and assembling a trip journal from start to finish. If you have questions on how to plan your class’s journal, or if you have any other service learning planning needs, please contact Appleseed Expeditions.

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