Making Use of the Fall Experience Journal

I’m a big fan of the Fall Experience Journal activity, and now regularly assign it in all of my courses for first-year and transfer students at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, even if the course is taught during the summer or spring. For me the assignment compels students to put themselves out there in a very intentional and reflective way. By requiring students to document the people they’ve met, the things they’ve learned, the experiences they’ve tried and the questions they’ve asked over the first several weeks of the term, I’m hoping to prolong the period of curiosity and engagement that typically defines the beginning of a student’s college experience.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I ask a series of questions at the beginning of class throughout the semester that require students to reflect upon their journal entries. Some of the questions I’ve asked include:

  • Who is one person that you’ve met that you think will be helpful during your time in college?
  • Who is one person that you met this week that you’d like to see again?
  • What is one thing that you’ve learned that surprised you?
  • What is one thing that you’ve learned that made you uncomfortable?
  • What is one thing that you’ve tried that you weren’t sure would be a success?
  • What is one thing that you’ve tried that you’d like to do again?
  • What is one thing you’ve wondered but have since answered?
  • What is one thing you’ve wondered that you keep coming back to?

These questions – and others like them – help students see that even the most basic entries can be a source of reflection, inspiration, curiosity and growth. And because the entries are based on everyday activities that they should be doing anyway, it’s an easy way to get everyone from the class involved in the discussion.

I also use the Experience Journal for an activity that I created that was inspired by Matthew Dicks’s wonderful book, Storyworthy. You can check out that activity HERE. I usually do this activity in my second to last class as a way to get my students to think critically about the stories that they tell about both their past and future. Using this process, the answers that my students provide to the question “what are you doing in your first semester in college” are far more thoughtful, interesting, and uniquely theirs.

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