Forget the hype. Go for ‘less is more’.

Fantastic Learning Systems focuses on using journals in the classroom through high-impact teaching strategies(HITS). We particularly zero in on student feedback, metacognition and questioning. Our educational service delivers personalised resources for Years 7, 8 and 9 English classrooms that work to develop the student’s self-regulation of literacy skills. Our approach is the less is more approach as it shifts the teacher’s role from sage on the stage to guide on the side.

Figure 1: Journal Business Offerings

In contrast, the market for kids’ journals is enormous. A casual Google search for ‘journal writing for kids’ calls up about 279,000,000 results. Companies like the Big Life Journal promise parents the benefits of giving children higher self-esteem, more resilience, and a love of learning. Often, the promise comes with direct reference to ‘growth mindset’ and ‘mindfulness’.

Journalling based on the philosophy of an examined life

When Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp came up with their colossal insights around a philosophy for children (P4C) methodology, they tapped into the fact that stories give children access to deep ways of thinking. This was especially true when children read aloud with adults who deliberately prompted them in conversations through a ‘community of inquiry’.

Like many brilliant ideas, P4C is a beautifully simple method which also covers a heap of profound practices. These include ensuring that children and adults participate in deep listening and questioning. The result is a face-to-face inquiry method that works extremely well for middle school students.

Figure 2: From the fiction journal Infinite Aisa by Clare Trevelyan

Interestingly, the P4C community of enquiry is not a learning strategy generally valued for developing literacy skills. On the other hand, the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation conducted a 2012 to 2014 study with nine-and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week. Over the course of a year, researchers showed that there was a significant boost in their math and literacy skills. Indeed, disadvantaged students showed the most significant gains, according to the large and well-designed report. Furthermore, the study, reported in Quartz magazine in 2016, showed that the beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with “the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished.”

Tapping into the journal’s capacity to carry deep insights

We are passionate that our Fantastic Learning Systems resources engage young people in philosophical thinking and in community-of-enquiry-like activities. We believe that there is no point in students working with journalling without the imperative to seek a love of wisdom. Journals have played a vital role historically in bearing the compelling insights of the age. Be that Samuel Pepys and his witnessing of the Great Fire Of London, the diaries of WW1 soldiers and nurses or young Anne Frank in her attack, journal writers offer us a deeply intimate view of human experiences.

Traditionally, journal writing can amount to using a blank exercise book organised diary-like by dates and snippets of self-reflection. Or, at the other extreme, journalling can follow the guided prompts of graphically organised pages such as we find in the commercially available kids’ journals.

Figure 3: Open and guided journal styles

Both forms offer a young person the opportunity to be self-reflective, with the latter guiding them with question-styled writing prompts.

What are Fantastic Learning Systems’ Journalling Services?

Our journalling resource has one aim. It offers teachers and students the tools to mutually observe the meaning and practice of learning how to learn activities. It places engagement, feedback and metacognition at the heart of teacher-student relationships. Like opening a treasure trove, the resource opens up to journalling pack complete with writing templates, colourful signposts, card prompts and pockets for constructing surprise items conceived of my individual teachers and students. The only items required by participants is a 64-page exercise book and the everyday stationery of pen, pencil, glue, and scissors.

Figure 4: Visual representation of FLS Journal Resource Pack.

FLS emphasises the process of creating a learning journal through measuring its impact on the development of literacy skills. How is this done in a unit focused on information texts? On oral presentations? On autobiography or text responses? How is this done for creative writing? Answering these specific questions is what we live for at Fantastic Learning Systems to ensure teachers and students achieve the benefits of journalling everyday.