Data of the autonomy project were mainly collected from questionnaire and focus group interview with students. Below is a summary of the findings based on the questionnaire and the focus group interview.
A. Results from questionnaire
The questionnaire copies were given to 33 students and all were returned for analysis.
The bar chart below presents an overview of questionnaire results. Among all eleven questions, five of them (Questions 7-11) are directly relevant to the strategy of reflective journal writing while the rest may be relevant indirectly. Most of students (82%) were aware of the purpose of keeping a reflective journal in class while 18% of them seemed not to fully understand it. About 58% of the students preferred to do it as a take-home task, but 42% of them disagreed. About 58% of students believed that the task of reflective journal writing had helped them to be more reflective in their learning while 42 % of them had different opinions. About 70% of the students claimed that they became more autonomous learners through this course while 30% of them did not have the same view. When students were asked whether they would ask their future students to keep a reflective journal, 51% of them indicated that they would like to try it out with their own students, but 49% of them had reservations about it.
B. Findings from focus group interview
A focus group interview involving 4 students was conducted to get students’ feedback on the practice of reflective journal writing at the end of course. Questions were framed in two aspects: students’ practice of reflective journal writing, and their development of learner autonomy. Students’ responses to those questions are outlined below:
1. Practice of reflective journal writing
The practice of reflective journal writing was examined by asking students when and how they did the task, how they perceived the functions of journal writing, what they had learned from doing it, what difficulties they encountered when completing the task and whether they had any suggestions for further improvement. Findings are summarised below:
Doing the task of reflective journal writing
Students usually did the task of reflective journal writing either during the class or at the end. Students who preferred to do it at the end found that they sometimes forgot what kind of activities they tried in class, so they started putting down notes in the reflective form during the class to mark down the nature of the activities and the process of the experiences. Students also reported that they were more aware of the process of the class because of this practice:
Because I know that we have to fill in the reflective journal, I will think more about the process of the class. I will think more about what to write during the class. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Students’ perspectives of reflective journal writing
Students took reflective journal writing as a helpful way to reflect on and conceptualize the activities in class, identify areas for improvement and consolidate what they have learned. They reported:
I think it helps me to conceptualize the activities that I had in class. It is a kind of record of what I have learned so far. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
To reflect on my learning process and to identify my weaknesses in learning. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Comments on the experience of reflective journal writing
Some student thought it was very useful as students were pushed to do independent learning:
I like this section of reflective journal writing in this course. I feel happy. It also pushed me to do independent learning. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Some student claimed to become a more reflective learner because of it:
It helps me to be a more reflective learner. In the process of writing comments, I can organize my ideas and reinforce my understanding of the course. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
However, they also reported the ineffectiveness of this task:
Due to the lack of time, this activity may not be as effective as what we have expected in real situation. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
It is time-consuming. As we need to submit the journal at the end of each lesson after we finish writing it, we do not have a chance to review what we have written. Very often after each class, I forgot what I have written. Even though I have written down areas for improvement that I want to make, I forgot them. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Difficulties of doing reflective journal writing
Students reported the guided questions were sometimes too general:
… The scope of questions is a bit too vague, not very focused. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
However, some student argued that the questions should not be too specific:
If the question is so specific, very focused, it will be very easy to answer it. You may not use a lot of brain power to think reflectively before you come up with the answer. So I think maybe having general questions helps you to think carefully about what you want to say, to have this sort of process of thinking. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Suggestions about how to improve the reflective journal writing task
Students made some suggestions about the reflective journal task:
- Not too often, not every lesson
- Could use it for specific learning tasks, not always for the whole lesson.
- Not to ask what activities that you have learned, but maybe ask what kinds of reading and writing strategies we have learned, maybe easier for us to answer.
– Students, excerpted from FGI, 2011
2. Developing Learner autonomy
Most students agreed that it was a good chance to develop a habit of being reflective. For those who hadn’t done it before, it was a good start though they thought they need time to get used to it.
When students were asked whether they would like to try this strategy in their teaching practice in the future, most of them would like to try it but might do it differently:
I will ask students to make reflection, but may not in the form of writing journals. … Maybe I will take another way, like asking questions at the end, make a summary, distribute a checklist … – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Some of them would consider factors such as students’ levels of English proficiency and thinking habits:
I think it depends on which band of school I will teach. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
I want to use it, but it depends. I am actually more concerned about what kind of thinking process that students have. I am more concerned about familiarising them with the journal writing task. – Student, excerpted from FGI, 2011
Summary of the findings from the focus group interviews
To conclude, some students did the journal during the class and some at the end of class. They reported that they were more aware of the learning process in class because of this task. Most students reported that it was very helpful and useful to keep a reflective journal to reflect on and keep a record of their learning experiences in class. It helped them to identify key concepts and further areas for improvement. However, the effectiveness might be weakened due to a lack of time and habit of reflection. Sometimes, it was difficult for them to answer some general questions, and some students thought it was too frequent to do journal writing in every class. They also made some suggestions about how to do it better in the future in terms of time, frequency and questions to be provided. Students considered it a good start to develop a habit of reflection and they were pushed to be reflective learners. Most of them would like to try it in their own teaching practice in the future, but might do it in different formats and they would consider some factors such as students’ levels of English proficiency and thinking habits.