Journals: a comment on literacy

This weekend I saw Dr. Andrew Weil speak about mental health at the Book Fair in Tucson, Arizona.  Dr. Weil is a well known author and doctor who advocates integrated health care, using both traditional and modern medical techniques.

Among the many elements of maintaining mental health, he mentioned gratitude. We should be grateful, he said, for the good things that happen to and around us.  He went one step further — we should, he said, keep a “gratitude journal,” writing down the things we are grateful for.

This brought to mind one of the most interesting aspects of literacy; writing things down gives them power. We generally tend to believe what we read more than what we hear. “Give it to me in writing.” (Perhaps in pre-literate societies, of which some still exist, hearing is as powerful as the written word. That would be interesting to know, and I have not personally seen research on that issue.)

Students can test the power of the written word in with the exercise below.

Exercise:  Take 5-10 minutes for students to summarize what has happened in their lives over the previous week.

Then ask the students to keep a journal for a week, writing down each evening the things which impressed them that day.  At the end of the week, ask them to bring the journals to class, and ask them, again, to summarize their week, using the journals for reference.

A class discussion should reveal some of the benefits and disadvantages of the written word, revealing an important lesson about literacy.  I don’t know what your students will say, but some possibilities might be: the journal helps them to remember, the journal limits their imagination, the journal reveals a personal philosophy or pattern of behavior, and so on…

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