By Jessica Gray Schipp, Maker AmeriCorps VISTA at the Lighthouse Community Charter School Creativity Lab
Journal, sketchbook, notebook, blog, book, diary, scrapbook, daybook, log — no matter what you call these information collectors, they all do the same sort of something. They provide a way to document our experiences. They can be shared or private, written or drawn, insightful or intimidating. If we let them, they can become extraneous and it is important to keep an eye on ourselves, making sure we arn’t using these journals in a way that feels forced, or negative.
jour·nal noun ˈjər-nəl
: a book in which you write down your personal experiences and thoughts
: a record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use
: a record of current transactions
: an account of day-to-day events
: a publication that appears at regular intervals
I have been keeping a “diary” since the time I was 6 or 7, probably first given to me as a therapeutic technique after my dad died. Mostly they were comprised of brief sentences, somewhat adorably butchered spellings — which were not only a consequence of being a phonetic speller but also of my dyslexic inclination. Aside from all of these “measurable” qualities, the thing that stands out most in my mind now is how purely and clearly my feelings were expressed. Something else was happening regardless of how many “errors” flooded each page.
During middle school they became “scrapbooks.” A place to store my memories. The first scrapbook was a gift from my mom. She gave it to me just before we went on a long train ride to Florida. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with the blank pages. But as my friends can attest, that didn’t last too long. The pages quickly filled in with awkward pictures, magazine cutouts of pop-stars, and obvious adolescent angst. When it was completed the pages had fattened so much that from the side, the spine of the book formed a triangle. It probably weighs 7 pounds (a reason I love hard-covers on journals).
By high school the worn-with-love pages became a secret yearbook for us. Like a double-edged knife, it had two sides, one that provoked nostalgia, and another that could be used as a catty tool for hinting at the idea of public humiliation. The journals I created in high school were darker, filled with illegible scribblings, existential crisis, the pages colored in boundary testing evidence. By this time I had recognized that in every blank journal was a place where all i needed to be was myself. A place of honesty, free of judgement, where I could sort out my obsessions and explore myself. They were a place to dream.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was required to have a sketchbook, as an art major that quickly became the norm. By required I mean turned in, graded, shared with another person you barely know. The ritual of these “required” sketchbooks solidified a way of experiencing, exploring, learning, venting, and growing. Up until this time I hadn’t realized I could use these blank pages as a place to purposefully learn, to test theories, to track ideas.
More recently I started blogging, so far, although I value the ability to immediately share ideas and connect with strangers, I will be the first to tell you that the Moleskine I carry around gets much more attention.
I tell you all of this to illustrate my experience of what journals can do, teach, and be for makers. Making is all about figuring out how things work. Journals are all about keeping track of what you find. When mixed, unique possibilities start to emerge.
In a seemingly magnificent alignment of the stars, I was offered the opportunity to serve for Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed) as an Americorps VISTA. Maker Ed placed me with The Creativity Lab at Lighthouse Community Charter School (LCCS), a K-12 school in east Oakland. So I packed my bags and drove across the country from Washington D.C. to Oakland, CA to put creativity back into the classroom.
One of the most important things we are trying to do at the Lighthouse Creativity Lab is to share as we go, making ‘making in school’ assessable to all teachers. I am sure you noticed the Making Journal adaptations laced throughout this post. At Lighthouse we have just begun integrating journaling.
Full (and free!) Project Guides (including templates and modifications for Elementary, Middle, and High School):
Among many things that have inspired my passion for journals are The Artist Way by Julia Cameron, the 1,000 Journals Project, and most recently a TED Talk by Maira Kalman on the possibilities of visual blogging (which blew me away), called “The Illustrated Woman.”
In the words of Maira Kalman, what’s the point?
The point is this: if you give a kid an outlet and they connect with it, they can thrive. It is a resiliency tool. With a little patience, perhaps an expedition suit, and the willingness to lean in to a new process, habits can be formed. And patterns will emerge. Growth comes from reflection.
When we feed our journals, we feed ourselves.