The Observation Journal

This year I have been designing and delivering the tutorials for a new subject on creativity at my university. One of the pieces of assessment was an observation journal, and I wanted to work up an approach to it that I could use as a template for when the students first started (something beyond just their class notes), that would serve as an example of its feasibility, where I could test ideas, and which would be genuinely useful for future tutorials and assessment.

These are some of my earliest notes towards it. I had just read Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, and I liked the potential of her did/saw/heard/picture pages: five things you’ve seen/heard/done that day, and a picture of something from it — both for a manageable amount of daily observation and as a resource for other activities.

But as I’ve kept using this approach, I’ve also found it a very soothing structure — it prompts me to notice things, but not excessively; it can gently retrieve a sinking mood; it encourages me to remember things, but only just enough to make me thoughtful; it catches the tenor of a day (and an era) surprisingly well, without the time needed to construct an accurate record of events; it can be done very quickly (important for reassuring undergrads); and it’s an unexpectedly wide-ranging resource for many games, ideas, and projects (more on those later).

These are from back in January when I was on fairly strong painkillers, walking (as you can see) with a cane, and unable to sit up to write, which contributes to the overall air of illegibility. (The last picture is of a mummified gecko found in a cupboard, just fyi).