Characterized (like any anxiety) by features such as “extensive worry, intrusive thoughts, and mental disorganization” [all quotes are from the original article], this anxiety can not only “ interfere with working memory and lead to decrease in performance” during a test, but also have indirect effects on learning, for example by promoting self-handicapping behaviors. Indeed, “students with higher levels of statistics anxiety are also less likely to persist on difficult statistics-related tasks, less likely to engage in deep processing of the material, and less likely to use self-regulation strategies when they are studying.”
Reflective learning, on the other hand, involves “more than the simple acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Rather, it refers to a considerate and meaningful learning process, through which one also gains insight into the process of how that learning occurred. This understanding can then be applied beyond the specific learning experience.”
Thus, “when students are encouraged to reflect on their learning, such as through the completion of journal entries, it can improve their self-monitoring and goal-setting capabilities and lead to changes in study habits and other skills.”
In addition, “journal writing also provides an outlet for emotional expression, allowing students too label their feelings (e.g., disappointment and nervousness) which can lead to a greater understanding of the experience that led to the emotion and better perfomance.”
To explore the potential benefits of reflective writing on statistics anxiety, the author made the completion of such a journal mandatory (and worth 5% of her students’ final grade.)
At the beginning of the semester, 90% of students reported being “very motivated to do well in the class.” However, 50% felt “very anxious about the class.”
Of the 179 enrolled in the course, 164 completed at least one entry, and 44% completed all eight required entries. Some themes that emerged were:
Overall, students were mixed regarding the experience, maybe because of the extra work involved. That being said, their answers to the question whether the course inspired them to learn more about statistics seemed to indicated that the exercise did relieve some of their anxiety.
Moreover, the author notes that “the journals may have helped the students perform better in the class” as students who wrote more journal entries obtained better grades on the final exam, even after controlling for their scores on the first test.
Some of the reasons for this success might be that the journal helped them manage their time, organize their thoughts, as well as keep on track.
Source: Denton (2018), “The Use of a Reflective Journal in an Introductoory Statistics Course”, Psychology Learning & Teaching, 17:1, pp. 84-93