#ELTchat summary 4/12/13: Getting the most from students’ writing journals

A long time ago, in a far off land called the Twittersphere, a group of teachers got together for a chat, joined only by a hashtag – #ELTchat (find out more here)- and their love of teaching/learning. I was not amongst them. (It was in fact the 4th December 2013 – so I was buried under a pile of IH Young Learner Course work.)

In those days, there were two chats each Wednesday and this was the 12.00 version. Fast forward a few months and the transcript was put up for auction to #ELTchat summary writers everywhere. I was the lucky winner, despite the aforementioned absence, and here is the summary: 

The topic up for discussion was:

 “Getting the most from students’ writing journals” 

(NB: hashtags removed and missing letters/punctuation added, to make reading easier!)

A mixture of experience with regards to using journals with students was brought to the table…

Different contexts of use/non-use and purposes, e.g. summer school, regular school, university; personal diary, reflective tool, as well as a mixture of success and failure:

“…never do journals” (@MarjorieRosenbe)

“Only thing close are self-reflection surveys on learning styles for research project.” (@MarjorieRosenbe)

“Used to do journals all the time at summer school. very effective” (@teflgeek)

“Only done them once in the school year. not so effective” (@teflgeek)

“I’ve tried journals several times, but it always ended in disaster. Students just copied entries or didn’t write anything. Wonder why?” (@teacherkristina)

“I have students write in a journal for 20 mins everyday” (@leedsacademy)

“Tried once, total fail.” (@Bobk99)

“Been using them this semester to encourage self reflection and review.” (@KateLloyd05)

“Have tried journals but always felt as an eavesdropper.” (@Marisa_C)

Suggestions for how to get the most from these journals

These were varied and focused on process and content, touching on issues of motivation and feedback…

  • Some participants were in favour of encouraging use of prompts to help learners write:

 “Maybe a framework for journal entries? Something I heard / saw / read?” (@Teflgeek)

“Today we did a kind of framework for past narratives. where were you? with who? how did you feel? What were you doing? past continuous. What happened? past simple” (@leedsacademy)

I also assign personal topics for homework – works well and stays private (for me only) (@MarjorieRosenbe)

I’m thinking bout having direct questions for Friday’s entry. What did you learn this week? What was difficult?How will you remember?  (@leedscademy)

  • Some had used freer forms of content:

 some students have used journals as a means to complain about their peers / notify the teacher of problems (@Teflgeek)

I don’t want to give too much structure because I don’t want it to feel like homework/task. Want it to feel free. (@leedscademy)

  • Others recommended the use of a diary as a reflective tool:

“Did learner diaries last year to have them reflect on learning styles. Interesting stuff.” (@Marjorierosenbe)

Also asked questions like ‘What did we do?’ How did it help you learn?’ (@Marjorierosenbe)

So maybe a reflective framework for journal entries? What I did / how I feel / what I can improve  – sort of thing? (@teflgeek)

  • There was also an approach that mixed free choice and prompting:

“Always have leading questions. But they can choose which to use.” (@KateLloyd05)

  • Different forms of feedback and feedback issues were discussed:

“Does it even have to be accurate or checked for accuracy?” (@teacherphilli)

“Peer correction and feedback works very well. Students help one another, but also give meaningful/relevant feedback.” (@CotterHUE)

“Possible privacy issues with peer correction and constraining what the students write about” (@Teflgeek)

“I used to take them in every so often and provide a bit of content feedback / language feedback” (@Teflgeek)

“I often have Ss peer edit or comment on writing journals/tasks. Good for collaborative environment” (@CotterHUE)

“Wonder about journals as writing fluency practise, rather than accuracy.” (@Teacherphili)

“Maybe the topic is too personal to support correction. Happened when a S wrote about dead father.” (@leedsacademy)

“I agree with not marking journal entries but you can ask Ss if they would like you to like in light pencil?” (@marisa_c)

“It should be free and not part of assessment. Some guidance helps.” (@OUPELTglobal)

“I write personal responses to each of the students. don’t do much correction.”

  • Purpose, context and learner awareness were suggested to be key in terms of influences on motivation:

“Feel that type of student/class (e.g. YL/EAP) has big bearing on whether journal keeping will be of benefit.” (@teacherphili)

“Motivation is big issue here. Autonomy, too, surely?  Need to know point of writing before getting most out of it.” (@teacherphili)

“For the student to get the most from journals, do thy need to see it as a process rather than a product?” (@Teflgeek)

“Talk about their experiences, and what they can get out of them. (@KateLloyd05)

“Agreed, i’d also discuss how they want to keep them, paper, pod, app etc. (@Shaunwilden)

“We did learning style surveys and then I explained what I wanted them to observe about themselves.” (@MajorieRosenbe)

“Need to be clear with the sts what the purpose is” (@Teflgeek)

  • There was some discussion around format, with emails, pen and paper, a note book, audio-recordings and TREEPAD all being suggested as possibilities:

Tech suggestion: I used Treepad for my PGCE reflective journal. Easy to use, but v. limited (in the freeware version). (@BobK99)

Pen and paper.  summer school also used them as scrapbooks (@Teflgeek)

“Do/did you get them to handwrite or could they do it digitally? Use app such as Penzu?” (@shaunwilden)

“For me pen and paper. Arabic Ss need all the practice they can get. I guess digital would be ok” (@leedsacademy)

“I’d also discuss how they want to keep them, paper, pod, app etc” (@shaunwilden)

“Reflective learning could be done through audio recordings, but thought journals suggested writing practice” (@teacherphili)

“Good point to mention blogs – because class blogs are used as a kind of journal writing activity, aren’t they?” (@teacherphili)

“There are loads of free apps provided sts have devices, equal access etc” (@teacherphili)

“What about oral journals?” (@OUPELTglobal)

  • There were also some nice ideas for using journals creatively:

“Could make them write their journal as their favourite celeb or book character. Would avoid  personalisation issue” (@katkander)

“A bit like joining facebook as one of a film, book or play characters :-)” (@teacherphili)

“I also assign personal topics for HW – works well and stays private (for me only)” (@MarjorieRosenbe)

“I tend to write follow-up Qs to what they wrote before. sometimes, change topic” (@leedsacademy)

Time worked against the participants, as it so often does. However, as you can see, they covered plenty of ground in the time they did have. Hopefully the transcript and this summary can help you get the most out of using journals with your students.

Recommended reading:

I haven’t used journals with students before (got a major experimentation backlog 😉 ) but @Sandymillin has, and has written a detailed blogpost about her experiences which you can read here. – Highly recommended.


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