#2: Learning Journals
Shortly after getting my PGCE and completing my NQT year in the UK, I came to Thailand to work as a Chemistry Teacher at an international school in Bangkok. I was lucky enough to have been given a very able and hard-working class of Year 10 students to teach. In fact, the illustrator of this blog and my books: Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati, was in that class.
I decided to try Learning Journals with these IGCSE Chemistry students. The idea was that they were to buy a special notebook (not their normal class book) and fill it with revision summaries, mind-maps, keywords and anything learnt in class each week. I wanted it to be a ‘living journal’, and not just simply a replica of the students’ class notes.
The students mainly took to it very well. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:
Highly-motivated students like Pop would always hand in beautiful notes, every single week. In fact, CfBT inspectors came to that school that year and they said that Pop’s notes were the best they had ever seen!
Wow! That’s quite a statement.
However, some students didn’t take to it that well and I found out why: I wasn’t giving feedback regularly enough. Some weeks I would be too busy with other school things, so I would sometimes (to my shame) collect in the journals and simply give them back the next day with some simple verbal feedback only.
I discovered that when students were given some written feedback on a weekly basis, however small, there was a marked improvement in the quality of the journals I received each week.
Back then, when I realised this at 26 years of age, I would write multiple comments on every page in a student’s journal. This almost killed me when I had 20 journals to mark. I soon gave that up and came up with a better way.
Oh, but did the journals work? Well…that class went on to get 100% A*-C in their Chemistry IGCSEs.
Did the journals help them achieve this? I believe so.
My updated (better) journaling system
I’ve set up a Learning Journal system with my Year 11 IGCSE and Year 12 and 13 IBDP classes. Every Monday they must bring their journals to my room and place them in the right place, as shown below:
Then, after school every Monday I write one and only one post-it note of feedback for each student; which I stick in their journals. This keeps my feedback focused on the essentials and increases my productivity.
An example of what this feedback might look like is given in this reconstruction below:
Students pick up their journals (with post-it note feedback inside) every Tuesday, meaning that they are getting recurring, weekly feedback as well as regular, meaningful homework.
I’ve been using this system successfully for a few years now. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly.
A little ‘tweak’
I did find that the Monday evenings were becoming quite hard because of all of the journals I was marking. Now, I spread out the days to match my timetable:
- Year 11 give me their journals on a Monday
- Year 12 on a Wednesday
- Year 13 on a Friday
The system allows me to give regular feedback to my students, and it seems to be showing in the progress they are making in tests and assessments.
In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific.
Learning Journals Conclusion
- Journaling is a powerful tool when used correctly
- It can be applied to any subject area
- It’s great for exam-level classes doing revision
- Recurring feedback and meaningful homework come as part of the package
- The students can be creative and present their journals in any way they choose (online is an option too)
- The feedback process allows the teacher to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses very quickly
- The Learning Journal is a permanent record that the students can treasure and be proud of
- Journaling is not used enough in the teaching profession. I aim to change this.
Article continues on the next page…