Learning Journals Help Students and Educators

Getting ready for a new school year, or semester, has its challenges for educators. One challenge is to try a new mode of learning for students. One mode of learning I have successfully used to enhance reflective learning is to have students keep a journal on the course’s subject matter.

I began using learning journals as a student in a research course, and I quickly realized how powerful journals are in other courses. It helped me capture and organize my thoughts. While many students bemoan writing a journal by hand, they soon discover that their thoughts become more concise when they write by hand. Students don’t want to spend much time writing, but they need to capture information, and quickly learn brevity.

Students are required to purchase a notebook that is hard covered and with numbered pages. I want to see their mistakes, their doodles, and misinterpretations. While some learners don’t immediately see it, reviewing mistakes is part of the learning process.

The quantity of words written isn’t important; the quality is.  I ask students to divide their notebooks in halve. The first half is dedicated to what is learned in class and their reflective process. This is not where they put their study notes or notes about an assignment, but core pieces of information they gleamed from the day’s class. Learners are required to answer the following questions for each class:

  • What did I learn today?
  • How does that affect the information from previous classes?
  • How does this information fit in with the topic of the program?
  • How has today’s class changed the way I think about the topic?
  • How do I anticipate this information fitting in with topic for the next class?

The second half of the notebook is where they can write other information they have found that pertains to the course. This may include Internet articles, how other courses are related to this one, general observations, interesting web addresses, and any other information that they believe gives them a deeper understanding of the material.

I tell the students that I prefer the majority of the entries be written in full sentences, but they may also use bullet points to convey large amounts of information. I also remind them that I appreciate good spelling and grammar, but becoming proficient in English is not the purpose of keeping a learning journal.

They are expected to begin their journal entries during the second week and then hand in the journals for marking on the last day of class.

There are always a few students who wait for the last minute to write their journal, but I have found that asking for spot checks throughout the semester prevents this from happening.

I want students to realize the value of the journal, so I ask students pick up their journals from my office after the final marks are submitted at the end of the semester. The time between semesters allows the students to review their journal entries and use the journaling techniques in future courses.

As a professor, reading through the journals provides insights into covering the material more effectively, updating information, and even approaching difficulty topics from a different perspective. For both the students and the professor, learning journals are time consuming, but I believe they often give students the tools they need for a successful academic outcome.

Finding deeper meaning is the purpose of the journal. Iencourage learners to analyze their thinking process and how they understand the material. If students become aware of how they assimilate information and how to create new ideas, then they have the keys to becoming a successful learner through the remainder of not only their time in higher education, but also in the working world.

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