Teaching with Journals

A journal is a useful tool for the instructor as well as for the student.

  • It offers continuity in course assignments.
  • You can organize your entire course around it.
  • It gives you unparalleled flexibility in assignments and evaluation.

For you to get full benefit from the journal-writing, think about these points before assigning the journal:

  1. Decide what you want the journal to be for your class. A record of responses to readings? A collection place for all class writings? Both?
  2. What is the format of the journal? Single entry or double-entry (typically, facts on the left and interpretation or reaction on the right)? Informal jottings? A log? Formal short papers collected together with an introduction?
  3. What is the pay off going to be for the students? That is, how will the work they put into the journal benefit them in terms of the larger class goals? They are more likely to engage with the project if the journal will help them write a paper or pass an exam.
  4. How do you want to incorporate the journal into class time? Journals might become a beginning of class ritual for students while the teacher is taking role. (On the other hand, it is always better if the teacher is writing in class with the students.) Or, journals can be a closing ritual.

    Here are some suggestions for double-entry journals:

    • Either left- or right- hand entries can be discussion starters (therefore, there is no need to grade)
    • Students can synthesize class discussion about a left-hand entry by responding in the right-hand column. This is useful at the end of class, at home, or in the middle of a class period when you are preparing to change topic. (Because this is a personal response and you have observed them make it, there is no need for you to grade.)
  5. Gear your reading and grading of journal entries to your overall objectives. Certainly you will want to read SOME of the entries: besides learning what the students know, you will get a clear indication of their misconceptions. (In the case of double-entry journals, right-hand entries, especially, give a sense of their attitudes and how well they are connecting what they have read with the major Western Civilization themes.) But remember that not all that is written needs to be graded. Requiring a table of contents and a page-numbering system allows you to spot check entries, assigning a quantity mark to them. Many successful journal users set up a rotating schedule so that both they and their students know exactly how many they will read a week.
  6. Decide what appearance you want the journal to take. Will your students bring the journal daily? How often do you plan to check the journals? (Many people like to pick up journals each class period or each week, taking only a few at a time.) Do you want your students to insert class handouts in the journal? May students include notes from other classes in their journals? Some teachers like spiral notebooks; others prefer looseleaf which allows students to pull out pages, staple them with a coversheet, and then reinsert them in the journal when they are returned.

What you set up at the beginning of class will affect you and your students the entire semester. By doing this basic planning, you will find journals a very useful tool both for you and for your students. For many more ideas about journals, contact KU Writing Consulting: Faculty Resources.


Journal Writing for Facts and Analysis

The Write Stuff 2.1 (1991)

Do you have students who can't distinguish between facts and application or analysis? The double-entry journal helps students recognize the difference.

Ask students to write the facts of the reading or lecture or observation on the left side of an open notebook. The writing may be a jot listing,a summary or a paraphrase, depending on your preferences and the subject matter.

Ask students to use the right-side page to react to what they have on the left page. Again, depending on the subject matter and preferences, here are some ways the right side can be used:

  • to compare what has been written to previous classwork
  • to apply the left-side information to a real world situation
  • to list questions that the information prompts.

Just by looking at the pages, the student can tell if she is focused heavily on facts (left side full with little on the right), heavily on interpretation while skirting facts (right side full with little on the left), or if she has balanced the two.

This page was originally constructed by the Writing Consulting Program at the University of Kansas.

Revised 11/2011

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