Using Student Journals in a Secondary Classroom

journals blog post

It’s incredible how much you learn in just a few weeks of being in the classroom.  Not to knock my certification program, but there are just some things you can’t learn from a book, and there are some things that my professors couldn’t discuss due to time restrictions.  Some things that are part of my classroom routine are obvious when I think about them now, but weren’t before I began actually teaching.

Having a warm-up and recap each day were two of the more valuable lessons I learned while student teaching, but I wanted them to have real purpose for the students (and me!) and not just be busy work.  I have some earlier posts about some of my warm up and recap activities: you can read PART 1 HEREPART 2 HERE, and how Pinterest saved my recaps HERE.  Plus, I have 6 other strategies detailed in THIS FREEBIE.  With each group of kids I’ve had since student teaching, I have them keep a notebook specific to my class (separate from their note-taking notebook) because there needs to be a point to everything you have your students do.  These journals are where the students answer their warm up and recap questions/prompts, and complete activities to track their learning throughout the year.  Before I keep writing, “journal” might be a misleading word, based on elementary or English classroom usage across the grades, but I have yet to think of another appropriate enough term for them.

On Fridays, I sometimes have my kids answer questions in their journals such as, “what did you find most interesting this week…what was most boring…what should I change the next time I teach this topic…what should I do again the next time I teach this topic…what did you understand the most….what are you still confused about” and topic specific questions such as “which cause of World War 1 was the most responsible for war breaking out and why” or “explain the differences in Ancient Roman daily life for a slave, plebian, and patrician”…etc.

Giving my kids time to do some self-reflection allows them to process the week as a whole and how all the topics/people/events connect to each other.  It also gives me a better picture of what went well for students and which teaching techniques I need to reconsider/revamp going forward (my kids and I can absolutely have a different perspective on the success or failure of a lesson or how well the content was understood).

They also sometimes use their journals during class when I have them look at images or political cartoons and do some brainstorming on their meaning, individually or with a partner, before we continue the discussion.  Giving the kids the chance to develop and process their answers before contributing to a discussion has greatly improved the quality of our class discussions.

These journals help students track their progress throughout the year, and having real evidence in front of them of how their thought process has changed and improved throughout the semester or year gives them confidence and proof that they are in fact learning and not just regurgitating information for a test.

Full disclosure, it does take a decent amount of time to go through these, so I typically browse the journals of one period’s worth of students a week.  I’ll write some responses in the margins where appropriate so that the students have some direct feedback and a sort of year-long mini-conversation with me.  Time aside, I’ve found them to be extremely beneficial so I’ll continue incorporating them into my classroom routine.

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