Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.6.1

Using Journals For Assessment Edit

By Zack Hill

A journal is like a good friend who is never too busy to listen2.

Learning Targets Edit

After reading this article, the student will be able to:

--Identify the purposes of having students write journals.

--Examine the positive and negative effects of having students keep journals.

The Purpose of Journals Edit

In our everyday lives, journals are places where we can turn to for inspiration or reflection. They are where we keep our deepest thoughts and secrets and express ourselves freely. Reading someone's journal is like taking a look inside their mind because of these facts. In order to understand what purposes having students keep a journal serve, we must first look at the definition of the word "journal." A journal, according to Webster's Dictionary, is as follows: "a record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use.1" Now, how does this definition apply to teachers and students?

Types of Journals Edit

Using the definition of what a journal is, it isn't hard to see how they can be used in the classroom. There are several ways in which teachers can implement a journal-type of project in the classroom; choosing one that best fits the purpose of the class is the hard part. Journals can serve any of the following purposes:

Suggested Journal Topics

  • Personal

--"Choose your favorite movie and write a paragraph about why it is your favorite."

  • Dialogue

--"President Obama is the first African American president of the United States. Discuss why this event is historic for our country. Then exchange with a partner and write whether you agree with them or not and why."

  • Reader Response

--"Discuss what you liked and disliked about the play Macbeth. Which characters did you like? Which didn't you like?"

  • Math

--"Work out the following problems with mixed fractions and describe the steps you took to get the answer."

  • Science
--"We have been dissecting pigs now for two class periods. Discuss the similarities and differences between the pigs' organs and our own organs. What does this tell you about mammals?"
  • Personal Journals---These are journals that allow students to freely express their thoughts and feelings on topics of their choosing. Journals of this nature should not necessarily be graded for grammatical and spelling errors, but for content.

  • Dialogue Journals---These are journals that allow students to "talk" with one another via writing. Put simply, in these journals, students write about a given topic and their classmate(s) write a response to what is written. This can be an activity between classmates or between the student and teacher.

  • Reader Response Journals---These journals allow students to express how they felt about a novel or story that they read. An entry could include how they liked or disliked certain characters or how they felt about the way in which the story was presented or how it ended. Reader-respose journals could also include requests from students concerning books that could be read later on in the school year.

  • Math Journals---These journals allow students to work out math problems, writing out their thinking processes and the steps that they took to come to the answer that was calculated by the student. This could also present a way for students to express difficulties or misconceptions regarding new types of problems discussed in class.

  • Science Journals---These journals provide students with a way to express how they are feeling about lessons, projects, and experiments that the class is currently discussing. Students can draw inferences from the given material and/or data they have collected from experiments and discuss their findings2.

Pros and Cons Edit

Journals are useful in many different ways. They can help students express on paper what they can't orally, they can allow students to work out personal issues, and recognize growth as both a writer and a person (maybe an issue presented in a personal journal finally becomes resolved)3. What's more, writing a journal entry keeps the students focused on what has been learned and gives them the ability to go back and review their entries to see how each concept connects. The best, in my opinion, aspect of journal-writing is that it allows teachers to get to know their students on a personal level. Unless otherwise stated, journals are kept private, so the students who write feel as though they can put whatever they want inside without fear of judgement, thus tempering the student-teacher bond that is crucial to any classroom.

The negatives, while they are limited in number, do have devastating effects if they are inadvertently sparked. There are two noted negative aspects of journal writing, and the effects of both instances are liable to create a wedge between the teacher and the student. The first way in which journal-writing could potentially be negative is the fact that the teacher could hurt a student's feelings by giving criticism on a most personal journal entry3. A way to avoid this situation is for teachers to either be aware of what is "touchy" or for teachers in this case not to give criticism on journal entries. The second way in which journal-writing could possibly be negative is losing teaching time due to writing the entry and/or discussing entries. Oftentimes, teachers will allow students to share their entries in class and a good discussion gets going, thus distracting the students' focus off of the upcoming lesson. A way to curb this is to either not allow students to share the journal entries, only allow a set, specific amount of time aside for writing, or to give students a topic that is relevant to the day's lesson3.

Quick Quiz Edit

1. How can journal-writing be negative?

A. Parents will complain that their children are writing about controversial issues.

B. Students' feelings could potentially get hurt if the teacher criticizes them.

C. Students will think that writing is stupid and refuse to do the assignment.

D. Teachers could be incapable of assessing students via journal-writing.

2. All of these are positive aspects of journal-writing EXCEPT which one?

A. Students can track their growth as both people and writers.

B. Students can recap past lessons through journal entries that tied into lessons.

C. Students who write in their journals develop better writing skills.

D. Students who write in their journals often develop unconventional ideas.

3. Which of the following journal topics would BEST suit a personal journal?

A. "Name the different types of simple machines and tell what the function of each one is."

B. "Write about an experience that changed you as a person, for better or for worse, and tell why."

C. "Writing in pairs, discuss how you felt about the outcome of the Grammy Awards."

D. "Write a paragraph about the Scientific Method. Make sure to mention each step in your paragraph."

4. Which type of journal would BEST suit the following prompt? "Write a paragraph about the tone of the book Pride and Prejudice. How does the tone help the author's point to be made evident?"

A. Dialogue Journal

B. Personal Journal

C. Reader-response Journal

D. Science Journal

References Edit

1 Webster's Dictionary, (2009). Journal. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online Web site:

2 Nelson, J, et al. (2008). Journal Writing. Instructional Strategies Online, Retrieved March 22, 2009, from

3 Kelly, M (2009). Journals in the classroom. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from Web site:

Quiz Answers Edit

1. B

2. D

3. B

4. C

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