Sunday, September 23, 2012

Is this for a grade? A personal look at journals

Annotation provided by Tara Della Rocca

Chandler, A. (1997). Is this for a grade? A personal look at journals. The English Journal, 86(1), 45-49.

The author discusses the negative effects of grading the journal writing of students in the classroom. She begins by employing this practice with her students - evaluating their journal remarks in various ways. When she returns to school as a student and has to journal for a grade herself, she starts to feel negative thoughts toward journaling. She comes to view "journaling for a grade dehumanizing" (p. 46) and makes a recommendation that removes assessment of journals. She also gives suggestions (albeit, limited) for creating more dialogue through journal writing to extend the benefits of this practice.

Personal Comments
Anyone familiar with the likes of Alfie Kohn would find this article, for the most part, old news. Chandler describes her personal experience implementing a standard practice: grading a classroom activity (journal writing) and then details her personal experience that leads her to recognize the negative impact grading has on the actual activity. She comes to agree with Alfie Kohn (as she quotes Kohn) that "pay-for-performance plans cannot work" and she suggests that without grades, and a few other structures (such as sharing journals), the activity can be more effective.

I am a firm believer in NOT grading journal entries, but I do think a lot more is required to help students develop more thoughtful journal writing that truly propels their learning and growth. I am left wondering:

  • What ways can we scaffold journal writing to encourage students to think deeply about their learning?
  • What structures in the classroom will help students have a better understanding of themselves and their experiences to reflect upon in their writing?

I do find value in Chandler's thoughts on sharing journals (see below). Perhaps sharing journals with instructors and peers can help students develop their own writing, as well as inform an instructor for future teaching.

"Shared journals allow the instructor to see where the students are in their learning. The instructor's responses can be invaluable for opening further doors and encouraging students to take further risks in learning and making meaning. At the same time, students' responses are validated. However, validation of students' responses does not always have to come from the instructor. Another alternative might be student-responses. In class, students might share their journals with another student who would respond in a journal entry, or student might have a class "journal-round," in which students pass along their journal entries to several other students for responses." (p.48-49)


Stacey Caillier said...


I love the questions you are posing here! I do think it is fascinating that the article emerged from the teacher's negative experience doing something she had required of her own students in the past. That realization of how it feels to be in a students shoes is an important moment - and I applaud her for reflecting on it critically and then moving on it in this way!

I'd love to hear more about how she (and you!) are thinking about journals as tools for dialogue. Were there any particular ideas you want to try out? And how might you pursue the great questions you posed here?

It makes me wonder how we could be sharing our journal entries more with others in our cohort to push our own thinking... if you have ideas, let me know! Thanks for this!

cbystrak said...

Throughout my whole educational career, I wasn't really required to write in journals. The other day, I was cleaning out some paperwork at my parents, and I came across some of my work from high school. I found a few reports that I had written, but the one thing that I wanted to keep reading was a journal that I was required to keep for my Spanish class.

Usually, our "profesora" would write up a journal prompt and we would write for 5-7 minutes. A few people would usually share their writing aloud, then we would move on to our next lesson. At the end of the week, my teacher would usually write a question or comment on something I wrote.

As I was reading through my journal, it was like a time capsule for myself. I wrote about things that were important to me, daily life, food, friends, etc. This journal is a snapshot of me in tenth grade. Reading it now, I am hoping to stay consistent with keeping a journal.

It was great to see that one day I could answer the question, the next I may have tried to tell a story. Some days, my journal entry was really short, but other days, I had a lot to say. The best part of finding the journal, is seeing a collection of writing over a period of time.

Over time, I could see the growth in my writing, thoughts and vocabulary in Spanish. From finding this journal, I can see the benefits of keeping a journal. I appreciate that my journal was not graded by content. As mentioned above, it was more for a dialogue or conversation with others in the class and with our teacher.

I appreciate your question about how to scaffold journal writing to encourage students thinking about their learning. It made me think of a team-building curriculum we used with elementary school kids during an organized recreation time. We would play some sort of game, changing the rules in time to create challenges. At the end, we would always have conversation about the game, how they felt, what role did they take, what was difficult, etc. We would always debrief and then think of ways that what they just talked about could be applied to another situation.

Since sometimes, it is hard to find common experiences among young kids (aside for "I share my room" or "I have a dog") the games created a common experience for the kids that we could talk about and learn from. We didn't journal after the conversations, but I feel like that would be a great way to create a lot of ideas for deep thinking about their learning.

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