Reflections on Learning Logs:
by Kay Stark, Adjunct Instructor of English
The learning log is a journal entry made on a regular basis. It provides an opportunity for the student to write a personal response to a learning situation. This may be a reflection on a lecture, a reading, a video, or a group interaction. What do they think about the material presented? What is their reaction? Do they agree? Why or why not? Was this totally new information? What did they learn from it? How did they process the information? How does this fit with what they already know? Will this influence them in any way? Is this material controversial?
In my teaching and learning experience, I have found that the learning log serves a multitude of functions. It allows the learner to think about a piece of information privately. The thoughts may then form a base for reflection, discussion, and further exploration. At times the log is an expression of confusion and helps the learners to discover issues that need clarification. In general not only does the learning log help the student and the teacher reflect on new subject matter in a course, but it also provides a means of assessment of the student’s progress in her or his facility of grappling with new ideas. With this awareness, it is easier to discern when the class needs to spend more time on some topics and less on others.
I usually encourage students to turn in a learning log at least once a week, more often if the student finds the process very helpful (and some students do!). On occasion, students write their journals outside class. In the beginning of the term, writing a response to the class in the form of a learning log is done during the last ten or fifteen minutes of the class.
Some students become immediately involved and invested in journal writing. If the student agrees, I may ask her or him to share the entry with others in class—either in small groups or with the entire class. In this way, others who may feel less comfortable with the process, get an idea of what a learning log can look like. (There is an excellent explanation of learning logs in our text, Writers INC, A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning.) However, there are usually a few students at the developmental writing level who find the writing of a log focused on learning is too specific, too challenging initially. These students are more likely to “meander” in their writing. They may describe work or home events that affect them or, in some cases, interfere with their course work. I accept their efforts, but try to help them change their general journal entry into a specific “learning” journal.
My responses to learning logs vary according to the information the students write as well as the grammar, sentence structure and style of the writing. I respond to each of them, and return them at the end of the next class. If I see grammatical or stylistic errors, I will note them and provide general correction at some point in later classes. The students are aware that I do this, but they are usually not aware of the specific person whose paper is used. Often I discover similar errors in several papers.
When the learning log expresses opinions about class material, I use this information accordingly. If more work is needed in an area, when there are points that need clarification, I usually tell the class about the issue in question and express appreciation for the helpfulness of that kind of log. When one person expresses a problem, others usually have similar problems of which may not even be aware.
In the final portfolio submitted as part of the evaluation of the students, I ask them to include five of their most important learning log entries. I may ask them to write a paragraph explaining why they chose the entries for the portfolio.
I “grade” each entry with a check, check minus or check plus depending upon the clarity of the entry.
Some examples of learning logs excerpts are included:
“It was a great idea to go over the Internet assignment. There were a few things that I didn’t understand and after you finished explaining the steps and procedures of the web site, I really got the main idea of this Internet project. For example, the questions were confusing to me. I think you did a good job in terms of helping with this assignment.”
“ . . .. After going over the test with you, I realized why I was confused . . ..”
“This is my last learning log. Learning logs are very helpful because they improve your writing skills. “
“ . . . .As I finished my project on time I can now say that I have a basic idea of how to use a computer. and I couldn’t have done it without the help of wonderful, patient and understanding people ( in the computer lab).”
In conclusion, I have found that learning logs are an important tool for ongoing reflection, feedback as well as self-evaluation, considerations essential to student progress.