Read my title again. Yes, logs were important as many colonial homes were built with logs, but in the classroom when discussing colonial America logs can take on a whole new meaning.
Personal communication with students can provide useful information to assess student thinking and learning. Learning log journals are just one type of personal communication, but are a type that has provided benefits for me and more importantly for my students. These types of journals provide students with an opportunity to write across the curriculum and are ongoing efforts to build metacognition. In fact, according to Anita Woolfolk’s book Educational Psychology (2001) the more students elaborate new ideas, the more they make them their own, the deeper their understanding and the better their memory for the knowledge.
Journaling matches various achievement targets because as each question is posed to students they must reflect upon what they have learned. R.J. Stiggins relates in Student-Involved Assessment for Learning (2005) the goal of learning logs is to have students reflect on, analyze, describe, and evaluate their learning experiences, successes, and challenges, writing about the conclusions they draw.
Learning log questions to pose to students can be integrated into existing units in seamless fashion. For example, five questions that could be and have been implemented in my classroom are:
1. Using the top half of your paper draw a KWL chart. As we begin our new unit on the British colonies what are some things you already know about them? Place these things under the “know” column. What are some things you are hoping to discover? List at least four questions you hope to have answered by the end of the unit under the “want to know” column.
This particular question helps me gauge what students already know. KWL charts also provide opportunities for students to set some of their own learning goals by providing them with an opportunity to list questions they may have. Finally, KWL charts provide a reflection experience for the student. After a unit is completed students examine the first two columns and analyze their responses. Did they really know what they thought they did? Were misconceptions cleared up? Were all of their questions answered? Did these questions lead to more questions? By utilizing KWL in the learning log process students are given a framework for reflection in the context of a graphic organizer.
2. Use a three-columned chart on your paper labeled New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern to list information concerning the climate and physical features of each colonial region. Underneath your chart reflect on this information and explain which regions would be best for farming and which regions would be best for other industries such as fishing.
While this particular question involves basic content knowledge I can gain better knowledge regarding how students internalized information during a lesson on the colony types through their written responses. Does the student understand the characteristics of fishing and farming regions? This type of question provides an opportunity for students to put the content in their own words, and provides extra emphasis on a particular aspect of the curriculum—climate and physical features determine how a group of people use a region economically.
3. Yesterday you were asked to complete a writing assignment where you became someone who lived somewhere in the colonies during the early 1700s. You were able to choose your role—farmer, merchant, artisan, woman, indentured servant, slave, or Native American. Reflect on the assignment. Did you find it particularly helpful to your learning? Why or why not?
This type of reflection would provide insight into what a student is thinking about a particular assignment. Because of the nature of the assignment students would explain what was easy or difficult for them to do.
4. Following our mid-unit quiz regarding the colonies do you feel sucessful so far with the content? Which items of key knowledge have you found useful? Which items have been difficult for you to understand?
The actual quiz would provide data regarding students’ performance with a pen and paper test. The learning log question would provide additional data that should assist in determining why the quiz grades were high or low. If students were not successful with the quiz their reflection would provide useful information into weak areas I might have in my instruction, provide me the reasons to make lesson changes, and would provide me with important information regarding potential bias I had not already detected or planned for. On the other hand, student reflections would also provide me with data regarding students who did well on the quiz. A high number of perfect or near perfect scores can help me make the determination that the material I have presented is not challenging enough.
5. Reflect back on your KWL assignment for question one. Were your ideas correct you listed under the “know” column? Were all of your questions under the “want to know” column answered? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? Once you have your journal entry complete go back to your KWL chart and fill in the different things you have learned.
These questions provide students as well as me an opportunity to reflect back to where students were and how far they have come. A determination can also be made concerning lack of knowledge and lack of certain skills.
Potential sources of bias must be eliminated from this particular assessment for the results to be meaningful for myself and for students per Stiggins. By having a clear achievement target questions can be focused and varied enough to cover the domain and eliminate a sampling bias. Learning log journals can help eliminate my own bias if I provide enough time for students to think through their responses as well as write them.
Giving prompts that include additional clarification statements or questions will help students who need extra language support interpret the questions properly. Providing feedback and additional comments to student responses as well as allowing students to respond to my comments will help to elimnate interpretation errors. While using a writing type assessment can indicate problems involving a student’s low writing ability it does provide students with an opportunity to communicate freely and have the undivided attention of the instructor. Any feelings of peer pressure or feelings of shyness are eliminated. Environmental biases, such as classroom distractions, can be held to minimum if tried and true classroom management strategies are enforced. Students who have a high stress level and tension due to their perception they are a poor writer can be encouraged through one-on-one meetings where specific problems can be addressed and strategies can be offered.
Learning log journals meet many different requirements for today’s classroom and appeal to me as a teacher. I feel with careful planning, strategic teaching strategies that provide clear information for students as to what they are to do, and constant feedback with students learning log journals can be a very successful tool to communicate with students.