Journal Keeping: Measuring Student Growth One Student at a Time

Begin with Questions: Learning through Discussion

Teachers hear a lot these days about "measuring student growth." It is not enough, it seems, to evaluate students on their standardized test performance, because such "summative" tests tell you nothing about when and how individual students acquired the knowledge and skill they reveal on the test. Increasingly educators and others are asking, "How do we know when learning is taking place?" To know that we need new tools that provide information about individual student learning and how and when it occurs. .

One such tool is the student journal. Student journals, properly designed, can capture what children knew before an educational intervention, what they know after the intervention, how their learning progressed during the intervention, what questions the intervention raised for them, what misconceptions may have occurred along the way, and even what experiences were most instrumental in stimulating student learning.

Firsthand Learning has been experimenting with student journals since our inception in 1998. Working with Inverness Research Associates, we have developed a simple template for capturing student learning experiences at several different age levels and in a variety of subject areas. In almost every case we have found that a productive way of looking at student growth is to ask at the outset: "What do you know about the subject?" and, "What are your questions about the subject?" and then ask the student the same two questions at the end of the unit of study.

On the journal pages following the initial questions we invite the student to record, in both drawing and writing, what they have learned, and what they continue to be curious about as the unit evolves. In this way the student provides the teacher with a road map of how his or her thinking is developing during the learning experience. This cognitive map tells the teacher not only what the student knows, but how they have come to know it, and thereby provides a guide to further instruction. ’

Why do we include drawing as well as writing in the journal keeping? In some learning situations students may have difficulty writing about their learning process. In the sciences in particular they may visualize the result before they can verbalize it. This may be true in other disciplines as well -- even subjects as diverse as mathematics, the social sciences, and of course the arts. Allowing students to reveal how they visualize the phenomena they are studying may bring them closer to effective verbalization. For some students this may be as true with social relationships as it is with physical relationships. ’

On the pages that follow you will find a series of examples drawn from a variety of student journals: Field Journal, Observer's Notebook, My Space, etc. Examine them and see whether you would agree that journal-keeping is an effective way of tracking student learning. If so, we would be happy to work with you to design a student journal that meets your particular needs. We believe that you will discover that journal-keeping is a very cost-effective way to improve instruction.

Click here to view an offer to try sample journals and notebooks.

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