Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Assessment Strategies/Journals

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Journals: A Puzzle Piece In Personal Communication
by Amy B. Williams

Learning Objectives Of Reader[edit]

  • Be able to comprehend the important role that journals have in the classroom.
  • Understand how journals can be used as an assessment method.
  • Comprehend examples of using journals for language, math and science.


Who ever said assessment wasn't fun? That is old news as journals are invading the classrooms! Journals have become a wonderful non-traditional assessment tool that falls under the category of personal communication. Teachers are understanding the role that journals have in the classroom and the benefits they provide for students. Journals aren't just for writing your deepest and darkest secrets while being kept hidden under your mattress! Throughout this article you will understand that the purpose of a journal is to allow students to have a voice. A voice that reflects their understanding and knowledge on a subject instead of just reiterating another person's ideas that they have memorized word-for-word. It is an informal style of writing that results in a student thinking for themselves.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Journals![edit]

All the interest in journals is due to the fact that this type of personal communication encourages students to look at subjects and facts that they may have been intimidated by so the student feels more adventurous and willing to explore their ideas in writing (White, 2008). Journals aren't just for writing either; they can also involve drawing, painting and role-playing (Miami Museum of Science, 2008). If journaling is done correctly it can provide the following information:

  • "Help students pinpoint what they know and don't know.
  • Connect previous knowledge with what the student is currently studying.
  • Summarize what the student understands and their knowledge on a topic.
  • Help students understand important questions to ask.
  • Help student keep his or her thoughts more organized.
  • Support an interdisciplinay approach to education.
  • Help student see in a more visual approach to learning.
  • Allow student to take a tentative idea and make it more permanent" (Burchfield, 2005).

Students with a journal generally have clearer thoughts and an increased ability to explain a concept while the teacher can truly grasp the type of learner that student really is.

Using Journals In Math


This is a fantastic website for teachers to use journals in Math class. You can even click on a PDF of a Math Journal! This is a must see!

(, 2008)

Journal: A Teacher's Best Friend[edit]

The timing of a journal assignment includes different options with before, during, or after a lesson. There are two general types of journals in a classroom: 1. A journal that students are given very little direction on and the student writes down their thoughts, feelings and ideas, 2. A journal where the student is given a prompt or a specific topic to write on that has boundaries and guidelines needed for accuracy (Miami Museum of Science, 2008). Some teachers assign journal writing without grades. If this is the case, then the teacher will be more apt to correct grammar and spelling and make comments and appropriate praise. Journals also can be used for more class discussion and participation. If a student writes their ideas and understandings down on paper, then greater class discussion results. According to Hillocks, if a teacher uses journals in the classroom it allows that teacher to not only look through a window into how the student is thinking and learning, but how they learn. In other words, a journal shows if a student is struggling with a subject, their strengths and weaknesses, and if there are any misconceptions involved in learning.

According to Burchfied, Journals also answer specific questions for a teacher:

  • Can the student organize information?
  • Can the student explain a specific concept?
  • Does the student use communication skills correctly to communicate an idea?
  • Is the student confident in his or her abilities?
  • What is the student feeling?
  • Is the student's response coherent and well-structured (Burchfield, et al, 200

To give credit to journals for an assessment method is an understatement. It is obvious that journals provide a deeper depth and understanding into a student, which can only benefit teachers. Journals can be as simple as loose leaf papers in a folder, a spiral notebook labeled Journal, or store bought journals.

To Grade Or Not To Grade...[edit]

Grades are not necessary in journaling, but it is suggested to follow a specific rubric if assigning a grade. If grades are not given on a specific assignment, here are some great ideas on assessing a student's journal (Burchfield, et al., 2005):

  • Because some of the writing is informal it is best to focus on content rather than mechanics.
  • Be positive, encouraging and accepting of the student's writing.
  • Single out one or two things to comment on and don't undertake the entire journal.
  • Be specific when you comment on a specific problem.
  • When appropriate, have students edit one another's journal.
  • Ask students to read aloud, when appropriate, so the classroom becomes more conducive to sharing and confidence levels increase.
  • After students have completed three journal entries, ask them to choose their best entry, revise it and have other students begin peer
  • Allow for more revisions after peer editing and grading then post it on a classroom blog or website.

Again, grading isn't always a definite with journals and should be left up to the discretion of the teacher.

Examples of Journal Assignments: Don't Enter The Classroom Without Them![edit]

Different Types of Journals

Daily Journals

  • My most embarrassing moment...
  • What I would like to change about school...
  • My best friend is...
  • The best thing that ever happened to me...
  • The saddest thing that ever happened to me...
  • What I want to be when I grow up...
  • If I could change the world I would...

Specific Subject Prompts


  • Does math scare you?
  • Design two mathematical bumper stickers--one funny and one serious.
  • If I were better at math, I would...
  • If math could be a color (shape or sound) it would be...because...
  • My best kept secret about math is...
  • What kind of math figure are you? (Circle, square, triangle, parallelogram, etc.) Why?

(, 2008)


  • Record in journal your personal thoughts and feelings after reading "The Diary of Anne Frank." (or any book the student has read)
  • What does Anne's diary tell us about her? (or any main character of a book)
  • If you could talk to Anne, what would you ask her? (or any author)
  • Give a different ending to the book you just finished.
  • What if you were the main character?
  • Explain how you feel the character was like in the book.
  • Draw a picture of a scene from the book and write a sentence underneath.
  • Across the top of your journal write WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY and WHEN...answer all these questions.
  • Pick a President and write a letter to them about what you wish would be different and why?
  • If you could have dinner with any past or present famous person who would it be and why?
  • Student writes a paragraph using three vocabulary words written on the board.
  • Write four Jeopardy style questions based on the lesson you were just taught.

(, 2007)


  • Have students record any science experiment results over a period of time.
  • Record the amount of snowfall over a 2 week period, along with the temperature outside at time of snowfall and the amount of snow.
  • Record in journal the stages of a classroom bean seedling during growth stages.
  • Record which cup of water (1 hot, 1 cold and 1 room temp)freezes first and how long it took.

(, 2007)

Final Thoughts[edit]

Journals are like a telescope into a student's mind. This type of personal communication allows students to express what they are feeling about specific topics. It is taking learning beyond the basics to see things as they really are and not just skimming the surface. Teachers are in the classroom for a reason, which is to impact the student academically, socially and emotionally. A journal is simply a collection of a student's feelings, ideas and thoughts put down in black and white. Incorporating journals into the classroom takes commitment and organization, but the payoff is an exciting and motivating way for students to learn.

Get Out Your Pencils Please: Quiz Time[edit]

1. Journals are an assessment method that fall under the category:

a. Selected response
b. Extended written response
c. Performance assessment
d. Personal communication

2. If a journal is used correctly in the classroom, it can:

a. Connect the student's previous knowledge to what they are currently learning.
b. Tell a teacher the student deserves an A or F.
c. Inform the teacher if the student needs a different seating arrangement.
d. Allow the student to ignore the teacher's lesson.

3. The benefit of a journal for a teacher is:

a. One less thing to grade in an overwhelming job.
b. Tells the teacher if the student can explain a specific topic.
c. It helps the classroom seem less cluttered.
d. Allows the teacher to learn more about the student except for how he or she is feeling.

4. Stella has just completed an informal journal assignment for language in Mrs. Williams's classroom. Mrs. Williams is now ready to assess Stella's journal. What is the best method to consider?

a. It is best to focus on Stella's content rather than the mechanics of her journal.
b. Because it is an informal journal assignment, Stella should receive a specific grade.
c. Not even grade Stella's journal because it would focus on her character and not her capability.
d. Never asses a journal because it is to be used as a "filler" assignment when there is free time.

5. Mrs. Williams has just assigned a journal assignment after all the students read "The Diary of Anne Frank." She wants to compare and assess what the students predicted the diary meant to Anne Frank before they read the book and what they feel it meant to her after they finished the book. Why would Mrs. Williams be assessing this?

a. She can't think of another prompt for a journal topic.
b. The students seem like they are losing interest and this is a great way to motivate them.
c. She wants to assess if the students have fully grasped the concept of the diary and how it become a source of support for Anne Frank.
d. She knows Anne Frank is covered on the VA SOL and she feels this would be a good way to teach the students.


1. d

2. a

3. b

4. a

5. c


Burchfield, Kimberly, Jorgensen, Patricia, R., McDowell, Kimberly, G., and Rahn, Jim. (n.d). Writing In The Mathematics Curriculum. Retrieved on July 10, 2008 from

Forms of Alternative Assessment. (2008). Miami Museum of Science-Alternative Assessment Definitions. Retrieved on July 8, 2008, from (2008) Writing In Mathematics-Math Students Know All The Angles. Retrieved July 7, 2008, from

Hillocks, George, The Testing Trap: How State Writing Assessment Control Learning. 2002. London: Teachers College Press. (2007). Journaling Tips, Strengths, Strategies, & Topics. Retrieved July 5, 2008, from Http://