Reflections on keeping a teaching journal: the first 4 months

6

October 18, 2012 by gemmalunn

I hadn’t kept a diary since I was 13 and that certainly did not lead me to any grand conclusions so I was skeptical about the benefits of a teaching journal.  Nevertheless, inspired by various sources (JosetteLeBlancMichael Griffin, J.Richards(1), our new RP group) and keen to explore new ways to develop I decided to give it a go.  My first journal entry (4/6/2012) came about after a pretty disappointing class; I thought it was a perfect time to test it out.

At that point I used 4 headings based on the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC): feelings, description, interpretation and action plan.  

Image
Image taken from http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/an-image-of-reflection-learning-from-my-rp-workshop/

Under the ‘feelings’ heading I wrote – ‘frustrated, annoyed, not bothered’, I’m a bit ashamed at the last one but I suppose I wrote it directly after the class and that was how I was feeling! Clearly the fact that I wrote about the event hopefully shows that I was bothered!

I was pleasantly surprised after the entry to firstly feel a lot calmer and secondly to have actually reached some conclusions about what I could improve.  I should have believed Richards(1): “the mere act of sitting down and writing about a lesson often triggers insights into aspects of the lesson that the teacher may not have had time to consider during the lesson itself”.  I realized that I had quickly and unfairly blamed students (Ss) for their behaviour in the lesson and once I re-read my journal entry I saw I had a large part to play in the way they had reacted.  I hadn’t given them enough support, the task was too difficult and then I’d quickly become annoyed when they hadn’t done as I asked.  The second entry after the same class the following week had more positive comments such as ‘much better class, Ss and I both finished on a better note, can still improve a lot but felt more positive after this lesson’.

Now, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have thought about the lesson and reached similar conclusions without writing in the journal but I feel that the process of writing helped me to organize the facts and analyse the class a bit more deeply. Rather than dwell on / moan about the issue for the rest of the day I had some solid conclusions and an action plan for the next class.

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my little red book

Following my first two entries I then wrote in my journal sporadically after both good and not so good classes.  Sometimes the entries haven’t helped all that much but more often than not the process of writing leads me to make improvements to the lesson and how I deliver it and really consider my actions before, during and after class.

Journal headings

These are my current journal headings:

Pre lesson: (I don’t always make notes beforehand as entries are not always planned)

– Goals and how do I intend to achieve these

– Possible problems and solutions?

Post lesson:

– What happened? (description)

– What encouraged Ss to participate? (I’m constantly trying to increase S participation so this point is highly relevant to my classes)

– How did Ss react / behave?

– How did I feel during the class?

– How did I feel after the class?

– How do I know it did / didn’t go well? (I may feel the class was good/bad but what proof is there to back up my feelings)

– What will I do differently / better next time?

I’d be really interested to hear about the structure of other people’s journals, do you use headings or write more freely? Also, about anyone’s journal writing experiences; positive or negative. I also welcome any questions or comments.

1 – Richards, J (2005) Professional Development for Language Teachers.

– thanks to Chris Wilson for his 6 tips for any new Teacher who wants to blog post posted just in time!

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on keeping a teaching journal: the first 4 months

  1. Hi Gemma, interesting post thank you. My favourite idea here is that by writing it down you can stop dwelling, take concrete steps, and then put it behind you – this is something I need to do more after things haven’t gone according to plan…I’m a chronic dweller.
    I think the headings look good. Do you think it’s worth adding a post-lesson question explicitly linked to your pre-lesson goals (for learners)? I’m sure you would probably cover these in your headings, but it doesn’t hurt to spell it out sometimes – eg: what were the language/skills aims for the learners – to what extent did they achieve them? I mean, for me the challenge is trying to make lessons engaging and motivating (what they want) whilst also addressing what they *need*.
    Awesome start to your blog 🙂

    • gemmalunn says:

      Hi Sophia,
      Thanks for your comment. I definitely think a post-lesson q linked to my goals is necessary, I’ll add that in, thanks! That will also help answer the question ‘how do I know the class did / didn’t go well’.

      Thanks again.

      oh and I love your phrase ‘chronic dweller’! I think a journal is a great remedy for chronic dwelling and faffing!

  2. haeundaelife says:

    Hi Gemma,

    I think this is excellent. You gave a clear example of what, I think, so many of us go through when we first start out in the classroom. and your experience is perfect example of just how powerful a journal can be.

    I think the structure you have set up is quite useful and could be a model for many teachers! It’s clear that it gives you a firm view on what actually happened, why, and what can be improved. All of which are the main reasons for keeping a journal!

    I personally write my blog, but don’t keep a regular journal. I do however, take little notes here, there and everywhere. After the lesson I write down things that popped out at me. That gives me something to put in the back of my head, then i allow for some incubation ;). After some time I come back to it and get to an action plan to remedy (if it was a neg experience) or maintain (positive) the issues noted.

    A fantastic start to your blogging career and a valuable voice for the community. Thanks for sharing.

    John

  3. Hi Gem, welcome to the blogging world.
    Interesting to see your process I have to confess my reflective journal has been very flexible and not followed a set of headings other than. How do I feel the lesson went, why? What caused this, how can I change/repeat this (depending on if it was good or bad).
    Perhaps it would be better to have a more regular system for myself especially as I usually use Evernote to keep my reflections on lessons and so I can just copy and paste a layout.

    I love the red notebook pic 🙂

    Looking forward to the next blog post
    Chris

    • gemmalunn says:

      Thanks Chris. I find the headings help me focus on the different areas. Just checked out Evernote – what a handy tool!

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