Learning diary: the evaluation and reflection instrument for students and teachers

Evaluation is a process that does not have to be reduced to tests carried out after finishing a topic or content. Different evaluation instruments such as rubrics, the metacognition ladder, learning portfolios, self-assessment targets or cooperative exams are used so that both teachers and students can learn about many aspects of the learning process, reflect and analyze what is what needs to be improved or what has been learned without difficulties. The learning journal is another tool that can be added to that list. With this instrument, students can analyze their own learning since they are the ones who express, in writing, everything they have learned about the subjects, contents or projects that they are carrying out in the classroom.

What are learning journals?

Rafa Martínez is a primary school teacher at the CEIP Reina María Cristina, in Isla Cristina, Huelva, and he began to use the learning diary when he introduced calculation in the learning of divisions in the third year of Primary. For this teacher, in addition to being an assessment (and self-assessment) tool, it also helps students reflect on their own learning process. “It offers students the possibility of developing the capacity for reflection and, what is more interesting, allows functional learning to take place capable of connecting with day-to-day life.” A statement that Carlos Huerga, professor in the Department of Didactics of Language and Literature at the Escuni Teaching University Center (attached to the Complutense University of Madrid), also agrees with: “Students reflect on the subject, tasks, materials, their relationships with teachers and classmates or about how they learn, favoring autonomy and metacognition”. To collect these reflections, “in which the student describes, argues, interprets and can self-assess the learning process,” says Huerga, a document (on paper or digital) is used with questions defined by the teacher or without previous questions. (structured or unstructured), which can take various formats: paper notebook, blog, podcast or digital shared documents, among others.

Rafa Martínez Martínez’s learning diary also indicates another aspect of the learning diaries: they can be individual or collective: “Individual diaries are used to assess student learning while collective work attitudes can be assessed, group tasks, working co-evaluation…”. Huerga believes that the best format is digital, within a blog or a portfolio (especially at the highest educational levels) since evidence of all kinds can be incorporated (such as images), but word processors such as ‘ Google Docs’ and even paper notebooks”.

Benefits of the learning journal

The use of this evaluation tool brings several benefits. Huerga highlights the promotion of self-knowledge, the development of writing, critical capacity and work organization while Martínez also points out responsibility and autonomy, internal motivation to improve or creativity and expression.

Learning Diary Questions

Examples of questions from a learning diary. ‘Language and Literature Didactics Blog’. Carlos Huerga In the same way, it provides a series of advantages for teachers since, as Huerga indicates, “it allows them to have a more regular follow-up of each student by offering them a ‘feedback’ with which to analyze the needs or deficiencies of each one of them ”. Martinez, for his part, highlights the following: “It offers the possibility of creating a daily routine in the classroom and it can be carried out in various situations and in different ways (during a session, a project, individually…)”. However, its use also requires more time when extracting the results in relation to other evaluation instruments. “It is necessary for the teacher to spend time reading and analyzing the newspapers one by one, which multiplied by five days a week and by 25 students represents an important part of the teacher’s time,” says Martínez.

How to use learning journals

In this infographic from INTEF and created by CEDEC, the three ideal moments to use this resource are shown: at the beginning of a content (to establish objectives), during (to review the development of tasks) or at the end (with which to analyze the results obtained).

INTEF learning diaries

Infographic ‘Learning diaries’. CEDEC Likewise, Martínez highlights the importance of always doing it based on specific content. “You should not start with a complete unit or project. It is important to do it gradually since the students must learn to use it properly while the teacher must examine and adapt it to the needs and situations that arise. To do this, he recommends establishing it as a routine establishing a certain time to use it: “In my case, I usually leave the final ten minutes of the session for them to make their notes.” Finally, the teacher offers three recommendations for teachers who are encouraged to use it in the classroom: Decide what type of diary is going to be used (individual, collective, structured or unstructured). Detect relevant content (one of great importance or where the students have more difficulties). Establish the moment of use and reflect on the process that has been carried out in order to make modifications. In short, the learning diary is an instrument that, as Huerga believes, “allows the student to change the chip and no longer only care about passing, but also learning”, he concludes.

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