Making Student Diaries a Positive Learning Experience

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How can we make student diaries a positive learning experience?
Regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much recently, I’m actually on a two month winter holiday, although I’m working for one month at a winter camp before jetting off to the Philippines for the month of February.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a winter camp here in Korea does not, unfortunately, involve any camping. It does involve children as young as first grade being shut in classrooms for 7+ hours a day and supposedly taught, in English, how to become ‘global leaders’ or something similar. The camp I’m working at is affiliated with a top university in Korea, and so I had high hopes regarding the content and expectations, I was disappointed!

In my normal job I teach my own curriculum, make my own lessons and develop my own materials. In this camp I have no choice but to teach the syllabus, materials and in the style expected of me, most of which go against my teaching beliefs. The benefit of this, however, is that the situation has helped me reflect on the importance of having learning objectives in everything we do.

Over the next couple of weeks (time permitting) I’m going post a few ‘changes’ I would make to aspects of this camp that I feel would help students to achieve actual learning objectives. I’m going to start with looking at the system of student diaries.

Student Diaries

At the moment, these are simply a waste of time! This is such a shame as they are time consuming and could be such a fantastic learning tool.

Currently the process is for students to write diaries, hand the diaries to teachers, the teachers correct the diaries and write an obligatory comment, give the students back the diary, maybe the student briefly scans the comment, student puts it in their folder, it is never looked at again.

What a waste of a learning opportunity. Here are a few short suggestions that I suggest could improve the student diary writing process. I would love to hear of how you use student diaries as an effective learning tool in the comments:

1)      Relate the student diaries to classroom content. If you are covering a certain language point in class, why not give them the objective of concentrating on this in their diaries, therefore encouraging the repetition of language and helping to reinforce learning.

2)      Identify common mistakes in the student diaries. Take five minutes of class time to explain to the students how to correct the mistake and give them worksheets to practice at home. Give students a reward if in the next diary none of the class repeat the mistake. This will also prevent the cementing of incorrect knowledge.

3)      Encourage peer checking. This can be used hand in hand with the above suggestion. Have the students check each other’s diaries for the specific types of mistakes.

4)      Make your comments meaningful. So many of the comments I see are something like ‘wow, that sounds fun, don’t forget to use the past tense’. One way of doing this is to give examples in the comments, then have students make one or two new sentences using the examples to help them.

5)      Encourage a diversity of content. One thing I’ve noticed is that each student tends to write about the same subject over and over.  Perhaps it could be possible to suggest different themes for the diaries, however it’s important not to stifle student creativity.

6)      Promote self-monitoring. Once the diaries have been corrected, have the students give themselves feedback on how they think they did and what they think they can improve next time. Have students keep a log of what they have improved on for them to refer back to and monitor their progress.

I would love to hear any more suggestions you have on how to make student diaries a meaningful learning experience for students. I will try and post some more reflections over the next few weeks on what I have learnt while working at the camp. Also, don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh or ‘like’ us on facebook to receive regular updates.

Comments

09/01/2013 06:54

Hey Alex S Walsh,

Nice post. You brought back some (sad) memories for me. When I think about all the wasted hours I have spent on journals in English camps in Korea my head spins.

I am curious if there are any instructions given for the journals?

I am also curious about what students tend to write about as you said it is nearly always the same topics.

I think that this experience is a good chance for you to see your beliefs more clearly, so good on you about that.

I think you offer great ideas here. I especially like make comments meaningful. I think this can easily be forgotten when the mission is simply to “mark” or “complete” the journals.

One additional idea that came to mind was for teachers to highlight (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) errors and have students go back and change them.

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

Best wishes,
mg

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