I should probably define what I mean when I use the term ‘learning log’ as it is definitely a phrase that conjures up different meanings for different people. For me, a learning log is simply a space for my students to record their learning journey. It is often messy, and it includes their reflections on what they know, how they feel and what their goals are.
“What do I want my students to get from the learning logs?”
At the start of the year, learning logs were just a space for my students to keep a record for the areas of Chemistry that they they needed to work on. The aim was for students to keep a track of topics that were causing them difficulty, work on them and therefore improve their overall grades. It was going to be magical.
As the year progressed I started to introduce reflections that focused on my students emotions and their attitudes towards Chemistry. Verbalising their difficulties and acknowledging their achievements meant that they were able to visualise the journey that they were making with more clarity. As well as this, a greater sense of community was built in my classroom as students could see that other people were also finding the course hard. Chemistry is a tough subject and as their teacher, part of my job is to make sure they are feeling optimistic and continue to embrace challenge. The purpose of reflection in my classroom is to make my students more aware of the progress they’ve made and to increase their willingness to embrace challenge.
How do my students feel about reflection?
It was time to see what my students actually thought. I passed my students a questionnaire that allowed them to give me some feedback on reflections and their learning logs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was super scared to send them this questionnaire as this is an area that I’ve put a lot of work into and I was terrified that my students were going to tell me that it was awful (sometimes the truth is painful!). I don’t know if you’ve ever spoken to a 16 year old about writing reflections but many of them simply see it as a hoop to jump through or a box to tick. For this reason, I gave them an anonymous survey to guarantee that the feedback was going to be truthful (and I took a deep breath…).
They actually liked them.
I was somewhat surprised to find out just how many of my students really liked keeping a record of their journey and seeing the progress they’re making. Okay cool, so they like it…. but what are they actually learning?
“What have you learnt about yourself by reflecting in chemistry?”
There were many responses that demonstrated that my students appreciated the importance of the learning process rather than just caring about their grades:
“After every test, and assignment I have learnt something new about myself and my ability.”
“I am better and am making more progress than I thought.”
“It allows me to understand where I am in chemistry, and exactly what I need to improve and make myself aware of that.”
I’m super happy to see that most of my students “got it” and can clearly articulate what they’re learning from the process. Whilst I would love to just include these comments, there are also a couple that look a little bit more like this:
“I am good at composing a nice reflection although I don’t have anything to reflect on.”
I hate the feeling that I’m forcing some of my students to do something that they don’t see the value in. If I don’t want any students to feel this way, then I will need to review my sales pitch for why my students should embrace the process of reflection. But maybe this will always be the case. Maybe there will always be students who don’t see the value in reflecting.
Which reflection activities were most significant for you?
This was intended to give me information on which timings and types of reflections are most significant for my students learning.
Timings: The data indicates (somewhat unsurprisingly…!) that the big milestone reflections were the one that students found most significant. The “100 days into IB”, “surviving the stoichiometry unit” and “after Grade 11 exam” reflections were all top scorers. I’ve referred to the “Power of Moments” by Chip and Dan Heath before in my blog on making the last days of school memorable. I feel like the outcome is the same: by making the peaks “peakier” and by celebrating milestones, it makes it clear to students that they are overcoming challenge all the time.
“They are important information to both giving me support and hope of when I feel down and sad in chemistry. Its like a letter to myself like a therapy”
If I can create a few more genuine milestones then I can heighten this effect and hopefully encourage more consistent optimism in Chemistry. Recording times that they’ve felt overwhelmed or anxious and have subsequently achieved success can hopefully give students the confidence to embrace challenge in the knowledge that everything will be okay in the end (The gift of mild confusion).
Types of reflection: I also noticed that the top-scorer reflection activities were also the ones that contained all 3 aspects of reflection: Awareness (of emotions), Analysis (of the current situation) and Application (to future situations). Whilst you can definitely complete reflections that focus on one of these aspects, this data might suggest that the full-set increases their significance in the students reflective journey.
“The graph allowed me see the different times I was feeling confident and less confident in the context of my whole progress.”
“It reminded me of the mindset that I need to have in class and helped be understand that I have this inner drive to get better.”
It is not clear whether the activity or the timing was the main contributor to the success of the reflection. The only conclusion that I can definitely make is that if you pair an effective strategy with a landmark moment, students are likely to find the reflection significant for their learning.
Based on this feedback, the learning logs are definitely going to stay part of my classroom practice. But all this data definitely leave me with some questions about how my protocols might change moving into next year:
Is it more important to create a regular reflection practise or to focus on getting the most out of the milestone moments?
How might I change how I introduce reflection at the start of the year?
How can I know whether my students are just jumping through hoops or genuinely engaging with the process?