The Internet TESL Journal

Using Journals for Learners' Reflection and Self-Assessment

Claudia Marcela Arciniegas Trejos
Centro Colombo Americano, (Bogotá, Colombia)
Learning journals are powerful tools for learning.  More than being mere collections of required tasks and assignments, they can be used to empower learners to take charge of their own learning process by reflecting upon it on a regular basis and by assessing their own progress over time.


As explained by J. Michael O’Malley and Lorraine Valdez Pierce in their book Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners –Practical approaches for teachers, “Student self-assessment is a key element in authentic assessment and in self-regulated learning… Self assessment promotes direct involvement in learning and the integration of cognitive abilities with motivation and attitude toward learning… Students who are self regulated learners collaborate with other students in exchanging ideas, eliciting assistance when needed, and providing support to their peers… they see the connection between their efforts and learning success.  Finally, self-regulated learners monitor their own performance and evaluate their progress and accomplishments.” (Authors' italics)

This article aims at describing how the implementation of learning journals enabled students to achieve the above-mentioned goals in a high-beginner adult class throughout a three-month cycle at Centro Colombo Americano, a language institute located in Bogotá, Colombia. 

First, an example of the types of learning tasks students completed in that particular class will be provided.  Then, specific learning journal entry samples will be quoted to show how setting time aside for learners to think about which of the proposed goals they reached through the development of individual and group activities allowed them to identify their strengths, as well as make decisions about what they needed to do to improve in areas of greater difficulty.  Next, some of their comments about how their learning journals were useful for them to improve their communicative ability throughout the three-month cycle will be included.  Finally, the benefits of implementing learning journals to enhance students’ process of reflection and self-assessment will be summed up, and some suggestions will be made for their successful use.

Types of Tasks Learners Completed

The types of tasks learners completed ranged from the ones in which they had to demonstrate their ability to apply the studied language to a closer-to-real or real situation that required its active use to the ones in which they reflected upon and assessed their performance in class activities. 

An example of a task in which learners had to demonstrate their ability to apply the target language to a more realistic situation and reflect upon their performance in a class activity was the one in which they had to prepare some recommendations for their classmates to enjoy taking a walking tour around an area in the city (Bogotá) -they had previously studied the modal verb should to give advice and other expressions to make recommendations. This first part of the task was done in groups, and it involved both written work and oral interaction. 

The following are some excerpts which show the kinds of recommendations students came up with in their groups, and which they recorded in their learning journals:
Then, learners were to share the written work they had done in their initial groups with classmates from other groups (groups were rearranged for this second stage) by exchanging their ideas, opinions, experiences, etc. in order to pinpoint similarities and differences among the different recommendations prepared by each group. In this stage they were expected to activate the conversation strategy "I guess", which they had studied in the unit, to respond to their partners’ suggestions.

Next, each group had to present a summary of the most common and relevant recommendations they had found. To summarize the recommendations from the different groups, the whole class decided on a list of important tips for tourists when they are taking walking tours in Bogotá. 

Afterwards, learners reflected upon both their written work and their interaction with their classmates throughout the task based on guidelines that were provided, as follows:
They wrote their reflections and self-assessment in their learning journals.

Samples of Learners’ Reflections Upon and Assessment of the Task

The following are some learners’ reflections on the extent to which they had reached the goals set for the above-described task, as well as on the areas they felt they needed to work harder on to enhance their learning:

Learners’ Comments about the Usefulness of Their Learning Journals

These are comments learners made at the end of the three-month process in regards to the usefulness of their learning journals to enhance their learning experience:

Benefits of Implementing Journals for Learners and Teachers

Many benefits can be derived from the implementation of learning journals in the language classroom.  One of them is that they are tools learners can use to keep a record of tasks that involve the active use of the language they have most recently learned to describe and share personal experiences, points of view, etc.  Therefore, they can be considered tangible sources of information for both learners and teachers to see learners’ progress over time because they facilitate the process of comparing their past ability to use language to communicate with their present communicative ability. 

Another one is that learners can also use them to write reflections on their own learning process; they can note their strengths and weaknesses and how they can improve in their weak areas.  In other words, through the implementation of learning journals they are encouraged to develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning process, which, in turn, makes them better learners because they become more aware of what they need to do to succeed in their language learning process. 

Additionally, they are tools that teachers can use to focus their observations of discreet aspects of learners’ performance and to provide feedback and suggestions that can guide learners throughout the process as well as to identify aspects that learners may still have difficulty incorporating in their speech.  Consequently, the comments learners make in their journals can help to focus teachers’ observations of learners’ performance and influence teachers’ perspectives of the effectiveness of their methodologies when dealing with various aspects of language in their classes, which can result in teachers’ reflections that will lead to the improvement of their teaching practices in the classroom.

Suggestions for Their Successful Implementation

It’s worth mentioning some important things to bear in mind for the effective implementation of learning journals to achieve the goal of promoting reflection and self-assessment among learners.  The first one is to explain to learners from the very beginning what a learning journal is, what kinds of tasks they will develop, and the key role it will play for them to reflect on their learning and to assess their own performance as a vital component of their language course.  Doing this is essential for them to regard it as an important learning tool to fulfill specific goals. 

The second one is to define what tasks students will develop and to let them know how they are expected to work each of them gradually.  Also, teachers need to provide the guidelines learners will follow for reflection and self-assessment.  It is of primary importance to do this, so learners can have a clear idea of what elements are involved in developing the tasks and assessing them.

A third suggestion is to allot time for learners to reflect on and self-assess their performance, if possible right after a task has been completed, so their comments will better describe their actual performance along with their strengths and weaknesses.  Something that works really well is to tell students to provide examples for each of the items in the guidelines. Otherwise, they may just end up saying, but not demonstrating, that they manage all the aspects of language and learning the task dealt with.

Ideally, learners should also be given some time to share their reflections with their classmates in order to enrich the process of reflection and self-assessment.  Through sharing their comments with their peers, they can develop a sense of solidarity for learning. 

Last, but not least, the teacher ought to provide feedback based both on his students’ reflections and on his own observations of their performance in their learning journals.  This will make learners feel that he is well aware of how they are doing in the course.  Furthermore, they will understand that their reflections are taken into account all along their learning process. 

Conclusions That Were Drawn from This Experience

The following conclusions were drawn from the experience of implementing the use of learning journals in this particular case:
 In conclusion, students’ learning process can be enhanced so much and be made so much more meaningful by implementing the use of learning journals for reflection and self-assessment.  Also, it is a great tool for teachers to continuously assess their students’ performance and to evaluate their progress over time as well as to assess and improve their own teaching practice.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 10, October 2008