A learning log is a journal that records a student's experiences, efforts and feelings while learning a second language. It helps students to record, structure, think about and reflect upon, plan, develop and gather evidence of their own learning. A learning log is not just a diary or record of what they have done, but a record of what students have learned, tried and critically reflected upon. It contains problems students have encountered and solved or not solved as well as conclusions about what they need to improve and how they would like to achieve this improvement. Students can take down their ideas how to use the new information, knowledge or technique they want to attain in the future (cf. Holmes, 2011, p.1). A learning log helps students to become more aware of how they learn, what learning tasks they enjoy or don't enjoy and of their emotional and cognitive thought processes. The teacher as well as classmates may want to give feedback on the journal entries. This increases successful self-assessment of learners.
1 Benefits for the ESL classroom
2 Learner's role
3 Teacher's role
1 Benefits for the ESL classroom Learning logs give information on student's learning processes and strategies, assess these processes and strategies, and help teachers and students learn about students' attitudes toward and motivations for learning English (cf. Brown,1998,p.36). By gaining insight into learners' strategies, learning logs help students to solve problems and manage difficulties more easily. This kind of journal helps students to identify what they have learned and in what areas they need to improve, so they become more active and aware learners who engage in planning and organizing their learning (cf. Teaching Today, 2011, p.2). Learners will change through self-evaluation and reflection from being descriptive to being analytical, from accepting things to questioning them, and from acting impulsive by reacting diplomatically. Students will develop into abstract thinking, self aware learners. Finally, learners are given a more active role in the ESL classroom. They are able to choose the topics they write about, while the teacher and the classmates are able to give feedback. Topics picked by a student in his or her learning log may be interesting for their classmates and therefore may be used for future tasks and discussions.
2 Learners' role The learners takes a very active role in this strategy. They are the ones who write all entries, record and reflect on their experiences and difficulties with learning the new language. Students note down whenever they have started to try out or practice a new skill in formal or informal learning contexts. This means that they do not only take down feelings or reactions they had in an academic setting like the classroom, but they also note everything they went through outside this formal setting. Therefore learners need to write entries at home, for example about a book or newspaper article they have read, a TV program they have watched, grammar homework they have done, or a talk they have had with a friend (cf. Brown, 1998, p. 38). Everything that influenced their language learning, every situation in which they had contact with the new language goes into the learning log. At the end of an assessment period students evaluate their progress and make plans for future practice. “The learners reread their entries, note where they succeeded and where they still have difficulties, determine their weak areas, and plan how to improve them” in the near future (Brown, 1998, p. 39). The learners do not only take the role of the journal writers but also analyze their development and therefore learn to organize their learning more effectively by means of self-evaluation .
3 The teacher's role The teacher, though not influencing the writing process and progress of the learners directly, plays an important role in the usage of learning logs however . The teacher on the one hand may write down weekly learning objectives for students to reflect upon. On the other hand he is the one giving feedback on the learning log entries. The teacher would collect the learning logs now and then and give, according to Brown, three different kinds of feedback. Firstly, he will give “cheerleading feedback”, celebrating the successes of a learner and encouraging him or her to be persistent. Secondly, he will give “instructional feedback”, suggesting strategies or materials to try, and instructing students on their writing. Appropriate and selective correction is important here. Finally, the teacher may give "reality-check feedback", by which he or she helps learners to set more realistic expectations for their language abilities. In addition to giving feedback, the teacher could assess the quantity and quality of log entries (cf. Brown, 1998, p. 39).
4 Variations There are several variations for the usage of learning logs. A very good example for an even more creative form of a learning log is used at Inglehurst Junior School in the UK. Here, teachers introduce a greater opportunity for the students to bring colorful graphic and physical representations into their learning logs to illustrate their thinking and learning. This is very helpful for learners who have more difficulty in expressing themselves through the conventional written form. These students are nevertheless given the chance to express their feelings and difficulties in learning the new language by visual means. Content learning in a second language also plays an important role at Inglehurst Junior School. Learning logs here, in addition to language learning experiences, therefore contain students' understandings of new topics or contents in general. Another variation of a learning log is the combination with a dialog journal. For the student, a dialog journal can integrate the idea of a learning log with a means to communicate with the teacher. Leaving space for the teacher to answer, the learner can ask questions or explain problems while writing a paper or learning new syntactic structures or grammar. The students may note all kinds of concerns with linguistic or social matters in and outside class. They can, as in a normal learning log, reflect on assignments or indicate their own ideas on a topic. The difference is that the teacher has space to write his or her comments, answers to questions or advice for future learning directly into the journal. A truly interactive dialog between teachers and learners starts that may be impossible during classes (cf. Cohen, 1990, p.112).
Brown, J. D. (1998). New Ways of Classroom Assessment. Innovative Classroom Techniques. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Cohen, A.D. (1990). Language Learning. Insights for Learners, Teachers, and Researchers. New York, NY: Newbury House Publishers.
Holmes, A.G. (2011). Learning Log or Learning Journals. Retrieved March 5, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.hull.ac.uk/php/cesagh/
Inglehurst Junior School. (2011). Background of Learning Journals. Retrieved March 5, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.learninglogs.co.uk/learningjournals.htm
Teaching Today. (2011). Student Learning Log. Retrieved March 5, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.glencoe.com/sec/teachingtoday/downloads/pdf/learning_log.pdf