We’ve chosen to finish up our series on assignments with
information on learning logs. Like the innovative and interesting assignments
we plan to continue highlighting, learning logs are versatile and can be used
to accomplish a range of learning out comes.
Begin with what they’re not: diaries. Rather, they’re
records of student learning, be that further explorations of the content, or
insights that grow out of personal reflection, or both. They can be used to get
students writing more and writing in courses where they typically don’t write. A
flexible assignment, learning logs can be shaped in different ways and managed
so that the reading and grading don’t require large time investments. What
follows are the goals this assignment can accomplish, some common types of logs
illustrated with examples, and a planning guide if you might be persuaded
they’re an assignment worth trying or when your log assignment might be ready
for a refresh.
The goals learning logs
- Opportunities for students to write. Usually
logs call for informal, low-stakes writing where the criteria is not spelling,
grammar, or paragraph perfection.
- The chance for students to put their
understandings of course content into their own words. They aren’t copying down
what the teacher says but using language that helps them make sense of the
- Demonstrate the relevance of content. Log
entries can ask students to apply course material to a situation, use it to
solve a problem, or relate it to a personal experience.
- Deeper analysis of the content. It’s the idea of
writing to learn—that as students think about what to write, they consider the
content in ways that promote their learning of it.
- A different way to explore and learn course content.
It’s not reading the text, rereading class notes, preparing for a test, or
writing a formal paper. It’s another way to get students interacting with the
- Clearer understanding of themselves as learners.
Log prompts can ask students questions about their learning processes, to
assess its effectiveness, and/or to record their experiences trying new
approaches to learning.
of logs—There are many possibilities but here’s a run-down of some of
the more common types and some specific examples.
regular intervals students write entries that respond to material presented in
class, covered in the text, or provided by the teacher (i.e. prompts,
scenarios, short case studies). These logs promote content learning by having
students write about course material.
- Statistics journal project—used in a statistics course. Students find examples of statistics used in the media (newspapers, journal, magazines, websites, books, podcasts). They cite the source or take a screen shot and upload it. They explain why they chose it and analyze the use of statistics in the example. The assignment requires three examples; two on topics identified by the teacher and one of the student’s choosing.
Reference: assignment description submitted by math professor Karen Summerson at Pikes Peak Community College.
- Writing to learn log—used in a sophomore engineer mechanics course. Students wrote one page per week on anything directly or indirectly related to the course. They also wrote four “directed” entries including a chapter summary, an analogy that involved applying course content to a “real world example,” an explanation/exploration that focused on explaining something difficult, and a set of prose instructions for solving a homework problem. The assignment counted for 10 percent of the course grade.
Reference: Maharaj, S. and Banta, L. (2000). Using log assignments to foster learning: Revisiting writing across the curriculum. Journal of Engineering Education, January, 73-77.
- Quote journals—Students select a quotation from an
assigned reading or the course text that highlights a main idea or key point,
represents a new insight, connects to previous content, that they don’t
understand, or something that they disagree or agree with. Students may select
the type of response or the teacher may designate which one(s) students will
use and when. Students write the quotation in their journal and then explain
why they selected it, why it’s important, what it means, how it relates, etc. Teachers
can use selected log entries as discussion starters in class or online. They
also provide teachers feedback that highlights how students are responding to
- Learning log—used in an introductory financial accounting course. Students write seven two-page entries in response to instructor prompts that mostly have student interpret and apply accounting concepts, although sometimes in unique formats. One has students write a whistle blower letter. One student is selected to read his/her entry (gets full credit for doing so). It’s used to launch the discussion during which students may make corrections on their entries (using a teacher supplied green pen). Students may write more than seven entries. The seven highest-scored entries count for 14 percent of the course grade. The prompts and grading criteria are included in the article.
Reference: Grimm, S. D. (2015). Learning logs: Incorporating writing-to-learn assignments in accounting courses. Issues in Accounting Education, 30 (2), 79-104.
logs—Students use course content or their experiences in the course to
promote personal insights or develop awareness. These can be logs where student
track their efforts to learn the content or where they explore how the content
relates to them personally.
- Reflective reading log—used in a general education critical reading and writing course. Students were introduced to nine different reading strategies. For each of the 10 log entries they selected one of the week’s assigned essays and described how they read it. They also reflected on their choice of reading strategies.
Manarin, K. (2012). Reading value: Student Choice in Reading Strategies. Pedagogy, 12 (2), 281-297.
journal collects questions: those raised by the content covered in class, by
the readings, from discussions, or that come to the student as he or she
studies course material. They may be questions the student can’t answer, new
questions raised by the content, or questions that are of interest to the
student. Students can be asked to write about the questions they’ve generated:
what prompted them, where the answer might be found, ideas about the answer, or
- Reading question assignment log—used in an upper division biochemistry course. Students generated one question for each of eleven reading assignments. Factual questions were not appropriate, rather these questions aimed to provide high quality evidence of student thinking. Reading questions counted for four percent of the total grade. [Note: these authors do not describe this assignment as a learning log.]
Reference: Offerdahl, E. G. and Montplaisir, L. (2014). Student-generated reading questions: Diagnosing student thinking with diverse formative assessments. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. 42 (1), 29-38.
used to record internship experiences in service-learning courses or travel
courses. Students describe experiences by writing about what happened and their
response to it. Subsequently they may review entries and analyze them with
content provided in the course or they may reflect more deeply on their
involvement, what they did, could have done, maybe should have done.
- Professional preparation log—selected for use in an MBA program because learning logs “teach essential skills needed by managers in today’s complex and chaotic organizations, they meet the needs of adult learners and they provide an appropriate assessment vehicle.” (p. 68) These logs were used in lieu of exams. The article includes an excellent discussion of the challenges involved in using learning journals as a major assignment.
Reference: Varner, D. and Peck, S. R. (2003). Learning from learning journals: The benefits and challenges of using learning journal assignments. Journal of Management Education, 27 (1), 52-77.
one journal, appearing online with posts from students in the course. They may
respond to prompts provided by the teacher, and they may be assigned to post
prompts or respond to the comments of other students. Teachers may post
comments as well.
assignment planning questions: Here’s a set of questions that need to
be addressed if you’re considering a log assignment, making plans to use one,
or reviewing one currently in use. They illustrate the many different design
options for this assignment.
- What’s the assignment’s objective(s)? To promote
mastery of course content, or as self-reflection on the relevance of course
content, or both? You can fine tune this further: are you interested in using
logs to develop writing skills, critical thinking, problem solving, in-depth
analysis? Hint: the more objectives;
the more complicated the assignment will need to be. Better to start small if
you’ve never used a log assignment before.
- How much structure? Is the assignment open-ended
with students invited to respond to course content as they see it relating to
personal experience or professional goals, or does the assignment provide
students with topic areas or prompts to which they respond? Or, can it be a combination,
with some directed entries and some at the student’s discretion? Hint: If
students are beginners, or don’t have much experience with this type of
assignment, they do better responding to prompts, at least initially.
- How many entries and how long? Hint: Craft an answer in light of your
objectives, whether the logs are being graded with or without feedback, and considering
students’ prior experiences with writing logs. What kind of prompts do you have
in mind and what would it take to provide a reasonable response?
- What sources will students use to write their
entries? Class notes; assigned readings; materials found online; sources identified
by the teacher or those discovered by the student; discussions in class,
online, or in small groups; personal experiences?
- Who reads the logs? The teacher, yes, but
perhaps a peer partner who reads, responds, and provides feedback? Could the author
read earlier entries and respond in light of growing knowledge, skills, or
- How often are the logs read? After every entry? At
designated intervals? Are all the logs read or only a randomly collected
- Are the logs graded? Will students take the
assignment seriously if they’re not? If
the logs are graded, what’s the criteria? How much is the assignment worth? Are
individual entries graded, only a subset (say those written between due dates),
or the whole collection?
- How much feedback and how will it be provided? Via
a rubric with minimal comments, extensive feedback on one or two entries but
none of the rest, minimal written feedback, feedback provided to the whole
class, online, or in class? Hint: Remember
that learning from log assignments comes during the writing process as much as
from teacher feedback.
- Will the content of the logs be integrated in
the course? Excerpts read by students or the teacher and used as-in class
discussion prompts? Excellent entries posted on the course website? How will
the teacher use log content? To identify areas of confusion and/or
misunderstanding, or areas of potential student interest?