Let's begin with what learning logs are not: diaries. They are a type of assignment by the Writing Across the Curriculum movement, and are designed to be one of the strategies that 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 to accomplish a variety of goals. Here's a quick review.
Goals accomplished with learning logs
What can students write about?
- Opportunities for students to write. Usually they're described as informal, low-stakes writing assignments where the criteria is not spelling, grammar, or paragraph perfection.
- The chance for students to put their understanding of course content into their own words. They aren't copying down what the teacher says; instead, they are using words that help them make sense of the material.
- Demonstration of 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 working with the content.
- Material in the text or assigned readings; pick out one (or more) key concepts from the chapter, select a quote they don't understand and write questions about it, identify something in the reading that's a new idea and explain how it connects with or changes what they already know, explore how what's in the reading relates to what's being discussed in the course—the list of possibilities is pretty much endless.
- Use the log to record what they are learning about in the course, what study strategies they're using and how well they're working, whether their classmates are (or aren't) supporting their efforts to learn, and their thoughts about the value of studying with someone else as well as what revising a paper involves, what they've learned from doing a first assignment that they want to remember for the next assignment, and more.
- Write a letter to a family member or friend (who isn't taking the course) explaining what they've learned about a subject that's being covered in the course.
- Use course content to respond to a scenario that presents a problem, a dilemma, or a solution. Or they can write a scenario they think course content could be used to resolve.
- Make a list of 10 things they're certain they need to know for the test, listing where in their notes and the text they can find information about each.
- Develop a study game plan before the test, and then after the test critique the plan or themselves for not following it.
- Prepare a study guide on a concept or chunk of material—preferably one that hasn't been all that easy for them to master.
- Show the solution to a problem, and then write about how they arrived at that solution.
- Write potential exam questions or, after an exam, write an entry that describes something they learned for the test that wasn't on the exam. They could explain why they thought it was important to know.
- Draft letters to the editor, a government official, a corporate CEO, or others, objecting to a policy or practice and proposing an alternative.
- Create entries with prompts that students can write in one or two pages or can complete in 30 minutes to an hour. It needs to be a manageable assignment for students and teachers.
- Use prompts, especially when students don't have a lot of experience with log assignments. Logs can be very open-ended assignments, and this works for mature students. When students don't have much experience with a log assignment, they can get focused on what you “want” them to write. Prompts make this clear so their time and energy are devoted to writing.
- Designate a reasonable number of entries, given the rest of the assignments in the course and your teaching and grading load. Fewer interesting prompts are preferable to many of the same kind that quickly become a grind to write and read.
- Develop the prompts over time. You'll discover some generate better responses than others. New ideas will come to you, or you'll learn about them from others.
- Collect the entries regularly. If it's a large class, randomly collect them from part of the class. Or handle this electronically, having the computer notify a student that his or her log is to be submitted within the next 24 hours.
- Skim the entries. This is one of those assignments where the process is more important than the product. If the student is devoting time and effort, give him or her credit. Use a checklist or simple rubric, and write minimal comments.
- Provide feedback to the whole class, via a written memo posted online or in class. Illustrate that feedback with anonymous examples from the logs.
Here's an interesting example of how one teacher uses log assignments. Much of what she recommends is not relevant just to accounting courses.
Grimm, S. D. (2015). Learning logs: Incorporating writing-to-learn assignments in accounting courses. Issues in Accounting Education, 30 (2), 79-104.