In the Center for Teaching and Learning, we have many opportunities to work with individual students and discuss strategies for their specific academic needs. Last week, a student came in for a meeting, and his major concern was that he was behind in journal entries for two of his classes. This student is a good writer, but the problem he voiced was that he had a hard time getting started with his journals. I considered how to help. There are strategies that stem from annotating or discussing. But, this student had weekly journals in two classes. He needed a “no-fail” strategy that could work whether he had time to talk to a peer or not and whether he was journaling about a reading, video, production, or presentation.
It came to me that students needed a journaling template. If they weren’t sure where to start with a journal entry, this would give them some guidance for it. It shouldn’t have many steps so that a student could remember it, and the letters of the steps should form an acronym for the same reason. I drafted an idea and shared it with the student.
The next day, a colleague and I came across an idea about intellectual journaling in a booklet called, How to Improve Student Learning: 30 Practical Ideas, from Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder from the Foundation for Critical Thinking (2011, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press). One of the ideas was about intellectual journaling. They too suggested a four-part structure. Their ideas includes Situation (describe it thoroughly), Response (use precision), Analysis (they ask you to analyze your reaction to the work), and Implications (what can you learn?). Adding the earlier work to what I had done with the suggestions of Paul and Elder, my colleague and I discussed shaping a journaling structure we felt was a meaningful, yet quick reminder for students who don’t feel inspired to journal about a class activity.
Here is the idea. Have your students learn the acronym SCAR.
S – Summarize the material, production, video, or presentation
C – Connect the summary to other texts or activities the student has experienced
A – Analyze the text or activity to look for meaning
R – Reflect on how this text or activity could be meaningful in future learning, classes or career
Although this won’t work for all journaling activities, and it might not even hit all the points you would like your students to cover, it will give the students a starting point. Some students simply have a challenge with putting pen to paper (or key strokes to document), and this little idea will give them a starting point and no excuse for why they couldn’t at least begin a journal entry. I find that they usually want to do the work but get frustrated or afraid if they don’t feel secure in the assignment. SCAR gives them a sense of security to know they can have a place to begin.
Cherie Hufford, MSEd and MA, is a student support specialist, visiting faculty, and assessment assistant at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. She recently completed a second master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. When Cherie isn’t teaching, she enjoys baking, rooting for the Packers, and caring for her micro “farm,” complete with a small flock of chickens, gardening boxes, and herbs in the window sill.