Journals

One of the key elements of my pedagogical practice—and how I’ve gotten so darn good at my job—is my teaching journal. Keeping a teaching journal gives you a space to generate teaching ideas, work out pedagogical problems, reflect on your successes and struggles in the classroom, and put your past insights to work in planning future courses.

I think of my own teaching journal as a place to record all of the course marginalia that doesn’t make its way into my formal teaching documents (such as assignment sheets). I typically write in my journal as soon as possible after each class session, keeping what happened during that class fresh in my mind. I compose a short summary of the class, and then reflect on and evaluate how my lesson went. Of course, this isn’t the only time—or the only material—that I write in my teaching journal. I keep it with me all the time so that at the spur of the moment I can jot down ideas. I also use my journal during class sessions–for example, to write down smart things my students say.

The teaching journal is an invaluable resource when creating job market documents such as a teaching philosophy statement or a teaching portfolio, and when going on job interviews that require you to discuss your pedagogy. Having a consistent and detailed record of your insights and particular pedagogical successes will make the task of telling stories about your teaching substantially easier, and will make those stories more persuasive. Keeping up with a teaching journal will continue to help you through your academic career as you move toward tenure review, where detailed and polished teaching materials are key.

While you may end up with plenty of material to use in the above mentioned formal, public writing, keep in mind that the teaching journal itself should be a private document. Keeping your journal private allows you the space to fret, whine, rant, and about all the amazing and difficult things being a teacher allows. A private journal is also important should you write about any concerns you have with particular students. These entries need never see the light of day in their raw form, and keeping them that way protects you and your students.

Having said that, there’s no right way to keep a teaching journal. My own teaching journal is analog and not fancy in any way. It’s a simple spiral-bound notebook, filled with my messy handwriting, and resembles a ragged scrapbook with articles, clippings, and Post-It notes stapled and pasted in. Of course, those who like to compose on their computers can choose from a wealth of great journaling and note-taking applications. A few recommendations:

  • Evernote: This cross-platform information-capturing app can be synced across mobile devices, tablets, and computers alike. One advantage of Evernote is its ability to capture almost any kind of media via webcam, which is good for those who tend to turn their journals into scrapbooks.
  • OhLife: A unique browser-based journaling tool that allows you to write your journal entries via email. OhLife can be configured to remind you to journal at any time you choose, and each reminder email contains a random journal entry from the past.
  • Day One (Mac iOS & OSX): Day One is a simple and beautifully designed journal app that can be configured to remind you (at intervals you specify) throughout the day to write. Its composing window sits conveniently in the Mac menu bar for easy access when you have an idea. Your journal data can also be synced across all your Mac devices via Dropbox.

I know that I’ve gotten really good at my job by constantly reflecting on and writing about it, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, etc. My teaching journal is key to my success with this. Consistent practice and honest reflection can create a rewarding and useful document that will help you for the rest of your teaching career.

[Image by Flickr user Julie Gibbons and used under Creative Commons License]

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14 Responses to Keeping a Teaching Journal

  1. Stephanie Hilliard says:

    A teaching journal is a great idea! In fact, I discovered years ago that maintaining a journal is a useful tool for many aspects of life management. I often recommend it to others, especially if they are struggling with life stressors. It can be very therapeutic as well as a good way to keep track of important information.

    I also have one bit of advice for tracking teaching – keep a good record of your teaching hours and your evaluations. Particularly once you are undergoing faculty evaluations, that is key information and my professors seem to have a difficult time reconstructing their teaching records when it comes time to produce their annual faculty record.

    Finally, I have to agree that Evernote is a wonderful tool. I don’t know how I ever managed without it. I use it to keep track of everything from reminder notes to household information to writing drafts for my college homework. I work full time and go to school full time. Having all my information available in all my different locations (via smartphone, if nothing else) makes a huge difference in my ability to cope with a busy schedule.

    • Julie Platt says:

      Stephanie, you’re totally right that keeping a general academic journal is incredibly enriching and helpful. And I keep so much stuff in Evernote. I use it to capture the call numbers of library books that I want to take out, and then use it to find those books when I actually get to the library.

  2. Fayana Richards says:

    Great post Julie! I will be TAing for the first time this fall. Is there a such thing as a TA journal or things I should pay attention to that might be helpful in the future? Your post reminds me to dig deeper into Endnote. Right now, I mainly use it for taking notes and random thoughts. I haven’t exploited the multimedia features.

  3. Phill says:

    Word up, kid! Nicely done!

  4. Great post, and great idea! Sounds incredibly useful, but I’ve always been bad at keeping journals. I’ll often write for a day or two and trail off. Any words of advice for someone like me?

    • Stephanie Hilliard says:

      It depends on whether you think that you NEED to journal on a daily basis? Sometimes I go for days or even weeks with nothing to say. The point of the journal is to meet your needs, rather than some type of “ideal.” Also, don’t limit yourself strictly to writing journals. There are many ways to journal. If you prefer talking about subject then use some type of audio recorder. Or say it in pictures. There is no one right way. Fit the tool to your needs. :-)

    • Julie Platt says:

      Stephanie is absolutely right–there’s no correct form, only what works for you.

      I think that talking into an audio recorder or dictating (the Dragon Dictation iPhone app is getting better all the time) your journal is a great idea. The cool thing about Evernote is that it can capture lots of formats. And Day One can be set up to “nudge” you from the menu bar multiple times a day until you post.

      You could also create a private Twitter account to capture 140-character journal entries.

  5. Trent M Kays says:

    Wonderful post, Julie. I can attest to the usefulness of Evernote. Whenever I need to jot down a quick note, I just pull out my iPhone and use the Evernote app. It’s great because it syncs automatically to my Mac.

    I might give Day One a try; it sounds pretty nice. :)

  6. [...] Posted on June 20, 2011 by Jackie On Twitter recently, a link to an article on keeping a teaching journal popped up, and I was instantly [...]

  7. [...] Julie’s idea of a teaching diary. Reflecting on your work is a great idea, and a necessary part of some teaching qualification [...]

  8. [...] yourself of things you would like to share in conversations with your colleagues, you can try to keep a teaching journal.  I have heard positive things about them and intend to keep one in the fall so I can do a better [...]

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