Each semester I add dialogue journals to the curriculum. Each semester I wonder why I do this.
Why the doubt? It’s all about the time it takes to respond to the journal entries.
The basic idea of a dialogue journal is that the teacher responds to her/his students’ entries, and a kind of back and forth written conversation ensues. This semester this means I am having 41 conversations since there are 41 participants in our program. But the dialogue doesn’t stop at 41.
I assign two entries per week with a minimum of five sentences per entry. A class per week (3 groups of 14 people) hands in their assigned entries. Then in the 4th week I pick up all 41 journals. It fits beautifully into my schedule, when I measure up the fairness scale (I’m referring to the amount of time I am able to spend on each participant), but that 4th week is a doozy. Some of the participants have 6 new entries for me to comment on.
6 X 41 = a focused weekend in my home office.
So why do I bother?
I love watching them learn. At the beginning of the semester I see how full of self-doubt they are about their writing skills. Then by the end of the semester they are all writing beyond the 5 sentence minimum I assigned on the first day. They are writing with pride and confidence.
On top of the linguistic benefit these journals have, they are also powerful tools for self-reflection. In each entry I ask the participants to reflect on themselves as teachers, or as learners. Below are the questions I ask, and they answer them in the following order:
- What would you like the instructor to know about you?
- What are your strengths as a member of a work group? What are your weaknesses as a member of a work group? What are your goals for improving your effectiveness as a group member in this program?
- What do you think you will learn from the other trainees in this program? What do you hope to learn from them?
- How do you feel about being in this program so far? Are you adjusting to the group and to the classes well? Why or why not?
- Tell me about an activity that was fun for you to learn. It can be any kind of activity. Why was it fun to learn this new activity? Did you learn this well?
- When did you first start learning a language? How did you feel when you first started learning this language? Do you think learning a language should be fun? Why or why not?
- Who was your favorite teacher? Why was he or she your favorite teacher?
- Tell me about your favorite teaching moment.
Our written dialogue continues from these reflections. I read each entry with curiosity and delight. I try to respond with positive regard, gently holding their stories at the tip of my pencil.
The learning and confidence I notice in my participants far surpasses the fatigue I feel at the end of the 4th week. It’s the joy and satisfaction I feel about their progress that keeps dialogue journals on the syllabus each semester.