Dear Diary…

Journal page image
Well, you’ve got to start somewhere…

On our CELTA courses up to now, we have maintained an approach to finding out what our trainees thought about their teaching that is fairly typical of such courses: we ask them to write a self-evaluation after they have taught, which they submit to us before we sit down with them to discuss the lesson.

This has several purposes and virtues: the trainee has an opportunity to reflect on the experience and work it through on their own terms; this in turn allows us the chance to see what the trainee is thinking (and, possibly, what they aren’t yet thinking about); it provides documentary evidence of the trainee’s capacity for self-reflection which is then amenable to evaluation.

“Remember, this is for posterity, so please, be honest: how do you feel?”

Earlier, we provided a fairly typical pro-forma document which contained questions for the trainees to respond to.  There were questions like how far do you think you met your aims?  Did anything in the lesson surprise you?  If you were to teach this lesson again, is there anything you would change?  What would you like your tutor’s opinion about regarding this lesson?

Over time, we started to feel this was not giving us the kind of information we wanted.  Quite apart from the odd case where we got single-word responses of the yes…no…nothing…not really variety, I started to feel that form-filling was not by its very nature conducive to reflection.

“Love letters straight/from your heart…”

So someone had the idea of just asking trainees to write their tutor a letter after the lesson.  We started to get (I think) much more interesting and considered responses.  Trainees were more candid, but also more discursive.  They asked questions.  They cracked jokes.  Sometimes they cried for help.  Of course, this had got through using the pro-forma, but we felt letters allowed for more of it.

A recent visiting assessor confirmed this feeling, adding that he felt the letter approach allowed for a much clearer view of the trainee’s reflective capacity and it revealed more of their personality into the bargain.  It’s always a relief to hear that something you are doing (or, in this case, asking someone else to do) is actually working.

So you might be surprised now to hear that on our next course, we are ditching the letter writing idea.

Goin’ Old School…

Then again, if you have been following discussions on this blog, you’ll already be aware that journal-keeping had caught my interest.  So finally we have gotten round to breaking the old routine once more.

I’ve bought a stockpile of really old-school exercise books (just like you probably had at school) and we are going to ask the trainees to keep a journal.  Instead of just writing something expressly for reflection on days they taught about their own lessons, we want them to write for at least 15 minutes each evening about anything related to their experience on the course up to that point.  It’s likely that on days they taught, this will predominate their reflections, but we will also hopefully get insights into their approach to planning, what they are noticing through observation and what they are picking up and toying with from our group sessions.

The idea of using journals is nothing new – it is fairly common on in-service courses like DELTA and I believe it is also common on Trinity College London  CertTESOL courses.  But it is new to us, so we hope to learn something from it.

Quid Pro Quo

We tutors are also planning to keep journals ourselves and make them available to our trainees, just as we will have access to theirs.  Fair’s fair, after all.

So what I would like to know from anyone reading this is: what are your experiences with journal-keeping, especially in a pre-service context?  Do you have any useful reading references on the subject?

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