Student Journaling in Math

Submitted by Becky Baranowski on
What is the Need/Assessment

Improve student writing in a math classroom through journal writing.  Improve student understanding of math content through writing and help students own their learning processes.  

Describe the necessity for this change

Students struggle with explaining how they solved a math problem and why they chose the method they did.  Also, students struggle with cross disciplinary writing expectations.

Describe what will be (or was) implemented to affect change

Fall 17 - Journals included a reflection and 3-5 assigned problems to explain in great detail.  Students could receive partial credit on their journals. In Spring 18, students chose their own problems to journal instead of me assigning them.  In Spring, I emphasized that they were writing their own textbook.  Everything they needed should be in their journal, fully explained.  Also, journals were graded by all or nothing, no partial credit.

Interpret, compare and describe the results of the change

Fall students continually did not meet journal expectations.  Approximately half of all classes had students turning in half the work expected for journals; students did not take journals seriously.  In Spring, with a grading system of all or nothing, students rised to the challenge.  More students met the expectations of the journal and received full points.  Also, students determined their own problems to include and picked ones they struggled with.  

After analyzing the information, what are the next steps

In semesters where journals were not used, students did not perform as well on exams with problems where students had to explain their solution.  In Fall 17, approximately 30% of students performed better (as compared to previous years with no journal) with explaining the problems on the exams.  In Spring 18, approximately 45% of students perfomed better on written questions.  Next steps: Review student writing at beginning and end of the semester - is there improvement?


For many years now, physics/chemistry faculty require students to journal after each class period (note: there are other faculty on campus who have been journaling for years, as well).  In Fall 2017, a few non-phy/chem faculty incorporated journaling in their classrooms for the first time.  In Spring 2018, during week of accountability, approximately 15 instructors met and discussed best practices in journaling.  There were faculty in attendance who have utilized journals for years, ones who used journals for only one semester, and several who will be incorporating journals in Spring 18 for the 1st time.  While faculty may have some varying specifics, the overall idea of journals is as following:  After class, students write in journals their reflections about class, record observations, explain concepts and ideas, make connections to previous class material and/or to other courses, and provide examples/graphs/diagrams of course material.  Basically, students are writing their own textbook.  The goal of this CATS is to document my observations/data of student learning and the impact of journaling in the classroom.

Completed Full Cycle
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Assessment of the Month
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)


Kelly Loucy Mon, 01/22/2018 - 9:44am

I look forward to reading the results this expanded use of journaling! My students write reflective journals after their major assignments and I see it making an impact on their future essays.

Teri Graham Mon, 01/22/2018 - 2:24pm


Thank you for encouaging this activity and I look forward to viewing the data to see if this will be beneficial for our students.

Jake Ormond Fri, 09/14/2018 - 2:29pm


I really like this idea. As I went through my undergrad math courses, I remember how much I talked out why I made the decision that I did to "justify" it to myself when I wasn't sure of an answer. I think this method really helps students understand their reasoning behind the decisions they make. 

Becky Baranowski Fri, 09/14/2018 - 3:16pm

In reply to by Jake Ormond

Thanks, Jake.  It's been interesting in having students do less "drill and kill" of 20+ problems and only have them do 3-5 problems of explanations with roughly same results.  So, I am comfortable with having them do less problems if this increases their oral and written communication skills.  But, students are telling me that jounrals take them about 1-2 hours to write, so the time commitment from them is about the same.  I'd love to teach two of the same class in the same semester; have one class only do "drill and kill" and the other writes in journals.  Hmmmmmm.........maybe I'll look into this.  Thanks for taking time to comment.   Becky

Becky Baranowski Wed, 07/15/2020 - 6:34am

Note:  I updated the Journaling Observations document since the original submission of this CATS.