Why and how we use learning diaries
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
Including some examples
#learningdiaries #reflection #selfmonitoring #metacognition #motivation #material #examples
By Julia Klug
Learning diaries promote reflection on learning and as we know, reflection is a crucial part of self-regulated learning in the action and – behold – reflection phase. Reflection even has its own phase named after it. Reflection is necessary for competence development in any field, also for ourselves as teachers. Learning diaries can help us to reflect upon our actions, they structure and guide us in reflection. But wait! Reflection in learning diaries is not only beneficial for competence development, but also for motivation, behavior and transfer.
Here is a short overview on why and how we could work with leaning diaries at school.
The WHY of using learning diaries
Let me illustrate the ways in which learning diaries are beneficial for learning:
When our students (and ourselves) reflect upon their actions and especially about what they have learned, they can recognize even little improvements. They feel self-efficient and more competent and that in turn motivates them to go on (see our blogpost about #motivation).
The so-called reactivity effect describes that if we monitor our actions, we will change them in a beneficial direction, just because we observe them. This is also true for learning. If students monitor their learning behavior in diaries, they will learn more and better leading to better results, just because they pay attention to it.
If students have learned something new, they can track in the learning diary how they use the new knowledge or abilities. Thus, diaries foster transfer of the newly learned things.
The HOW of using learning diaries
Foremost, you can create your own learning diary for your students the way you like it. It can cover the topics for which you want to use it. However, it should not be too long, since you don’t want to overload your students with too much work on the diaries. It’s a simple cost-value-ratio.
When designing it, it is important to consider the age of your students. You can already begin to work with diaries and to promote metacognition and reflection in primary education. With about 8 to 9 years, students are able to think about their learning on a meta-level. In fact, it’s totally worth it. The earlier students practice planning and reflection, the easier they will have it later on. For young students, you can have little text elements and rather replace them by images or emoticons.
In terms of structure, you can decide, if you prefer to rather have a few open-ended questions and/or a more structured version with more guidance by questions that are answered on a “scale”. Open-ended questions promote deeper reflection; however, sometimes more closed questions and more guidance are also beneficial. A combination of both is often reasonable.
As to content of the diary, you can ask for aspects of the self-regulated learning cycle, such as goal setting, planning or emotions and you can of course ask to reflect the learning progresses and achievements students made and the evaluation of what went well or not and why (keyword #attribution).
Students can set goals and reflect upon their goal attainment in a diary. That helps them in reaching their goals and in setting more achievable goals in the future.
Students can plan and reflect upon their planning in a diary. That helps them in terms of time management and in planning more realistically in the future.
Students can reflect upon how they felt before and after a task. That helps them to recognize their emotions and to recognize how the emotions relate to learning activities. They feel for example proud about what they have achieved or they feel ashamed or anxious and know it is time for some emotion regulation (see our section about #emotions).
Learning progress and achievements
Students can reflect upon what they have learned, which improvements they made or what they have achieved. By doing that, they become aware of their improvements. They can also reflect about what went well and what they want to change next time. And they can reflect about reasons for success or failure.
In any case, it is important to introduce the diaries carefully and to supervise their implementation.
In a nutshell
If we want to create a learning diary, we can remember:
That they are beneficial for motivation, behavior, transfer and achievement
To design them according to students’ age
To structure them as you like
To choose the content according to the topic of interest and according to elements of the SRL cycle
To let students reflect upon their achievements
That beginning to promote this kind of reflection early on, helps you and your students in the long run
In the end, just do it! :-)
Here are some #examples of learning diaries for primary school students that my students in a teacher education course created for their classes.
Here’s a link to edutopia about “How Math Journals Help Students Process Their Learning”.
Cf. Schmitz, B., Klug, J. & Schmidt, M. (2011). Assessing self-regulated learning using diary measures with university students. In B. Zimmerman & D. Schunck (Eds.): Handbook of Self-Regulation of Learning and Performance (251-266). New York: Routledge.  Cf. Schmitz, B., Perels, F. Self-monitoring of self-regulation during math homework behaviour using standardized diaries. Metacognition & Learning 6, 255–273 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11409-011-9076-6