Hirofumi Naruse, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan
Naruse, H. (2018). Reflective logs in the junior high school classroom. Relay Journal, 1(2), 267-274.
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One of the most common foundational definitions of learner autonomy is “the capacity to take control over one’s own learning” (Benson, 2013, p. 2), and reflection is often mentioned together with this term in several language learning contexts. Moon (2013) describes reflection as “a process of re-organizing knowledge emotional orientations in order to achieve further insights”, and this reflective process plays an important role in fostering autonomy. Benson (2013) argues that reflection is a key psychological component of autonomy and plays integral part in fostering learner autonomy. Through reflection, learners can recognize the connection between the strategies they use in their learning and the outcomes they get as a result of their learning. This recognition enables learners to see their learning objectively and such an objective view leads them to make adjustment to their learning, and eventually take control over their own learning. Kohen (1992) also mentioned the importance of reflection on learning, stating that conscious reflection on learning experiences makes it possible to increase one’s awareness of learning, which can be regarded as an important key to the development of autonomous learning. Benson argues further that writing a journal is useful tools for reflection. Litzler (2017) also mentioned that in a number of different learning contexts diaries or journals have been used as a useful tools for reflection. In this paper, I would like to report on an implementation of reflective diaries in my junior high school lessons in order to promote learner autonomy.
I have introduced language learning logs (a shorter version of a language diary) to second year junior high school students in a private junior and senior high school in the Tokyo-area. Most of the students do not have previous language learning experience before entering my school, which means this is their second year of learning English, so their proficiency level is rather low, at the very beginning level. I am currently teaching two classes (39 students in each class) five lessons a week, using an authorized textbook. In the log activity, students are asked to write a short comment about three topics after every lesson as homework; 1) What you did, 2) What you learned, and 3) Note to self, and then evaluate themselves on their overview of their whole language learning in the week, such as attitudes toward lessons or homework, quiz scores, and their own language learning outside the classroom, according to the scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (good) as a weekly summary. I do a quick-check during the next lesson, checking if they filled the log worksheet, I then collect worksheets at the end of each week, and give some basic feedback, such as “I like your notes!”, “This is very important!”, or “You are doing great!”. I am trying to make this checking process as easy and quick as possible. This quick-check during lessons takes me about two minutes and reading their logs and giving feedback to about 80 students takes me about 90 minutes, which is an acceptable amount of time for me. To date, students have written up eight worksheets, which contains eight-weeks of logs, two questionnaires, and the first term review.
Before studying learner autonomy as part of my MA TESOL studies, I recognized language learning logs as just a record of students’ learning and a tool to review what they learned in order not to forget it. Through learning about the relationship between autonomy and reflection, however, I have realized several benefits learners can get from this reflective activity in terms of fostering autonomy. Language learning logs are more than just a record of what they learned. First, log worksheets are physical evidence of what students have learned and students can read their own comments on this worksheet. This can definitely give them a sense of accomplishment and may have led to fostering self-esteem. Second, this reflective activity enables learners to view their own leaning process objectively and it gives them a chance to think about it, which has been closely related to autonomy. Third, the worksheet for the first term review contains questions about affective factors, which provided a chance for students to pay attention to the relationship between affect and learning. According to Oxford (2011), the role of affective factors and strategies to control them is crucial for many learners, especially at lower levels of proficiency. Some of my students actually commented that they realized some affective influence on their leaning, which Oxford mentioned can be one of the important attributes of good learners.
Several difficulties have been observed during the log-writing activities from both the teachers’ and students’ points of view. Firstly, writing a daily log requires a certain degree of discipline from students (Litzler, 2014) and this discipline issue can be one of the biggest difficulties in implementing a writing log activity in Japanese junior high school language learning contexts. Students have been accustomed to being passive in their learning which mainly focusses on linguistic aspects, and these activities which promote students to understand the role of reflections and metacognition of their language learning are completely new to them. It may partly be teachers’ support that helps students develop an understanding of the helpful role that log-writing plays and to develop resilience while utilizing this new activity which is going to be important for their sustained language learning. Explicit explanation and encouragement from teachers can play an important role here. Some of my students had shown resistance to submitting the worksheets in the beginning of this term because they found this new activity useless for their language learning, but repeated explicit explanation of the benefit of this reflective activity might have helped lessen the number of students who failed to submit logs on a weekly basis. Individual feedback I gave on a weekly basis also might have played an important role in encouraging students to submit logs. There are, of course, issues of time constraints on both sides as well. Writing and checking logs takes time. Between five and 15 minutes is required for students to write logs every day and 90 minutes for me to read and give feedback every week. A questionnaire, however, revealed students’ positive attitudes toward logs and I have noticed the positive influence on students, which leads me to think this log activity is worth doing despite the time constraints.
There are few studies related to the implementation of reflective diaries in junior high schools in Japan and I need to make slight adjustments to my practice as I discover the literature. It is too early to make any conclusions from this implementation, but I have observed several positive influences on my lessons: First, through writing logs students are asked to represent their learning, and learning reinforcement is taking place (Moon, 2004, p. 127). Writing logs provides students with another chance to be exposed to what they learned, and this results in learning reinforcement. Second, students seem to like this activity and work more positively and autonomously than when they work on some other normal exercise-style homework. According to the questionnaire administered at the end of this term 59 students out of 71 (81%) think writing logs is beneficial for their language learning. Third, I noticed some changes in terms of students’ autonomy. During the lesson their assignment (writing a log) is always on their mind and they make notes more frequently than before. Furthermore, their own way of taking notes is also changing. Taking notes is an individual activity; decisions such as what to write and how to write them depend on each student, and I can observe that students are engaging in those decisions autonomously. This change was an unexpected one, but this can be interpreted to be an indication of autonomy among my students. Finally, I have provided few opportunities to reflect on their learning before, but I am sure that this log succeeded in providing many opportunities for my students to recognize their own learning process and the relationship between the strategy and the outcome. More time for my students to control their learning may be necessary but writing logs can be the first step for their future big goal.
As I used logs simply as a record of learning at first, a lot of my students still think writing logs is a record of their learning, providing notes to look back on for the examinations. I don’t think this understanding is wrong or needs to be changed immediately, but somehow I hope to have students see writing logs as a chance to view their learning objectively and eventually as a tool for autonomous learning. Explicit explanation may support their understanding and a sense of language proficiency improvement can be the obvious evidence that encourage them to work on logs harder. In order to promote students’ understanding of writing logs, further investigation is necessary.
Notes on the contributor
Hirofumi Naruse is a graduate student of the MA TESOL program at Kanda University of International Studies. He has more than twenty years of experience teaching in private Japanese junior and senior high schools.
Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
Kohonen, V. (1992). Experiential language learning: Second language learning as cooperative learner education. In D. Nunan (ed.), Collaborative language learning and teaching (pp. 14-39). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Litzler, M. F. (2014). Independent study logs: Guiding and encouraging students in the process of language learning. Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 5(5), 994–998.
Litzler, M. F., & Bakieva, M. (2017). Learning logs in foreign language study: Student views on their usefulness for learner autonomy. Didáctica: Lengua y Literatura, 29, 65.
Moon, J. A. (2013). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. London, UK: Routledge.
Oxford, R. L. (2011). Teaching and researching language learning strategies, Harlow, UK: Pearson.
Appendix A-1 (Language Learning Log Worksheet)
Appendix A-2 (Language Learning Log Worksheet)
Appendix B (Language Learning Log 1st term reflection Worksheet)
Appendix C (Questionnaire)