For several years I’ve given my students notebooks to use as “learning logs.” Each night, as part of their homework, they explain or reflect on something they learned during the day. It’s a great way for students to express themselves and think about their learning. And I always try to give feedback on what they write by underlining good ideas and making notes in the margins of their pages.
There are several problems with this system, however.
1. Infrequent Feedback
Since the students bring their notebooks home every night, I can only check them during the normal school hours or on the weekends. When everything is running smoothly, I get to check everyone’s learning logs at least once a week. However, it is not uncommon for me to fall behind and go a week or two without giving students any feedback at all.
2. Space-Limited and Less Specific Feedback
When I write in the margins and at the bottoms of the students’ notebook pages, there is only so much room to make comments. I’ve often wanted to give detailed feedback but end up cutting it short due to space constraints of the notebooks. Instead of giving specific feedback, it is often limited to a general “good job today” type of comment.
3. Slow and Time-Consuming Feedback
Let’s be honest: handwriting comments on an entire class’s notebooks, on a daily or weekly basis, takes a ton of time. I’ve never measured how much longer it takes for me to handwrite something vs. type it, but I know the difference is huge. I believe checking students’ learning logs is important, but it takes away many planning periods when I could be preparing lessons or collaborating with colleagues.
Enter the Digital Learning Log
At our very first COETAIL session, Adam and Kim asked us to brainstorm a list of ideas on a shared google doc, and then we used the commenting function to give each other feedback on the ideas. Although I had used google docs for several years, this was my first exposure to the commenting function. My first thought…this would be a perfect way to give students feedback on their ideas and writing.
Rather than diving in with my entire class, I asked four students to pilot digital learning logs. My students had already been introduced to google drive and been given their own google accounts, so the setup only took a few minutes. The steps are:
1. Students create a new document and title it “name digital LL” (or whatever you want to call it).
2. Students share the document with you.
3. Students start writing.
4. You start giving feedback. To make comments, highlight some text and then select Insert –> Comment.
There is also a button for inserting comments:
After piloting digital learning logs for a few weeks, I’ve seen several advantages, the first three being the opposites of the previous problems:
1. More Frequent Feedback
Now that the learning logs are in the cloud, I can check them any time and any place, not just during planning periods and on weekends. Another benefit: no more hauling around notebooks. The result: I’ve been able to check learning logs and give feedback more frequently.
2. More Specific Feedback Unconstrained by Space
There’s no need to cram my notes into the margins of a paper anymore–the commenting function allows me to give specific feedback that would be difficult with our traditional notebooks. For example, here is a comment I made to help a student with subject/verb agreement:
3. Quicker and Less Time-Consuming Feedback
Now that I can type my comments to students, I am able to increase the volume of my feedback while also reducing the amount of time spent checking student learning logs. It’s a win/win situation.
For the three reasons listed above, we plan to continue our experiment with digital learning logs. In my next post, I will mention a few more advantages we’ve found with digital learning logs as well as a few potential drawbacks.