Enhancing Student Feedback with Digital Learning Logs

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.

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7 Responses to Enhancing Student Feedback with Digital Learning Logs

  1. Tim Pettine says:

    I think you are on to something here with the commenting feature on Google Docs. They could be utilized so much more -especially when we share docs and enable the commenting only access. I wonder what the comments look like when we embed a doc in a web page? I think a little blurb appears but I will have to check it out.

    The short cut cntrl + alt + m makes a comment box appear and is a great time saver. I will share your post with some teachers here at RIS – they will benefit from your use of the comment box.

  2. I agree. I love the commenting function of google docs. We had a powerful experience with it as faculty the other day. We had 15 people proofreading a document for WASC. Each of us would highlight the specific text where we found a mistake or had a question about what was written. It was really interesting to see the power of collaborative commenting in action. People were catching things I hadn’t noticed, etc.

    In my classes, my students really enjoy commenting on each other’s work and then “resolving” the comment after they have fixed the mistake or answered the question. Also, I really like how you you used the commenting function to highlight the mistake but asked the student to figure out what it was.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jeff Lewis says:

      Thanks, Melinda. Right now the commenting is mostly a two-person conversation between student and teacher, but soon I want to start peer-to-peer commenting. The key here is the highlighting feature, which keeps the conversation focused on the text.

      When my students use the chat feature, on the other hand, it tends to be more of “I see you” or “What color am I?” rather than talking about writing or ideas.

  3. Anu Ahuja says:

    Google offers some remarkable tools that enhance student learning to great extent. The commenting feature in Google docs is very helpful for all students as it’s more engaging. This feature gives everyone an equal opportunity to share their perspective and participate actively. It’s a great platform for real time student discussions and broadens their thinking horizon.

  4. Meghan says:

    I really like the idea of online digital learning logs. What a great way to be able to see what students are thinking, and to give feedback easily and quickly. The stacks of notebooks are definitely wearing me down, but to do it digitally and quickly, and in an unrestrained form, now that’s appealing! Just to have them reflect on what they learned during the day, that could be quite compelling. Good idea!

  5. Adam Clark says:

    I love how you implement new ideas! I so often feel the need to roll things out to my entire class but from this and other posts I’m considering how to implement things in smaller steps. Thanks for that!

    • Jeff Lewis says:

      Yes, Adam, the other advantage of “test driving” new ideas with a few students is that you have some exemplars to show the class when you’re ready to roll it out with everyone.

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