Problem Journal Info

For the past 6+ years, I have had students in all my classes, except AP Stats, journal (I have taught just about everything from Algebra1 to Honors PreCalculus).

On the first day of school, they get a composition notebook that is quad-ruled/graph paper pages. I try to buy them by the case, and am lucky enough to have my school purchase them (in August, Walmart has them on sale for $0.50 each).

What I tell the students:

  • Each week they choose a problem (from homework, from an assessment, etc) that challenged them – or a problem/topic that they just thought was incredibly cool – and they respond to a series of prompts (these can be found on the sub-page: Journal Prompts).
  • The journal entry cannot simply be a reworking of the problem, or a list of equations.
  • It must be in ink (to prevent pencil smudging) and on one-side of the paper (to prevent bleed-through)
  • If they do a good job on their journal entry, it can be used on every assessment in class (except the semester exam).

What I do:

  • Approximately each week, I assign a journal. I try to do it on Friday, due Monday; but I don’t make myself crazy about sticking to that.
  • The first 4 weeks, I read each entry VERY carefully and give tons of feedback. Especially in helping students write statements of reflection and understand how their strengths and weaknesses are part of their learning styles.
    • The 1st week: no grade, just lots of feedback.
    • The 2nd week: lots of feedback and a “what-if” grade (“What if this were for a grade, what would you get?”).
    • The 3rd week: lots of feedback and a grade. For students who are really struggling with the concept of reflection, I allow them to edit their entry and re-submit.
    • The 4th week: lots of feedback and a grade (no re-submissions).
    • The 5th week on, I give grades and comments when necessary, but I really want their journals to be *their’s*, so I try to fade out.
  • Because I’m human and (allegedly) have a life, there is no way over the course of the school year I can grade every journal every week for a grade. I don’t tell the students which journals will be for a grade; some weeks they just receive a “visual check” of completion.


Do NOT compare students’ journals to each other. Make it clear to the students and their parents/guardians that their grades will be a measure of their growth.

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Some will be naturals. Some will need a lot more scaffolding and encouragement.