The Access Excellence Periodic Tableau

Using Dialogue Journals in Support of Science Instruction

Kathy Yorks
Lock Haven High School
Lock Haven, PA

Type of entry:

Lesson/class activity

Type of activity:

Target audience:

Background information:

Abstract of Activity:

A dialogue journal is a tool that a teacher can use to engage in a private, written conversation with her students over an extended period of time. It strikes a balance between a diary with its focus on self-discovery and the class notebook which concentrates on academic learning. It directs the students' attention to the important content of a particular curriculum area while providing the opportunity to share both understanding and lack of understanding with the teacher.

By using dialogue journals, the teacher can engage in multifaceted interactions with her students. Ideas, feelings and concerns can be shared in a private way. The journal provides the opportunity for modeling language use, metacognitive activities and attitudes, as well as a means of guiding learning. Another benefit of journaling its use as an assessment tool as it provides a window into students' thoughts and understanding. This can be particularly useful in identifying and addressing students' alternative conceptions.

While journals can and are used in a variety of contexts and subject areas, they are particularly useful in the science classroom. They are a tool that can encourage critical, independent thought and facilitate the construction of new knowledge as they help students become responsible for their own learning.



Required: notebook or journal, bound (loose-leaf acceptable)
Optional: for students- stickers, markers or other materials that can be used to decorate and personalize the journal cover, for the teacher- stamps, stickers, scented markers, colored pens for writing/responding in the journals


Dialogue journals are a year-long activity carried out on an individual basis concurrent with the study of biology. This is a very adaptable strategy that can be tailored to the needs and objectives of the course, the teacher and the ability level of the students The description that follows is intended to serve as a philosophical framework and provide guidelines for implementation.

A dialogue journal can be used to enhance and facilitate learning everyday in the science classroom. It is a vehicle to promote individual interaction and a tutorial relationship between the teacher and student and is a concrete application of Vygotsky's theory that certain learning occurs first through the learner's cooperative participation in accomplishing tasks with a more experienced partner. Further it is a mechanism for the teacher to gain insights into the students' thinking processes which can then be used to adjust instructional strategies and better meet the needs of students. Additionally, a dialogue journal can be a place where students talk to themselves as well as to the teacher. It is the place where they can initiate the topic and find that the teacher is interested in their thoughts and concerns. When they reach the point where they are accustomed to someone reading their private thoughts, they will be able to be honest with themselves and engage in true self discovery. A journal may not only be the only place, but also the only opportunity that they have to do this. By committing these insights to paper, the student may be taking the first step toward becoming a reflective, self-motivated learner.

It is believed that the use of dialogue journals in the science classroom can do the following:

The decisions of when and how often to use journals must be based on the needs and objectives of the teacher and the students. However, some basic guidelines are recommended. First, it is important for students to understand that journals are not graded, nor is journal writing corrected. Journals should be kept in a secure place and carefully handed out and collected by the teacher in such a way as to keep their contents confidential.

Journal assignments can require a variety of cognitive activities. For example, students can be asked to summarize the main points of a lesson, restate a definition or concept in their own words or describe an abstract concept (such as what the inside of a atom or cell might look like). In addition to making assignments that seek answers, students can also be asked to make suggestions, express their feeling regarding class and ask for help.

Once students have written, it is then the teacher's turn to write back. Responses should affirm and support each student. They should be interesting to read, so interesting in fact that students will want to write back. Carefully worded responses can assure, suggest, nudge, question, teach and reteach, although the emphasis should not necessarily be on teaching. If journal writing suggests misunderstandings or lack of understanding, students can be informed that they are "off track" but that the confusion will be dealt with in class. This approach also takes the pressure off of the teacher to correct and explain every mistaken concept in the journal.

In addition to more traditional written responses, students can be asked to use drawings or cartoons to express their ideas. Mini-concept maps can be useful to the student (as they are constructed) and the teacher as they provide a quick overview of understanding. Fluorescent or scented writing tools and stickers can liven journal writing and responding.


As previously stated, journals should not be assessed or graded in the traditional sense as this can discourage the honest discourse that is desired. However, for the teacher, the journal provides a mechanism for continuous assessment that is essential for responsible instruction. If the student agrees, journals or selected journal responses could become part of the student's portfolio.

Additional Ideas-

An interesting variation on the journal concept is the class journal. This journal should be a place where both the students and the teacher can make honest comments. Class members as a group can establish agreed upon guidelines, such as setting limits so that the journal does not become a gripe book. This journal should be placed in a prominent place, allowing it to be read and written in at will.

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