- Various Articles - Teacher Education
- Journal Writing in Practicum: A Tool for Reflection and Feedback
Journal Writing in Practicum: A Tool for Reflection and Feedback
Dr Meera Srinivas is Professor and Head, Dept. of Materials Development, Testing and Evaluation, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. Her research interests focus on curriculum, syllabus and materials design, English for Specific Purpose courses, ESL writing, and teacher education. She has published school-level textbooks for national agencies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Mahananda Pathak teaches English language teaching courses at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. His research interests focus on teacher education and teacher training, curriculum development, and creating bi/multilingual resources. Email: email@example.com
The article focuses on reflective journal writing and its multidimensional role in practicum. While acknowledging the journal’s potential for stimulating critical reflection in teacher education courses, the article demonstrates through a close analysis of the journal entries how they provide constructive feedback to instructors regarding the course structure, contents, instructional techniques and teaching strategies, making it a powerful tool in practicum course design. The article analyses the journal entries of student-teachers with two objectives: to evaluate the quality and depth of reflections in their writing, and to gather valuable insights and feedback on the practicum course, its structure and content. In other words, it highlights the dual role of journals in a practicum course - as a means for facilitating student reflection and as a source of feedback to the course instructors.
In the field of teacher education, where reflection is recognised as an important component of teacher preparation, journal writing is used as a means of stimulating reflective learning as it enables the student-teacher "to make connections between issues, explore ideas, generate new ideas, and discover meaning during the learning process" (Lee, 2004, p. 74). It empowers learners to construct knowledge of practice based on their own beliefs, ideas, and experiences, and helps student-teachers discover new meaning and develop self-awareness as prospective teachers. While this obvious and valuable aspect of reflective journal writing has been extensively discussed in the literature (Tsang, 2003; Mariko, 2011; Göker, 2016), there is limited discussion on how journal entries can contribute to providing valuable and constructive feedback to the course instructors. Student teachers' reflections on the theoretical and practical experiences not only throw light on their reflective process - the types of experiences they reflect on, the dimensions, patterns, and problems of reflection- but also incidentally provide insights into student teachers’ perceptions on the course as well as the instructors, their personality, attitude, and beliefs which in turn helps course instructors determine appropriate intervention strategies for improving and strengthening the course. The paper discusses this nuanced role of journals with specific reference to a practicum course offered at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India.
Practicum is a core course in the third semester of the MA ELT programme and is designed to help young pre-service teachers learn how to teach through teaching, observation, and reflection. In the course, students teach independently and in groups under the supervision of tutors. They learn to design templates for lesson plans, classroom observation, peer and self-assessment reflective reports, and teacher journals. Reflective journal writing is an integral component of the course.
Journal writing is an assessed activity that facilitates the process of reflection on the course. The concept of reflective journals and a description of the effective use of journals with suggestions on what might be included are discussed at the beginning of the course. Guidance for journal entries that relate to describing significant moments, events, and issues, critically reflecting on their experiences, and discussing future actions and intentions are provided (Appendix 1). Students are also given vignettes of student writing to analyze as a starting point for reflecting on their teaching. Guidelines on what to include in the journal are provided and students are required to make one additional journal entry to allow them to express what they think were the significant and challenging aspects of keeping reflective journals (Appendix 2). At the end of the course, the journals are evaluated for coverage of content (the topics covered during the course), level/ depth of reflectivity, critical insights, and self-awareness of growth as teachers.
The study aims to analyze the journal entries of student-teachers with two objectives: to evaluate the quality and depth of reflections in their writing, and to gather valuable insights and feedback on the practicum course, its structure, and content. In other words, the study aims to highlight the dual role of journals in a practicum course - as a means for facilitating student reflection and as a source of feedback to the course instructors on the course and their instructional styles.
The study was carried out with thirteen students enrolled in the MA ELT programme (2021-2023) at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. The students had a fairly good grasp of the basic concepts in language teaching from semester one and two courses.
Analysis of journal entries
The analysis of the journal entries is guided by the following questions:
1. What topics did the student-teachers discuss at length in the journals?
2. Did the journal writing show signs of developing reflectivity?
3. How did the student-teachers respond to the journal writing experience?
4. Did they perceive it to be beneficial for their professional growth?
The following criteria are used for the analysis:
• Content of reflection (topics covered/types of experiences)
• Quality of reflection (levels of depth /dimensions of reflection/patterns of reflection)
• Critical Analysis of the journal writing experience
• Self-awareness and perception of growth
(Adapted from Lee, 2008, p. 120; Mariko, 2011, pp. 74 - 79)
The following section presents excerpts (in italics) from the journals under the identified criteria.
Content of reflection
In the guidelines for journal writing the student-teachers were directed to reflect on the contents of the course, such as theories, video inputs and worksheets, demonstration lessons, and practice teaching experiences. Therefore, in the initial section, the journal entries discuss in detail the theoretical concepts in three parts: usefulness of the concepts discussed, learning and takeaway point(s), and implications of the concept for teaching and self-development.
Live demonstration lessons by university teachers were included in the course for observation and discussion. The sessions had a lasting impact on the student-teachers and influenced their teaching in the later parts of the course. The following excerpts show the impact of such lessons on the students:
The lesson demonstrated how to teach vocabulary through songs using the song "Be Prepared" from The Lion King. One of the main skills demonstrated throughout the lesson was the importance of listening comprehension, the professor also used the techniques of questioning and eliciting responses throughout the lesson to make the lesson extremely interactive and fun...This lesson has become a huge source of inspiration for me, and I hope to emulate the same kind of ease the professor demonstrated while dealing with an extremely complicated lesson in the future. (Devanarayanan)
The demonstration lesson on Reading helped me become aware of various instruction methods and strategies. I also learned to structure the lesson at the right pace. The impact of bringing the right materials was also a takeaway from this lesson that I would like to implement in my classes. (Aurelin)
In the demonstration lesson on poetry, I found the teacher responsive to students, paying keen attention to learner interpretations of the poem and staying focused on the students. I feel this is something I can apply when I teach because as a student it makes me feel what I say matters to the teacher. (Zonunpari)
In the journals we find that most of the reflections center around the practice teaching experiences, for example, ‘the learning moments’ as described by the students sum up the experience:
However, the second half of the lesson when I moved on to the topic of "syntactic ambiguity", in my opinion, worked well and gave me a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. I don't think I can ever forget the feeling of the moment when I felt like the class had come alive and everything was just happening organically without any deliberate direction on my part. That is the sort of feeling that I want to experience when I am teaching. (Devanarayanan)
What I feel most thankful for, after my three rounds of practice teaching is that I have now become a lot more confident in speaking in front of an audience. I am very appreciative of this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow not only as a teacher trainee but also as an individual. (Zonunpari)
Quality of reflection
The analysis of the entries show that student-teacher's reflections are at three levels: recall, rationalisation and reflectivity. A few examples are presented in the table below:
Table 1: Quality of reflection
Plain description of events, no critical analysis
This session was very helpful as an integrated lesson plan. From the video, ma’am taught us language skills as well as elements of language. First of all, we listened to the audio and then saw the video. And we solved the task while listening to the audio.
Description of events with some justification
What I found the most interesting about the lesson is the question raised of how the language used by the teacher serves as an input. Input is not just limited to how the teacher explains a lesson or how instructions for an activity are conducted. Every word spoken by the teacher is an opportunity for input. For example, the teacher may use synonyms over a period for the same word, which the learners may notice and pick up incidentally, without the teacher drawing explicit attention to it. Thus, the teacher must pay careful attention to the input that is given at any point in the classroom.
Description of events with analytical and critical commentaries plus intention for action
I had challenged myself to take up grammar for final teaching since I had already completed reading and listening in my first two rounds of teaching…I feel that the lesson did not go as well as planned because there was a lot of information for the learners in a short period and perhaps, they could not cope with it. I could have reduced the number of structures that were taught and elaborated the explanations, which would have had a greater impact. I understand that I must acknowledge the existing knowledge of the learners and not make assumptions about their capacity, and perhaps not be too ambitious when I get too involved in creating the lesson plan.
Critical analysis of the journal writing experience
The following excerpts capture the different facets of the journal writing experience. A few student-teachers considered journal writing as a novel experience: as Devanarayanan says:
Writing a reflection journal was a rather novel experience…Writing this journal has motivated me to maintain a teacher journal if I go into teaching as by writing down my thoughts, I was able to reflect upon, organise, and pinpoint areas of my teaching that I wish to improve upon or things in my lesson that I wish I had done differently.
Some others have also mentioned their initial inhibition in maintaining a reflective journal citing various reasons. The following extract best summarises it:
At first, I felt that this was a time-consuming task, and it was not going to help. But later in the process of doing it, I realised the importance of keeping track of things that are being taught. Added to this, I learned organizing skills when I was on the verge of doing this reflective journal. (Malvika)
It is evident that the student-teachers found the process of writing reflective journals satisfying and beneficial:
I felt a sense of achievement after recording the concepts I learned. The notes taken from video lessons and live demonstration sessions, as well as my observation from peer teaching groups and individual practice teaching sessions played a major role in planning my lessons and provided scope for self-reflection. It inspired me to work on myself and improve my teaching skills. (Aurelin)
They have also acknowledged how reflection enabled them to monitor their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses; and introspect. The following reflection bears testimony to this:
I do believe that the process of journal-keeping has helped me get better in terms of reflective and introspective thinking. Hence, using this as a starting point, I should maintain a teaching journal when I start my career. This way I can make my lessons successful. (Deepthi)
Self-awareness and perception of growth
A critical analysis of the students-teachers' reflections shows their initial hesitation, self-doubt, gradual gaining of confidence, and consolidation of learning. The following two excerpts highlight self-doubt and confidence respectively:
On the first day of the Practicum course, I walked into the classroom harboring doubts that I could ever actually teach, and on the last day, I walked out having taken a class that I was proud of. That is the reflection of my growth through this course. (Devanarayanan)
Going through my journal I can see a clear difference between the ME who started writing this journal and the ME typing these words now. The initial pages have barely any reflection while towards the later pages, especially my teaching reflections I have been able to delve into my thoughts and express my thoughts and feelings of the time. (Devanarayanan)
Some of the student-teachers found this course and the experience of writing a reflective journal extremely rewarding because of its learning potential. Therefore, they want to take this further and make a habit of keeping journals in the future. As both Malvika and Puja have mentioned:
It can bring out the best as it did to me. I would use the idea of a Reflective journal in all the subjects from now on, as it is a brilliant idea to keep track, and there is no way to miss out on things.
It served as a medium for trainee teachers like me to establish connections between content and practical experience and engage in active learning, linking prior knowledge with new understanding. It is a guiding document that gives me the scope for further improvement and continuously evaluates my journey of learning and unlearning concepts. It showcases my teacher's beliefs and principles which I am going to follow in my future teaching endeavors.
The role of journals in triggering critical reflection and enabling systematic documentation of learning experiences is well-established in teacher education courses. However, an interesting and valuable outcome from journal entries is the rich feedback for instructors about the course, as is evident from the comments of the student-teachers in the following section.
The analysis of the journal entries has also yielded valuable inputs and feedback on the design and implementation of the journal writing activity. There are suggestions to include a workshop at the beginning of the course to train student-teachers in writing critically reflective entries and to regularly monitor the writing activity. Given below are excerpts from the journals that give insights on the other components of the course.
Table 2: Course feedback
Aspect of the course
Takeaway for the instructor(s)
…I am extremely glad that I did do a round of real teaching. I was able to notice many issues that I may not have thought of before. I was also able to get a lot of constructive feedback from my friends that I can try to implement later on… (Devanarayanan)
Real teaching sessions
This statement validates the inclusion of real teaching sessions and suggests that more of this might be useful to try out different techniques in a real classroom.
When I teach microlessons, I hope to implement what I have learnt starting with taking the right roles during different activities. (Deepthi)
Microteaching in groups as part of peer teaching
This suggests that the microteaching sessions have a clear formative role and several rounds of it need to be included in the course.
Something that I would like to implement when I teach would be the clear distinction of the different stages in a reading lesson without it actually being too apparent for the learners, i.e., the learners were so involved that they actively participated and enjoyed the demo.lesson. (Deepthi)
Live demo lessons
This comment established the need for including more live demonstration lessons as observation and follow-up discussion leads to a better understanding of the nuances of teaching.
Overall I found the worksheets very useful as it seemed that the questions were the ones which I should ask myself both when observing a lesson and when taking a class. By doing the work I was able to become familiar with the points or areas that one needs to pay attention to when preparing a lesson and as such, the experience was very useful and practical.
Worksheet-based video analysis tasks
The feedback is a positive one that highlights the importance of using video analysis tasks as an input for learning.
I learned that what constitutes an effective lesson plan will depend on many factors, including the content of the lesson, the teacher’s teaching style, the student’s learning preferences, the class size, and the learners’ proficiency level. It is quite useful for writing my own lesson plan. These sessions made us feel we are a teacher in making! (Puja)
Lesson planning sessions
The value of discussing lesson planning tasks in detail in the class and the need to include more of such tasks is a valuable feedback for the instructors.
In today’s session, we learned about the important tools used for reflection. This session was necessary because, to fulfill the course requirement we are expected to maintain a journal, and without understanding the importance of keeping a journal, the purpose of maintaining one gets defeated. (Abhipsa)
Session on reflection
Since reflection is an important underlying concept in the course there was a presentation on reflection that apparently was necessary and well-received.
Working on the SER made me realise how much I have grown from the beginning of the semester and that there is a long road ahead. Writing the SER was an eye opening experience. It helped me look back on my learning experience and critically evaluate myself. (Aurelin)
This validates the inclusion of SERs as an assessment activity.
I feel very productive after the Practicum course as a prospective teacher. At the same time, I was so obsessed with this course that I was not even able to watch movies peacefully. The lesson planning/structuring sessions were so intense that instead of watching a movie for fun, I unconsciously began to analyse the structure of the movie and the beautiful transition from one scene to another scene. (Malvika)
The course ‘Practicum’
This statement sums up the overall impact of the course on the learners and gives an interesting perspective to the instructors to reflect on.
This course has opened my eyes to the better version of myself that I have always searched for. I would like to thank my teachers for believing in me when I forgot to do it myself and for reminding me to relax when I didn't know it was possible. There is a 70% chance that I may not have survived the course but for my teachers. That would also answer why I did not miss a single class throughout the semester! (Anjali)
Course and instructors
This statement provides insights on instructor attitude, personality and behavior and the impact on learner performance. It reinforces the need for teacher empathy in a practicum course.
Findings and implications
The analysis of the journal entries reflect the range of experiences related to classroom teaching and learning moments, issues, and events and also give valuable feedback to the instructors on the course. The writing shows signs of developing reflectivity from just recalling the various stages of a lesson/demonstration/peer teaching session to a critical reflection focusing on the reasons behind certain lesson episodes, description of events with analytical and critical commentaries, and in some cases, the intention for action. Furthermore, the analysis of the entries shows the positive attitude of student-teachers to the journal writing experience - they perceived it to be beneficial for their professional growth. They were able to compare the teacher-in-them at the beginning of the course and the teacher-in-action at the end of the course.
The feedback on the journal writing activity has far-reaching implications: the student teachers have articulated the challenges in maintaining a journal, and suggested the need for conducting classes and training workshops on writing reflective journals, monitoring students' journal entries periodically to keep track of progress and to give feedback on writing. This has significant implications for the design and implementation of the journal writing activity for future courses.
Journal provides an excellent platform for students-teachers to engage with the concepts and practice of language teaching, they stimulate critical thinking skills and help to establish a connection in the minds of student-teachers between knowledge, skills, and practice. Apart from its critically reflective role, it has the potential to give insightful feedback to instructors on the course content, methodology, learning experiences, teaching styles and beliefs, thus validating its inclusion in a practicum course.
Göker, S. D. (2016). Use of reflective journals in the development of teachers' leadership and teaching skills. Universal Journal of Educational Research 4 (12A): 63-70. DOI: 10.13189/ujer.2016.041309
Lee, I. (2004). Using dialogue journals as a multi-purpose tool for preservice teacher preparation: How effective is it? Teacher Education Quarterly, Summer 31(3), 73-97. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ795254.pdf
Lee, I. (2008). Fostering pre-service reflection through response journals. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter, 117 - 139. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ810661.pdf
Mariko, S. (2011). Student teachers' reflective journals on teaching practice experiences. Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal, Volume 14, 67 - 83. https://www.dwu.ac.pg/en/images/All_Attachements/Research%20Journals/vol_14/2011-V14-6_Mariko_Reflective_practices_of_student_teachers_checked_maretta_2_.pdf
Tsang, W. K. (2003). Journaling from internship to practice teaching. Reflective Practice, 4:2, 221-240. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623940308269
Appendix-1: Template for writing journal entries (for training sessions/lessons)
● Date and time-
● Describe the event/topic- (sequence)
● Analysis of the lesson/topic-
● One thing I found very useful, one thing that I need to know more about-
● Things that you learned from the lesson-
● Implications for your teaching and self-development-
● Changes in your attitude and beliefs-
● Insights into classroom management issues-
● Flashes of understanding-
● What is easy/difficult for you to follow-
● Things you agree/disagree with, which you would consider further in conversations with peers, with the help of books, etc.-
● Personal theorizing about teaching-
● Frustrations you experience and their causes-
Appendix-2: Guidelines for writing journals
1. Reflect on all the topics discussed in class and write your reflections/thoughts on how they have contributed towards building your knowledge, skills, and competencies on the Practicum course.
2. Topics covered-
● Basic concepts in language teaching-input-output-interaction, scaffolding, schema, multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction
● Video lessons (Jeremy Harmer and other videos) –discussion and analysis, including video-lesson analysis report
● Live demonstration lessons by teachers of the university and discussions
● Round 1 –Lesson planning and peer Teaching in groups and post-teaching discussions
● Round 2- Planning and teaching an individual lesson to BA FL students and peers
● Round 3- Teaching an integrated lesson individually
3. Reflect on the process of writing the self-evaluation report
4. Reflect on the experience of maintaining a reflection journal throughout the course
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