Every action within the classroom is also a reaction; it is a response to the other bodies and ideas in the space, and therefore, it is a feedback tool I can use to improve how I am encouraging those bodies and thoughts to interact. Process journaling helps me trace behaviors to contexts. On one side of the journal, I describe an event as I see it or remember it unfolding. On the journal’s other side, I apply my cumulated knowledge about student learning, classroom management, assessment, and communication to analyze the factors influencing the situation. To develop my classroom management skills, I narrate and evaluate my notes, and then consider how the process altered my thinking and will affect my future approaches. Below, I have included an example process journal exercise and reflection. This process journal reflection demonstrates my understanding that the means through which instructors communicate directions to their students and provide their students with feedback influences will influence how the students engage in an activity. As a student teacher, I shared these reflections with my Professional Learning Team to see situations from new perspectives and gain novel feedback.
Sample Process Journal
When we walked into the room, the desks were in concentric circles: seven in the center, enclosed in a ring of the other forty-two. No student touched a seat in the middle. The class started, as usual, with our voices rotating around the large circle: “I’m Ashley, and I’m feeling excited today,” “I’m Maya, and I’m feeling curious today,” “I’m Cami, and I’m feeling blah today.”
The snap of the projector screen rolling up punctuated the last student’s feeling. A set of directions was visible on the board:
- Each group of seven students receives fifteen minutes to discuss.
- The moderator will pass the “speaking ball” to you when you raise your hand to contribute.
- Each student in the center should aim to speak twice and should support their claims with quotes from the text.
- The timer will buzz when your time is up.
The instructor began to trace the outer edge of the circle, handing out colored cards with questions on them. “This is called a Socratic Seminar,” she said.” I do them with my A.P. Lit class every Wednesday; I barely talk during the class.” She stopped at her seat, “what the directions don’t explain is that after the center group is done discussing the outside group will have a chance to answer the questions on their cards,” she waved the remaining stack of cards she had been handing out. “These questions are meant to keep us reflecting on how the structure of the discussion is going. For instance, which perspectives are we hearing, and which perspectives are we not?”
Before asking students to volunteer for the first round of discussion, she said why she typically graded the discussion based on if the students participated and supported their claims with textual evidence. She said she chose to do it this way because it helped her fulfill a Minnesota ELA standard about rooting arguments in the text. I leaned over to my seat neighbor, whispering, “do you think she will be grading us?” She shrugged and shook her head, “I don’t think so. It’s not on Canvas.” I wasn’t convinced.
I volunteered to be part of the first round of the center discussion, better to get it over with before we ran out of topics to cover. My new desk had a list of discussion questions on its seat. However, our instructor told us that we didn’t have to get through them all. The moderator started us off with the first question. Still unsure if we were being graded, I jumped in and quickly answered. As I was talking, I realized how difficult it was to locate the quote I wanted to use to support my claim. I ended up going off-topic to try to buy myself a second to search for it in the text. I couldn’t find it. I settled with a paraphrase.
The speaker who responded to me was bilingual and had acquired English as a second language. She frequently interrupted her response with the apology, “I’m sorry. I’m thinking while I am talking, and things are getting mixed up.” She told a detailed anecdote about teaching in China that related to the question, but she did not connect it back to the text with quotes. I was half paying attention to her story and half attempting to figure out what I was going to say next. I knew that the rules stated I had to speak twice. My legs were shaking, and my eyes kept darting to the clock. Her answer was taking up a lot of the time. I knew I had to speak once more, along with all of my classmates in the circle. Taking cue from the last speaker, the next speaker kept her response anecdotal and also winding through a series of emotions and events. By the time she was halfway through, the timer’s beeps were filling her pauses. The instructor nodded to the moderator, but the moderator kept her eyes locked on the speaker. The instructor sighed and turned the timer off. The student determined when she finished speaking.
When the third speaker smiled to signal her story was complete, the moderator turned to the outside. The students in the center who had not spoken threw glances at each other. One student in the outside group observed that they had only touched on one topic about control. The next speaker from the outer circle said, “I’m not going to ask this question I have, but I wanted to comment on what the inner group was discussing.” She then started to tell a personal story that connected with the anecdote the last speaker told. A few students in the inner circle who had not spoken raised their hands, and the moderator passed the “speaking ball” to them. The activity then became a large-group dialog about the discussion questions. The first round ended without an analysis of the discussion. The second set of students took their seats.
The instructor who introduced our class to the Socratic Seminar discussion technique used it in her Advanced Placement literature classroom every Wednesday. She chose to bring it into our classroom after weeks of reading and discussing the educational theory that promoted us to develop lessons that deconstructed the teacher/student binary (Freire, 1972) and the concepts of “official knowledge” (Apple, 2000) it perpetuates so that students can become active and critical analyzers, constructors, and reconstructions (Ladson-Billings, 2006) of the curriculum. While the class found these readings and discussions informative and transformative, the more we strengthened our commitments to create socially just classrooms, the more we wondered what these theories looked like in practice. Though we understood “teaching for social justice [was] less a thing, and more an ethical position,” (Ladson-Billings, 2006), we craved a chance to consider how this ethical position appeared in pedagogy.
The more our class discussions circled the ideological nature of our work, the more students would chime in with questions like, “But how do we deconstruct the notion of “standards” while also making sure our students meet them?” In choosing to structure our discussion as a Socratic Seminar, our instructor provided us with a platform to continue to discuss theory and build our ethical positions while also modeling how a critical, student-directed discussion might appear in the classroom. She was making “intentional professional choices for teaching” (MnEds, 2018) based on her knowledge of our needs and the content with which we were working. By selecting an activity that she used in her classroom, the instructor could model her thinking behind why she used the activity. Hinchman and Sheridan-Thomas (2014) note that in modeling, the teacher’s use of metacognition, reasons, and rationale to support “I statements” about their actions helps to apprentice students into “thinking as an expert” (Loc. 3079).
However, it was our instructor’s attention to our interests about how to balance deconstructing the curriculum while meeting state standards that put time and content constraints around our conversation, which ultimately guided us away from the learning objective. For example, her want to model how to motivate all students to participate in the discussion led to the rule that we should each try to speak a certain number of times when we were in the center circle. Due to the nature of the Socratic Seminar, she hoped that the discussion in the outer ring would allow us to examine how the strategy we simulated worked to engage all students as active producers of knowledge. In theory, we could discuss the topics of control and power while also getting the opportunity to analyze how control and power manifest in discussions so that we could make more-informed learning-plan choices. Our instructor was trying to help us navigate (MnEds, 2018) our unique role of being both analyzers and potential practitioners of the class content. She was providing us with a chance to transition from knowing to doing.
However, the conversation about how the activity did and did not motivate engagement from the inner-circle participants never happened in the outer circle. The first problem was that the inner circle barely teased out the topic. By the end of their turn, only three voices in the group had spoken, and none of them had cited evidence as was required (and was the standard our instructor was modeling how to plan for). Our class was not practiced in participating in a (potentially) graded discussions or having to speak a certain amount of times in a limited time frame. Similarly, only a handful of us were recent English majors who regularly used our skill of supporting arguments with textual evidence. Though our instructor was trying to simulate how these seminars worked in her Advanced Placement class, we did not have the same scaffolding to the activity that her students did. For example, they were likely regularly practicing how to form and support arguments in a limited time-frame, as they would need to do on the Advanced Placement test. Similarly, the fact that they did Socratic Seminars weekly meant that they were more familiar with the instructions and how the grading process worked.
This lack of knowing how to participate in the discussion and what the ideal discussion looked like impacted how we engaged our peers. A worry that my instructor would be a strict grader caused me not to be an active listener when I was in the circle; I was too busy thinking about what I would say next. I prattled on about topics that were unrelated to the essential question just because I wanted to fit in a quote. On the other hand, my peers’ feelings that the discussion probably would not be graded made them feel comfortable ignoring the guidelines and providing long and detailed answers with no direct textual support. Even more so, the student who had acquired English relatively later in her life was probably in a position that few students in the instructor’s Advanced Placement class shared. She needed extra time to organize her thoughts in English. However, the activity was not structured to accommodate this need.
Even though the inner-circle conversation did not go as our teacher planned, it would have still been interesting to analyze in the outer circle. For instance, the outer-circle question about who spoke and who didn’t could have led to a conversation about how the prospect of grading and the lack of scaffolding influenced the way we participated in the circle. As bell hooks (2010) notes, “thinking about thinking…is a necessary component of critical thinking” (p. 9). If the goal of the activity was to model how to be critical and informed lesson-plan creators, this would have been an excellent opportunity to consider how the imposed guidelines impacted the thinking that we were doing as a class. However, the outer circle kept returning to the questions that the inner circle had been discussing; they didn’t want to give up their chance to discuss the topic in exchange for analyzing the discussion. Again, I think this resistance was due to a lack of clarity on how the activity worked. The students were not aware that they would get a turn in the inner circle to discuss the same questions.
Though the discussion ended up nothing as our instructor had initially planned, she did not attempt to intervene and guide us back on track. As we became less structured, the anecdotal connections students were making with the text were becoming richer. Our instructor ultimately decided it was more important to have these discussions than to ground our conversation in the authors’ experiences by citing textual evidence. In making this choice, she recognized the assets (MnEds, 2018) the students brought to the discussion in the form of personal stories. These stories took us to the end of our class period. The discussion was productive; though we did not analyze how control and power manifested in our conversations, the anecdotes allowed us to consider how these phenomena appeared in practice. However, it still left me with questions about how the attempt to control (with guidelines) the discussion mediated the result.
Reflecting on this event, I have realized the importance of providing scaffolding for students to participate in discussions that have guidelines about how to contribute. For instance, I wonder how our conversations would have been different if, knowing that we were unfamiliar with forming arguments in a short amount of time, we had a chance to free-write our ideas or review our favorite quotes. Similarly, this reflection has made me more aware of the importance of choosing discussion strategies that acknowledge the methods students use to comprehend the text. For instance, students resisted the text-based discussion strategy because they understood these articles by connecting the text to their own experiences. The funds of knowledge they brought with them into the classroom were personal and anecdotal. They needed an activity that allowed for their expression.
Freire, P. (1972). Chapter 2. In Pedagogy of the oppressed 20th-anniversary ed. (Myra Bergman Ramos, Trans., pp. 52-67). New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company.
Hinchman, K. A. and Sheridan-Thomas, H. K. (2014). Best practices in adolescent literacy instruction, second edition [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/
hooks, b. (2010). Teaching: Introduction. In Teaching critical thinking: Practical wisdom (pp. 1-11). Routledge.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). Yes, but how do we do it? Practicing culturally relevant pedagogy. In White teachers/diverse classrooms: A guide to building inclusive schools, promoting high expectations, and eliminating racism (pp. 29-42). Stylus publishing.
MnEDS (2018). The 8 MnEDS dispositions strands. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/umn-dispositions-assessment-framework/the-mneds-8-dispositions-strands