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Journaling Questions
Helping Young Minds Grow

Journaling Questions and Assessment
Students' responses can help you assess their thinking, gains, and gaps, and their ability to draw from past knowledge as they build new understandings. (See Science Inquiry Journals and Journaling Questions in our Assessment section.)

Cathie Plaehn, a 5th grade teacher and member of Journey North's Teacher-Advisory Board, shares tips for using Journaling Questions as a tool for assessment. You can also apply Cathie's tips to Journaling Questions.

Journey North provides a variety of Journaling Questions on Activity/Lesson pages (and in some Journey North News updates) for each migration and seasonal project. The questions help students build and reinforce reasoning and problem-solving skills and understanding. They ask students to do the following:

  • dig into and try to make sense of data
  • puzzle out math, science, or mapping challenges
  • reflect on Journey North experiences
  • think creatively or make personal connections to material
  • apply their experiences and learning to new contexts

Many questions model the thinking/questioning process that scientists use in their work. Often open-ended, they offer students examples of the types of questions they should be asking themselves. They can also help you address pressures to integrate writing into subject areas.

Journal Questions and Science Journals
Journals in which students record their thoughts on the Journey North Questions can be excellent tools for sparking thinking, reasoning, and understanding. Journals also provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to function as facilitators of student learning. Here are some tips:
  • Give students time to first explore the question in their science journals before discussing their answers with one another. Encourage them to write about or be prepared to explain the thinking behind their responses or answers.
  • Use journals as a way to communicate with students as they try to "think through" science puzzles and concepts. You might, for instance, routinely collect journals and write questions and comments directly on pages, or share these during a discussion with each student.

Learning From Mistakes
It is important to allow students the freedom to make mistakes. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries were the result of experiments that "failed." Encourage students to critically review their investigations and conclusions. Suggest activities or investigations that challenge them to further explore their ideas and test hypotheses.

Dealing With "Wrong" Answers
How do you address student answers, theories, explanations, or conclusions that are "incorrect"? How do you deal with student misconceptions? Think about the strategies you use when you encounter these situations. You might want to discuss this challenge with other teachers and share your successful techniques. Try to find alternatives to simply correcting students; instead, use
strategies that encourage critical thinking:
  • Reword or clarify a question.
  • Ask a student to explain the process he/she used to find the answer.
  • Have the student provide data that supports the answer.
  • Give students a chance to revisit data and check what they think against what they see.
  • Facilitate a group discussion in which classmates explore, challenge, and build on one another's ideas.
  • Invite students to conduct hands-on research to explore and test their theories and explanations.