The Reading Journal Experiment

British Literature, World Literature. Wed, Sep 23rd, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Themes: , , , , ,

On Monday I proposed a deal: If you keep a detailed (definition of “detailed” below) reading journal for our current work, one that includes as much or more information than an average essay, and turn it in at the end of the reading, you do not have to write a paper.

My hypothesis: A few of you would decide to just write the paper, as you are familiar with that routine and comfortable with your writing process; most of you would write down a few words you don’t know, perhaps a summary of the reading, a few questions, and be through with it; and a few would run with the idea, draw character maps, look up outside information, learn new words, come to class with questions about weird sentences and quote interesting passages.

The bell curve, right? Shame on me; I should have known better.

The past few days in class have blown me away. Nearly all of you have come to class with questions about the reading (or viewing, in Brit Lit), words you’re not sure about, connections you’ve made with outside works, points I’ve missed, and interpretations I hadn’t considered. You all seem to be enjoying the readings more (even though you have to write as you go), and understanding them in more depth. I’ve practically thrown out all my prepared questions for the past few days; yours are much better. I can’t wait to sit down with your journals at the end.

While I wrote this on the board, here is the list of things to look for or record in your journal:

You will turn in your journals the day after we finish the work. I will read them over that night, and return them to you the next day. I will not write in them, but simply give you advice on organization, some things you should focus on, etc. (I might steal some ideas for my own journal, too. Hope you don’t mind.)

If your journal is detailed enough (covers the entire work, or Act III through the end of Hamlet), you will be excused from the final essay. If you chose not to create a journal, or it seems a bit sparse (or is simply a list of quotations without your reactions), I will ask you to write the paper.

We will be creating reading journals for every reading assignment from here on out. For our next unit, I’ll show you how to write most of your essay in your journal before we even finish the novel.

Send me an email if you have questions, or post them below.

This is going to be an amazing year.

  1. is great for this. Simply put all of the words, separated by commas, into the search box, and you’ll have a list of definitions. For the truly adventurous, try this online etymology dictionary for where it came from and related words. []

4 Responses to “The Reading Journal Experiment”

  1. Ellen says:

    I’ve been a bit wayward in checking in on this site, but this post amazes me! So, can we truly interact with literature in a way that will inevitably change our lives? A curious and intriguing proposition. This may qualify as Stalling’s brilliant idea of 2009–I will be following the journey avidly.

  2. […] I’m very excited about how things are going. Journaling, like essay writing, is a skill that takes time and practice to master. For those of you with questions, I can offer practical advice: “Write your reactions to and questions about the work. Quote nearly as often as you react or question.” My longer answer can be found in the previous post. […]

  3. PaulO says:

    We tried to do Reading Journals last year, and it did not work. I believe this is because(as you mentioned) one must read a lot before seeing the things that one should take down in their journals, and we are so used to writing “summaries”. I think a reading journal is a great idea and a necessity for an English Teacher or anyone else perusing literature and looking for deeper meaning, but most people have trouble with it, and I just bet it will be stupid and non-progressive for a long time. Since this is an advanced class, and we are covering hard-to-swallow concepts, it is my humble opinion that you should keep at this, no matter how bad it gets. Eventually we will get it.

  4. […] and journal “Book I” of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For bonus life points, read (and journal, always) the first […]