Reflective Journaling in Schoology with Discussion Threads

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Reflection is a crucial element of many modern pedagogical systems. Whether explicitly stated, as by Dewey, or implicitly embedded as part of a process in systems such as Design Thinking and PBL, modern pedagogies place a high importance on the ability for students to self-assess and build metacognition through reflection. I use a variety of reflective activities in my classes, and often they are built-in to a project design cycle. Aside from these more task-oriented reflections, I have students run a reflective journal that is more free-form. I will often ask them prompts which I hope strike a balance between being guided towards critical thinking while being open-ended enough to encourage personal, not formulaic, response. My staple, borrowed from a mentor¬†early in my career, is the every-Friday “What Did You Learn This Week?” (and added to by another, “…and How Did You Learn It?”).

When I started with weekly or daily reflections, I would have students write a couple of sentences on scraps of recycled paper and hand them in. This was relatively quick to set up, although reading those scraps was a) hard to manage and b) somewhat unsatisfying in its closed nature: I could not ask a student to expand an idea or give more context or information. Especially with Friday reflections, I would have to remember to circle back to a student on Monday to ask more, at which point we both may have lost the context or even the original idea.

I’ve developed some guidelines to use online tools for reflection, and now use the discussion threads in Schoology (our LMS) as my basic reflective tool, and am very happy with the system I’ve concocted. Here are my guidelines on the reflective writing setup that I use, and how to build it within Schoology.

Some Guidelines

While different situations may call for differing types of reflection, I default to some basic conditions. Standard reflective activities in my classes are:

  • Private between student and teacher. Reflection is primarily an introspective activity, and students should be able to critically discuss failures and “what went wrong” as well as what went right. Especially early-on as students are learning to reflect critically, this should be visible to the teacher, but not to other students.
  • Able to start conversation/prompt follow-ups. If reflection is a skill to be developed, then giving feedback and asking follow-up questions is an important component of the teacher’s role in reflection.
  • Not graded/assessed. Reflective writing is often free-form and encourages brainstorming. I don’t want these to be assessed activities (although there are cases where I will assess larger, more structured reflection/self-assessment).
  • Chronological/Archived. Students should be able to see past reflections to identify trends and common occurrences, or to remark upon growth.
  • Contextual. Students should be able to connect reflective writing directly to learning activities or resources.

Building the Reflective Journal in Schoology

Using the Discussion tool, we can build individual discussion threads for each student that accomplish these priorities. Since activities in Schoology can be individually assigned to groups or individuals, I can create a discussion thread for each student, which only they will see. I will be able to see all of them, and quickly flip through to look at each student’s work. In addition, since it’s a discussion thread, I can ask follow-up questions, post comments, or even ask students to go back and comment upon past reflections as part of portfolio-building or end-of-unit wrap-ups.

First, I create folder called “Your Reflective Journal” (since students will only end up seeing theirs, I keep it singular).

journalfolder

In the folder, I create discussion threads for each student and title them with the student’s name (e.g. “Journal: Jeff”). When creating the discussion, I choose the Individually Assign option to bring up the “Assign To:” box.

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Turning on the “Individually Assign” icon opens up the “Assign to:” box.

I can assign the discussion directly to that student. Since the discussions are hypertext, students can embed files or links directly into their reflections. Sometimes our prompts are specific enough to expect an attachment or link, and sometimes students will do that in response to a more general prompt.

When it’s time to read through and see what students have posted, it’s fairly easy and quick to scroll through many in sequence. I open up the first journal in my folder, and skim through. I won’t always post comments or questions (although I do try to comment more in the beginning as we’re learning the skills of reflective writing). To move to the next journal in the folder, I use the “Next” button in the upper-right. While many people miss this navigation button, it makes it very easy for me to flip through my class.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

While I haven’t done this in the past, I could go into Course Analytics at the end of a defined period and look at the relative participation levels of each student within their journals by looking at the number of posts. While I don’t assess these outright, using that data could be part of an individual conversation with students who are not participating.

Why Not a Blog?

Students (and all users) can have a blog within Schoology as part of their user account, and blogging is a common platform for reflective writing. As I listed in my priorities, though, I want these activities to be primarily private at this point. Our school settings are such that a student’s user blog can be read by other internal users, and that’s consistent with how I envision the Schoology blog feature being used: to write (perhaps reflectively) for an audience. Blogging is part of our Digital Media course, and students will delve into Social Media as a publishing tool through other activities and structures.¬†As I view the reflection as primarily for one’s self, though, I think that this model (private, embedded within the course) is more appropriate.

How About You?

How do you facilitate reflective journaling or writing in your courses? Do you use a different tool or structure? Would you change something about this model to make it fit your students and course? Please comment or question below!

9 comments

  1. Terrific strategy Jeff! I learned quite a bit from this post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Bob

  2. Jane Cutter says:

    Thank you for your expertise. At your suggestion I am using this technique in Schoology in order to create a sort of dialogue journal with my structured study hall students around their daily goal setting. I also suggested this to another teacher as a means to manage differentiating instruction in a web-based music theory program–teacher can use the individual discussions to let students know of their placement in the program, and also provide feedback/exhortation on student progress. Clearly, the discussions are a great way for students to engage in reflective journaling as well.

  3. Jane Cutter says:

    Additional question: in one of my sections, I am going to be joined by another faculty member on a part time basis. Can I also assign him as c0-teacher to the discussions for the kids in that section so that he too can log on to Schoology and view or respond to the students’ daily goal setting?

    • Jeff says:

      Jane– Great question. Schoology counts teachers as administrators of that course section, which means that anyone marked as “admin” within that course will have access to all the materials just as you do. No need to add them to the individual journals, just double-check under the “Members” section of the course that the other teacher is a) added and b) made an admin (you can see that by the crown icon by admin names).

  4. Jane Cutter says:

    oops, I should have checked the “notify me of follow up comments” box.

  5. jane cutter says:

    Thanks Jeff. Actually I was able to join the Schoology Educators group and get my answer that way! It’s very helpful.

  6. Lucas Dayley says:

    I am trying to build a weekly reflection piece into my 8th grade math class. Our district uses Schoology and I am super excited to try the discussion thread. I just want to clarify one piece. After creating the Reflection Journal folder, you have to individually add discussion threads for each student? So if I have 130 students I would create 130 separate threads? There is no way to add a whole class of individual threads?

    Thank you

    • Jeff says:

      Lucas– Thanks for your question. You are correct– you would have to do this with all 130 students. For that many people, I’d recommend something like eduBlogs or Kidblogs that let you really build out a class blog site to scale. It’s a separate system, but it makes bulk management much easier. Good luck!

  7. Brent says:

    Jeff,

    Great post. Very creative use of discussion boards. Questions…Do you alter the question for each discussion board when you want them to reflect on a different topic? Do you create a new discussion thread each time the topic changes? How many students are you doing this with at once?

    Sorry…so many questions. Love the idea, just getting my head around applying it in my MS with 70-90 students/teacher.

    We have tried Kidblog, but due to cost and trying to centralize more things in Schoology we are looking for ideas.

    Thanks,
    Brent

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