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  • Writer's pictureNathan Belcher

Using a Journal to Improve My Teaching Practice

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

The Fall 2017 semester was rough. Not only was I finishing my dissertation to defend in November and publish in December, but I was also in a wakeboarding accident in July. The accident required a hospital stay and many sessions of physical therapy; fortunately — thanks to modern medicine and the support of friends and family — I have made a full recovery.

In addition to these outside circumstances, I have a full-time teaching position at a high school in South Carolina. In previous years, I had two unique courses during each semester; however, this year I have four unique courses:

  • Honors Physics — 97 minutes each day for one semester (“block”)

  • AP Seminar — 45 minutes each day for the entire year (“skinny”)

  • Honors Physics — 45 minutes each day for the entire year (“skinny”)

  • AP Physics C: Mechanics — 97 minutes each day for one semester (“block”)

I had previously taught Honors Physics and AP Physics C: Mechanics as block courses, but the other two courses were different. Due to scheduling, this is the first year that Honors Physics is offered as a skinny; though the content is the same, the timing has been different — requiring different planning. This is the first year AP Seminar has been offered at the school, meaning that this is the first year I am teaching the course. The first year through a course is the most difficult because the teacher is learning the pacing and common misconceptions from students; in addition, the teacher must ensure that required standards are approached in ways that are conducive to learning.

With all the pieces of my life swirling, I needed a method to help me keep track of my courses. I contemplated various forms of journaling, but was struck by this article by Tony Stubblebine. In the article, he details how using interstitial journaling can increase productivity: "The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project."

Instead of projects, I am working with classes — but the idea of emptying my brain from the information of the day and creating space to plan for the next day was appealing. So, I created a Minimum Journal Entry that would provide enough information about the day without an overwhelming amount of writing.

Minimum Journal Entry:

  • Block/Period

  • Summary of Activities

  • Thoughts and questions about activities, students, general course flow, classroom atmosphere, and other relevant information

After practicing the Minimum Journal Entry and experimenting for several weeks, my daily notes began to look something like this:

Example of a Journal Entry.

Despite the challenges of the Fall semester, completing these journals for three consecutive months has helped me keep the courses operating at a high level. My stress level relative to the amount of planning and organization is down as a result of the journaling. I have completed my physical therapy and dissertation at this point, but I will continue journaling daily to improve my practice. The next step will be to use the notes as I teach the courses again, learning how to modify activities or providing different opportunities for students to learn. As I complete this process, this set of daily notes will be an invaluable source of information.

[This post was previously published on Medium.]

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