Why Journals?

Why Journals?IMG_1030

written by Project Director Andy Barker

If there are two pieces of equipment that are absolutely essential to the Burlington City & Lake Semester, they would have to be a journal and a pen.

Pretty much every day, students and faculty alike use journals to take notes, capture quotes from community partners, write reflections, jot questions, or sketch and doodle. For many BCL students, it takes a while to get into the groove of journaling, to figure out the right approach. What’s worth writing? How personal should I get? How creative can I be?


These questions are important to ask. They represent one piece of a journey that I want every student to take in BCL, which is a journey to re-personalize their education, making it relevant and alive. It’s about finding a genuine ‘way in’ to learning about the world. I believe almost anything – and everything – has a chance to become relevant to us if we take the time to turn it over in our hands, sketch it out or wonder a bit in the margins of a journal.

What are students’ thoughts about their journals? Responding to a recent prompt, here are some thoughts from current BCL students:

  • “I feel notes just reflect the assignment, but the journal really reflects you.” ~Sam
  • I am able to write out my thoughts and questions and ideas and make connections to the learning we do in class.” ~Zaley
  • I’ve allowed myself to be more creative with my notes, which allows me to be more engaged.” ~Logan

Journaling is not the same thing as note-taking. For Chloe, it’s a more demanding skill. “In your journal you have to capture the background, quotes, emotions and the big ideas as well as write questions and connect them to other things happening in your life, BCL or the world. So it is a lot different than just copying down notes from a slide show.”

Data day pic

We have some debate as a faculty team about how to assess journals, or whether to assess them at all. Students have expressed their opinions on this question as well. Current student Ruby says emphatically, “I write in my journal for me and use it as a resource for me. I do not like that we’re assessed on journals.” It’s a question to consider for the future. But in our pilot year, we have offered formative feedback on journals across four categories: 1) Capturing the Day; 2) Questions and Connections; 3) Thinking on Paper; and 4) Organization and Presentation.

Thrust fault

Journals have practical uses for BCL students, too. They become a source of ideas for formal writing assignments. And when it comes time for semester-end assessment, the journal is also an extensive closet full of evidence that students can present to show progress on their journey towards proficiency in all of the BHS Graduate Expectations.

Engagement Smelt

It is a privilege to read students’ thoughts through their journals, finding sparkling ideas and insights along the way, and sharing a bit of their personal journey. As I read, I often hope that every BCL student will keep their journal tucked away somewhere so that they might stumble across it, years from now, and be rewarded with a unique glimpse into their life in Burlington in 2019 – and maybe even a glimpse into their evolving self.

Lake poem and notes

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