The Effect of Structured Journals on Reflection Levels: With or Without Question Prompts?

February, 2020

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(2)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this study is to investigate how question prompts affect the journaling process, the content of the journals and the quality of the reflections in the journals.
With this goal in mind, the study attempted to answer the following questions.
1. What are the views of pre-service teachers regarding keeping structured journals?
2. Did the subjects that the pre-service teachers address in the structured journals differ from those found in the unstructured journals?
3. How does the type of journal being kept (structured vs. unstructured) affect preservice teachers’ levels of reflection?

A qualitative case study design was applied in carrying out this study, according the example of Stake’s (1995) instrumental case study. The purpose is to investigate the effects of question prompts compared to unstructured journals kept within the framework of teaching practicum classes.
The data collection instruments – the reflective journals and questionnaires – provided the researcher with the opportunity to examine the case as a whole.

Setting and Participants
In this study, the preservice teachers worked with children in the kindergarten program.
For the purposes of this study, four of the participants were selected on the basis of their GPA in order to represent various levels of academic performance.

The Researchers’ Role
Throughout the semester researcher observed the 12 pre-service teachers in their practice at the training school as a supervisor.
Every week, the researcher met with all of the pre-service teachers at the faculty and talked about the situations they faced in the training process.
Each week, she observed two of the pre-service teachers in the practice classrooms and then met with them in person to provide feedback.
At the end of the semester, the pre-service teachers received a score out of 100 possible points from the teaching practicum course.
Thirty percent of this grade was given by the university supervisor and the remaining 70% of the grade was given by the practicing teacher.

Data Collection
The data for this study were collected through two sources:
(1) journals kept by the pre-service early childhood teachers and (2) a questionnaire consisting of open-ended questions that were prepared to reveal the views of pre-service teachers regarding the process of journal keeping.
The journal-keeping activity was also included as a minor portion of the evaluation criteria.
The pre-service teachers kept their journals for a total of 11 weeks as part of the 12-week course, during which the participants were required to be in a pre-school for one full day (six class hours) each week.
For nine weeks of the teaching practicum, the journals were unstructured.
Then, in the tenth and eleventh weeks, six question prompts were given to guide them in their writing.
The question prompts were developed based on the Pathwise Classroom Observation System as described by Welsch and Devlin (2007).
Since the aim of this study was to determine how the question prompts affected the process of journal keeping, it was found suitable to compare entries from one unstructured and one structured journal written by the pre-service teachers.
With this aim, the entries from the ninth week, which were the final unstructured entries, and the entries from the eleventh week, which were the final structured entries, were used as the data collection tools for this study.
As an additional means to collect data for the study, a questionnaire consisting of 15 open-ended items was prepared by the researcher.
The questionnaire was designed so that the pre-service teachers would compare the unstructured and structured journals based on their experiences.
The questionnaire was administered to all pre-service teachers (N=12) who were enrolled in the course.
A portion of the data gathered from the answers of the four participants to the questionnaire is presented to support the data gathered from the reflective journals.

Findings and Discussion
A comparison of the structured and unstructured journals revealed that the structured journals were broader in terms of content.
On the other hand, it was determined that when the pre-service teachers were free to write whatever they wanted, they preferred to talk about the strengths of their teaching.
Moreover, none of them about what they planned to do for the next lesson in their unstructured journals.
Making new action plans after considering actions taken is an important part of reflective thinking.
In this regard, the pre-service teachers’ neglect of making action plans in their unstructured journals indicated that the content of their writing was weaker when they had not received training on reflection or the journals were not guided by question prompts.
Finally, the pre-service teachers reported that they found preparing structured journals more difficult and time consuming.
In addition, they expressed that they needed to think more deeply for the structured journals, as well as to make more detailed self-observations during their teaching.
When the two types of journals are compared, data supporting these expressions emerged; namely, the pre-service teachers made deeper reflections in their structured journals.
To sum up, this study indicates that employing question prompts for journal writing within the framework of teaching practicum enriches the content of the writing, as well as enabling pre-service teachers to produce more reflective responses.

Based on these results, some suggestions regarding the current study, as well as future studies, are presented below:

Employing question prompts is recommended, especially in cases where students are encountering reflective practices like journal keeping for the first time.

Use of question prompts for journals encourage pre-service teachers in more meaningful reflection and contributes to their growth as teaching professionals.
Similar studies may be carried out in which the opinions of pre-service teachers on reflective journaling are considered, but with certain changes:

In the present study, it was observed that some of the pre-service teachers referred to themselves and their feelings as educators in both their structured and unstructured journals.
This was their first practical experience of teaching so it is usual for that to be the dominant concern.

Journals for those who experience continuous practicums throughout their course may have different requirements at different stages.
Therefore, in order to enable pre-service teachers to express their views on these issues, a related question prompt may be provided for the structured journals.

Some of the pre-service teachers who participated in this study found the structured journals to be time consuming, and some expressed that there were too many question prompts.

In order to avoid these criticisms, question prompts that are similar in content may be combined, and pre-service teachers can be given different question prompts in different weeks.

In this study, written feedback was given on the pre-service teachers’ reflective journals.

In future studies, pre-service teachers may be supported with verbal feedback from both the supervisor and the practicing teacher and in order to improve their levels of reflection (Cengiz & Karataş, 2014).

In order to investigate the issue in depth, the present study was conducted as a case, with a limited number of participants.

Further studies on this topic may be carried out on a larger scale to minimize the impact of the participants’ unique characteristics, as well as the physical and other conditions, that may affect the results, as is the case in any social sciences study carried out with human participants.

Cengiz, C., Karataş, F. Ö. (2014). Yansıtıcı düşünmeyi geliştirme: Fen bilgisi öğretmen adayları ile gerçekleştirilen yansıtıcı günlük tutma uygulamasının etkileri. Eğitim ve Öğretim Araştırmaları Dergisi, 3(4), 120-129.
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Welsch, R. G., & Devlin, P. A. (2007). Developing pre-service teachers' reflection: Examining the use of video. Action in Teacher Education, 28(4), 53-61. 

Updated: Feb. 27, 2021