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Background of Learning Journals

Learning Logs are a unique personalised learning resource for children. In the learning Logs, the children record their responses to learning challenges set by their teachers. Each log is a unique record of the child's thinking and learning.

Inglehurst Junior School in Leicester has been developing a unique learning log for several years now. The logs, which are a visually oriented development of earlier well established models of learning journals, have become an integral part of the teaching and learning programme and have had a major impact on their drive to develop a more independent learner.                      


There is ample published research to support the model. [Link to Learning Journals research page]

The importance of learners becoming aware of their own thought processes and gaining insights into the strategies they use to resolve problems, or overcome difficulties, is discussed by Blagg (1991). Ashman & Conway (1993) assert that there is a critical need for students to become actively involved in the process of learning. McCrindle & Christensen (1995) refer to research findings indicating that journals of this type are likely to increase metacognition through students becoming more aware of their own thought processes. Swan & White (1994) report a piece of research using a 'thinking book' which investigated the development of reflective thinking skills in children. A small study of the development of metacognitive skills using this type of approach which discusses many of these perspectives in greater depth is reported by Beck (1998). This model of learning logs differs significantly from these earlier models by introducing a greater opportunity for the children to introduce colourful graphic and physical representations to illustrate their thinking and learning, rather than simply relying on the written word. Much of the development of learning logs built on practical classroom applications of mapping and visual tools described in texts by Caviglioli & Harris (2000) and Cavaglioli et al (2002). This has generated a motivation to engage in the process of reflective learning in students who have had more difficulty in expressing themselves through the conventional written form. The use of the learning logs has extended now to schools in Australia, Canada and Thailand in addition to their extensive use in schools throughout the UK.

Piaget's view that development, and transition between stages, occurs as a  consequence of a change in basic logic, precipitated by interactions which are at odds with the existent paradigm, would seem to support the notion that a  programme of sustained interventions aimed at achieving such discord might also promote some change in learning strategies. Piaget outlined the significant change occurring at the inception of formal operations, noting the development of powerful cognitive skills which would allow the individual to organize and manipulate complex ideas and concepts, as well as actual objects, systematically and methodically to achieve a successful learning outcome. Neimark (1975, 1981) notes that 'reflective' and 'field-independent' children are more likely to show formal operations, compared to otherwise bright 'children who are 'impulsive' or ' field-dependent'. Piaget's concept and definition of a child's readiness appears to imply that an individual is only able to develop particular cognitive skills as they negotiate the transition between particular stages of development.

This notion is expanded by Vygotsky, who expresses readiness as a state which implies the child's capacity to learn with support (Wood, 1990). This he denotes as the individual's 'Zone of Proximal Development', being the gap which exists between what the child can achieve in isolation, and that which is possible with support or help from a more knowledgeable or skilled associate. Vygotsky distinguishes between the child's current level of performance and their potential level if supported by a more expert associate, referred to appropriately as scaffolding, Successful learning, in Vygotsky’s characterization, must be aimed at the ZPD. More traditional measures of intelligence or attainment are rendered inadequate, since they examine merely the fixed skill range which the individual has achieved thus far. There is no mechanism to determine how far the individual could progress, that is to say what the true potential ability or intelligence level is, given a structure of support which assists the individual in reaching that potential. Vygotsky emphasises the benefits of cooperatively achieved learning and development, a point emphasised by Brown et al. (1983) who describe childrens' cognitive development as a process which takes place within a social context, influenced by other people. Learning is perceived as a process which is not undertaken with great success in isolation. Indeed an atmosphere of co-operation or competition seems likely to provide new information and a degree of feedback on the ideas of each individual participating in a social learning context.

In support of the principle Meadows (1986) points to the evidence that in joint activities the modelling of successful metacognitive strategies is likely to generate the advancement of learning skills and the development of more mature thinking skills. Brown et al. (1983) comment that this type of co-operative learning model, where there are differential levels of expertise in a group, may lead to some integration of the more highly developed thinking skills which would support the novices and assist in their general cognitive development. Vygotsky's interpretation of change envisages a degree of social interaction as a generator of cognitive development. The focus is on the learning environment, attending to the learning strategies of the child and implementing a greater degree of independence in their thinking styles but with the support of a collaborative network as a means of moving cognitive development forwards and beyond their individual capacity to achieve progress in isolation. Learning is in this context an activity which takes place in a cooperative framework rather than in an individual's mind (Hanks 1991). It is through participation in group activities, mediated by the differing perspectives of the co-participants, that cognitive conflict, and cognitive development, are achieved. (Williams & Burden (1997) confirm the belief that learning is always affected by the environment in which it takes place and, that the impact of context on the learning of language is considerable. They emphasise not only the vital role of the teacher as mediator, but also the need for an environment which supports and develops the self-esteem of students through the building up of trust and confidence.

[Link to Learning Journals research page]


Use and scope of learning logs

Closeup of a child's Learning log
Closeup of a child's Learning log

The process of using learning logs involves developing thinking and learning skills, which are enhanced by a peer partnership system. In this peer system, the children are encouraged to discuss and share their thinking, as well as to develop their learning logs in a collaborative way. They also give the opportunity for the students to provide feedback to their teachers in order to help extend and elaborate their understanding.

A child's learning log
A child's learning log

The learning log allows teachers to quickly and easily share weekly teaching objectives with the children. Once set up the children then take the lead role in sharing and developing their knowledge and understanding and displaying this in a range of styles. The learning log is not an in depth assessment tool but more of a snapshot of what the students have or have not understood in their lesson material.

The learning log can be used at any key stage and for a range of learning activities. It addresses the current creative agenda and has had considerable success with students of a more challenging nature.


Ashman, A. & Conway, R. (1993) Using Cognitive Methods in the Classroom. Routledge, London

Beck, G. M. (1998) The Impact of a Prescriptive Curriculum on the Development of Higher Order Thinking Skills in Children, Unpublished MA dissertation, University of Leicester.

Blagg, N. (1991), Can We Teach Intelligence?, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J.

Brown, A. L., Bransford, J. D., Ferrara, R.A. & Campione, J.C. (1983) Learning, remembering and understanding. In Flavell, J.H. & Markman, E. (Eds) Handbook of child psychology. Vol. 3. Wiley. N. York.

Cavaglioli, O, & Harris, I. (2000), Mapwise:Accelerated Learning Through Visible Thinking, Network Educational Press, Stafford.

Cavaglioli, O, Harris, I, & Tindall, B. (2002) Thinking Skills & Eye Q: Visual Tools for Raising Intelligence, Network Educational Press, Stafford.

Hanks, W.F. (1991) Foreword. in Lavel, J. & , Wenger E. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

McCrindle, A. R. & Christensen, C. A. (1995) The Impact of Learning Journals on Metacognitive and Cognitive Processes and Learning Performance. Learning and Instruction, Vol 5, pp167-185

Meadows, S. (1986) Understanding child development. Unwin Hyman. London.

Neimark, E.D.  (1975) Longitudinal development of formal operations thought. Genetic psychology monographs, 91, pp171-225.

Neimark, E.D.  (1981) Towards the disembedding of formal operations with confounding with cognitive style. in Sigel, I., Brodzinsky, D. & Golinkoff, R. (Eds.) Piagetian theory and research: New directions and applications. Erlbaum. Hillsdale, N.J.

Powell, R. (2006) Personalised Learning in the Classroom, Robert Powell Publications Ltd., Stafford.

Swan, S. & White, R. (1994) The Thinking Books. Falmer Press, London

Williams, M. & Burden, R.L. (1997) Psychology for language teachers. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Wood, D. (1990) How children think and learn. Basil Blackwell. London.