The Many Uses of a Learning Journal

Posted by Greg MacDonald on

Alternative Uses for Learning Journals

When I took my training we were told that the children should keep Work Journals.  This, we understood, meant a “daily record kept by the children that showed the start and finish time of each activity, and the name of that activity”. 

Work Journals are one third of what are often referred to now as Tools of Responsibility in the Montessori elementary.  The other two tools are regular Child/Guide Conferences, and Public School Standards to which the children can refer.  (I will write about these in future blogs.)

When I began my work in the Montessori elementary, I found that this idea of a dated and timed work record was useful for some children, but for others, it was counter-productive.  In the latter case, some children tended to forget to record (some or all of) their activities, causing a great deal of stress, and/or causing them to fabricate entries.  So, I experimented with many alternatives to a timed work record, and arrived at what to this point I consider to be a useful set of alternative uses for this Work Journal document.  Some of these were not my idea – They were suggested by the children.

Elise Huneke-Stone, an AMI elementary Trainer who conducted extensive research into the use of Journals in the Montessori elementary, renamed the Work Journal, calling it a Learning Journal.  This alternative title, which I enthusiastically adopted the moment I became aware of it, reflects the idea that the mode of journalling implemented should match each student’s individual needs, and it should support their overall learning. 

The basic approach to completion of Learning Journal entries is that as each new day begins, the day’s date should be recorded prominently below the previous day’s record.  Underlining the new date, and/or using an alternative color, after a line or two of the Journal is left blank, separates each day’s record clearly.

My personal compilation of Learning Journal uses is as follows, but be aware that children may propose alternative uses that best fit their personal needs:

Baseline Use for a Learning Journal

1.   Presentation Journal

This is the baseline use of a Learning Journal, something that all children do, as a presentation is delivered.  Here, the Guide and/or child records each presentation received.  When a child gives another child a presentation, this may also be recorded, although it is not “required”.  Maintenance of a Presentation Journal is simple, and as a Montessori Guide, you just build it into each presentation that you deliver:  Before you begin the presentation, you announce its name and purpose, and the children record the presentation’s name in their Learning Journal.  (There is no need for them to record the presentation’s purpose.  This is just information that you provide as part of the orientation provided to them.)  You may need to assist younger children to make their entries, or even write it for some whose handwriting is still in the early, formative stage.

This baseline Learning Journal is maintained all elementary children, from 6 through 12.  Their Presentation Journal contains a comprehensive record of all presentations that each child has received.  This is the minimum information that all children should have in their Learning Journals.  Most children will adopt additional uses (see below) for their Journals, but this not required.  They will add more information when, if, and as it supports their learning.   


All of the following alternative Learning Journal uses are additions to this baseline use, which is maintained by the children alongside whatever additional uses they may choose to adopt.


Additional Uses for a Learning Journal

2.   Work Record Journal

The children record each activity that they engage in during the day.  Start/finish times are not recorded, so the result is a consecutive list of work done each day.  A Work Record Journal will therefore contain presentations received from the Guide that day (the baseline Presentation Journal entries) and also a record of the work that the child undertook each day. 

3.   Timed Work Record Journal

The children record each activity that they engage in during the day.  They also record the start time and finish time for each activity.  One way to do this is to write the start time before the text for each entry, and the end time at the end of each entry.  This is the "original" Work Journal approach to which I was introduced during my own training (see above).  As they occur, Presentation Journal entries are added to these timed work records.  

4.   Planner

The children record a sequence of activities that they intend to complete.  The time span for this sequence may extend over a morning/afternoon, or a full day, or for parts of a morning/afternoon session at a time.  Multi-day plans may also evolve from this use of a Learning Journal, particularly in the case of older children.  Use of a Learning Journal as a Planner tends to be more useful for upper elementary children, and it is not an approach that should be imposed on children, particularly those in the lower elementary. 

5.   Personal Diary

(Sometimes a separate and private document.)  The children record their thoughts, reflections, learning, etc. in their Learning Journal, using it as a diary.  If the child makes an entry that he/she does not want anyone (including the Guide) to read, because it’s private, then the page is folded over lengthwise, so that the text is hidden.  No one, including an adult, is authorized to read these entries without the child’s permission.  This includes the Guide, and it should also include parents.  The child’s privacy must be respected.  I can say unreservedly that I never unfolded a child’s private diary pages and read the contents. 

6.    Hybrid Journal

A Hybrid Learning Journal contains a combination of various Learning Journal uses.  Such a journal may have pages that involve planning on some days, but elsewhere there are presentation records, dated work records, and diary entries etc.  Some children may consistently use a particular set of additional Journal types, while others may cycle through them, or use one or more for a time before abandoning these in favor of other alternatives.  Here again, what is useful to the child, what supports each child’s learning, is the benchmark.

7.   Summation of Learning Journal

(Often a separate document.) This is generally a use of the Learning Journal for children in their final elementary year.  In the final part of their final year, and over a period of days/weeks, they visit each classroom shelf and material in turn.  For each material, they recall and reflect upon the presentations received and what the material has taught them, and they record relevant facts, formulae, and information. 

8.   Field Journal

(May be a separate document.)  Children who undertake long-term studies and research and/or regular going outs to work with a mentor adult, may record their experiences and learning (using texts, diagrams, illustrations, samples etc.) in a Field Journal. This becomes a ready reference that supports them as they continue their work in whatever field they have chosen.

9.   Graduation Journal

Some schools periodically ask the children to prepare (and/or to provide recent examples of) work that is completed to a high standard.  The work covers a wide range of subjects, and it is dated.  It is stored, year by year, in a dedicated office file for each child.  At the time of each child’s graduation/leaving the school, the work is organized chronologically and mounted in a high-quality book/binder.  As a Graduation Journal, it is presented to each child as part of their graduation.  (Graduation Journals often have pride of place in the office bookcases of Montessori children who are now adults!)


This is a brief overview of the many ways in which a Learning Journal may be used in a Montessori Elementary class.  A final thought, emphasized by Elise Huneke-Stone, and seconded by me: 

Learning Journals should never become tools of oppression. 

Learning Journals must at all times be seen by children as tools for learning.  If their Guide is constantly checking their Learning Journals, correcting them, holding children to account for what has or hasn’t been recorded/done, criticizing whatever has been entered, etc., then the power of Learning Journals is obliterated.  Learning Journals become a drudgery, a source of fear, and largely useless. 

Of course, once the Presentation Journal is established as the minimum requirement for all Journals, a use that is not invasive, and that is simple for the children to maintain (because their Guide has established a tradition of making these entries with them at the beginning of a presentation), there is really no pretext for any of these acts of “oppression”, because Presentation Journals are completed pretty much on “automatic”! 

... And as you and the children use Presentation Journals to enrich learning (in child/Guide conferences, for example), the motivation to explore other uses for a Learning Journal surges.



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