Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Linguistics Journals

I highly suggest incorporating a journal assignment into your course requirements. Your students will appreciate it because it can give them some easy homework points to compensate for what may seem like extraordinarily difficult problem sets. Lest you start to think that this is just a "soft" assignment, however, I like it as a teacher because it encourages students to look for connections between what we do in class and the way they see language being used in the world, and, more importantly, because it gives me a window into their thinking that I might not otherwise have. Journals provide my students with an opportunity to say what they are thinking so that I can see what they like and don't like about class, spot lingering misconceptions about points we've covered, get to know more about their individual personalities, and respond to them on a personal level with my feedback about what they've written. They are also especially useful if you are teaching students whose major is primarily something that you don't have much experience in; for example, if your class is geared to education majors and you have no education coursework in your background, you can find out a lot about what they are doing in their other classes, and how they are connecting those classes to yours, which comes in handy when you plan further lessons and activities. If that's not reason enough to use journals, they are both easy to grade and fun to read!

The key to a successful journal assignment is knowing what you want from your students and communicating it to them clearly. Decide whether you want them explicitly to journal about topics in the chapter you have been covering, whether you want each journal to be on a specific topic of your choice, whether you want them to focus on individual research and things they find outside of class, or whether you are open to anything that interests them (which I highly recommend). You should also decide whether you are willing to let the journal assignment serve as an open forum for students to discuss things they don't like about the class; I did this and I didn't have any problems with it, as I found that students were more likely to say they liked things I was doing but disliked things that the book said.

When you've decided what topics are acceptable, think about how you would assign a grade to each journal. How often are you going to collect journals? Do you care about the length of each entry or just want a certain number of pages turned in each time you collect them? Make sure you give explicit instructions about what you expect in terms of word count or page limits, spacing, fonts, and hand-written versus type-written copies. I also like to give my students fake journal entries that I have made up to illustrate what type of grade I would assign; I grade mine on a scale of "poor," "fair," "good," and "excellent" and show examples of what a journal entry that would earn each of those grades would look like.

You may also want to explore language and linguistics blogs to get an idea of what you might want to ask students to write about, or simply provide links to blogs to inspire your students or give them a topic-starter. You might be interested in looking at some of the following blogs:

General Commentary:
Languagehat
Language Log
Mr. Verb
Wishydig

New Words:
Word Spy

Varieties of English:
Separated by a Common Language
World Wide Words

Followers

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