PhD Tips & Tricks pt 3: Keeping a Teaching Journal

Parts 1 and 2 of this series were general tips for how to plan your PhD and plan the study time for your PhD. These tips were a bit more universal, though my personal experience is only with English departments. This post is about keeping a teaching journal, if you wish to do so. However, not every graduate student is also a teacher, and not every teacher wants to continue teaching. These suggestions are for those who envision teaching as a permanent part of their career, or else those who would like to improve upon their teaching while they are doing it.

These tips are especially for new/beginning teachers, though I think that teaching journals can also be really helpful for seasoned teachers as well. There are several benefits to keeping teaching journals:

1) It helps you to reflect on your lesson plans, how they went, and how you might improve upon them for the next time you teach that class. It might also help you to see connections between lessons that might not have otherwise been made, allowing you better scaffolding.

2) They provide a record for the next time you teach a class. This is my sixth semester teaching and only the second time that I’ve repeated a class. I haven’t taught ENG 101 since Fall of 2014. Over the summer I taught ENG 301 (Writing for the Professions) for the second time, and I dearly wished that I had notes to refer to as I was planning lessons and projects for that class. I kept a teaching journal during that class so I can refer to it the next time I teach ENG 301.

3) They give you a reference point for a teaching portfolio. If you are applying for a teaching position, you are often asked for a teaching portfolio. This usually includes a teaching statement and might ask for specifics of classes you’ve taught in the past. If you’ve kept teaching journals, then you can easily peruse them to help craft the items in a teaching portfolio.

4) It also allows for reflection and reflexivity. As a feminist teacher/scholar, I think that an important part of both teaching and research is reflection. In addition to this allowing you to understand what went well and why, it allows you to more clearly see patterns in behavior and the way the class understands things. For example, I’m noticing that some of my 101 students are great at understanding the overall message/argument of a text, but have trouble getting into specifics (this is not an uncommon problem in ENG 101), but they also show some remarkable insights on things. Reflecting on this and what they respond well to will allow me to better tailor lessons for them. For me, it is also important to cultivate inclusivity and intersectionality, so I also reflect on how my behavior/lesson plans have done this and could do this better.

 

How I set up my teaching journal

As I mentioned previously, I’ve fallen hard down the Bullet Journal rabbit hole. So, my teaching journal somewhat follows a bullet journal system. I use a calendex for my “Semester at a Glance” in which I’ve written down due dates as well as the prompts for online responses.

Calendex Bullet Journal Teacher Planning

Each project is color coded. The first is pink & purple, the second orange & red, and the third blue & brown. The second class is also color coordinated but with a different set of colors (a way to help me keep them separated). I’m teaching two hybrid courses this semester, so I foresee some trouble keeping the classes/due dates straight (nothing in the two classes is due on the same day). So, I’m keeping two separate journals, one for each class.

I do also have an ulterior motive for this: the projects I am teaching this semester will likely be a part of my dissertation research.

Part of the reflection I’m doing for each class if focusing on what my students are doing well. As a teacher, I tend to focus heavily on what we can improve for next time, or just what students aren’t understanding. While this is important to understand for lesson planning, I think it is equally important to see what students excel at. So, I’ve come up with this spread for my daily lesson plans:

daily lesson plan spread

 

Here I have the activities for the day listed at the top, and I follow the general bullet journal guidelines for this. I make an X through the activities we complete, > to migrate other activities (if I decide I want to do them on another day if we don’t get to them), and strikethrough for cancelled activities. After the fact, I take a moment to reflect on what they did well and what they struggled with. In the bottom box, I note things that worked well and things that didn’t along with points that I might need to address in the next class or improve upon the next time that I teach this class.

As you can see this is an online class day, so I’ve just written the prompt that they’re responding to for this week. Face-to-face days generally have anywhere from three to six bullets planned, depending on how long each might take.

 

I hope this was helpful! If you keep a teaching journal, let us know some of your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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