In her book, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools, Mariale Hardiman draws upon research to emphasize the benefits of journal writing as both assessment and a means of improving student learning, especially in eliciting meta-cognition. Through reflection-based journal writing, students are free to consider what they have learned and its applications and personal connections to their lives. For typical learners, this is an exemplary means of encouraging students to deepen their awareness of the material while providing teachers insight into students’ understanding. It can create an important dialog about past instruction and guide future lessons.
But what about the twice exceptional (2e) student with reading/writing difficulties? The teacher may be shocked that this kid, who made remarkable applications of the material during group discussions, seems to have a weak grasp of both the journal assignment AND the underlying concepts. The 2e student has written three brief statements that only summarize content. There’s no written evidence that this kid has any higher understanding of the material. It would be fairly easy for the teacher to “forget” the stimulating verbal discussions in the light of this skimpy journal response. Or the teacher may conclude that the student is not applying himself, for some reason, and could spend time trying to motivate the student “to do your best.” Over time, the student may even stop participating in those once-engaging discussions.
What is happening here? The 2e student is being asked to share his complex ideas, the type of analytical thinking he most enjoys, in a form which creates frustration and reinforces feelings of stupidity. The reason for his growing disinterest in those stimulating discussions? He is readying himself, with increasing levels of anxiety, for the time he must translate complex ideas and “long” words into written text. Eventually, he may reason, it would be better not to share those ideas for which he is now accountable to produce in writing. Even seasoned teachers can be perplexed at the disparity which characterizes twice exceptional kids, those gifted students who also have a learning disability.
The good news? In this digital era, there are alternate ways of capturing a student’s voice and supporting meta-cognition without paper and pencil. Using a webcam or an application that allows students to record their thoughts and add images (such as VoiceThread, see note below), the 2e student can successfully share his or her superior reasoning and creative thoughts. Digital portfolios have been used for many years now, with the advantage of being easily stored, portable, and readily shared with families. As with any form of communication, students need assistance in using digital recording effectively. I have found that they are initially distracted by their onscreen image, but once allowed time to produce every silly expression and wacky voice imaginable, they will use digital recordings seriously and effectively. Depending upon available computer resources, digital journals could be an option for all students in a class.
Note: I will share my experiences with VoiceThread in a later post.