WRITING TO LEARN: DIALOGUE JOURNALS FOR MASTERY IN A READING ASSESSMENT COURSE
Pletcher, Bethanie C.
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Teachers tend to use the word assessment interchangeably with testing. It is important that teacher educators share many forms of assessment with pre-service teachers so that they will be prepared to use them in their own classrooms. This study examines the use of the dialogue journal as both an assessment and learning tool in the literacy assessment course classroom. In order to determine what students wrote about in their journal entries to learn course content, coding and narrative inquiry were used. The researcher analyzed journal entries from 64 students in two sections of a literacy assessment course. Four of those students participated in face-to-face interviews, and the researcher analyzed these transcripts as well. Journal entries and transcripts were coded, and excerpts were categorized by theme. Analysis of the data revealed several findings. First, pre-service teachers told stories about their own experiences as students to make connections with course content and therefore internalize it. Second, pre-service teachers told stories about their observations in the field and linked these to course content as well. Lastly, students recorded that they valued the dialogue journal as both a learning and an assessment tool and used it as a platform to express themselves and reflect on course material and how it connected with their work with children. Implications of this study are that teacher educators should encourage their students to explore their own stories, both personal and from field experiences, so that they can connect these to course content. Instructors can use the dialogue journals to get to know their students as learners and as people. Also, instructors of literacy assessment courses should model aspects of the dialogue journal in order to show their students that, indeed, these are tools for both assessment and subsequent instruction. Students left this course with the understanding that, just as they want to express themselves and be heard, their future students will want these things as well. Just as receiving individualized feedback from their instructor is important to them, the same is true for those whom they will teach. Also, they were given the opportunity, through writing, to retell and relive their stories for the purpose of learning course content, which might inspire them to do the same for their own students. They understand, at this point, that assessment is not identical to “testing,” that there are many ways to assess students’ learning, and journals are one of those. The act of writing with my students has helped me understand that learners have to make solid connections between course content and both prior and concurrent experiences in classrooms. They considered their own experiences as students and their observations in classrooms in order to determine what kind of teachers they will be. They relived their stories on paper so that they can revisit and relive them and carry these experiences into their future classrooms.