Blog Post

TALECS: Making the Case for Documenting Student Progress

Lessons Learned from the TALECS Initiative: Part Two


Picture of teacher standing at whiteboard


Formative Assessment: Teacher Journals

Learning about what and how students are learning can be tricky. A great way to start capturing information on student learning is through your own journaling. Our work with teachers using the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum showed that many ECS teachers were already using performance assessments items (available at and student journals to gather deep knowledge of students’ learning. Incorporating teacher journaling into your instruction can be another tool in your toolkit for documenting student progress.

From Student Journaling to Teacher Journaling

You may already be using student journals as a way of formatively assessing students. Journals have the advantage of getting students to write about their process—not just their products such as working code. Student journals provide a record of their thinking to which you can refer. But students don’t always write down everything they are thinking, and some will have a harder time with writing than others. Sometimes, students need your help while they journal. We heard from ECS teachers that in order to capture more of what students understand, they walked around the classroom, listening and asking probing questions as they visited groups of students working on projects. One teacher noted, “I noticed that when I walk around, students try a little bit harder. Also, it was interesting to see that the students who I thought didn’t do their journal entries because they never share out loud, a lot of them actually do, and I took the opportunity to talk one-on-one with them about their response.”

The problem with these walk-arounds is that there is no permanent record of how students are thinking when it comes time to, for example, plan the next steps in instruction. That’s where your own journal can be helpful. As one teacher observed, “I think it’s extremely handy to have a journal and/or take notes as you are walking around and observing the group’s progress on an activity. Saying to yourself, ‘I will remember to ask Jimmy this, or bring up Laura’s method of solving this problem,’ is fine, but in the heat of the moment, I often forget (or remember after it’s too late) whose method I wanted to highlight, or whose question/difficulty I want to bring up with the entire class. The journal or notes helps ensure that an activity can be debriefed completely (and accurately!).”

Why Make Your Own Teacher Journal?

When we heard about the practice of teacher journaling from Sangeeta Bhatnagar, we knew we had to find out more about what she was doing. In this video, Sangeeta explains how she used teacher journaling as formative assessment. We invite you to go ahead and watch it now.

Building on what Sangeeta said, there are several reasons you may want to try teacher journaling:

  1. Capturing voices that aren’t usually heard in class. By making note of students’ insights, you can bring them forward in a whole class discussion so that all students benefit.
  2. Understanding learners who may approach a problem or a project very differently than you would. This is about equity: hearing the voices of all students—particularly from backgrounds different than yours—and really striving to understand them.
  3. Underscoring to students that you take their thinking seriously. As students see you circulating, notice you listening carefully, and, moreover, taking notes on what they say, they will get the impression that their thinking counts.
  4. Time for reflection. In addition to taking notes while circulating during class, try to find a few moments to reflect in your journal, processing what you heard to find deeper insights.
  5. Planning. The information in your journal is ideal for differentiating instruction, since it captures a range of student thinking. This supports inquiry-oriented teaching, where it is important to build the next steps in instruction on students’ early insights, and the questions they pose themselves.

Now that you know what teacher journaling is and why you should try it, we’ll get down to the nuts and bolts of teacher journaling in a coming blog post. And if you haven’t yet read our first post on how TALECS approached formative assessment, you can find it here.

Groups and Partners


NOTE: SRI Education, in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and our CS for All Teachers community, implemented the TALECS virtual professional development (PD) project from 2017-19 with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) under contract number CNS-1640237. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.