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Unformatted text preview: Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Educational research Christensen, 1995). Such journals can also be important for students’ motivation. Using a learning log to support students’ learning in biology lessons Karen Stephens1 and Mark Winterbottom 2 1 King Edward VI School, Bury St. Edmunds, UK, and 2 Faculty of Education, The University of Cambridge, UK Learning logs or reflective journals are frequently used in further and higher education to encourage students’ reflection on their learning. Such approaches are rare in school. This study employed a learning log over a five-week period, with a class of 14-15 year old students learning about digestion, respiration and breathing at a Suffolk upper school in the UK. The study aimed to establish (1) how the learning log can prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities and increase cognitive control of learning strategies, and (2) how greater understanding of learning strategies may affects students’ motivation to learn. The learning logs themselves formed one source of data. Student reflections on the learning benefits of classroom activities were also assessed through classroom dialogue and semi-structured interviews. Motivation was assessed at the start and at the end of the teaching sequence, using a questionnaire. The learning log did stimulate student reflection, but did not prompt the level of learning strategy awareness that emerged in the semi-structured interviews. Suggestions are made (1) for modifications to the learning log, and (2) for how the learning log can provide a mechanism for continuous student feedback on teaching and learning activities. Key words: Digestion; Respiration; Breathing; Learning log; Reflective journal; Metacognition. Introduction One way to promote learning and greater independence in learning is to bring learning itself to consciousness and to make it explicit (Watkins, 2001). The term metacognition was introduced by Flavell (1979) to refer to such an awareness of one’s own cognitive processes and the ability to control and manage those processes. It relates a learner’s knowledge of personal characteristics, knowledge of the task to be completed and knowledge of the strategies available, to those strategies used to select, execute, monitor and control tasks (Flavell, 1987). This requires reflection by the learner, to achieve metacognitive control or self-regulation. In this study, we examine how learning logs can facilitate this process in a class of 14-15 year old students learning about breathing, digestion and respiration. Reflective learning Reflective learning is facilitated by making learners’ own understanding more apparent to them, and by involving learners in actively processing their learning (Gibbs, 1991). A number of authors highlight the importance of reflection in students’ learning. Kember et al (1999) categorise learners as non-reflectors, reflectors and critical reflectors, while Scanlon and Chernomas (1997) identify stages in reflection as (1) awareness, (2) critical analysis, and (3) taking a new perspective (they emphasise the importance of awareness, without which reflection will 72 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 not occur). Experiential learning theory divides the learning process into pre-experience, experience, reflection and integration (Hutchinson and Allen, 1997), whilst Kolb’s ‘learning cycle’ indicates that activists have an experience, reflectors review the experience, theorists conclude from the experience and pragmatists use the experience to plan the next steps (Kolb, 1984). Developing an awareness of the learning process and self-regulation through reflection can improve the effectiveness of study (Evans et al, 2003). There are a number of ways to help students achieve such awareness and reflection, including: (1) use of student selfassessment, where the teacher provides an overview of the topic that allows students to see the learning aims, their current knowledge and how to close the gap between the two (Black et al, 2002); (2) using activities that help students to resolve new knowledge with everyday phenomena (Black et al, 2002); and (3) asking students to apply knowledge to a new problem, which can stimulate higher cognitive functions, sophisticated learning strategies and reflection on strategies for approaching learning. Reflective learning journals Other research suggests that reflective learning journals can develop metacognition through enhancing students’ awareness of their cognitive processes and their management of these processes (McCrindle and Reflective learning journals and metacognition Reflective journals can encourage personal and professional reflection, analysis, planning and evaluation, and can help students to synthesise knowledge and reflect upon its impact on their learning and personal experiences through self-enquiry (Holly, 1989). Even by simply putting their thoughts on paper, students are often better able to recognise them (Fuher, 1994). Reflective journals in science have led to improved communication skills (Harmelink, 1998) and in mathematics to improved conceptualisation of technical definitions (Selfe et al, 1986). Although in some cases reflective journals have been used for the dual purpose of stimulating reflection and assessment, encouraging learner responsibility, ownership and open reflection may not comply with the need to secure standardised assessment information (Barclay, 1996). It also confuses the separate processes of personal reflection, and achieving learning outcomes through reflective strategies (Cowan, 1992). There are some recorded problems with reflective journals. Many students do not initially understand how reflective journals may help them, feeling that reflection is over-emphasised, and failing to see relevance to their learning (Francis, 1995; Langer, 2002). Even for those engaged with the task, the time requirement to complete journals is a distinct disadvantage (Langer, 2002). Reflective learning may also not be equally helpful to all learners; some even find reflection “unhelpful and alien to their way of thinking” (Fowler and Chevannes, 1998). Reflective learning journals and motivation Notwithstanding these problems, reflective journals and learning logs do appear to have value in developing metacognitive skills, individual study skills and recognition of what constitutes a good learning experience. Based on the outcome of previous studies (Silberfield, 2000; McLellan, 2005), greater awareness of learning, and resulting improvements in study effectiveness, should also be reflected by a shift in academic motivation towards (1) the task and egooriented categories of achievement goal theory (Seifert, 2004), (2) increasingly intrinsic or internal attributions of performance related to learning (Weiner, 1985), and (3) enhanced self-worth (Covington, 1984). Relevant motivational theories are summarised below. Achievement goal theory assumes students wish to achieve goals. It then sub-divides students’ academic motivation in working towards these goals into three categories: ‘task’, ‘ego-oriented’ and ‘work-avoidant’ (Seifert, 2004). Students pursuing task goals focus on the methods of achieving goals, attributing performance to internal factors and showing more self-worth in their statements. Students pursuing ego-oriented goals focus on performance toward the goals, attributing performance to ‘ability’ as a fixed and uncontrollable entity, or to external factors and showing less self-worth in their statements (Seifert, 2004). Students in the work-avoidant category do not make an effort towards achieving goals, potentially due to disengagement with the material, to protect self-worth or because they are unable to complete the activities (Seifert, 2004). Attribution theory states that an individual’s perceptions or attributions of the outcome of an episode of academic learning produce an emotional response, which affects subsequent learning (Weiner, 1985). Three main dimensions to attributions have been identified: where the cause originates (internal or external), the duration of the cause, and whether the individual can control the cause. Views of selfefficacy can influence attributions, especially whether a cause is assigned to personal responsibility or external agency (Bandura, 1993). Self-efficacy theory suggests that students’ confidence levels, and perception of their own capability, may affect achievement through a number of channels including level of cognitive processing, motivation, self-worth, performance and metacognition (Bandura, 1993). Self-worth theory relates motivation to students’ attempts to influence their self-worth. In an academic environment, performance can be linked to selfworth (Covington, 1984). The ability and effort a student relates to performance can lead to shame (low ability, high effort) or guilt (high ability, low effort). Consequently students may implement strategies to protect their self-worth by excusing poor performance should it occur (Covington, 1984). Research questions Different authors define different types of reflective learning journals in different ways (Cowan, 1992). Following Wagner’s (1999) nomenclature, in this study we employ a learning log, which refers to a regularly kept record about facts or performance, relating to certain occurrences. Prior studies of reflective learning journals as a whole tend to derive from contexts in further or higher education (although Paris and Ayers [1994] did use them with junior school pupils), and as such, using them with 1415 year old pupils within biology lessons is relatively novel. This study aims to establish (1) how use of a learning log can prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities within biology lessons and increase cognitive control of learning strategies, and (2) how greater understanding of learning strategies may affect students’ motivation to learn. Method Context The study involved a class of thirty (11 boys and 19 girls) 14-15 year old students at an Upper School for 13-18 year olds in Suffolk, UK. Students were informed they were participating in a research study and anonymity was guaranteed. All students were British, with all but one being of white ethnicity, and none had a statement of special educational needs. During the period when the learning log was employed, students were learning about digestion, respiration and breathing. JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 73 Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Educational research Christensen, 1995). Such journals can also be important for students’ motivation. Using a learning log to support students’ learning in biology lessons Karen Stephens1 and Mark Winterbottom 2 1 King Edward VI School, Bury St. Edmunds, UK, and 2 Faculty of Education, The University of Cambridge, UK Learning logs or reflective journals are frequently used in further and higher education to encourage students’ reflection on their learning. Such approaches are rare in school. This study employed a learning log over a five-week period, with a class of 14-15 year old students learning about digestion, respiration and breathing at a Suffolk upper school in the UK. The study aimed to establish (1) how the learning log can prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities and increase cognitive control of learning strategies, and (2) how greater understanding of learning strategies may affects students’ motivation to learn. The learning logs themselves formed one source of data. Student reflections on the learning benefits of classroom activities were also assessed through classroom dialogue and semi-structured interviews. Motivation was assessed at the start and at the end of the teaching sequence, using a questionnaire. The learning log did stimulate student reflection, but did not prompt the level of learning strategy awareness that emerged in the semi-structured interviews. Suggestions are made (1) for modifications to the learning log, and (2) for how the learning log can provide a mechanism for continuous student feedback on teaching and learning activities. Key words: Digestion; Respiration; Breathing; Learning log; Reflective journal; Metacognition. Introduction One way to promote learning and greater independence in learning is to bring learning itself to consciousness and to make it explicit (Watkins, 2001). The term metacognition was introduced by Flavell (1979) to refer to such an awareness of one’s own cognitive processes and the ability to control and manage those processes. It relates a learner’s knowledge of personal characteristics, knowledge of the task to be completed and knowledge of the strategies available, to those strategies used to select, execute, monitor and control tasks (Flavell, 1987). This requires reflection by the learner, to achieve metacognitive control or self-regulation. In this study, we examine how learning logs can facilitate this process in a class of 14-15 year old students learning about breathing, digestion and respiration. Reflective learning Reflective learning is facilitated by making learners’ own understanding more apparent to them, and by involving learners in actively processing their learning (Gibbs, 1991). A number of authors highlight the importance of reflection in students’ learning. Kember et al (1999) categorise learners as non-reflectors, reflectors and critical reflectors, while Scanlon and Chernomas (1997) identify stages in reflection as (1) awareness, (2) critical analysis, and (3) taking a new perspective (they emphasise the importance of awareness, without which reflection will 72 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 not occur). Experiential learning theory divides the learning process into pre-experience, experience, reflection and integration (Hutchinson and Allen, 1997), whilst Kolb’s ‘learning cycle’ indicates that activists have an experience, reflectors review the experience, theorists conclude from the experience and pragmatists use the experience to plan the next steps (Kolb, 1984). Developing an awareness of the learning process and self-regulation through reflection can improve the effectiveness of study (Evans et al, 2003). There are a number of ways to help students achieve such awareness and reflection, including: (1) use of student selfassessment, where the teacher provides an overview of the topic that allows students to see the learning aims, their current knowledge and how to close the gap between the two (Black et al, 2002); (2) using activities that help students to resolve new knowledge with everyday phenomena (Black et al, 2002); and (3) asking students to apply knowledge to a new problem, which can stimulate higher cognitive functions, sophisticated learning strategies and reflection on strategies for approaching learning. Reflective learning journals Other research suggests that reflective learning journals can develop metacognition through enhancing students’ awareness of their cognitive processes and their management of these processes (McCrindle and Reflective learning journals and metacognition Reflective journals can encourage personal and professional reflection, analysis, planning and evaluation, and can help students to synthesise knowledge and reflect upon its impact on their learning and personal experiences through self-enquiry (Holly, 1989). Even by simply putting their thoughts on paper, students are often better able to recognise them (Fuher, 1994). Reflective journals in science have led to improved communication skills (Harmelink, 1998) and in mathematics to improved conceptualisation of technical definitions (Selfe et al, 1986). Although in some cases reflective journals have been used for the dual purpose of stimulating reflection and assessment, encouraging learner responsibility, ownership and open reflection may not comply with the need to secure standardised assessment information (Barclay, 1996). It also confuses the separate processes of personal reflection, and achieving learning outcomes through reflective strategies (Cowan, 1992). There are some recorded problems with reflective journals. Many students do not initially understand how reflective journals may help them, feeling that reflection is over-emphasised, and failing to see relevance to their learning (Francis, 1995; Langer, 2002). Even for those engaged with the task, the time requirement to complete journals is a distinct disadvantage (Langer, 2002). Reflective learning may also not be equally helpful to all learners; some even find reflection “unhelpful and alien to their way of thinking” (Fowler and Chevannes, 1998). Reflective learning journals and motivation Notwithstanding these problems, reflective journals and learning logs do appear to have value in developing metacognitive skills, individual study skills and recognition of what constitutes a good learning experience. Based on the outcome of previous studies (Silberfield, 2000; McLellan, 2005), greater awareness of learning, and resulting improvements in study effectiveness, should also be reflected by a shift in academic motivation towards (1) the task and egooriented categories of achievement goal theory (Seifert, 2004), (2) increasingly intrinsic or internal attributions of performance related to learning (Weiner, 1985), and (3) enhanced self-worth (Covington, 1984). Relevant motivational theories are summarised below. Achievement goal theory assumes students wish to achieve goals. It then sub-divides students’ academic motivation in working towards these goals into three categories: ‘task’, ‘ego-oriented’ and ‘work-avoidant’ (Seifert, 2004). Students pursuing task goals focus on the methods of achieving goals, attributing performance to internal factors and showing more self-worth in their statements. Students pursuing ego-oriented goals focus on performance toward the goals, attributing performance to ‘ability’ as a fixed and uncontrollable entity, or to external factors and showing less self-worth in their statements (Seifert, 2004). Students in the work-avoidant category do not make an effort towards achieving goals, potentially due to disengagement with the material, to protect self-worth or because they are unable to complete the activities (Seifert, 2004). Attribution theory states that an individual’s perceptions or attributions of the outcome of an episode of academic learning produce an emotional response, which affects subsequent learning (Weiner, 1985). Three main dimensions to attributions have been identified: where the cause originates (internal or external), the duration of the cause, and whether the individual can control the cause. Views of selfefficacy can influence attributions, especially whether a cause is assigned to personal responsibility or external agency (Bandura, 1993). Self-efficacy theory suggests that students’ confidence levels, and perception of their own capability, may affect achievement through a number of channels including level of cognitive processing, motivation, self-worth, performance and metacognition (Bandura, 1993). Self-worth theory relates motivation to students’ attempts to influence their self-worth. In an academic environment, performance can be linked to selfworth (Covington, 1984). The ability and effort a student relates to performance can lead to shame (low ability, high effort) or guilt (high ability, low effort). Consequently students may implement strategies to protect their self-worth by excusing poor performance should it occur (Covington, 1984). Research questions Different authors define different types of reflective learning journals in different ways (Cowan, 1992). Following Wagner’s (1999) nomenclature, in this study we employ a learning log, which refers to a regularly kept record about facts or performance, relating to certain occurrences. Prior studies of reflective learning journals as a whole tend to derive from contexts in further or higher education (although Paris and Ayers [1994] did use them with junior school pupils), and as such, using them with 1415 year old pupils within biology lessons is relatively novel. This study aims to establish (1) how use of a learning log can prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities within biology lessons and increase cognitive control of learning strategies, and (2) how greater understanding of learning strategies may affect students’ motivation to learn. Method Context The study involved a class of thirty (11 boys and 19 girls) 14-15 year old students at an Upper School for 13-18 year olds in Suffolk, UK. Students were informed they were participating in a research study and anonymity was guaranteed. All students were British, with all but one being of white ethnicity, and none had a statement of special educational needs. During the period when the learning log was employed, students were learning about digestion, respiration and breathing. JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 73 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Methodology This study takes the form of a case study. Drawing on the features of a case study defined by Yin (2003), it (a) provides an in-depth exploration of the use of a learning log; (b) within the context of a class of 14-15 year old children which is subject to a number of different variables which are difficult to separate or control; (c) considers research questions concerned with ‘how’; (d) is set in a context where we have limited control over how students will respond to the learning logs; and (e) is set in a context where it is appropriate to use prior development of theoretical ideas to guide data collection and analysis. Design of the learning log Previous studies from further and higher education report students’ initial concerns about using reflective journals, and their uncertainty about the nature of critical reflection required; studies using learning journals in science disciplines found that students did not initially understand how journals can help them (Francis, 1995; Harmelink, 1998; Langer, 2002). As such, Thorpe (2004) recommends that teachers should define clear objectives for students to follow. Although students can practise “capturing experiences and constructing understanding” (Rowell, 1998) through writing, such an approach is not appropriate for all students, and many may also have difficulty designing their own presentation formats (Langer, 2002). The study habits of some students, which allow tasks to build up until just before a deadline, can prevent the frequent reflection on learning that the journals are intended to inspire (Canning, 1991; Langer, 2002), although requiring completion of a journal during a lesson can also render students’ responses mechanical (Langer, 2002). The contribution of a reflective journal to students’ learning must be balanced with other demands on time within a crowded curriculum (Hyers, 2001); likewise, although quick and detailed written feedback from a teacher on each entry does increase the efficacy of a reflective journal (Zimmerman, 1991; Thorpe 2004), this is also time consuming (Paris and Ayres, 1994). Having considered these issues, we produced a learning log for completion each lesson, which had a common format for all students and avoided the need for extended writing (see Figure 1). The questions were designed to raise awareness of, and elicit information on, students’ perceptions of their learning. To determine whether students associated personal (internal) effort outside the classroom (on both homework and independent work) with increased learning, we asked them to record how much work they did outside lesson time and how much they learnt. Student cognisance of learning objectives, for the lesson and its component parts, was recorded to establish the clarity of the activities’ purpose (Millar, 1996), and questions were posed on the difficulty and ease of tasks. These factors are all affected by prior knowledge, pace and pedagogical delivery (Leach and Scott, 1995). 74 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Figure 1. Format of the learning log. Additional data collection and analysis At the end of each lesson, students were asked to complete the learning log as outlined above. Results from the learning logs enable analysis of students’ perceptions of the learning benefits of classroom activities, and how they contribute to learning. Summed data for the student perceptions of learning associated with clarity, difficulty, transferable skills and confidence in knowledge were collated, and whole-class means calculated. Additional data sources included recordings of classroom dialogue, a semi-structured interview, and a questionnaire. Classroom dialogue and semi-structured interview To establish students’ conceptions of learning and to provide additional information on metacognitive awareness and control, student reflections were obtained through recording of classroom dialogue and a semistructured interview, with participation on a voluntary basis outside lesson time. The semi-structured interview was based around the following initial questions. (1) What makes you want to learn about biology? (2) What types of activities in biology lessons help you to learn? (3) What do you do when you find something difficult to learn? (4) In what careers do people use skills learnt in biology lessons? Follow-up questions were used to probe student responses more deeply in response to their initial ideas. Each set of dialogue and each interview were audiorecorded and transcribed. Underlying themes were analysed in all such qualitative data (including free response sections in the learning log) by a process of coding. This process began by identifying a set of descriptive codes that were derived from the students’ own words, and which did not presuppose the nature of students’ responses. These were then used to construct a set of themes, which appeared to represent the data appropriately, in light of the conceptual framework outlined above. These are evident in the presentation of results below. Participation in the interview was voluntary. It should be noted that participants are likely to be more studious members of the class. To establish students’ views on opportunities to use transferable skills and the impact this has on their learning, we asked questions on communication and practical skills. To determine whether students’ confidence in their knowledge related to how much they felt that they had learnt, students were asked to record whether they would be able to apply knowledge from the lesson (Bandura, 1993). To investigate whether students appreciated the relevance of lesson material, we asked them to reflect upon careers options that would require understanding of the lesson ideas (see Langer (2002)). Finally, to establish if students made the link between selfappraisal of personal (internal) effort and learning, students were asked to comment on how well they thought they had learnt. Feedback on learning log entries was given to specific students verbally, rather than in writing, during the subsequent class; either to acknowledge comments made, to ask questions to prompt reflection, or to suggest alternative strategies. Questionnaire To examine whether the learning log realised its potential for developing reflective thinking and metacognition, resultant changes in students’ motivations, attributions and self-concept were measured using a questionnaire. The questionnaire (from McLellan 2005) was completed in the first and final weeks of this study. It is divided into four sections, analysing: (1) motivation, (2) success belief attribution, (3) failure belief attribution, and (4) selfconcept. Within the first section examining motivation, the questionnaire aims to elicit student responses to a number of issues previously classified within achievement goal theory as stereotypical for (i) task-oriented, (ii) egooriented (iii) work avoidant, and (iv) alienated students (Seifert, 2004). The second and third sections examine the attributions (reasons) that students give for their success or failure respectively. Section four examines student perceptions of self-concept, or self-worth, which, according to self-worth theory, can be associated with performance in an academic environment (Covington, 1984). Self-worth is related to student confidence levels (see also self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1993)) and can affect the ability and effort a student is willing to invest in their performance (Covington, 1984). Individuals’ scores on each are analysed by summing their responses to these groups of questions. Analysis was via descriptive and non-parametric statistics (namely the Wilcoxon signed-rank test). McLellan (2005) identified six common profiles of student based upon cluster analysis of similar data. The task profile was identified for a group of students primarily motivated to master the work. The performance profile applies to students motivated by both the task and the desire to demonstrate their capability. Performance by the easy route applies to students who are motivated by the task, but take shortcuts to achieve their aims. Strong responders score highly in all dimensions. The work avoidant and alienated are ‘just that’, and the disenchanted are not particularly motivated to understand or demonstrate their ability. After summation of our data, students were allocated to the most appropriate of these categories. Categorisation was based primarily on examination of each student’s relative score in the four categories (see McLellan 2005). Results and discussion 1. How does use of a learning log prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities and increase cognitive control of learning strategies? Completing learning logs provided students with a chance to reflect on their own learning. The learning logs demonstrated that students in this class reflectively made links between improved learning, and factors that have previously been observed to increase the effectiveness of learning (namely, clarity of objectives, perceived difficulty, transferable skills, confidence, and relevance of learning) (Covington, 1984; Entwhistle, 1987; Bandura, 1993) (Figure 2). Clarity During the first two weeks of the project, students generally recognised that learning objectives were clear, and tasks were clearly related to learning objectives, but they did not indicate that these attributes had helped them to learn. However, as the study continued, students’ views of value to learning began to mirror the extent to which learning objectives were clear, and the extent to which tasks were related to learning objectives (Figure 2a). Perceived difficulty The perceived level of difficulty presented by the learning material and students’ reflections on associated learning showed the greatest discrepancy of the factors examined (Figure 2b). Despite a reported low level of difficulty with the work, students still perceived themselves to be learning, suggesting that they were encountering either new information or new situations for interacting with JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 75 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Methodology This study takes the form of a case study. Drawing on the features of a case study defined by Yin (2003), it (a) provides an in-depth exploration of the use of a learning log; (b) within the context of a class of 14-15 year old children which is subject to a number of different variables which are difficult to separate or control; (c) considers research questions concerned with ‘how’; (d) is set in a context where we have limited control over how students will respond to the learning logs; and (e) is set in a context where it is appropriate to use prior development of theoretical ideas to guide data collection and analysis. Design of the learning log Previous studies from further and higher education report students’ initial concerns about using reflective journals, and their uncertainty about the nature of critical reflection required; studies using learning journals in science disciplines found that students did not initially understand how journals can help them (Francis, 1995; Harmelink, 1998; Langer, 2002). As such, Thorpe (2004) recommends that teachers should define clear objectives for students to follow. Although students can practise “capturing experiences and constructing understanding” (Rowell, 1998) through writing, such an approach is not appropriate for all students, and many may also have difficulty designing their own presentation formats (Langer, 2002). The study habits of some students, which allow tasks to build up until just before a deadline, can prevent the frequent reflection on learning that the journals are intended to inspire (Canning, 1991; Langer, 2002), although requiring completion of a journal during a lesson can also render students’ responses mechanical (Langer, 2002). The contribution of a reflective journal to students’ learning must be balanced with other demands on time within a crowded curriculum (Hyers, 2001); likewise, although quick and detailed written feedback from a teacher on each entry does increase the efficacy of a reflective journal (Zimmerman, 1991; Thorpe 2004), this is also time consuming (Paris and Ayres, 1994). Having considered these issues, we produced a learning log for completion each lesson, which had a common format for all students and avoided the need for extended writing (see Figure 1). The questions were designed to raise awareness of, and elicit information on, students’ perceptions of their learning. To determine whether students associated personal (internal) effort outside the classroom (on both homework and independent work) with increased learning, we asked them to record how much work they did outside lesson time and how much they learnt. Student cognisance of learning objectives, for the lesson and its component parts, was recorded to establish the clarity of the activities’ purpose (Millar, 1996), and questions were posed on the difficulty and ease of tasks. These factors are all affected by prior knowledge, pace and pedagogical delivery (Leach and Scott, 1995). 74 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Figure 1. Format of the learning log. Additional data collection and analysis At the end of each lesson, students were asked to complete the learning log as outlined above. Results from the learning logs enable analysis of students’ perceptions of the learning benefits of classroom activities, and how they contribute to learning. Summed data for the student perceptions of learning associated with clarity, difficulty, transferable skills and confidence in knowledge were collated, and whole-class means calculated. Additional data sources included recordings of classroom dialogue, a semi-structured interview, and a questionnaire. Classroom dialogue and semi-structured interview To establish students’ conceptions of learning and to provide additional information on metacognitive awareness and control, student reflections were obtained through recording of classroom dialogue and a semistructured interview, with participation on a voluntary basis outside lesson time. The semi-structured interview was based around the following initial questions. (1) What makes you want to learn about biology? (2) What types of activities in biology lessons help you to learn? (3) What do you do when you find something difficult to learn? (4) In what careers do people use skills learnt in biology lessons? Follow-up questions were used to probe student responses more deeply in response to their initial ideas. Each set of dialogue and each interview were audiorecorded and transcribed. Underlying themes were analysed in all such qualitative data (including free response sections in the learning log) by a process of coding. This process began by identifying a set of descriptive codes that were derived from the students’ own words, and which did not presuppose the nature of students’ responses. These were then used to construct a set of themes, which appeared to represent the data appropriately, in light of the conceptual framework outlined above. These are evident in the presentation of results below. Participation in the interview was voluntary. It should be noted that participants are likely to be more studious members of the class. To establish students’ views on opportunities to use transferable skills and the impact this has on their learning, we asked questions on communication and practical skills. To determine whether students’ confidence in their knowledge related to how much they felt that they had learnt, students were asked to record whether they would be able to apply knowledge from the lesson (Bandura, 1993). To investigate whether students appreciated the relevance of lesson material, we asked them to reflect upon careers options that would require understanding of the lesson ideas (see Langer (2002)). Finally, to establish if students made the link between selfappraisal of personal (internal) effort and learning, students were asked to comment on how well they thought they had learnt. Feedback on learning log entries was given to specific students verbally, rather than in writing, during the subsequent class; either to acknowledge comments made, to ask questions to prompt reflection, or to suggest alternative strategies. Questionnaire To examine whether the learning log realised its potential for developing reflective thinking and metacognition, resultant changes in students’ motivations, attributions and self-concept were measured using a questionnaire. The questionnaire (from McLellan 2005) was completed in the first and final weeks of this study. It is divided into four sections, analysing: (1) motivation, (2) success belief attribution, (3) failure belief attribution, and (4) selfconcept. Within the first section examining motivation, the questionnaire aims to elicit student responses to a number of issues previously classified within achievement goal theory as stereotypical for (i) task-oriented, (ii) egooriented (iii) work avoidant, and (iv) alienated students (Seifert, 2004). The second and third sections examine the attributions (reasons) that students give for their success or failure respectively. Section four examines student perceptions of self-concept, or self-worth, which, according to self-worth theory, can be associated with performance in an academic environment (Covington, 1984). Self-worth is related to student confidence levels (see also self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1993)) and can affect the ability and effort a student is willing to invest in their performance (Covington, 1984). Individuals’ scores on each are analysed by summing their responses to these groups of questions. Analysis was via descriptive and non-parametric statistics (namely the Wilcoxon signed-rank test). McLellan (2005) identified six common profiles of student based upon cluster analysis of similar data. The task profile was identified for a group of students primarily motivated to master the work. The performance profile applies to students motivated by both the task and the desire to demonstrate their capability. Performance by the easy route applies to students who are motivated by the task, but take shortcuts to achieve their aims. Strong responders score highly in all dimensions. The work avoidant and alienated are ‘just that’, and the disenchanted are not particularly motivated to understand or demonstrate their ability. After summation of our data, students were allocated to the most appropriate of these categories. Categorisation was based primarily on examination of each student’s relative score in the four categories (see McLellan 2005). Results and discussion 1. How does use of a learning log prompt reflection on the learning benefits of classroom activities and increase cognitive control of learning strategies? Completing learning logs provided students with a chance to reflect on their own learning. The learning logs demonstrated that students in this class reflectively made links between improved learning, and factors that have previously been observed to increase the effectiveness of learning (namely, clarity of objectives, perceived difficulty, transferable skills, confidence, and relevance of learning) (Covington, 1984; Entwhistle, 1987; Bandura, 1993) (Figure 2). Clarity During the first two weeks of the project, students generally recognised that learning objectives were clear, and tasks were clearly related to learning objectives, but they did not indicate that these attributes had helped them to learn. However, as the study continued, students’ views of value to learning began to mirror the extent to which learning objectives were clear, and the extent to which tasks were related to learning objectives (Figure 2a). Perceived difficulty The perceived level of difficulty presented by the learning material and students’ reflections on associated learning showed the greatest discrepancy of the factors examined (Figure 2b). Despite a reported low level of difficulty with the work, students still perceived themselves to be learning, suggesting that they were encountering either new information or new situations for interacting with JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 75 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Figure 2. Mean student perceptions of the extent of (a) clarity, (b) difficulty, (c) transferable skills and (d) confidence in knowledge and the extent to which they helped their learning, taken from learning logs over the period of this study (means were calculated by allocating scores as follows: 1 = None/ not at all, 2 = A little / Not very much, 3 = Quite a lot / Quite, and 4 = A lot / Very; 1 = Learn nothing, 2 = Learn a little, 3 = Learn quite a lot, and 4 = Learn a lot). (a) 4 Extent – objectives clarity Learning – objectives clarity Extent – tasks clarity Learning – tasks clarity 3.5 Clarity 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 Ease/Difficulty (b) 4 1 2 3 3.5 3 4 5 Week of study Extent – difficulty Learning – difficulty Extent – ease Learning – ease 2.5 2 1.5 Transferable skills (c) 1 4 1 2 3 3.5 3 4 5 Week of study Extent – communication skills Learning – communication skills Extent – practical skills Learning – practical skills 2.5 1.5 Confidence (d) 4 Confidence Confidence in subject knowledge was the factor most closely associated with students’ perceptions of its value to learning (Figure 2d). This is unsurprising, as students are only likely to be confident of being able to learn more if they feel confident of their relevant prior learning. Relevance Students’ perceptions of the relevance of what they had learnt were determined by indirect means, by testing students’ ability to think of job specifications that require them to know the taught content. This approach of reflecting on career opportunities, employed before by Langer (2002), prompted students to give three main groups of employment: scientific work, medical work and teaching (see Table 1). Within each group, a number of job titles were suggested, showing a range of applications for learning from the lessons. During the semi-structured interview the motivations given for learning biology were Table 1. Applications of learning suggested by students (each career was named by one student unless otherwise indicated in brackets). 2 1 we could touch what we saw”; “The dissection is fun and helps you to learn”) and semi-structured interviews; for example, reference was made to demonstrations involving students from earlier in the module, “I like the cream cracker one and the drinking one” (Student 11), and to other potential activities, “Stuff where we get to go somewhere…like field trips and stuff…the zoo” (Student 19). Week 1 1 2 3 3.5 4 5 Week of study Extent – confidence in knowledge Learning – confidence in knowledge Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 scientist (2) scientist (2) scientist scientist scientist biologist (2) biologist (3) chemist (2) anatomist biologist pathologist (3) marine biologist (2) zoologist a worm scientist (2) 3 a scientist working for the WHO 2.5 2 doctor (4) doctor (4) doctor (9) doctor (5) doctor (5) dietician surgeon (4) nurse (3) surgeon (2) 1 doctor – in case you swallow the wrong thing paramedics heart surgeon (7) vein person 1.5 1 2 3 4 5 Week of study information. It may be that the spiral nature of the English curriculum means students recognise material, which leads them to believe it is easy, whilst the activities actually require them to learn new content and ways of applying it. nutritionalist heart surgeon (2) vet lung transplant surgeon vet (2) Transferable skills Although students did not recognise many opportunities for developing transferable skills, there was a common trend for transferable skills opportunities to be associated with students’ perceptions of improved learning (Figure 2c). A feeling that work using transferable skills, or involving demonstration, aids learning is also apparent in analysis of the open questions from the learning logs (“I have learnt quite well by seeing a demonstration”; “I learnt a lot today, this was helped by the experiment as chemistry teacher (3) 76 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 chemistry teacher (catalysts) biology teacher (3) medics (mouth to mouth) breathologist breathing person at hospital lung expert vet (2) biology teacher (4) biology teacher (2) teacher science teacher primarily intrinsic, rather than extrinsic. Interest in the could be attributed to the phrasing or format of the subject was certainly an intrinsic motivation; “I like biology questionnaire, to the relatively limited guidance offered overall … I just find it interesting to learn” (Student 19). on learning processes, and potential lack of student Another motivation related to future career aspirations, understanding of the concept of critical reflection “I want to be a vet, so I do biology … to be a vet”, and (Francis, 1995; Harmelink, 1998; Langer, 2002). It may also “I’d like to do Marine Biology … I like sort of learning reflect the value (or lack of value) which the students about animals and … plants” (Student 11). Biology was placed upon completion of the learning log, with perceived as, ‘more relevant to everyday life … because it responses rendered ‘mechanical’ (Langer, 2002), when is, like, it’s about everyday things’ (Student 19). compelled to complete it in a limited allocation of time Hence, the learning logs prompted reflective awareness during each lesson. and critical analysis, which are important steps in the reflective process (Scanlon and Chernomas, 1997). 2. How does greater understanding of learning strategies Forging these links demonstrates not only that students affect students’ motivation to learn? are able to reflectively examine their learning performance, but also that they can recognise the benefits As indicated earlier, previous studies (Silberfield, 2000; of some of the more onerous intrinsic tasks (Bandura, McLellan, 2005) suggest that greater awareness of 1993), such as the need to make an effort on homework learning, and resulting improvements in study in order to learn. This reflection on learning shows effectiveness, should also be reflected by a shift in increasing student awareness of the cognitive processes academic motivation towards the task and ego-oriented involved in learning during different classroom activities, categories of achievement goal theory (Seifert, 2004), with learning logs intended to make this explicit to increasingly intrinsic or internal attributions of students, enabling active control of learning strategies, performance related to learning (Weiner, 1985), and and leading to metacognition (Evans et al, 2003). greater self-worth (Covington, 1984). Unfortunately, entries for the final question, designed to elicit student reflection on the effectiveness of their Achievement goal theory learning, were disappointing. Responses did not show Although individual motivation did vary during the study, evidence of great reflection on the learning process. motivation as a whole remained largely unaffected when This was surprising, given that during the semicomparing motivation across the class at the start and the structured interviews, students’ evaluations of personally end of the study (see Table 2). Work Avoidant scores valid cognitive processes were more evident; although showed greatest variation within the class, but for those, the learning strategies described still fell within the as well as for Alienated scores the number of students’ more basic rehearsal and organisation strategies, rather scores that increased and decreased for each student was than the elaboration category defined by Weinstein and similar (Work Avoidant – 10 increase, 3 static, 13 decrease. Mayer (1986). Alienated – 9 increase, 5 static, 12 decrease), and there Interviewees showed some awareness of application was no significant difference between mean scores at the and analysis of their learning abilities, making reference to start and at the end of the study (Table 2). rehearsal strategies – “I write it out in different colours, Scores on the questions intended (1) to establish a Task just do that and revise it until I know it … I revise the score, indicating the degree to which a student focuses on different words that I need to know” (Student 11) – and the method of achieving goals, and (2) to establish an Ego organisational strategies – “I think colour actually helps, score, indicating the degree to which a student focuses on and doing diagrams … diagrams help me a lot” (Student their performance toward goals, were generally high 19). Although there was no explicit recognition of (Table 2). Task and Ego scores rose and fell for similar learning strategies that require elaboration, these numbers of students between the start and the end of the responses make clear reference to conscious direction study (Task – 10 increase, 2 static, 14 decrease. Ego – 12 and regulation of the learning process. Hence, the learners involved Table 2. Changes in motivation before and after the study, as measured through demonstrated an awareness of their constructs of goal theory. cognitive processes and ability to manage Mean ± standard Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores these processes to further their learning – error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study the definition of metacognition (Flavell, Task-before 23.74 ± 0.474 (27) 1979) – which was not prompted by the Wilcoxon Statistic = 204.0, P=0.940, N=24 learning log. Advancement for these Task-after 22.60 ± 0.528 (28) students would therefore involve the Ego-before 19.72 ± 0.480 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 147.5, P=0.477, N=24 introduction of increasingly complex Ego-after 19.75 ± 0.493 (28) cognitive strategies, perhaps through Work avoidant-before 19.91 ± 0.835 (27) applied models of Kolb’s learning cycle or Wilcoxon Statistic = 162.0, P=0.772, N=23 Work avoidant-after 19.79 ± 0.748 (28) the Reflection Integration Model (Kolb, Alienated-before 7.88 ± 0.476 (27) 1984; Hutchinson and Allen, 1997). Wilcoxon Statistic = 142.0, P=0.826, N=21 The failure of the final section of the Alienated-after 7.61 ± 0.433 (28) learning log to stimulate such reflection JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 77 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom Figure 2. Mean student perceptions of the extent of (a) clarity, (b) difficulty, (c) transferable skills and (d) confidence in knowledge and the extent to which they helped their learning, taken from learning logs over the period of this study (means were calculated by allocating scores as follows: 1 = None/ not at all, 2 = A little / Not very much, 3 = Quite a lot / Quite, and 4 = A lot / Very; 1 = Learn nothing, 2 = Learn a little, 3 = Learn quite a lot, and 4 = Learn a lot). (a) 4 Extent – objectives clarity Learning – objectives clarity Extent – tasks clarity Learning – tasks clarity 3.5 Clarity 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 Ease/Difficulty (b) 4 1 2 3 3.5 3 4 5 Week of study Extent – difficulty Learning – difficulty Extent – ease Learning – ease 2.5 2 1.5 Transferable skills (c) 1 4 1 2 3 3.5 3 4 5 Week of study Extent – communication skills Learning – communication skills Extent – practical skills Learning – practical skills 2.5 1.5 Confidence (d) 4 Confidence Confidence in subject knowledge was the factor most closely associated with students’ perceptions of its value to learning (Figure 2d). This is unsurprising, as students are only likely to be confident of being able to learn more if they feel confident of their relevant prior learning. Relevance Students’ perceptions of the relevance of what they had learnt were determined by indirect means, by testing students’ ability to think of job specifications that require them to know the taught content. This approach of reflecting on career opportunities, employed before by Langer (2002), prompted students to give three main groups of employment: scientific work, medical work and teaching (see Table 1). Within each group, a number of job titles were suggested, showing a range of applications for learning from the lessons. During the semi-structured interview the motivations given for learning biology were Table 1. Applications of learning suggested by students (each career was named by one student unless otherwise indicated in brackets). 2 1 we could touch what we saw”; “The dissection is fun and helps you to learn”) and semi-structured interviews; for example, reference was made to demonstrations involving students from earlier in the module, “I like the cream cracker one and the drinking one” (Student 11), and to other potential activities, “Stuff where we get to go somewhere…like field trips and stuff…the zoo” (Student 19). Week 1 1 2 3 3.5 4 5 Week of study Extent – confidence in knowledge Learning – confidence in knowledge Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 scientist (2) scientist (2) scientist scientist scientist biologist (2) biologist (3) chemist (2) anatomist biologist pathologist (3) marine biologist (2) zoologist a worm scientist (2) 3 a scientist working for the WHO 2.5 2 doctor (4) doctor (4) doctor (9) doctor (5) doctor (5) dietician surgeon (4) nurse (3) surgeon (2) 1 doctor – in case you swallow the wrong thing paramedics heart surgeon (7) vein person 1.5 1 2 3 4 5 Week of study information. It may be that the spiral nature of the English curriculum means students recognise material, which leads them to believe it is easy, whilst the activities actually require them to learn new content and ways of applying it. nutritionalist heart surgeon (2) vet lung transplant surgeon vet (2) Transferable skills Although students did not recognise many opportunities for developing transferable skills, there was a common trend for transferable skills opportunities to be associated with students’ perceptions of improved learning (Figure 2c). A feeling that work using transferable skills, or involving demonstration, aids learning is also apparent in analysis of the open questions from the learning logs (“I have learnt quite well by seeing a demonstration”; “I learnt a lot today, this was helped by the experiment as chemistry teacher (3) 76 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 chemistry teacher (catalysts) biology teacher (3) medics (mouth to mouth) breathologist breathing person at hospital lung expert vet (2) biology teacher (4) biology teacher (2) teacher science teacher primarily intrinsic, rather than extrinsic. Interest in the could be attributed to the phrasing or format of the subject was certainly an intrinsic motivation; “I like biology questionnaire, to the relatively limited guidance offered overall … I just find it interesting to learn” (Student 19). on learning processes, and potential lack of student Another motivation related to future career aspirations, understanding of the concept of critical reflection “I want to be a vet, so I do biology … to be a vet”, and (Francis, 1995; Harmelink, 1998; Langer, 2002). It may also “I’d like to do Marine Biology … I like sort of learning reflect the value (or lack of value) which the students about animals and … plants” (Student 11). Biology was placed upon completion of the learning log, with perceived as, ‘more relevant to everyday life … because it responses rendered ‘mechanical’ (Langer, 2002), when is, like, it’s about everyday things’ (Student 19). compelled to complete it in a limited allocation of time Hence, the learning logs prompted reflective awareness during each lesson. and critical analysis, which are important steps in the reflective process (Scanlon and Chernomas, 1997). 2. How does greater understanding of learning strategies Forging these links demonstrates not only that students affect students’ motivation to learn? are able to reflectively examine their learning performance, but also that they can recognise the benefits As indicated earlier, previous studies (Silberfield, 2000; of some of the more onerous intrinsic tasks (Bandura, McLellan, 2005) suggest that greater awareness of 1993), such as the need to make an effort on homework learning, and resulting improvements in study in order to learn. This reflection on learning shows effectiveness, should also be reflected by a shift in increasing student awareness of the cognitive processes academic motivation towards the task and ego-oriented involved in learning during different classroom activities, categories of achievement goal theory (Seifert, 2004), with learning logs intended to make this explicit to increasingly intrinsic or internal attributions of students, enabling active control of learning strategies, performance related to learning (Weiner, 1985), and and leading to metacognition (Evans et al, 2003). greater self-worth (Covington, 1984). Unfortunately, entries for the final question, designed to elicit student reflection on the effectiveness of their Achievement goal theory learning, were disappointing. Responses did not show Although individual motivation did vary during the study, evidence of great reflection on the learning process. motivation as a whole remained largely unaffected when This was surprising, given that during the semicomparing motivation across the class at the start and the structured interviews, students’ evaluations of personally end of the study (see Table 2). Work Avoidant scores valid cognitive processes were more evident; although showed greatest variation within the class, but for those, the learning strategies described still fell within the as well as for Alienated scores the number of students’ more basic rehearsal and organisation strategies, rather scores that increased and decreased for each student was than the elaboration category defined by Weinstein and similar (Work Avoidant – 10 increase, 3 static, 13 decrease. Mayer (1986). Alienated – 9 increase, 5 static, 12 decrease), and there Interviewees showed some awareness of application was no significant difference between mean scores at the and analysis of their learning abilities, making reference to start and at the end of the study (Table 2). rehearsal strategies – “I write it out in different colours, Scores on the questions intended (1) to establish a Task just do that and revise it until I know it … I revise the score, indicating the degree to which a student focuses on different words that I need to know” (Student 11) – and the method of achieving goals, and (2) to establish an Ego organisational strategies – “I think colour actually helps, score, indicating the degree to which a student focuses on and doing diagrams … diagrams help me a lot” (Student their performance toward goals, were generally high 19). Although there was no explicit recognition of (Table 2). Task and Ego scores rose and fell for similar learning strategies that require elaboration, these numbers of students between the start and the end of the responses make clear reference to conscious direction study (Task – 10 increase, 2 static, 14 decrease. Ego – 12 and regulation of the learning process. Hence, the learners involved Table 2. Changes in motivation before and after the study, as measured through demonstrated an awareness of their constructs of goal theory. cognitive processes and ability to manage Mean ± standard Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores these processes to further their learning – error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study the definition of metacognition (Flavell, Task-before 23.74 ± 0.474 (27) 1979) – which was not prompted by the Wilcoxon Statistic = 204.0, P=0.940, N=24 learning log. Advancement for these Task-after 22.60 ± 0.528 (28) students would therefore involve the Ego-before 19.72 ± 0.480 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 147.5, P=0.477, N=24 introduction of increasingly complex Ego-after 19.75 ± 0.493 (28) cognitive strategies, perhaps through Work avoidant-before 19.91 ± 0.835 (27) applied models of Kolb’s learning cycle or Wilcoxon Statistic = 162.0, P=0.772, N=23 Work avoidant-after 19.79 ± 0.748 (28) the Reflection Integration Model (Kolb, Alienated-before 7.88 ± 0.476 (27) 1984; Hutchinson and Allen, 1997). Wilcoxon Statistic = 142.0, P=0.826, N=21 The failure of the final section of the Alienated-after 7.61 ± 0.433 (28) learning log to stimulate such reflection JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 77 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Table 3. Comparison of students’ motivational profiles before and after the learning log intervention. Student 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Motivational orientation before Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Strong Responder Strong Responder ABSENT Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated ABSENT Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Work Avoidant and Alienated Strong Responder Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance Performance Strong Responder Performance Strong Responder Performance Task Performance Disenchanted ABSENT Motivational orientation after Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Task Performance by the Easy Route Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Strong Responder Disenchanted Performance Performance Disenchanted Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance Strong Responder Performance Strong Responder Performance ABSENT ABSENT Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom study. The extent to which students attributed success to teacher-related factors increased significantly (see Table 4 and 5; the p-value quoted is not resilient to a Bonferoni correction, and interpretation thereof is with caution) over the period of the study, although a similar trend for failure was not significant (Success attribution to teacher-related factors – 14 increase, 3 static, 9 decrease. Failure attribution to teacher-related factors – 11 increase, 8 static, 7 decrease). There was also no significant change in the extent to which students attributed success (Table 4), or failure (Table 5) to external unknown factors. (Success attribution to unknown factors – 9 increase, 8 static, 9 decrease. Failure attribution to unknown factors – 10 increase, 9 static, 7 decrease). These results suggest that use of the learning log was not effective at increasing students’ awareness of the intrinsic role which they play in learning, and did not erode their perception of the external origin of their achievements. This suggestion is also supported by the results of students’ attributions to internal factors. If altered, effort is the area most likely to empower students to improve their performance, as it means that students perceive factors affecting their performance as being both intrinsic and within their control (Weiner, 1985). The effect that effort was perceived to have on students’ success (Table 4) or failure (Table 5) showed only a small and nonsignificant change (Success attribution to effort – increase 11, static 6, decrease 9. Failure attribution to effort – increase 8, static 9, decrease 9). The same was true of students’ perceptions of ability (internal but outside of their control; Weiner (1985)) (Success attribution to ability – increase 5, static 11, decrease 10. Failure attribution to ability – increase 12, static 6, decrease 8). Self-concept increase, 2 static, 12 decrease), suggesting that the Self-concept is related to self-confidence and self-worth, learning log had not stimulated sufficient reflection on and within an academic environment (1) can be linked by learning to alter students’ motivations overall. There was individuals to performance and (2) can alter the ability no significant difference between mean scores collected and effort a student is willing to put into their at the start of and at the end of the study for either variable (Table 2). This conclusion is also supported when Table 4. Changes in attributions of success before and after the study. students’ motivation profiles before and after using the learning log, are Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores compared (Table 3). Whilst three standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study students had what could be described as Ability-before 15.59 ± 0.504 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 75.0, P=0.811, N=15 an improved motivational profile, three Ability-after 15.48 ± 0.434 (28) students had a poorer motivational Effort-before 16.01 ± 0.351 (27) profile, so there was no clear increase in Wilcoxon Statistic = 85.0, P=0.233, N=20 motivation within the class toward Effort-after 16.07 ± 0.401 (28) academic learning. Teacher-before 14.26 ± 0.488 (27) Attributions of success Student attributions of success (Table 4) and failure (Table 5) showed some limited trends during the period of this 78 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 Teacher-after 15.46 ± 0.477 (28) Unknown external-before 4.93 ± 0.349 (27) Unknown external-after 4.82 ± 0.270 (28) Wilcoxon Statistic = 70.5, P=0.021, N=23 Wilcoxon Statistic = 96.0, P=0.684, N=18 performance (Covington, 1984). So the overall increase in the number of individuals with greater self-concept, although small, may be important. There was no significant change in the extent of students’ positive or negative views of school in general (Table 6). (Negative views – increase 8, static 5, decrease 8. Positive views – increase 10, static 5, decrease 6). However, students do seem to have adopted a significantly stronger self-concepts in biology (Table 8; the significant p-value quoted is resilient to a Bonferoni correction) (increase 11, static 2, decrease 8), with a similar but non-significant trend for science (increase 13, static 4, decrease 4). Conclusions know that information is being collected for a specific reason (Wagner, 1999). Since the principal benefit to students of reflective journals or learning logs is in the thought processes they engender, similar interventions may serve the purpose of stimulating metacognition better if a more prominent pedagogical role was given and a more explicit explanation of learning strategies was provided. 2. Although use of a learning log (rather than a reflective journal) provided ample scaffolding for students’ ideas, it may have been restrictive for reflective students who would have been better able to learn from engaging in personal dialogue through extended writing. 3. Although the short time allocated for completion meant there was time to obtain a regular record of students’ perceptions, this may have compromised the value which students placed upon the learning log. The appearance of five separate learning logs, as opposed to one booklet, may also have affected student perceptions of ownership, which could have influenced the level of reflection engaged in (Langer, 2002). 4. Although providing verbal feedback on selected learning log entries reduced teacher time commitment, it meant that not all comments were acknowledged, and although personalised, responses were not given privately. Such an approach may have compromised the quality of teacher-student contact, which was one of the benefits of learning logs highlighted by Abbas and Gilmer (1997). As a pedagogical tool, the learning log was effective at stimulating student awareness and critical analysis of learning – two stages of the process of reflection defined by Scanlon and Chernomas (1997). Unfortunately, the format and timescale did not encourage sufficient analysis of learning strategies to advance students towards a metacognitive understanding of their learning and therefore improve independent learning. This was reflected in the results of the questionnaire applied before and after the learning log intervention, which did not find the changes in motivation to learn described elsewhere following use of reflective journals (Silberfield, 2000). There was, however, a small overall increase in selfconcept as a ‘Biologist’. This could be due to a number of factors, including students becoming less resentful about new seating arrangements within the class, or increasingly imminent external Table 5. Changes in attributions of failure before and after the study. tests. However, if this were the case, a change in self-concept more widely may Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores be expected. Hence, it is also possible standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study that because students’ views are valued Ability-before 12.49 ± 0.508 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 71.0, P=0.106, N=20 through completion of the learning log, Ability-after 13.21 ± 0.491 (28) and they are able to reflect on their Effort-before 14.88 ± 0.508 (27) learning, they feel more in control of Wilcoxon Statistic = 66.0, P=0.318, N=17 Effort-after 15.39 ± 0.274 (28) their engagement with the subject Teacher-before 9.98 ± 0.502 (27) matter, and more autonomy as a Wilcoxon Statistic = 61.0, P=0.148, N=18 biologist. Unfortunately, this study does Teacher-after 10.61 ± 0.354 (28) not reveal which of these factors was Unknown external-before 4.70 ± 0.345 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 71.0, P=0.406, N=17 critical in exacting this change. Unknown external-after 4.82 ± 0.308 (28) Notwithstanding the above, semistructured interviews showed that students of this age do possess some Table 6. Changes in self-concept before and after the study. metacognitive understanding of learning, which further development of the Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores learning log could help to support by standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study giving the opportunity to reflect on Science 16.35 ± 0.465 (23) effective learning strategies and their Wilcoxon Statistic = 65.5, P=0.122, N=19 Science 16.89 ± 0.485 (26) application. To help achieve this, the learning log could be modified as Biology 14.09 ± 0.632 (23) Wilcoxon Statistic = 24.5, P=0.007, N=17 outlined below. Biology 15.19 ± 0.499 (26) 1. Limited information was given to Positive views of school 10.39 ± 0.391 (23) students during the initial Wilcoxon Statistic = 82.0, P=0.773, N=16 Positive views of school 10.85 ± 0.292 (26) introduction to the learning logs Negative views of school 7.17 ± 0.565 (23) because students have been known to Wilcoxon Statistic = 61.5, P=0.378, N=16 alter their responses to concur with Negative views of school 7.58 ± 0.541 (26) what they feel is expected when they JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 79 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Table 3. Comparison of students’ motivational profiles before and after the learning log intervention. Student 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Motivational orientation before Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Strong Responder Strong Responder ABSENT Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated ABSENT Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Work Avoidant and Alienated Strong Responder Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance Performance Strong Responder Performance Strong Responder Performance Task Performance Disenchanted ABSENT Motivational orientation after Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Task Performance by the Easy Route Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Performance Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Strong Responder Disenchanted Performance Performance Disenchanted Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance by the Easy Route Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance by the Easy Route Performance Work Avoidant and Alienated Performance Strong Responder Performance Strong Responder Performance ABSENT ABSENT Learning logs Stephens and Winterbottom study. The extent to which students attributed success to teacher-related factors increased significantly (see Table 4 and 5; the p-value quoted is not resilient to a Bonferoni correction, and interpretation thereof is with caution) over the period of the study, although a similar trend for failure was not significant (Success attribution to teacher-related factors – 14 increase, 3 static, 9 decrease. Failure attribution to teacher-related factors – 11 increase, 8 static, 7 decrease). There was also no significant change in the extent to which students attributed success (Table 4), or failure (Table 5) to external unknown factors. (Success attribution to unknown factors – 9 increase, 8 static, 9 decrease. Failure attribution to unknown factors – 10 increase, 9 static, 7 decrease). These results suggest that use of the learning log was not effective at increasing students’ awareness of the intrinsic role which they play in learning, and did not erode their perception of the external origin of their achievements. This suggestion is also supported by the results of students’ attributions to internal factors. If altered, effort is the area most likely to empower students to improve their performance, as it means that students perceive factors affecting their performance as being both intrinsic and within their control (Weiner, 1985). The effect that effort was perceived to have on students’ success (Table 4) or failure (Table 5) showed only a small and nonsignificant change (Success attribution to effort – increase 11, static 6, decrease 9. Failure attribution to effort – increase 8, static 9, decrease 9). The same was true of students’ perceptions of ability (internal but outside of their control; Weiner (1985)) (Success attribution to ability – increase 5, static 11, decrease 10. Failure attribution to ability – increase 12, static 6, decrease 8). Self-concept increase, 2 static, 12 decrease), suggesting that the Self-concept is related to self-confidence and self-worth, learning log had not stimulated sufficient reflection on and within an academic environment (1) can be linked by learning to alter students’ motivations overall. There was individuals to performance and (2) can alter the ability no significant difference between mean scores collected and effort a student is willing to put into their at the start of and at the end of the study for either variable (Table 2). This conclusion is also supported when Table 4. Changes in attributions of success before and after the study. students’ motivation profiles before and after using the learning log, are Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores compared (Table 3). Whilst three standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study students had what could be described as Ability-before 15.59 ± 0.504 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 75.0, P=0.811, N=15 an improved motivational profile, three Ability-after 15.48 ± 0.434 (28) students had a poorer motivational Effort-before 16.01 ± 0.351 (27) profile, so there was no clear increase in Wilcoxon Statistic = 85.0, P=0.233, N=20 motivation within the class toward Effort-after 16.07 ± 0.401 (28) academic learning. Teacher-before 14.26 ± 0.488 (27) Attributions of success Student attributions of success (Table 4) and failure (Table 5) showed some limited trends during the period of this 78 JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 Teacher-after 15.46 ± 0.477 (28) Unknown external-before 4.93 ± 0.349 (27) Unknown external-after 4.82 ± 0.270 (28) Wilcoxon Statistic = 70.5, P=0.021, N=23 Wilcoxon Statistic = 96.0, P=0.684, N=18 performance (Covington, 1984). So the overall increase in the number of individuals with greater self-concept, although small, may be important. There was no significant change in the extent of students’ positive or negative views of school in general (Table 6). (Negative views – increase 8, static 5, decrease 8. Positive views – increase 10, static 5, decrease 6). However, students do seem to have adopted a significantly stronger self-concepts in biology (Table 8; the significant p-value quoted is resilient to a Bonferoni correction) (increase 11, static 2, decrease 8), with a similar but non-significant trend for science (increase 13, static 4, decrease 4). Conclusions know that information is being collected for a specific reason (Wagner, 1999). Since the principal benefit to students of reflective journals or learning logs is in the thought processes they engender, similar interventions may serve the purpose of stimulating metacognition better if a more prominent pedagogical role was given and a more explicit explanation of learning strategies was provided. 2. Although use of a learning log (rather than a reflective journal) provided ample scaffolding for students’ ideas, it may have been restrictive for reflective students who would have been better able to learn from engaging in personal dialogue through extended writing. 3. Although the short time allocated for completion meant there was time to obtain a regular record of students’ perceptions, this may have compromised the value which students placed upon the learning log. The appearance of five separate learning logs, as opposed to one booklet, may also have affected student perceptions of ownership, which could have influenced the level of reflection engaged in (Langer, 2002). 4. Although providing verbal feedback on selected learning log entries reduced teacher time commitment, it meant that not all comments were acknowledged, and although personalised, responses were not given privately. Such an approach may have compromised the quality of teacher-student contact, which was one of the benefits of learning logs highlighted by Abbas and Gilmer (1997). As a pedagogical tool, the learning log was effective at stimulating student awareness and critical analysis of learning – two stages of the process of reflection defined by Scanlon and Chernomas (1997). Unfortunately, the format and timescale did not encourage sufficient analysis of learning strategies to advance students towards a metacognitive understanding of their learning and therefore improve independent learning. This was reflected in the results of the questionnaire applied before and after the learning log intervention, which did not find the changes in motivation to learn described elsewhere following use of reflective journals (Silberfield, 2000). There was, however, a small overall increase in selfconcept as a ‘Biologist’. This could be due to a number of factors, including students becoming less resentful about new seating arrangements within the class, or increasingly imminent external Table 5. Changes in attributions of failure before and after the study. tests. However, if this were the case, a change in self-concept more widely may Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores be expected. Hence, it is also possible standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study that because students’ views are valued Ability-before 12.49 ± 0.508 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 71.0, P=0.106, N=20 through completion of the learning log, Ability-after 13.21 ± 0.491 (28) and they are able to reflect on their Effort-before 14.88 ± 0.508 (27) learning, they feel more in control of Wilcoxon Statistic = 66.0, P=0.318, N=17 Effort-after 15.39 ± 0.274 (28) their engagement with the subject Teacher-before 9.98 ± 0.502 (27) matter, and more autonomy as a Wilcoxon Statistic = 61.0, P=0.148, N=18 biologist. Unfortunately, this study does Teacher-after 10.61 ± 0.354 (28) not reveal which of these factors was Unknown external-before 4.70 ± 0.345 (27) Wilcoxon Statistic = 71.0, P=0.406, N=17 critical in exacting this change. Unknown external-after 4.82 ± 0.308 (28) Notwithstanding the above, semistructured interviews showed that students of this age do possess some Table 6. Changes in self-concept before and after the study. metacognitive understanding of learning, which further development of the Mean ± Wilcoxon signed rank test between scores learning log could help to support by standard error (N) ‘before’ and ‘after’ the study giving the opportunity to reflect on Science 16.35 ± 0.465 (23) effective learning strategies and their Wilcoxon Statistic = 65.5, P=0.122, N=19 Science 16.89 ± 0.485 (26) application. To help achieve this, the learning log could be modified as Biology 14.09 ± 0.632 (23) Wilcoxon Statistic = 24.5, P=0.007, N=17 outlined below. Biology 15.19 ± 0.499 (26) 1. Limited information was given to Positive views of school 10.39 ± 0.391 (23) students during the initial Wilcoxon Statistic = 82.0, P=0.773, N=16 Positive views of school 10.85 ± 0.292 (26) introduction to the learning logs Negative views of school 7.17 ± 0.565 (23) because students have been known to Wilcoxon Statistic = 61.5, P=0.378, N=16 alter their responses to concur with Negative views of school 7.58 ± 0.541 (26) what they feel is expected when they JBE Vol 44 No 2 Spring 2010 79 Stephens and Winterbottom Learning logs Educational implications Although the learning log did not yield all the expected outcomes set out earlier, reflective journals, learning logs and diaries have also been used for course evaluation, because continuous feedback can provide a more accurate student perspective than evaluations at the end of a teaching sequence (Wagner, 1999). Indeed, facilitating timely student-teacher (and teacher-student) feedback (Zimmerman, 1991) provides student-teacher interaction which itself can stimulate learning (Abbas and Gilmer, 1997). The learning log in this study appeared to have potential as a mechanism for continuous student evaluation of teaching (Wagner, 1999), with students’ feedback corroborated against our own, and an observer’s, lesson evaluations. Such feedback provided useful prompts for our own reflection on teaching and learning activities adopted. For example, when we examined students’ views of difficulty, their responses showed two peaks: both at ‘a little’ difficult and somewhere between ‘a little’ and ‘quite’ easy. This suggests that, although certain members of the class struggled, other participants were not given work that sufficiently stretched them. 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Karen Stephens is Team Leader For Applied Science at King Edward VI School, Grove Road, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3BH, UK. Email: sp@king-ed.suffolk.sch.uk Mark Winterbottom (corresponding author) is Lecturer in Science Education in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8PQ, UK. Email: mw244@cam.ac.uk Copyright of Journal of Biological Education is the property of Institute of Biology and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. ...
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