Tracking Learning in a Blended Classroom using Journals

One of the reasons I can’t live without Digital Technology is that it actually makes my job of teaching easier. Without technology, I’m not sure how I would share the responsibility for learning with my students and have them track their learning, in a place that we both can access. I have seen star charts used in Primary settings, but I’m not sure these would work in the insecure world of teenagers. This is where technology comes to the rescue and enables a strategy modified by an online world.

The video below shows one way to track learning using the journal feature of Blackboard. This can only be viewed by individual students and their teacher. The journal is being used at the beginning and end of the video. I have left the Reading To Learn strategy (the middle) in for those that may be interested.


I have previously written about this here:

But this video gives some more details about what it looks like in a Virtual Classroom.

How to use a Reading To Learn Strategy in a Blended Classroom

Below is a video showing the wonderful Bridget Williams modelling our Reading To Learn Strategy, augmented for my Blended Classroom. I have not been trained in this strategy, so Bridget is modelling it for me.

My class seems to have acquired this skill to scan, highlight, summarize and re-write, as they have been able to employ it independently. They are working through a series of text-heavy article as part of a written assignment, so I plan on using this strategy for their next article so that I can develop my skills with Reading To Learn. After that, I might experiment with incorporating some other Detailed Reading strategies (outlined below the video).

For example, I would like my students to be able to refine this process with the ability to easily identify what needs to be highlighted, without my modelling as a Que. Perhaps the GIST method can be incorporated? Another sticking point for students was the re-write. My aim is always to release responsibility so that students can use new skills and knowledge independently; so I might incorporate some of these other strategies and see which ones students are able to confidently reproduce.

Keep a lookout for my next blog about reading.

Detailed or Close Reading in a Blended Classroom
Detailed Reading techniques encourage an active engagement with text as well as providing students with a useful record of their reading. Passively reading large amounts of text is not effective, while active note taking techniques increase levels of concentration and understanding.
Detailed Reading involves:

  • underlining and highlighting to pick out what seem the most central or important words and phrases.
  • keywords to record the main headings as you read; using one or two keywords for each main point.
  • questions to encourage an active approach to reading. Recording questions as you read can also be used as prompts for follow up work;
  • summaries to check you have understood what you have read. Pause after a section of text and put what you have read in your own words. Skim over the text to check the accuracy of your summary, filling in any significant gaps.

Why Detailed Reading?

  • Stimulates critical thinking skills.
  • Helps students remember what is said in class.
  • Helps students work on assignments and prepare for tests outside of the classroom.
  • Allow students to help each other problem solve.
  • Help students organize and process data and information.
  • Helps student recall by getting them to process their notes 3 times (if SQ4R and Cornell is used)
  • Reading and Writing is a great tool for learning!

Three Strategies:

  • SQ4R Strategy Combined with Cornell Note Taking
  • GIST
  • Sum It Up

1. SQ4R Strategy Combined with Cornell Note Taking
Before you start reading:
Survey to get an overview of what you will be studying
Why Survey?
1) To give a purpose to your reading
2) To find out how difficult the material is going to be for you
3) To estimate how much time you will need to read the assignment

How to survey
1) Read the text title.
ASK: “What does it mean?”
2) Read the Introduction.
              ASK: “What will be covered in this chapter?”
3) Read the main headings and subheadings.
              ASK: “How are the main ideas going to be covered?”
4) Read the summary at the end of the text or chapter.
              ASK: “What are the chapter’s major points?”
5) Note any study aids such as pictures, charts, etc.
              ASK: “Why are these included in this chapter?”
6) Note any important and/or unfamiliar terms.
              ASK: “What might these words mean?”

How to Question?

  • Read each title or heading.
  • Turn each title or heading into a question.

Title = “How the Aztecs Adapted”
Questions = “What did the Aztecs adapt to?”
“Why did the Aztecs have to adapt?”


  • Start reading while thinking about the questions that you wrote earlier.
  • Do not move onto the next section until you have answered your questions.

Cornell Notes!
Remember, Cornell notes are not just a way to set up your paper
Cornell notes require:
– adding or deleting notes
– highlighting or underlining
– questions in the left margin
– a summary at the bottom



Class Title

Class Notes

3 to 4 sentence summary across the bottom of the day’s notes


  • Questions should elicit critical thinking skills
  • Questions should reflect:
  • Info you don’t understand or want to discuss with your teacher/tutor.
  • Info you think would go good on an essay test.
  • Gaps in your notes

Computerized Notes
These are the same but without the left hand side column. Just use underlined headings instead

Tips on Taking Text Notes
Be an Active Reader:

  • Consider how the parts relate to the whole; how the text relates to previous ideas
  • Create questions about new words/ terms, why emphasized points are important

Be Aware of Textbook Organization:

  • Look for the pattern in elements like chapter /subsection  headings, summary points, graphics

Use the text style to identify important points:

  • Become familiar with the font, symbols, borders, graphics, colors, and layout that highlight main ideas or terms
  • Be alert to the writer’s goal: highlight ideas/ references /opinions that seem significant to their                                         point of view

Take notes while reading:

  • Include headings, key terms, & graphics
  • Take down only the important ideas: brief, but clear
  • Summarize in your own words
  • Use symbols to highlight for review
  • Use textbook review questions to develop study questions


  • Summarize out loud
  • If you cannot find the right words, you probably do not have as good as a grasp of the material as you think you do.

To help you remember the key points in the chapter
Cover up your notes and quiz yourself using your Cornell note questions.


  • Immediately after completing the entire reading assignment
  • Periodically to keep the material fresh in your mind

How to Use This Strategy in a Blended Classroom?
There will be many times when students will be independently reading moderate amounts of text in learning resources. You may well have some accompanying comprehension questions or you may not. In the case where you do provide comprehension questions, this strategy is still an effective way to have students actively read and learn, so it certainly is complementary as well.
In a Personalized classroom, students may seek out their own answers in an inquiry and encounter a variety of texts that they need to read, understand and use to create their own learning and understandings.
Use Learning Logs
This technique to help students focus on what you are learning in class. Writing in a learning log is a great way to use reading and writing as a process of discovery and for clarification of ideas.
Every time a student is exposed to a moderate to large body of text, have them create a journal entry in your Virtual Classroom. This is a great formative assessment tool as you can clearly see what a student has actively read and understood. You can also adapt this so that it is collaborative by having students blog and share their notes as well.
This is a good approach to take as part of the Discover phase of Project Based Learning.
Lead-in Activities
If this is the first time your class has been exposed to this kind of strategy, then use the Gradual Release of Responsibility strategy to train them in these skills. If you have a younger grade, you may like to explore Group Reciprocal Reading strategies as a foundation.

SQ4R Worksheet
Text Title: ____________
Author (s) _____________
What major topics are included in this text?
Scan and list any major vocabulary words
Q -Question
Turn the first heading into a question. Use who, what, where, why, and how.
R-Read Actively (annotate: write in the margins, highlight, underline…)
Read the material following the first heading looking for the answer to your question.
R- wRite
Reread the heading and recall the question you asked. Use the Cornell note taking system to briefly answer this question in your own words without looking at the section. Check to see if you are correct.
Continue using the question, read and wRite steps until you have finished each part of the text. Then complete the review step. You may want to include definitions in your notes.
After completing your notes, review them by covering up the right side of your Cornell notes and trying to answer the questions on the left side. Then check to see if your answers are correct.
Take a few minutes to reflect about what you have read/ studied.
Compare new ideas to What you already know.
Ask yourself
‘ How can I use this?”


1. Scan the page and try to predict what the information is about and what comes next as you scan each paragraph
2. Read the page or section of the textbook
3. Fill in the 5Ws and 1H you found out from your reading
4. Using these facts, Write a 20-word or less GIST summary

3. Sum It Up
1. Read the page or section of the textbook
2. While you are reading, list key words or phrases in the blank space provided below. The words must convey the main idea of the passage.
3. Circle all the keywords above that are the most important in the text.
4. Use the main idea words listed above to write a 20 word summary