Commitment Logs

We know students don’t really read the assigned reading, right?  There are loads of reasons for that.  Textbooks are cost prohibitive, the reading is cumbersome, too long, irrelevant from the student perspective, it’s tedious . . . just to name a few.  As instructors, we implement various strategies to encourage, incentivize, motivate/manipulate students into doing the reading.

I’ve done it.

Reading checks.  Guided notes.  Entrance tickets.  Summary notecards.  Come with three questions from the readings.

For a few semesters, I started off with reading checks that asked specific questions regarding the content from the reading.  And graded them for accuracy.  3/5.  1/5.  5/5.  Then, when my students learned that I was serious about reading checks and they came to class having read, I would give them a sheet of paper that said, “tell me your childhood pet’s name.”  (I didn’t do this specifically.  But I could have.)

Because the point is the reading, right?  Not the reading check.

But by assigning point value to the reading check, that is why I was communicating was important.  And I didn’t actually believe the reading check itself was important.  I did more reading on the evidence and rationale in the “ungrading” model and decided to move my gotcha points into partnerships.  This is where commitment logs were born.

Commitment logs are individual, self assessment accountability tools I use to engage students in their own learning.  I set learning intentions and success criteria for the class session but I ask students to set their own learning intentions and success criteria for our time together.  Sometimes students will write something like “I will stay awake for the whole class” or “I will learn three new things.”  Wherever they are, I’m good with it.

It’s not fancy.  It’s just an ongoing commitment to their learning, their own accountability.  Because some days their heads and hearts are not in my engaging, brilliant pedagogy.  And that’s okay.  They set goals for themselves.  And, more often than not, they exceed their goals.  I think there is something to the act of writing it down, of focusing on an intention, that allows them to attend to their time in class with me a little differently.  Reading checks never affected engagement.  Commitment logs do.

At the end of class, they make an exit statement.  They write about if they met their success criteria, why they did or did not, what they learned, remaining questions they have, concerns they experienced during class, anything they want.  And I respond to every single one prior to our next meeting.

I did ask a midterm and final course evaluation question about the commitment logs.  Students were overwhelmingly positive about the activity.  Since, I respond to each person each week, I am also able to keep a quick record of our relationship as it develops, the student’s self perception and assessment, and concerns or questions that appear more than once across students.  It has unexpectedly provided a relationship-building strategy as well.

I’ll post the blank document here for anyone who may want to try it.  Let me know how it goes for you!  How do you engage your students in their learning and in self assessment?

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

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