Reflective Journaling as a Classroom Assessment Technique

Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM

Isaac Watts, an 18th century hymn composer advised, “Once a day . . . call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new proposition or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge.”  His advice on reflection and journaling is just as pertinent today as it was 300 years ago and is even used as a powerful classroom assessment technique (CAT).

Journals: A Reflection and a Window

Dr. Watts is right: journals are a great way for students to organize their thoughts, reflect on what they have learned, and focus their efforts on what knowledge they lack. As importantly, classroom journals give the educator a window into each student’s mind, shedding light on what important concepts the student is retaining and possibly where remediation is needed.

So where does journaling come into the realm of CATs? It can be useful in EMT or paramedic training, refreshers, ongoing classes, continuing education courses, and more. Not only is it useful; it is easy.

What’s Included?

Simply have the students make a journal entry at the end of each class, week, or session—whatever logical increment the instructor and students select. The only stipulation is that the student must answer two questions:

  1. What did you learn this week?
  2. What materials/concepts/activities did you find confusing?

Here are some tips for a successful CAT journal:

  • Ask students to record any thoughts, concerns or comments.
  • Keep it confidential, just between you and each individual student.
  • There is no minimum or maximum length.
  • Responses are not graded.

Reflective journals will give both you and the student an insight into what knowledge has been acquired and where further work is needed.

Expand the CAT

Can you add more to the assignment? Absolutely! Like most CATs, reflective journaling is only limited by your imagination, so get creative:

  • Ask students to include a visual with a pertinent picture, drawing, or chart.
  • Tie it into other CATs.
  • Give them a blank memory matrix that they are familiar with and let them work it again.
  • If you did a facilitated drawing that week, give them the base drawing and let them fill it in.
  • Have each student write a review question over that week’s lesson. At the end of class, use these responses as a class

If you and your students invest the time and energy into journaling, the rewards of better students and better educators will far outweigh the inconvenience.

A Personal Challenge

The most important student you will ever give this assignment to is yourself. I challenge every educator to start a journal, record each class you teach, document what went well, and highlight what could have gone better. Take a lesson from your students by putting down in writing your triumphs and setbacks in order to better learn from and remember them. We become better educators as we review how we teach and constantly strive to do better—in essence, when we keep a reflective journal along with our students.


Douglas began his career in public safety as a paid-on-call firefighter with the Havana City Fire Department in Illinois. He attended EMT-Basic training in 1992 at Spoon River College where he is now an adjunct professor of prehospital medicine. He has had his paramedic license since 1994 and has been a lead instructor since 1999. During his career with the fire service, Douglas was an instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute specializing in rescue disciplines. He retired as a captain after serving for 20 years. While with the fire department, Douglas also worked full-time for Mason County EMS, an ALS ambulance service in downstate Illinois, as the EMS educator. Douglas received his bachelor’s degree in public safety management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and is working on his master’s in public safety administration through Lewis University.

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