Some Notes From a Real-Time Journal

Namie Amuro (middle) performs at
MTV Asia Aid, Bangkok, Thailand
File from the Wikimedia Commons

The other day I posted a blog on the iTDi site about some things teachers can do in “real time” to see what’s happening in their class a bit more clearly.  One of the ideas I wrote about was keeping a real time journal.  Basically, I find that when I’m running an activity or doing some language awareness work around a grammar point, and things start to slide off track, I tend to get a little emotional.  Instead of reacting, jotting down some notes of what students are actually doing, helps me take a step back and reevaluate what’s happening in class.  When I first started blogging, I often made notes in my real time journal.  Blogging and the journal where my main tools to reflect on my teaching.  But a funny thing started to happen.  Instead of writing in my real-time journal to get a handle on what was going on in my classes, I started thinking of my real time journal as a tool to enhance my blog posts.  Instead of a reflective tool, it became a way to produce more polished blog posts.  I was making notes not for myself, but for an audience.

Last week, after reading and responding to some comments on real-time journaling in the class, I decided to revisit this particular tool in my classroom.  Rereading my entries from the week, I noticed that this time around, my real-time journal had a very different focus.  Most of what I wrote was about student interactions.  For example, while waiting for students to settle down at the beginning of class, here are some of the things I wrote in my journal:

– A-Kun asks K-Kun for something.  K-kun takes a set of textbooks out of his bag and hands them to A-Kun.

– S-Chan and T-Chan are looking at a cell-phone together.  They seem to be looking at pictures.

– M-Chan, R-Chan and N-Chan are singing a song in Japanese.  These are singing loudly.  Some of the boys are laughing.  One boy is clapping along.

I used this information to modify how I broke the class into groups during activities.  And I found that group work went more smoothly.  As an added bonus, while I was writing students settled down on their own.  Maybe I lost two or three minutes of class time.  But instead of starting class by cajoling my students to quiet down, I was able to get something pretty useful out of those few minutes and everyone (students and myself) started class in a better mood.  It also led to a radical shift in at least one of my lesson plans.  The journal entry about students singing took place during a Drama class.  We were supposed to be practicing a scene from a play.  But after I had written in my real-time journal, I decided to follow the students’ lead.  On the white board, I wrote down a translation of the first two line of the J-pop song the students were singing:

I miss you.  I miss you.

The three girls who were singing laughed and started singing the song in English.   After the first two lines, they shifted back to Japanese.  So as a class we worked on translating the next few lines into English.  What we ended up with was:

I miss you.
I miss you.
All I want is to hear your voice.
Even though I don’t have anything to say, I decided to call you.
Because you are so kind.
You are always there for me.
That’s enough to make my heart beat.
That’s enough to warm my heart.

Then I took the first two lines of the song, and changed them into a dialogue.  Like this:

A: Hello?
B: I miss you.
A: I miss you, too.
B: All I want, is to hear your voice.

I left A’s next line blank and students came up with, “OK, but I don’t know what to say.”  And in a surprisingly short amount of time, students had constructed the following dialogue with a fair amount of useful chunks of language:

A: Hello?
B: I miss you.
A: I miss you, too.
B: All I want, is to hear your voice.
A: OK, but I don’t know what to say.
B: Even though I don’t have anything to say, I called you.
A: Thank you.  But why did you call me?
B: Because you are so kind.
A: Yes, I am.  And so are you!
B: You are always there for me.
A: Because I love you.
B: That’s enough to make my heart beat.
A: That’s enough to warm my heart.

Once the dialogue was on the board, students practiced it in pairs for a few minutes.  We did some work on stress, playing around with how shifting stress radically changed the meaning of the dialogue.  This was especially fruitful with the line, “Even though I don’t have anything to say, I called you.”  Then I erased the board and had the students form small groups and reconstruct the dialogue.  They seemed to have a pretty good handle on the language.  I gave them fifteen minutes to put together skits in which they used the dialogue.  One pair of students turned it into a conversation between a couple which had broken up some time before and the girl was calling the boy to get back together.  Another pair of students set up a scene in which the couple was coming back from Universal Studio Japan, had just gotten in a fight, and the song was their way of making up.  The song is incredibly popular in Japan right now and the lyrics are slightly vapid and vague.  But I think it’s just that vagueness that probably has let every student who listens to the song put their own spin on it.  And when they turned it into a scene, they were able to take the scene from their imagination and act it out.

Real time journaling not only let me get a better handle on which students would work well together, it also led to a new classroom activity.  Probably other teachers have done variations on using L1 songs as a base for a dialogue, but this is the first time I’ve given it a try in class.  The students enjoyed it enough to suggest we do it again next week.  They even agreed to each pick a song before class and translate it into English.  If they’re up for it, I’m going to have some of the braver students sing their translation and have the rest of the class try to guess which song it is based on.  But before I ask any particular student to sing, I think I’ll take a bit of time at the beginning of class to write down what my students are doing when the bell rings in my real time journal.  With a bit of luck, it will help me figure out just who might be ready to stand up and belt out a J-pop song in English.


12 thoughts on “Some Notes From a Real-Time Journal

  1. Hi Rose,Thanks for the comment. I know how you feel. I get a huge amount of inspiration and concrete lesson ideas from blog posts. But the posts I want to read pile up and pile up. Glad you took some time to leave a comment here. Kevin


  2. Hi Kathy,Thanks for popping in. Very much enjoyed taking John Fanselow's "Breaking Rules" course with you the other day over at iTDi. About real time journaling, I use it mainly to give myself some space in class, so I usually write for as long as it takes for me to compose my thoughts. This week I think the longest I wrote was two or three minutes. Things usually settled down in class while I was writing and I could move on with the lesson. But taking the time out to write in the journal did, at times feel strange, a sort of abdication of 'teaching.' If you do give it a try, let me know how it went. Would be very curious to hear what other teachers have to say about the experience.Kevin


  3. I think it meshes with the recommendation in this week's reading assignment of recording class sessions. It's another way to capture "what's happening now" and using it to inform your decision making. I jot little reminders in class, but you're collecting data. I like it!


  4. Data. It's such a wonderfully official/academic sounding word. I'm not trying to keep my temper in check, I'm collecting data. Awesome. But seriously, I do video my classes every two weeks and write transcripts (and I admit I only started doing it after being pushed for almost a full year), but the camera only shows me what happened after the fact. It's unbelievably useful, but sometimes I need a way to catch what's happening as it happens. I'm impatient that way.


  5. Hi Tony,I would love to hear something from my blog pop up in 2 Teachers Talking. Love episode 9's story of the "Communication English" class with the TOEIC self-study test prep books as official course book. And your music selection is also tops. Any chance of getting to meet you or Charles at the Kobe World Storytelling Conference? You guys are such natural storytellers, just figured you would be there. Thanks for the comment and looking forward to the next episode of Two Teachers Talking.Kevin


  6. Ha ha! Yeah, catching what's happening as it happens is data-collecting. When I try to remember something later, it's already mixed up in my mind with other events, subconscious evaluating, and just plain poor memory … that's why I'm so attracted to this idea and appreciate your posting about it.I take pics of my boards regularly and I've done video and audio recordings of lessons (but not regularly). Seems to me like in-class note-taking could snag fleeting things such as my reactions and emotions, which could be good clues when used in combination with the other stuff. For example, I feel annoyed when A. does something. Is it really A.? Or was something else also happening? Or was there a sequence of events that built up to my annoyance (and poor A. was just the final straw)? I could use the recordings to get those details.Speaking of using the recordings, I think I'd record more if I knew what to do with the info. I've always thought of it primarily as a vehicle for self-examination, but am now seeing it as a lesson-planning tool and also as something we can use in class (thanks to our reading assignment again). Lots of ideas to chew over here …


  7. Hi KevinI really like the idea of keeping a real-time journal and I could see it being really useful with some groups of learners I'm working. I'll give it a go. Also, really enjoyed the work you did with the song!Thanks, Carol


  8. Hi Carol,Glad to hear you might give it a shot. Last week I was super stressed and it helped me put the breaks on a lot of situations which could have turned into power plays. Getting a few more insights into class and being able to tweak the lesson was just an added bonus.And thanks for mentioning the song work. My students had a great time. We did a follow up lesson today and it went just as well. I really recommend the activity without reservations.Kevin


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