What is a Dialectical Journal? - Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Really Learning
  • 0:59 What is the…
  • 2:12 How the Dialectical…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Dialectical journals guide students through the often intimidating process of critical thinking. This lesson will explain what a dialectical journal is and how it can be useful in a variety of school settings.

Really Learning

Teaching students invaluable critical thinking skills is one of the most important tasks teachers face. Sadly, it is also among the most difficult. Received knowledge, that information which is transmitted from teacher to student and then parroted back by students in virtually unaltered form, is often the first, most basic, and easiest stage in the learning cycle.

But how do we get them to think about what they're learning? How do we ensure that true learning, and not just the transmission of teacher lore, or meaningless pedagogical factoids, is taking place? Research studies have borne out what educators have already long known: that true learning cannot be said to have occurred unless and until a student is able to internalize and apply received knowledge in some relevant, individualized way.

Learning, then, is a process in which the student transforms new learning content into knowledge that is relevant, personal, and practical.

What is the Dialectical Journal?

Enter the dialectical journal, also known as the dual-entry journal. A dialectical journal is a journal in which the student keeps records of their observations and reactions. It is powerful metacognitive tool, that is, a tool that requires students to think about their own thinking process. It is highly self-reflexive, as students monitor, record, and assess their own thought patterns: their impressions, observations, judgments, and conclusions.

Significantly, dialectical journals are not only useful for language arts, literature, or writing courses at the secondary or post-secondary level. In fact, they can be used at the middle school level too, as students are introduced to the process of critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Really, they may be used in most any academic discipline, particularly those subject areas with a heavy reading or writing component (i.e. history, geography, social studies, as well as some science courses).

It is a low-stakes activity, perfect for anxious students who require a bit of confidence-bolstering. Inspire them to think beyond your approval, or the easy true/false, right/wrong binaries that standardized testing emphasizes! The dual-entry journal requires students to think more deeply about complex concepts. Students explore the gray areas of subject content, examining both the material at hand and their own relationship to it.

How the Dialectical Journal Works

The appeal of the dialectical journal is its ease-of-use. Students need only to divide their paper in half, creating one column in which they record their observations of the subject content (i.e. quotes from the reading material, processes and results of projects underway, people and events under observation, etc.) and a second column in which they record their own responses to those observations.

Thus, if a social studies student is using a dialectical journal to conduct a field observation of children's interactions on a playground, the first column will record her/his observations of the children's behavior, while the second column will record her/his reactions.

The dual-entry/dialectical journal is based upon the students' own subjective responses, which enables them to assert their authority over the content. This helps students ascend to higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy, or hierarchical learning schemas, because they must not only recall and restate information but also question, assess, and apply new content.

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