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For the past few days, I’ve been pondering the identity of the sadist who decided students should have to keep “reading journals”. I’m supposed to keep one in English, for Montana 1948, but I found the process excruciating. After what felt like hours of agonising effort, I finally finished my “analysis” (read: summary) of chapter one. The thought of doing it all over again for chapter two made me want to stab myself. Rather than resorting to that possibly fatal activity, I wrote “Some stuff happened.” and decided that that would be that. ENGLISH HOMEWORK COMPLETE.

Reading journals are frustrating for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that they are completely and totally useless. I don’t use notes to study. I never have, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t need them for analyses — if I’ve understood a book once, I’m still going to understand it the second time around. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t forget how to multiply just because I haven’t in a few weeks, and nor do I forget how to interpret particular books. Over time I do forget minor characters, and minor details of the plot, but rereading the book reawakens all those fact-related memories. It’s a lot more fun to read a book than to read some bland notes. I can also trust the author to have included every important fact in their book, something I can’t really trust myself to have done.

They’re also frustrating because I find they suck all the fun out of reading a book. If a book is already bad, it becomes a thousand times worse when I have to take diligent notes and dwell on its badness. If I actually like a book, having to keep a reading journal means I can’t enjoy it. No! I have to note every character and location, write a summary of every event, and make a list of every potentially useful quote. If I’m constantly keeping an eye out for these things, it’s not a story any more, just a bunch of words. Even if I try to get around that by reading the book twice, and only taking notes the second time, I find I barely take any notes. I already know what happens, because I’ve read it all before. I get impatient. Then I skip things (like, you know, chapter two) and that makes my journal kind of useless.

Lastly, keeping a journal is really time-consuming. I have to waste hours, bored to a state of desperation, knowing that there are so many other things I would rather have done. Other homework, to get it out of the way. Watching TV, or DVDs, or reading other books, or procrastinating on the Internet. Maybe I could have gone to bed early and got a decent night’s sleep! And these hours really are wasted: I know I’ll never look at these notes again. Why bother writing them?

I’m seriously trying to work out why I should. Does anyone have a motivational speech for me, or have I won you all over with my anti-reading-journal tirade?

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5 Comments

  1. I hate reading journals. I only had to do it once, but I agree on every point you made. I’m sorry!

  2. You’ve won me, but only in cases where the student is… you. Well, you and any other students who genuinely enjoy reading and have an instinct for analysis. For many students, reading journals give them a way of reading a text once. By recording the “salient” points – summaries, character details, themes – they are spared re-reading the entire text to prepare for essays, SACs or exams. Reviewing students’ journals also allows a teacher to gauge how well individuals are “reading” the text (and to make sure students are reading the text!). A chapter summary might demonstrate that a student, or the whole class, has missed a crucial point – the teacher can then address this in a later class.

    In an ideal world, all students would read texts as you do and be fully prepared to re-read them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and so reading journals are set for all students.

    So, journal aside, how are you enjoying “Montana…”?

  3. I’m afraid you haven’t convinced me! To my mind, reading journals benefit very, very few students. Firstly, they are horrible to write. Frustrating, slow, laborious. And then how useful are they afterwards? More useful than CliffsNotes would have been? Worth the hours of painstaking effort? No, not really. Students who study from notes need to study from a good set of notes, not necessarily their set of notes.

    Teachers have other ways to gauge how well their students understand a novel. I always like class discussions: teachers can quickly find out and explain what students don’t seem to know, and students can hear other interpretations that might not have occurred to them. (The whole verbal aspect can help, too.) Comprehension questions enable a teacher to find out what each student individually knows. They’re preferable to reading journals because they’re more focused — thus taking a fraction of the time to complete, and ensuring that students record the important facts.

    I don’t think I can judge Montana 1948 yet — firstly because I’m only halfway through, and secondly because the reading journal made me hate it. I’m trying to get over my hatred to read the second half. It’s not easy.

  4. Fair enough! I never had to do reading journals as a student, so I’ve never experienced the grind. I did have to do summaries and take notes on my Lit texts, but this process wasn’t called a “reading journal”. Perhaps I just wasn’t as conscientious as you – I did not commit hours to the task!

    I fully understand the benefits of class discussion… as long as there are sufficient participants in the discussion (there are always those who don’t contribute).

  5. I hate reading journals as well! Well, the summaries and stuff. xD I do like writing meanings of words down and some metaphorical read-between-the-lines things that authors tend to use… (My English teacher loves those…)

    But reading your title for the first time, I thought you meant actually READING (as in the verb) journals. And I was astonished. “WHAT?! I love snooping around reading other people’s diaries!”

    No. I’m not funny at all…


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