Critical reflection and the potentially contentious grammar diary

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create assignments that encourage students to think critically and to use critical reflection

So I’m starting to realize how I can implement critical reflection as a teacher. Indeed, as I read more theory on teaching, this ability seems to be happening almost by itself.

However, I’ve been struggling with how to create exercises and assignments for my business communications classes that use critical reflection to help students to learn to be better written communicators. It’s not easy to implement critical reflection in a writing class. After all, some people would argue, teaching writing is not that different from teaching electrical wiring or carpentry: It’s a process that requires strict rules to be followed in order for successful outcomes to be achieved.

So what’s the use in bringing critical reflection into the process? And how do we do it?

Today I came up with a new dimension to an old assignment that actually integrates critical reflection into the process of learning about writing—and I’m totally stoked to introduce it to students. Let me tell you about it.

It’s called a Grammar Diary.

After four years of teaching business communications, I’ve realized that too many students glance at the comments I make on their written assignments without taking the time to examine where they went wrong and how to fix things. All too often, students make the same writing mistakes over and over again because their attention is focused on their grade as opposed to the learning opportunity.

The Grammar Diary—drum roll, please!—ties students’ marks into a deeper self-examination of their writing challenges. It also encourages students to look at how to fix those mistakes and how to apply the rules surrounding correction of errors to other examples in their writing.

A Grammar Diary Form (rough draft)—students must submit five of these and discuss their challenges in a reflective final report

My Grammar Diary exercise is part of a larger assignment I’ll be giving to my first-year Office Administration students in the fall called the Final Report memo. In this report, students will reflect on the past semester and contemplate if they attained the goals they set for themselves when they entered the program. The report requires students to give specific examples of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them and, if they are not on track, what they must do to succeed.

The Grammar Diary assignment provides five Grammar Diary forms that students must fill out every two weeks by a certain deadline. The form requires them to identify a writing challenge they have discovered. They must correct it, explain the rule for doing so, create three new sentences using the rule, and explain how they will avoid this error in the future.

These five forms must be attached to their Final Report memo and the memo must include a paragraph or two on these writing challenges and how students overcame them or strove to do so. I’ve uploaded a copy of the Grammar Diary form to this page.

Before I end, I’ll emphasize that the grammar diary idea is not mine. A colleague years ago mentioned that a teacher at Queen’s University here in Kingston, Ontario, Canada assigned students to keep one. I was instantly excited by the notion, but my colleague didn’t recall the professor’s name and an Internet search revealed scant information about how to develop such an assignment.

So today I created my own. I would have found doing so overwhelming a couple of years ago, but after all the educational theory reading I’ve been doing, I am feeling pretty empowered. Indeed, I feel as if I might just have created a significant learning experience here.

My last group of Office Administration students almost unanimously told me they would like to see my courses place more emphasis on grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. This is one way I can do that without eating into too much of the time we need to dedicate to the many other aspects of business communications.

What do you think? Is this a valuable assignment?

I’m a big believer in self-directed learning, but I still worry that students will find this assignment onerous and overwhelming, since they will often have to find their own answers to their challenges—online or in materials I’ve provided for them.

I would be grateful if you—student, graduate, educator or otherwise—could tell me what you think of my Grammar Diary assignment.

Do you think students will embrace it? And what do I need to do to ensure that they do?


About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
This entry was posted in adult education, Critical Thinking, Reflective Practice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Critical reflection and the potentially contentious grammar diary

  1. Josh Rosenberger says:

    I am putting together a “grammar journal/diary” form for my fall Study Skills class and am impressed with the document you have come up with. It’s a solid organizer and in a simplified form, would work well for my intermediate students. Would you mind if I used part of your form for my own? Thanks for the idea.

    • Hi Josh. I’m excited to hear from you and to connect with someone else who is creating a grammar diary. I’d love to trade notes so we can learn from each other. Send me your email address to and I’ll send you the Word docs so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you are doing and how it goes. Thanks for asking if I’ll share! Happy to do so!

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