When reading and assessing complex types of writing, a "reading journal" can be helpful for recording observations and questions. A reading journal is more structured than mere "first impressions" or "personal reactions." It helps you prepare for class discussion by collecting your insights or raising questions for us to pursue. It also helps you prepare notes on the material which may help with test questions.
Texts are not simple math equations. They do not "mean" a certain thing. Texts are subject to interpretation, and the strength of any interpretation depends on your logic and evidence. This is the core of critical thinking. As a reader, you bring a host of personal experiences, observations, and opinions to a text. How you fuse what you already know with what you learn from your new experiences is the key to the learning process.
Reading journals help you process your experience with reading texts. A journal can be hand-written or typed, in a spiral notebook or loose-leaf binder: whatever works for you. Legibility is important however, so scrawling journal entries in crayon on cocktail napkins is probably a bad idea. Please proofread and spell-check any work you submit for class.
Read through the assigned reading to gain an overall understanding of the material, making notes as you go (either in the text or in a notebook). Note passages of importance (this is particularly helpful in finding evidence for your arguments later) and make initial comments and observations.
Write a journal entry based on your reading, looking over the assigned reading and your notes as you work. Consider your general impressions and move toward more specific observations and analysis. You might use the following questions as a guideline (you do not have to answer them specifically; they are merely meant to help you focus):
What are your overall impressions of the reading?
What particular passages or details stand out to you? Why do you think they might be important?
How does this reading relate to the themes we have been discussing in this unit? The themes of other units? The themes of the course as a whole?
How might your personal experiences or background relate to the reading?
What questions do you have about the reading? What passages or ideas were difficult to understand?
A journal entry on a single reading should run a page or two. Don’t count words: write until you are satisfied that you have tackled at least one key idea. You don’t have to cover everything. Find some central aspect of the reading and focus in on it. You become the expert. Then you can teach the rest of us what you know.
By text, we mean any complex linguistic network: a short story, poem, film, essay, advertisement, or whatnot. In short, a text is anything you can step back from (objectify) and observe analytically. Anything can be a “text” in this sense, although as you will learn, the question of “objectivity” raises a whole new set of complexities. Go back.
Don't forget to put your name on it somewhere. If I cannot find a name, I cannot record a grade. Go back.