[The following is written from the framework of creating a log for a college course. However, the technique still can be used as a self-directed approach to learning about a topic or area of interest.]

The intent of such a log is to read material and then utilize an interactive writing experience as a means for growth in knowledge, ability to think, and skill to express oneself. For example, in a beginning level graduate course, especially if the person is new to the subject matter, we would counsel a learner to stay fairly broad both in reading and writing about an initial exploration of available information. However, in an advanced course, when a learner already has considerable knowledge on which to build or is quite experienced with reading logs, or in a short-term workshop where participants might want quite specialized follow-up activities, we encourage the design of a reading and writing experience that will provide in-depth knowledge over a confined area.

The purpose of the interactive reading activity is to place relatively greater stress on reading and interaction with the author and less stress on intensive or structured writing over a limited topic such as an abstracting assignment with a specified set of readings. The log is therefore not an outline and except for the suggestions provided below it is not a summary.

Knowles (1975) writes about an exercise in reading a book proactively that entails understanding what kind of road map an author might provide through such guides as a table of contents, dust cover statement, index, writing out some guiding questions the reader might want answered, and then reading those parts of the book that seem to answer the questions. Elbow (1973; 1981) describes a concept he calls "cooking" in which an interaction of contrasting and conflicting material in a document becomes central to getting at the heart of an idea or message. These type of techniques are described and the learners then encouraged to find a reading approach that will match their particular levels of self-directedness.

The approach to recording the interactive comments can be quite varied. Some people prefer to summarize certain passages and then perhaps make one or two observations before moving on to interact with the next portion. Some learners will record mainly personal observations as they read a document. Others will record not only personal reflections and comments but will also use the reading experience as a trigger for numerous future reading or research ideas. We, in fact, encourage digression, reading activity in several documents at the same time, and branching off into entirely unexpected areas for certain learners. Some learners will have the self-confidence and expertise to simulate through their writing actual debates with the author where ideas are challenged and counter-arguments presented.

The length and scope of the log varies with the type of reading materials selected and the intensity of the treatment given to each item by the reader. In one case the log might consist of widely spaced reactions to a variety of selections. In another case the log might include a number of longer reactions to fewer selections that have been carefully chosen for in-depth reading. We also encourage learners to think through whether or not they desire some type of feedback from the instructor.

The format for the product to be turned in for examination and feedback will again vary from person to person and should be based on planned intent as noted in a learning contract. For example, one person might choose to present one or two paragraphs of introduction explaining some reasons for the choice of reading selections, the interactive log of comments, and a summary or conclusion section. Another learner might choose to submit interactive notes on index cards taken while reading. Another person might present only the interactive comments derived during the reading effort. Still another person might choose to use a coding scheme which divides via color, printing font, or some off-setting technique the reader's comments from the author's words. This latter format can be especially helpful when the reader has set up the interactive experience as a debate or dialogue with the author.

The facilitator's role is to provide early descriptions of the technique and encouragement as the learner thinks through a personal approach to interactive reading. We attempt during the initial steps to encourage learners toward the acceptance of considerable personal responsibility in making various decisions about resources, approaches, and writing style. During the reading and writing efforts we make ourselves available to those who request time for discussion and feedback about the effort. It may be necessary for a learner to renegotiate personal plans or learning contract goals if a stumbling block is reached, a change in focus is desired, or a decision regarding moving from a broad to a more focused, in-depth approach is desired.

The final role for the facilitator is to provide feedback, if desired or contracted for by the learner, on the completed log. We tend to read through the log and write our observations, comments, and suggestions for follow-up reading or reflecting in the margins. Occasionally learners will prefer a face to face discussion over the interactive log report. We also attempt to make some comments regarding the choice of reading materials and provide some overall comments regarding our perceptions relative to the value of the experience for the learner.


Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. London: Oxford University Press.

Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with power: Techniques for mastering the writing process. New York: Oxford University Press.

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning. New York: Association Press.

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