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A Journal Review

Bibliographic Citation

Farrell,Peter J. (2005). Measuring Progress on Journal Writing. International Christian University, JALT2005 Conference Proceedings, Tokyo: JALT


1. Introduction

The Journal I choose to review for this assignment is entitled Measuring Progress on Journal Writing by author Peter J. Farrell (2005). I choose this journal for three reasons. First, he measures interactive journal writing by using quantitative studies to challenge Peyton (1990) suggestion that the benefit of student writing cannot be measured quantitatively arise my curiosity. Secondly, he applies online interactive journal writing or computer-mediated communication which he calls online website. He did not mention specifically what online web based the students use raise my question on how he collects the data. And the last, for a novice researcher like me who does not have statistical literacy or the ability to read and evaluate research article that include statistically analyzed data, read and review articles contain statistical production in them is a must to drive that novice researcher to confident feeling in doing her own research later.

Farrell seems to have a perfect teaching record. He teaches English as a second language in Spain, the United States, and for the past ten years he teaches at English Language Program at International Christian University in Japan. His adequate understanding toward interactive journal writing had triggered him to make research on student-student journal writing.

Research defines as a systematic approach to finding answers to questions (Farhady, 1982; Hatch, 1994). Hatch proposes that to do research it means to follow a set of conventions, a research for applied linguistics can be done through observation, indirect research, library research, experiment, or merely follow the curiosity (1994). All those kinds of research will cone into data that is useful after the findings revealed. And statistics facilitate researchers a way to interpret and extend findings, answers beyond the experiments that they do.

Interactive journal writing is the independent variable or the “major variable” (Farhady, 1982:15) that Farrell wants to investigate.  Meanwhile, the dependent variable he observes and measure to determine the effect of the independent variable is writing skill.

Interactive Journal writing or what Gebhard (2000, 57&233) Mirhosseini (2001; 40), Evans (2007: 22) and Stapa (2007, 33) called Dialog Journal is informal letter being written back and forth between students and teacher. Gebhard adds that Dialog Journal may also in the form of written conversation between two or more people (p.233). Meanwhile, Brown offers different point of view on journal. He states that Interactive journal is a kind of self writing with only the self in mind as audience where students’ record thoughts, feelings, and reactions and which an instructor reads and respond to, while ostensibly written for oneself has two audiences (Brown, 2001:344).

Computer-based communication becomes part of life and cyber communication enters every walk of life. Using internet network to teaching has been debating whether the modern technology will give benefit to learning itself. The use of online website for learning is in accordance with the nature of students who love trying new, modern, sophisticated thing. Farrell’s study that employ the newest feature that internet offers is innovation to his teaching, and the use of computer will make students study comfortably (Beavois and Elege, 1995 in Stapa: 2007, 34).


2. Summary

The author states that writing journal progress can be measured quantitatively at least in two aspects: firstly, its fluency by finding the average number of words per sentence. Secondly, sentence complexity, by calculating number of clauses per sentence (Farrell, 2005: 1083).

The journal starts out by describing the form of journal writing as students-students exchange written entries with free topic to be given respond.

Journal writing gives many advantages on students. It offers therapeutic value or make students are able to express themselves. Further it makes students put their idea forward freely. Meanwhile, for teacher Journal writing allow teacher to be more informed of students’ strengths and weaknesses.

The journal goes on to describe the past quantitative studies on journal writing. It recorded that Peyton (1990) discovered the acquisition of grammatical morphologies was different from student to student when he analyzing the student-teacher dialog journal of sixth grader ESL. Then, Casanave (1994) through his analyses on journals of university students found out the changes on the length, sentence complexity, and accuracy. And the more recently, Dupenthaler (2004) showed that no significant transfer of skill occurred when he investigate whether journal writing could assist in improving more formal writing.

Further the journal describes what the author studied and the method employed. Farrell intends to test informal meaningful writing foster better writing. He assigns his students to regularly write and respond to journal sent by a secret partner through online website. There are 20 students of second year university English major and he picks 6 students as his participant. He looks for the answer of whether student-student journals improve writing fluency and sentence complexity. To find the answer he assigns his students to write an open letter with a nickname at online website. Then his students ask to read and write a response to one post using total minimum of 400 words for 14 weeks and the exchange is done weekly. Students first week, mid term, and final week entries are taken for study.

The last part of the journal describes the result and the conclusion of the study. The results inform that “fluency and sentence complexity improvement seems to be highly individuals”. And it is followed by the conclusion “Interaction with other non-native writers did not seem to significantly benefit fluency and sentence complexity”. The author goes on to state that it is not clear how much the nature of online computer journal affect the students writing.


3. Analysis of the Presentation

The major issue presented in the journal is the interactive journal writing through online website. Gebhard (2000) and Brown (2001) suggest that journal writing is the exchange letter between students and teacher. Differ from the experts’ statement mentioned earlier; Farrell assigns Interactive Journal without involving himself as the teacher to respond the entries sent by his students. This contradicts with what Gebhard (2000: 57) and Brown (2001: 344) who suggest that Interactive Journal is carried out between student and teacher. His curiosity to see the affect of student-student Interactive Journal drives him to measure the progress of Interactive Journal in  which teacher’s feedback and intervene do not exist.

Journal writing according to Genesse is “a conversation between student and teacher” (1998, p.137). Whereas Peyton (1997) defines it as “a bound composition book in which  each student carries on a private written conversation with the teacher for an extended period of time (school year, semester)”. Farrell substantially agree with the concept of journal writing but not in the form of it as he allows turn-taking journal between students-students.

Journal writing according to Farrell defines as students interchange journal with other language students (2005: 1079).

Farrell states that little quantitative research has been done to investigate the claims that journal writing improves writing skill (2005:1080). Contradict with his only three previous study presented, research on journal writing improves writing skill are abundant. Some of the quantitative researches on Journal writing had done that can be taken into consideration are: in 1997 Geok Imm Lee investigated on the effect of dialog journal writing on the development of students’ writing skill. Daren Lingley from Kochi University of Japan carried out a study on Spoken Features on Dialog Journal Writing in 2006. Siti Hamin Stapa in 2007 made research on Achievement of Male and Female Students Using e-Dialog Journal Writing. And Mirhosseini, Seyyed-Abdolhamid had observed very closely on Dialog Journal Writing in EFL Education in 2001 at Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran. Those who agree that quantitative design can be applied on Journal writing to investigate the improvement on writing skill.

According to Genesse & Upshur benefits of Journal writings include: (1) they provide information for individualizing instruction, for example: writing skills, writing strategies, students’ experiences in and outside of school, learning process, attitudes and feeling about themselves, their teachers, schooling, and their interests, expectations, goals; (2) they increase opportunities for functional communication between students and teacher; (3) they give opportunities to use language for genuine communication and personalized reading; (4) they permit to individualize language teaching by modeling writing skill in their response to student journal; (5) they promote the development of certain writing skill; and they enhance student involvement and ownership learning (1998: 120).

On the other hand, Farrell mentioned few benefits of journal writing. He agrees that Journal writing on facilitating functional communication and promoting extensive writing practice. In the author’s mind the benefits of journal writing is merely facilitating writing exercise without taking into account the genuine communication emerge when journal writing is carried out.


4. Response to the Presentation

I can say that the central ideas of this study is to measure the progress in journal writing is closely parallel to Stapa’s investigation of measuring male and female achievement in using journal writing. Farrell calculates the average of words per sentence and the mean of clauses per sentence. Stapa calculates how many words applied in every entry so that she seems confident to conclude that her subjects gained development in their writing skill quantitatively and qualitatively. Even though the result is contradict to each other where Farrell claims that the development is highly individualized and Stapa claims the development occur to all subjects regardless male and female gender they have.

The author’s view of the development of writing skill is highly individualized is acceptable. The author’s free-intervening writing process causes the subjects did not get feedback for their content and form writing quality. The absence of teacher as model causes students to write without a good sample to imitate.

The author uses the average of words per sentence to measure fluency is questionable. Even though Mean (X̄) is the most frequently used measure the central tendency, it has a limitation (Farhady, 1982: 55). Writing fluency can not alone be measured by how many words used in a sentence. I agree if the author uses the words per sentence to measure the length of the entry.

Let’s see the table of results on his investigation:

S Words Sentence Fluency

(X̄ of words per sentence)

Sentence Complexity

(X̄ clauses per sentence)

First Mid Final First Mid Final
1 5631 528 16 9 11 2.2 1.2 1.8
2 1712 234 9 8 7 1.6 1.6 .64
3 1652 154 13 10 9 1.9 1.7 2
4 1733 174 9 10 9 2.2 1.75 2
5 5995 529 10 9 14 3.9 1.8 2.4
6 4639 490 12 11 14 1.9 1.7 1.8


S 2 uses 1712 words and those turn into 234 sentences (X̄ = 7,3) and S4 uses 1733 words and those turn into 174 sentences (X̄ = 10). It shows us that S2 apply more words in a sentence than S4. But the analysis shows different thing. S4 applies more clauses in his sentence.

It will be more acceptable if the author put all the 14 entries to see how the students go up and down in their writing. So, the length of the entry can be analyzed and measured.

Two thumbs up for the author who initiates the student-student journal writing on online website. I consider this as a good reaction of a creative teacher who can take advantage on the technology familiar with students. He takes advantage of students’ enjoyment on using cyberspace communication to facilitate learning.

I presume that the result on journal will be qualitatively higher if he get involves in the process of writing. I agree if he wants to make the students completely focus on content but he forget that his students’ ability on writing- as he claimed- on average a middle school in fact they are second year university students. In this case, in my opinion, teacher interference is needed.

I still do not understand how he decided to choose entry to be analyzed. What kind of sampling that he applied is not mentioned. He has 20 participants and he chooses 6 students to be his sample. Whether the students who wrote less that 400 words per entry are neglected, or he merely took students who wrote ˃̱ 400 words per entry is not clear. Why he states 400 words per entry, he misses explaining the reason of stating why it should 400 words.

I agree very much that the improvement on journal writing on students is highly individual. Many researchers who work in this area concluded the same thing. It is assumed that communicate in written form heavily depends on the need of the doers. Regardless the journal take-turn or back-forth between student-student and teacher-student. As journal writing lead to free topic writing, the closeness and belief between the doers influences the chain of entry.


5. Conclusion

Measuring Progress in Journal Writing conducted by Farrell (2005) shows that measurement applying quantitative can be carried out. Even though the measurement only given into fluency and sentence complexity but it can informs us that benefit to students on journal writing activity explainable quantitatively.

Another study to measure the benefit of journal writing on students’ abilities and teachers’ professionalism is important to do.

Employ the right measurement to maintain validity should be taken into the consideration. Carefully decision in picking the sampling is also to be considered so that the external validity is not in questioned.


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