College rankings - controversies and caution (Learning journals: Part 1 of 3)

By Matt Andrews

TITLE: College rankings - controversies and caution (Learning journals: Part 1 of 3)
CONTENT AREAS: Advisory, English, Life Skills, Careers, Homeroom, Social Studies


  • Students will research possible ways to become educated
  • Students will identify personal criteria of high quality learning experiences
  • Students will engage in learning to become a better person


  • PS: A1.8 Understand the need for self-control and how to practice it
  • PS: B1.11 Use persistence and perseverance in acquiring knowledge and skills
  • C: A2.1 Acquire employability skills such as working on a team, problem-solving and organizational skills
  • C: C1.7 Understand that work is an important and satisfying means of personal expression
  • C: C1.4 Understand that the changing workplace requires lifelong learning and acquiring new skills
  • C: C1.3 Identify personal preferences and interests influencing career choice and success
  • C: B1.5 Use research and information resources to obtain career information


The general challenge of providing counseling to youth about education and life is that an advisor cannot know everything, but students need to learn a little bit about everything to make informed decisions. No special prior knowledge is necessary to complete this lesson.



Optional: audio recorder for the 30-minute class discussion assessment.


This is the first lesson of a three month project called “Learning Journals.” The Learning Journals give students, grades 9-12, an opportunity to reflect upon their college choices and post-secondary options in general. The instructor’s primary role is to help students become more effective self-directed learners, especially outside of school and in various communities of learners.

Learning Journals are one effective way of helping students find an educational path that best suits their individual needs, at any age and any time in life. The overarching goals of the Learning Journals and accompanied lessons are for students to:

  1. Identify at least 2 possible educational paths that they begin today (with an expectation that it may change next month)
  2. Become motivated to research the future of these educational paths further
  3. Engage in activity today that prepares them for various educational paths

At the end of three months, students should have about 75 daily journal entries recording:

  1. Interesting things they learn on their own each day, and
  2. Things they learn about formal educational paths to prepare for today


The primary message of the Learning Journals is for all students to engage in learning things that they find meaningful, and record it in their journal. Instructors help students focus on deeper understanding of the following terms and concepts:

Academic: Students and scholars studying to further various disciplines

Academic degrees: Associates, bachelors, master’s, and doctorate

Vocational training: Preparation for a person’s calling in life

Technical: Skills and procedures needed for a given vocation

Liberal Arts: Necessary things for a free citizen to learn

Community College: Most offer associates degrees with vocational and technical training and liberal arts education; some colleges will allow a qualified 15-year-old to enroll in a class

The counseling advice given during the lessons to support Learning Journals is that many community colleges, state universities, private colleges, and high schools offer opportunities for excellent a) academic, b) vocational, and c) liberal arts learning; however, students do not take advantage of the rigorous academic and vocational training at these colleges that teach them to be free citizens in the world.

The lessons and articles contain snippets of counseling advice; most importantly, students need to engage in self-directed learning, today, and record these individual lessons in the Learning Journal every day.


1. Once a week for the next three months, instructors may check to see that students are keeping up with daily journals. There is no need for instructors to read content of journals; walking through the room while students quickly flip through journals can be effective method to hold students accountable for this work.

Instruct students to date their entries -- time is optional. Remind students this is for their own, self-directed learning, and no one else needs to read it. Next month, the class will discuss minimum standards to record learning in journals. At the end of this month, all students in the class should be able to hold a competent conversation about learning.

Specifically, learning that includes:

    • Daily things that were learned, both inside and outside of school
    • Concrete knowledge about at least 3 pathways for education in the future. After 25 entries, students will be able to read the entries and reflect upon self-directed learning.

2. Once a month for the next four months, instructors may record a 30-minute segment of class discussion about possible college choices and educational paths. Ask the students two open-ended questions:

  • What will your life be like in 10 years after high school, and 10 years after that?
  • How will you become an educated citizen in our society?

Instructors encourage participation from the entire class with recognition that some people need not speak about sensitive personal issues. Some students love imagining science fiction possibilities while other students are only beginning to recognize that in 10 years, the world and life is not likely to be exactly as it is today.

In follow up discussions, begin with the same two open-ended questions and probe for interesting things the students learned about life with the help of Learning Journals.


  1. Instructor reads aloud or paraphrases the lesson overview to the class (lecture for 5 minutes, discuss for 10 minutes)
    • This overview focuses student attention on learning rather than schooling and college rankings. Most students are likely to misunderstand academic, vocational, and liberal arts education. This is the time for instructors to introduce, assess, and clarify the information students have about various educational pathways. The key to an effective lesson is to engage every student in reflection about what is worth learning in life and how to best learn those things.
  2. Distribute the article, instruct students to silently read it and highlight/underline key pieces of information that is of interest to them (5-10 minutes)
    • Instructors should walk around the room and note what is catching student interest.
  3. Discuss the article as a whole class (10 minutes)
    • Ask students what they found interesting. Nothing in particular needs to be taught here, this is a time to answer student questions, especially regarding deeper concepts of academics, vocation, and liberal arts. Instructors should use the language of local youth within the class and use specific examples of schools and careers that students mention.
    • Some students may confuse athletic championships with college rankings, and advanced students may ask about entrance requirements to a local college. Help students find answers after class. Note any questions that require the instructor to follow up by talking to a colleague or researching the Internet. The point of the discussion is to motivate students to want to learn.
  4. Distribute the reproducible homework assignment, instruct students to read it thoroughly and begin writing in their journals (15 minutes)
    • The students may have questions; encourage them to just start writing in their journals. This time is for “self-directed learning.” Students should write to learn, and every student should have a preliminary response within 15 minutes.
  5. Answer any questions about the Learning Journal assignment (15 minutes)
    • During this time, encourage motivated students to keep writing in the journal for their daily entry instead of participating in discussion.
    • This time is an opportunity for students to ask questions to clarify the assignment. The most important part of the assignment is that students journal every day. Remind students that the greatest rewards from this assignment will come after a month of daily recording what they learn.



Learning Journals -- Finding the best educational fit for you

This learning journal assignment requires you to both

  1. Engage in self-directed learning, and also
  2. Record your thoughts about learning for life and various educational paths.

This assignment requires up to an hour of self directed learning, and 10 minutes of writing, every day of the month. At the end of the month, you need to have 25-30 entries. Most importantly, spend time everyday learning about things that interest YOU, and record a few details about what you learn.

Learning Journal: First month

Begin by writing down everything interesting that you know about academics, liberal arts, and your calling in life. YOU are the only person that will know if you have found the right answer for yourself.

Your friends, family, and mentors are great people to talk to about these ideas, but you must think critically about their opinions and advice. The Internet and school resources, such as a career center, provide great information about possibilities for you, but you must identify the educational pathways that offer the best fit for you.

You may remember this advice from the article: “Don’t let somebody else do your homework for you,” and, “Better to explore the alternatives now than to find out later that you’re at the wrong college.” This learning journal is time for you to explore your options and do the homework to find the best educational path to fit your needs.

The challenge of this assignment is that you must:

  1. Identify your own interests and what you want to learn
  2. Learn extensively about many unique educational possibilities that interest you
  3. Engage in learning today that is interesting and prepares you for your future.


Every day, write three facts you learned about various educational paths. No one will grade you or check the accuracy of these facts. This assignment requires self-directed learning and will impact your life. The daily journal will help you to determine the best educational path to fit your needs.

Your Learning Journal should record:

  1. Daily things you learn, both inside and outside of school
  2. Specific details about every educational pathway that could be of interest to you
  3. Your own opinion about learning and your options for education

The Learning Journal requires self-directed learning, and no specific task can be written for you. YOU must direct your own learning process yourself because these answers impact your life in the future. At the end of this month, and about 25 journal entries later, you should be more competent in talking about your own learning and possible educational paths that could fit your needs.

Always remember, the point of the assignment is not to choose with any certainty what career path you will take. Instead, use the Learning Journal this month to learn in great depth about a few educational paths that interest you. The best way to do this is by engaging in learning today, and try something out that will better prepare you for the next level of learning.


College Rankings

About the Author

Matt Andrews