Promoting Student Agency with Interactive Journals

Michelle Bouslog
Michelle Bouslog
EdTech teacher; M.A.Ed. in EdTech, Concordia University St. Paul, MN
A young girl wears headphones and take notes in a notebook, looking at her laptop.

Notetaking is a practice of recording information so one can solidify their learning or refer to it later. When we write something down, it can help cement the learning in our brains. When students put down their notes in their own words, it helps them synthesize information best to understand it. Now enter interactive journals.

This form of notetaking can be even more meaningful for students as it allows for a functional system where students can write, create, and explore ideas all in the same place. What exactly is an interactive journal, how can these journals promote student agency, and why is student agency an important component when it comes to educating the whole child?

What are Interactive Journals?

Interactive journals are exactly how the name sounds; journals that students create and interact with. They go beyond a simple notebook where students take notes (and usually forget about them, rarely referring back to them.) Interactive journals get information onto a page using more of the students’ senses. This helps to engage the student better. These journals use different texts and images, sometimes cutting and gluing (or copy/pasting), and in general, students get to personalize the contents of their journal. Some interactive journals are entirely virtual as well and can be used as an ed tech project.

Many interactive journals start with students creating a cover page. This allows students to start with some personalization, label with their name, and include any details a teacher may need when checking the journal (class period, grade, etc.) Students then create a living table of contents page where they leave room in the future to record what is on each page. Teachers often keep a running master table of contents visibly displayed in the classroom for students to use if they get lost in their journal. Finally, students number every page. This can be tedious, but makes sure that everyone in the class is, literally, on the right page.

Once the notebook is set up, students are ready to start adding to it. Not only can students take traditional notes, but there are so many other options for materials to add to their interactive notebooks. Concept maps, graphs, articles, pictures, diagrams, sketches, foldables, brochures, or even comic strips. Anything that is going to help students solidify their learning and have the information they can later refer back to, is fair game. Many students love that these notebooks become an academic scrapbook. Others love that they are more “user friendly” and easier to locate information than pages upon pages of handwritten text. Interactive notebooks give a landing place for student learning, help to diversify notetaking, and give students more choices when it comes to solidifying learning.

Promoting Student Agency with Interactive Journals

If you aren’t sold on interactive journals quite yet for student notes, another valuable aspect for using them is their ability to promote student agency. According to an article entitled, “Student Agency, Promoting Student Engagement,” student agency is a term that describes the learning process that includes the implementation of a variety of activities. These activities are considered both meaningful and important to learners.

Student agency means that students become the agents of their learning and the teachers become the facilitators. By giving students a voice and choice in their learning, they become more invested in their work and in turn, have a deeper understanding of the material they need to learn (Kathryn Starke, 2021). In addition to becoming agents of their own learning and projects, interactive journals also motivate students to study. They have a personalized study guide that they better understand, have invested in, and connect to.

Why is Student Agency Important?

What are some other reasons student agency is so important? Student agency is a very important component to add to any and every classroom.


Along with the reasons mentioned above, student agency and student ownership fosters independence. It teaches students that there are a variety of ways they can learn new information, retain information, and revisit information. It lets them make choices with notetaking and adds that level of student choice to how they want to go about doing so. It also lets students be creative. They no longer have to record notes only in written sentences. They can make comics, draw or add pictures from online, physically cut and glue, or insert a brochure. Students love having a say in their learning, and interactive journals allow for that creative choice to come to life.


Additionally, student agency builds confidence. Students can experiment with many notetaking forms and decide what works best for them. Maybe they learn better by writing down everything they hear. Maybe they need to draw diagrams to compare and contrast material. Or maybe sketching pictures allows them the best way to process what they are learning. Regardless of how they take notes, interactive journals allow for the practice students need to explore their notetaking needs. And what better tool could teachers give students as they prepare to be college and career ready than giving students the understanding of how they learn best.

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