Examining Learning and Communication Strategies through Dialogue Journal Writing in Russian

Tatiana Segura, University of Texas, Austin

Dialogue journal writing is defined as “the use of a journal for the purpose of carrying out a written conversation between two persons, in this case a student and a teacher, on a regular continuous basis (Staton, 4)”. It is traditionally used in language classes to enhance and evaluate the development of students’ language skills in general and writing skills in particular.

This presentation is based on a semester-long qualitative pilot study conducted by an instructor of an intermediate Russian college-level course with 6 volunteers enrolled in the course in the spring of 2004. The goal of the study was to examine learning and communication strategies used both by the instructor and the students in the process of dialogue journal writing. Following Schwarzer (2004), the study addressed the following questions: What learning and communication strategies do students use when communicating in Russian through dialogue journals? What strategies does the instructor use when communicating with the students through dialogue journals? Learning strategies are “specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations” (Oxford, 8). Communication strategies help to compensate for missing knowledge and include paraphrasing, borrowing and avoidance (Oxford, 243, citing Tarone, 1977, 1980, 1983).

The analysis of student dialogue journal writing is based on the entries of three students (out of six) who completed the study without any interruptions throughout the semester. Following Schwarzer’s analysis (2004), the instructor placed student and instructor dialogue journal entries into two different charts. The emergent strategies in the charts became primary categories for analysis. The following strategies were used most frequently by the students participating in the study: integrating linguistic models provided by the instructor into one’s own writing; translating into L1; asking questions to clarify the meaning; and using graphical symbols to express emotional evaluations. The strategies most frequently used by the instructor included linguistic modeling and prompting; paraphrasing; using cognates; recycling previously introduced vocabulary; and providing cultural explanations.

Generating broad generalizations was not the goal of this study; however, its tentative results reveal practical insights that could be taken into consideration before implementing dialogue journal writing on a larger scale. The presentation will contain a demonstration and discussion of samples of both student and instructor writing that illustrate the use of various strategies discussed in the presentation.


Oxford, Rebecca L. 1990. Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Schwarzer, David. 2004. “Student and Teacher Strategies for Communicating through Dialogue Journals in Hebrew: a Teacher Research Project.” Foreign Language Annals, Spring 2004, 37/1, 77-84.

Staton, Jana; Shuy, Roger W.; Peyton, Joy K.; and Reed, Lesley. 1988. Dialogue Journal Communication: Classroom, Linguistic, Social and Cognitive Views. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation.