Process journals are paper-based or electronic scrapbooks that gather evidence using the creative cycle, collect extra-musical findings, and present music. They are more than just a music workbook.  It’s a music diary or journal.  In it, students gather evidence of Criterion A (Knowledge & Understanding).  Like a typical music workbook, they include written assignments, theory sheets, information sheets, and any other written work that gives them a deeper understanding of the topics studied. 

Where the process journal is different is its relationship to Criteria B (Developing Skills), C (Creative Thinking), and D (Responding).  We use the creative cycle in the Arts; the students’ progress through the creative cycle – their process – is recorded in their process journal. 

Making process journals meaning for students

My kids used to hate process journals.  They didn’t know what to write, and they didn’t care about reflecting.  Over the years, I tried several different process journals until I finally discovered my best practice – electronic process journals (which is feasible since I’m in a 1:1 laptop school).

The electronic versions are so much better because students take ownership of their work.  I tell them they can use any software that accepts video files, which means I typically get Pages, Keynote, iWeb, or iBook Author files.  The students take pride in decorating their documents and personalizing their work as much as possible.

What's in a process journal?

A better question is - What ISN'T in a process journal?

A typical grade 7 Process Journal might include this:

– Title page about the student

– Creative cycle title page (so they can look back and see how assessments work in music)

– Information sheets about Chinese music

– Worksheets / Answers to questions about Chinese music

– Pieces of music composed in Chinese style, including a screen capture of the score, an MP3 file of the music, a photo of the student’s ensemble group, and a video of their group performing their piece

– A chapter on how their music was composed, with graduated screen captures showing progress.

– Feedback given by family, friends, and teachers, as well as the students’ written responses to that feedback
– Evidence of using the Creative Cycle, including planning write-ups, score mark-ups, progress videos, progress evaluations, reflections, progress evaluations, external feedback, responses to feedback, a final video, a final reflection, and a final evaluation
– Evidence of musicing outside of school (e.g. attending concerts, jamming with friends, etc.)

Creative Cycle Wall Display

My display board is a visual reminder that the process journal is involved in every step of the creative cycle.

I designed this banner for my classroom.  It’s 2 X 2 metres and takes up an entire display case.  I’ve got it positioned directly across from the primary classroom door so that it’s the first thing students see as they walk in the door.  The drama teacher and I share resources, so I also made one for her classroom, measuring 1 X 2 metres in length.  

Highlighting Excellent Work

How do I use this display?  When I see good examples of score mark-ups, I blue-tack them to the poster.  I also take photos of students practicing and working well, and again I blue tack them beside where the kids are in the creative cycle.

I’ve got a floor rug sitting in front of the display, so I take my students and sit them in front of the creative cycle, and we discuss what the process looks like and how to use it efficiently.  I find it effective in visually showing students what I mean.

For example, I had one group that was very proficient in playing their instruments. I noticed they were almost perfect, though they had just started the process.  I asked them to choose a new piece that was more challenging, but they protested.  Then I took them over to the Creative Cycle display and showed them, “Guys.  You are moving straight from planning/practicing to performing.  You are completely missing polishing because your music is too easy!”  When they saw it visually, they accepted their reality and went to look for more challenging music.

DeBono Thinking Hats - Process Journal Prompts

DeBono Thinking Hats are incredibly helpful when using PJs because they give the students starting prompts when reflecting and evaluating.  They also ensure that a final assessment has looked at a performance from all possible angles. So what are DeBono Thinking Hats? According to Wikipedia, the hats include:

  • Information: (White) – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions (Red) – instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Bad points judgment (Black) – logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch
  • Good points judgment (Yellow) – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
  • Thinking (Blue) – thinking about thinking

Should you use prompts in a process journal?

When I was doing my Category 2 training, the leaders warned against using prompts in the process journal because many people find that students rely on using the hats and don’t truly reflect, and in some parts, I think this is true. 

However, I see the DeBono Hats as a starting point and as scaffolding for differentiation.  The fact is, students who are “self-starters” and proficient in the language of instruction often write far beyond the hats.  They may use the prompts, but typically they write paragraphs more in which they dive into their evaluations/reflections.  These are the students who add different sections about their musicing – who go the extra mile. 

On the other hand, I once had an Asperger’s student who simply could not write without prompts.  She simply didn’t see the point.  And what about my ESL students? Our school has a highly transient population, 46% of whom may speak little or no English.  These students and the “non-starters” would happily write nothing in their DWs, whether from inability or apathy.  The DeBono hats give them a scaffold; the students can use them as support before moving beyond them when needed.

Teacher Self-Refections

How do I use the Hats as a teacher?  I use the Hats when designing assessments and when reflecting on my work. 

  • Designing Assessments: After my students have completed a large unit and are ready for the final, summative assessment, I like to use the DeBono Hats to structure my written evaluation in essay form. For example, if the students have completed a composition, I will use DeBono Hats as prompts to evaluate it as part of their Criterion A.
  • Reflecting on my work: The students once asked whether teachers had to reflect as well.  Of course, we reflect on our work!  For example, last month we put on our first annual Music Festival.  Immediately afterward, we set up a wiki and asked for all volunteers to reflect on its success. 

Sample DeBono Hat for the Creative Cycle

Finding the Criteria In the Process Journal

When you are looking through a student’s process journal, here are some things that can be assessed: 

Letter A with blue gradient, a drop shadow, and a reflection.

Knowing and Understanding

  • Score analyses say what, how, and why things happen in the score
  • Information on how music works (e.g., explanations of the 12 bar blues the circle of 5ths. 
  • Research into the music’ contexts. History (when), society (who), and culture (why).
  • You could also talk about why the music was composed. Was it for sociocultural & political expression? Was it just written to be listened to and enjoyed? Was it playing a supporting role in a soundtrack, ballet, or theatre? Is it electronic music? 
  • Is the music very familiar to you (personal), somewhat familiar to you (local), or very unfamiliar to you (global)?
  • Have you correctly used your vocabulary words?
  • In your creative cycle reflections, have your artistic decisions been made based on you applying your knowledge?   

(Yes, yes, I know. I’m using DP language here… but why not? The new guide is fantastic, and the sooner we familiarize students with the language, the better!)

Letter B with blue gradient, a drop shadow, and a reflection.

Developing Skills

Side note: MYP Arts have only one criterion for actually playing their instruments! (Shrug) Strange, but here it is.

In process journals, this looks like screenshots and videos. 


Students making music (whether composing, arranging, producing, etc.) on their laptops must add screenshots to highlight their progress and show academic honesty.

GarageBand screen shot showing tracks with different music loops

With each screen recording or screenshot, the students must highlight decisions made at particular spots.  If the students are discussing Logic Pro or GarageBand, they must provide time stamps. 

“I decided to have shotgun 2.74 enter at 01:56 because it added more gravitas to the entry of 01.33 at the same marker.”

Finale screen shot showing multiple staves of piano, strings, and drum kit. The drum part is highlighted in yellow.

Students also provide screenshots when working in notation software (Noteflight, Musescore, Finale, Sibelius, etc.).

It’s good to say, “The drum kit enters in measure 33 with the kick drum on the downbeat and the snare on 3, thus emphasizing the compound metre.” But it’s excellent to highlight the measures they discuss.  A highly experienced DP teacher at our school told us that highly organized writing helps students make their thinking organized and visible and easier to assess. 


Performing means taking progress videos.  The IB consistently says the process journal isn’t supposed to be a daily journal.  Some teachers want a progress video at the end of every practice session; others tell the students they must have three (beginning, middle, and final). I think this is your preference.  

Letter C with blue gradient, a drop shadow, and a reflection.

Thinking Creatively

Here’s where things can get controversial. Are reflections assessing Criterion C or D primarily? Sure, there are many other criteria thrown in for good measure (especially Criteria Aiii and Di), but where do reflections mostly fit? 

I think reflections are Criterion C.

Criterion Ci is easy because it’s just the artistic intention. There’s no controversy over that one.

My students tend the write the same artistic intentions or most creative cycles: 

  • White Hat: Who are the members of your group? What instruments will they be playing? What parts of the music are they playing? (descant, melody, harmony, bass, rhythm/percussion) What piece have you chosen and why? What is your stylistic plan for this piece? 
  • Black Hat: Looking at the score, what potential problems do you see? What might be challenging for your group?
  • Yellow Hat: What areas of your score look feasible? About what, are you feeling confident regarding your ensemble’s performance? 
  • Blue Hat: What strategies are you going to use in putting this piece together? How are you going to ensure that your work through the creative cycle is efficient and on-task? 
  • Green Hat: How are you going to make your interpretation creative and musical? How will it sound different than the original artist? 
  • Red Hat: How do you feel about the start of this project so far? 

I think reflections and progress discussion videos are Criteria Cii & Ciii. 

On-the-go reflections are where students are jotting down quick notes about their experiments.  It’s where they stick their lead sheets and scribble down alternate chord fingerings and doodle across the top of their sheet music until they come up with an excellent idea for the introduction.  

If the process journal is a living, on-the-go tool, then reflections are criterion C because they are documenting all their creative ideas.

But before I move on, you’re probably wondering what progress discussion videos are.  

Progress discussion videos record students discussing their musical decisions.

. I always keep my cellphone in my pocket when I am wandering around the creative cycle.  When I see a group deep in discussion, I’ll take a sneaky video and then forward it to everyone with a request to put it in their process journals.

We all have one or two students who had to write (and who hate process journals!)  In international schools, we all have students who can barely speak English.  Taking a discussion video is excellent because it gives real-time, authentic looks at the students’ visible, creative thinking!


Criterion Aiii and Di used to drive me to distraction because I couldn’t tell the difference. However, I think I’ve gotten it straight in my mind now. 

Criterion Di transfers knowledge while Criterion Aiii uses knowledge. 

My grade 8s do a soundtrack unit. The students know about mickey-mousing, running counter to the action, excluding middle ranges to produce tension, the value of silences, etc. 

When they look at this Doctor Strange foley video, they make notes about what knowledge transfers over in their process journal. Storyboards are fantastic for this.

Criterion Di transfers their knowledge: In their journals, they are writing things like, 

“At 1m45s I’m adding a silence to make the car crash more compelling, and then I’m going to add Nepalese-themed music when the Ancient One appears on the screen.” 

Criterion Aiii describes their use of the knowledge. 

“At 1m45s, I’m going to have a unison female singer singing a conjunct melody with limited range. The bansuri, a type of flute, and a tungna, a type of plucked lute, will accompany.  I have the world-instrument plugins for GarageBand so that I can find these instruments or something close. I’m going to compose using an isthayi-antara form, with the verse coming in when the Ancient One arrives on the mountain, and the chorus coming in when the villain arrives…”

GarageBand screenshot showing Doctor Strange trailer and many different, filled musical tracks.
And lastly, Criterion D has their final evaluations.

Yellow Hat: What was successful about your composition in creating an environment for the scene?

Black Hat:  What improvements are needed?

Red Hat: How effective is your composition at linking emotions/beliefs to the visuals on screen?

Impact on Others: Show your video and original soundtrack (OST) to three people and record their responses in your process journal. What was your composition’s impact on your audience? Did you have the desired effect?

(I also throw in questions regarding other Criteria.)

Students’ process journals must also show evidence of using Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills. In the Arts, you could make a case for using 20 or more ATLs during any given unit (especially Self-Management when going through the creative cycle!).  However, you need to drill down and focus on only one – maybe two – ATLs for the course of the unit. 

You can’t just say you will be watching out for an ATL skill – you have to teach it explicitly, and that learning needs to show up in students’ process journals as assessable skills. 

A cornell note activity that teaches students who to independently drill down and decide on which ATL skill they want to use.

This example is a worksheet from a DP Music activity on ATL skills. Here, the students are given a PDF with annotated icons of different ATLs skills. They need to match the icons with those shown on the page and then write a short explanation of why they fit.  Then, the students need to choose which ATL they’d like to focus on when doing their project. #studentvoiceandchoice. #studentagency.