In your reading journal you should write 1) your own reading notes and ideas about every work we read and every film you watch, 2) ideas, outlines and drafts useful in planning and writing your papers for the class; and 3) responses to questions and/or writing suggestions I may give you in class. Your reading journal can contain many other types of writing responses to your experiences in this course, among them your own ideas arising from your reading, responses to class discussions, problems you are having with writing and/or with the literature we're reading, and prewriting for your essays.
Writing about what you've read has several benefits: it enables you to remember what you've read; it exposes weaknesses in your understanding; it raises questions you might not otherwise think about; it stimulates observations you might not otherwise have made; it helps you keep a record of characters, events, and themes and thereby helps in studying and reviewing material; and it provides ideas for papers.
There two basic ways of approaching writing in the journal. The first is to use the journal as a place to summarize plot, keep track of characters, keep a record of page numbers where important passages are located, record ideas gained from discussion in class and so on. The second way is to use the notebook as a place to make observations or connections or ask questions of your own about the meaning, structure, imagery, technique, etc. of the works being read or more general questions about Irish literature and culture, and try to answer such questions for yourself. The second way is less mechanical and more demanding than the first, and ultimately more important to me.
The second way of approaching the notebook should increase and encourage your "engagement" with the material we cover in class. If I see that your journal contains nothing but ideas recorded after class discussions, I will not be inclined to rate you highly on engagement. If, on the other hand, your journal contains ideas you've had before class discussion, or ideas recorded after class discussions which you then carry further, challenge, try to illustrate, or in some way deal with so as to make them your own, I will consider this to be engagement. Note that the "correctness" of your ideas is not a criterion for evaluation. Spelling and grammar in journal entries are irrelevant to your journal grade.
I will ask you to use your journal for a few other jobs that I hope will become routine in time. Occasionally, I will suggest a journal theme or topic or a list of questions for consideration outside of class (if you're absent from class, you should check with me or with another student for the assignment). These assignments will relate to the material we're working on in class and will, I hope, help you consider ideas and perspectives for the essays you'll be writing.
You'll have a much better chance of enjoying and succeeding with your journal if you get into the habit of working on it regularly. In many ways, your journal entries should be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the course, especially if you avoid falling behind and having to cram all your entries in right before the pickup date!