I've been trying to get my students to "think about the work as a whole," which is a buzz phrase in AP Literature. The dialectical journals force them to think about a literary technique and how the device could advance the theme of the novel. They are also required to give a personal reaction to the text.
In the beginning of a novel, they are unable to determine a theme without reading more. Usually, we do some background research before we begin the novel to help the students know which themes they are looking for.
If you have a plagiarism checker, I suggest that you require students to submit their journals. It keeps 'em honest!