Posted by: jockmackenzie | September 15, 2009

Journal Writing – Introduction

P9120019My wife is a journal writer. The picture shows her journal, her hand (nice hand, eh?), and her special pen. When does she write? Whenever she feels the need. What does she write about? In general terms, she writes about her feelings, her aspirations, her frustrations . . . her life. Specifically, I don’t know. It’s her private journal. Sometimes she will read selected entries but, for the most part, it is her conversation with herself.

If we can offer students the concept of journal writing, and if the idea works for any student, we have done a good thing.

My 5W’s and H for Journal Writing

Whoeveryone – students and teacher. I enjoy writing and looked forward to the opportunity. Besides, most students need the solitude and personal space. Who needs some teacher peering over your shoulder?

What – On Day One I told my students that whatever they wrote in their journals might at some time be read by their parents or by me. Journal Writing was not private, personal, bare your soul time. I encouraged honesty but warned that I would browse (more to see that a reasonable effort was being made)and that journals would be available for parents at Parent-Student-Teacher Conference times.

When – at the beginning of the year, every day – and as close to the beginning of the class as possible. We taper off to three times a week and later to twice a week. As you will see from Journal Writing Ideas #1 – #7, the official topics I offer will only provide ideas for twice a week. Why? The other entries (the daily ones and the third one done early in the year) are very brief and may involve more copying than true journal writing.

Where – in a duo-tang filled with looseleaf paper provided by the student and kept in a bin on the back counter. *** A neat trick suggested by a workshop participant offered a great way to distribute the journals at the beginning of the class: Create a routine where the first people to get to class go to the Journal Bin, grab the top five journals, and place them on the appropriate desks. I tried it; I loved it. Often the eager beavers who arrive early are happy to have a task and on the volunteer-to-help-if-you-wish-to system the journals all got distributed in a timely fashion.

Why – 1. My system for journal writing offers variety. I always offer two choices that I hope are timely or thought-provoking. The third choice (whatever the student feels like writing about) allows the student to write about whatever it is in his/her life that seems important. 2. My system is non-judgmental. I don’t mark the entries; I don’t even read all of them. All I ask is a reasonable effort and I have said I would give a small mark for that. The idea of accountability has worked. 3. It’s habit forming. By writing a minimum of twice a week, it creates a flow.

How – On the overhead (I made transparencies for re-use with each of my four classes) or on the board, I offered three choices. The first two were ones I had gleaned over time; the third choice was always “Your choice.” Choice #3 even had an alternative. Within reason, Choice #3 allowed the opportunity to draw instead of write. The within reason part needed some monitoring, but provided an outlet for some students who had ideas to share but didn’t like writing. At the end of the day (a saying I find myself disliking), it was a worthwhile alternative.

How much – Journal Writing time was usually about 5 minutes. I had to use my timer wristwatch to set the time limit. Often when I wrote, the 5 minutes flew by and could easily have become 10. Maybe it just flew by for me.


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