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Journals in the Classroom

Flexible Instructional Tools

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Journals in the Classroom

Young Man Journaling

Jake Curtis/ Iconica/ Getty Images

Journal writing is an incredibly flexible instructional tool, useful across the entire curriculum. While often used as a class startup activity, it is used primarily to give students an opportunity to speculate on paper, confident that their ideas, observations, emotions, and writing will be accepted without criticism.

Benefits of Journals

The potential benefits of journal writing are many, including opportunities to:

  • Sort out experiences, solve problems and consider varying perspectives.
  • Examine relationships with others and the world.
  • Reflect on personal values, goals, and ideals.
  • Summarize ideas, experience and opinions before and after instruction.
  • Witness his academic and personal growth by reading past entries.

By reading journal entries, teachers get to know students'

  • anxieties
  • problems
  • excitements
  • joys

and with this information, make plans tailored for their students.

Negative Aspects of Journals

Use of journals does have two possible negatives however: These include:

* The potential for the teacher to hurt students' feelings with criticism.

Remedy: Avoiding the hurt feelings is simple--just don't criticize.

*The loss of instructional time needed to teach course material.

Remedy: Instructional time can be conserved by simply limiting journal writing to five or ten minutes a period.

A more interesting approach to conserving time, however, is to assign journal topics relating to the instructional topic of the day.

For example, you could ask students to write a definition of a concept at the beginning of the period and at the end of the period to describe how their concept had changed.

Academic Journals

Curriculum oriented journal entries have the advantage of causing students to relate personally to the topic before instruction begins. Asking for a summary of learning or for a question or two the student still has at the end of the period causes the student to process and organize his or her thoughts about the material covered.

Journal Topics

Find here over a hundred of journal topics in four lists. Please feel free to photocopy these topics.

Self Understanding and Clarifying Thoughts and Positions
Topics dealing with various aspects of "who I am, why I'm that way, what I value, and what I believe."

Interpersonal Relationships
Topics dealing with "what I want in a friend, who are my friends, what I expect of friends, and how I relate to family members, teachers, and other significant people in my life."

Speculation and Viewing from a Different Perspective
Topics causing the writer to predict or see things from an unusual perspective. These may be highly creative, such as "describe the events of yesterday from the perspective of your hair."

Academic Journal Topics for the Beginning, Middle and End of a Lesson
Generic starters in this list should make writing journal topics a cinch.

Student Privacy

* Students should be cautioned to remove extremely personal entries from their journals whether they are kept in the classroom or not.

* Entries the student regards personal, but that wouldn't devastate their lives if they fell into the wrong hands, can be folded and stapled closed. Teachers can assure students they will not read stapled pages and that the condition of the stapled paper would prove it had not been disturbed.

*Students should be protected from having other students read their journals by secure storage.

Should you read journals?

Whether the teacher should read journals is debatable. On one hand, the teacher may wish to provide privacy so the student will have maximum freedom for expressing emotions.

On the other, reading entries and making an occasional comment on an entry helps establish a personal relationship. It also allows the teacher to use the journal for start up activities which must occasionally monitored to assure participation. This is particularly important for academic journal topics and the use of journals for an start up activity.

References
Fulwiler, Toby. "Journals across the Disciplines." December 1980.

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