February 22, 1997
Using Journals Effectively
Journal writing seems to be a popular element teachers use to give students the opportunity to become involved in the classroom without always speaking. However, is journal writing a beneficial tool for student learning? How can it become more effective in the classroom? There are many types of journals which can be used in a classroom. I have decided to look at the different types of journals that exist to gain a broad overview of journal usage. This is to help me decide what the most effective journal for this classroom would be.
First, let us look at what journal writing is. Journal writing is a method to provide students with an alternate way of expression. It promotes individual thinking by the students as well as developing the creative process. I want students to explore some freedom with their writing in this classroom. I want to allow them the opportunity to become involved in their learning. I want them to think more about the material discussed and have that opportunity to write down ideas and reflect on these ideas almost immediatly. Journal writing involves students keeping a "diary" of information that they or the teacher think is important to learn or remember. It is a "source book" according to Les Parsons, which can involve reactions to readings, discussions, television programs or advertisements, movies, rock videos, small group discussions where these ideas, thoughts, or opinions can be reflected on to be used later in another context. I think that this is very important to the subject matter and the unit I will be teaching. The Holocaust is a very emotional and sensitive topic and I think it is beneficial for students to have the opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns about the issues during this time. Since these students are still at that age where peer pressure and peer evaluation are very strong, and the liklihood that they do not want to express their personal views because they may be rebuked later for it, journals provide the necessary outlet for students to state their opinions in a more discreet manner. Journals are also a way for students to express ideas without feeling pressure to respond in a certain manner in order to receive a good grade.
Along with the freedom to express thoughts and concerns, a journal also can provide the freedom in which you express these thoughts and concerns. Journals are considered an artist's notebook. Journal entries are "normally" done by using words, however there is a move to allow students to use photographs, drawings, paintings, or any creative way the student may choose to express themselves. According to Teaching Writing written by Gail Tompkins, the purpose of journal writing is for students to use journals to 1) record personal experiences, 2) explore reactions and interpretations, and 3) record and analyze information. These criteria or aspects can be applied to any and all disciplines. I think that the most important place to include journal wrtiting is in the English classroom. This is where writing begins to take shape. Since it such a vital aspect of everyday life, students should feel comfortable expressing themselves and should have the means to do so. Journals allow students the opportunity to visual express themselves and to see their ideas on paper giving them the opportunity to analyze their thoughts more openly.
Several forms of journal writing involve personal journals, dialogue journals, reading logs, learning logs, and simulated journals. Topics for response and dialogue journals come from the personal lives of the students and are chosen by the students themselves. Reading logs involve topics from books students are reading. Learning logs are used more in Social Studies, Science, Math and other content areas. Topics for simulated journals are written as though the student was a character from a book they are reading or else is a historical personality. All of these are response journals since the student is constantly responding to some form of learning or education.
Journal writing can be used to allow students to sort out and organize ideas or thoughts pertaining to lessons, readings or even group work. Journals provide teachers and students with an added means of evaluation. Journals can also promote independent reading and thinking done by the student. Keeping a journal allows the students to interact and respond with the material or inforamtion being taught palcing them at the center of the learning process. Teachers can encourage their students to write entries in their journals responding to forms of media such as television ads, music videos, sit-coms or movies as well as class discussions, group work, homework or tests.
Journals seem to be very adequate in the learning process if used correctly. Journals should not be used as a personal diary stating what the student ate or did the night before if it is not relevant to a class topic or idea. Journals are also not meant for students to write in only to have the teacher never look at, respond to or evaluate. Journals should be evaluated by giving points for every entry the student has written or by meeting requirements which the teacher and students decide need to be included in the journal entries. According to many teachers and professors, journal writing appears to be very beneficial to classroom learning. Journal writing when used and evaluated properly can be a very beneficial tool for the leaner as well as the teacher.
Barchers, Suzanne I. Teaching Language Arts: An Integrated
Approach. St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1994.
Parsons, Les. Response Journals. Markham: Pembroke
Publishers Limited, 1990.
---. Expanding Response Journals. Markham: Pembroke Publishers Limited, 1994.
Popp, Marcia S. Learning Journalism in the K-8 classroom. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1997.
Tompkins, Gail E. and Kenneth Hoskisson. Language Arts: Content and Teaching Strategies. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1995.