Here are some problems with journal writing:
- Sometimes you get some really personal stuff and then it’s worry, scurry find the psychologist- hurry, hurry. Of course you want students to be able to approach you if you need help, but asking students to constantly approach topics from their own personal experience just invites the psych couch experience and sometimes that not what you need from them.
- Students don’t write in an interesting fashion. There is no style or unique voice.
- They approach a topic with a lack of passion that would make a robot jealous.
- They lack a real audience and they are just a onetime activity/experience.
Here’s how you I use my Journal Writing strategy:
1. At the beginning of the year I show my students ten journal writing topics that I like and explain why I like them. Then I challenge them to write 10-15 JW topics for use in our class. I tell them that if they write down 10 they get a B, if I circle or highlight one to use they get an A and if I circle more than one they get extra credit. If your students use Google Docs or Google Forms you can collect all of them online without having to type them up yourself. I was able to quickly collect over 300 good topics in just my first year of doing this.
2. THIS IS THE CRUCIAL STEP! At the top of every journal write I make students write down the following
- The prompt
- The genre/mode they are choosing or the genre/mode I have assigned. Choices can be narrative, persuasive, a lyric poem, a song, a newspaper editorial etc… if you just want a reflection you can omit this.
- The voice: I require ALL students to write as a specific voice and it CAN’T be themselves. Well they can be themselves in the past (young child) or in the future but I prefer it to be someone else. It can be family, friends, someone famous or an item, object, or anything else.
- The tone: they must tell me a specific tone. I prefer that they express their tone towards both the audience and the subject. Sometimes I ask them to write down the mood. This WILL add passion and/or humor to their writing.
- The Audience– they must pick an audience and it’s can’t be me.
- Purpose/Theme (optional) depending on the prompt I may have them write down the purpose or theme
They must write these down BEFORE they start writing. I find when they do this their writing is SO much better.
3. I collect these either the same day or the day after. Sometimes I will have them post the whole thing or a part online. Sometimes it will be a prompt that is the same as a writing contest and now that they have a rough draft I encourage them to enter. Sometimes I have them share them with their writing groups. Sometimes they revisit them and write them using a different voice, or to a different audience.
4. The best part of having them write down the voice, audience, etc… down before they write is that you can then have them do metacognition/evaluation/style analysis on their own journal writes. Have them circle three parts of their JW that shows voice or two parts that show audience awareness and then explain how you made those choices when you were writing. Have them write this down on the bottom or back of the journal write.
PS- For the past three years my students write blogs instead of writing journal writes. It’s way better, but maybe you are not ready yet. If you are interested in why you should try having your students blog publicly, you should check out my student blogging resources and my links to student blog examples.