Using Student Journals Effectively in the Classroom

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

This lesson demonstrates best practices for journaling in the middle-school and high-school classroom. In addition, it offers ideas for the teacher who is struggling with his/her journaling ideas.

The Challenges of Journaling

'Another journal? Again???'

Have you ever heard these words from your students? Are you struggling to find suitable topics for your students to journal on but are finding yourself at a dead end? Are you wondering whether having your students write in their journals is really worthwhile in the first place? And worse yet, has it been literally months since you've sat down and read your students' journals?

If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, read on…

The Up-Side to Journaling

Journaling can be a great tool for your students, and there are a number of reasons for that. First, it gets them writing. Even the most reluctant writers can produce a few sentences in 5 minutes, three days a week. Second, it allows your students to voice their opinions. All teenagers have strong opinions, and your students are no exception. Allowing them to have autonomy is as important as teaching them to think critically. Finally, journaling offers a way for your students to tell you what is really on their minds. In some cases, you may be the only adult with whom they have a rapport and whom they can trust. Journaling is a non-threatening way for them to talk to you.

Best Practices

So… what are some of the best practices for journaling with your students?

1. Be sure that at least 50% of the time, you are relating your journal topics to the content you are covering in class. This need not be boring and mundane. Starting topics with 'Why do you think…,' 'What would you do…,' and 'What is your opinion…' allow students to have a measure of control and autonomy that they just don't get very often in school. In addition, it helps them assimilate content and relate it to real-world situations, making what they are learning even more relevant.

2. Every now and then, maybe once every couple of weeks, present a topic that is totally off-the-wall. One of my students' favorite journal topics was 'Alphabetical Breakfast Cereal.' (Get it? ABC?) They had great fun trying to formulate answers to fill in letters such as Q and X, and believe it or not, their brains were processing, which, after all, is the point of journaling in the first place.

3. Take a few minutes during class and have a couple of volunteers share what they have written with the rest of the class. (If a student does not want to do this, never make him or her do it, though.) You would not believe the kinds of in-depth class discussions that can occur spontaneously as the result of a couple of students' opposing opinions on a given topic.

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