Journal Ideas 2
Submitted by: Susan Smethurst
It seems like every group I've ever taught is about evenly divided between those who relish the opportunity to express their thoughts and observations in their journal, and those who stare fixedly at the paper and insist, "I can't think of anything!" There were also several students whose written language skills were so limited that writing several connected sentences on ANY topic was a challenge! However, the journal component was one of the more successful ongoing class activities last year. All the students made significant gains in their writing -- mainly in fluency, voice and ideas. I credit several things with helping make it work well:
1) I bought the cardboard-backed, marble-looking composition books for them (if you get them on sale in Aug. and Sept. they are quite cheap). This made the journal special and DURABLE. Some kids filled up *two* books during the year and were immensely proud of themselves.
2) Before time to write, we always had a short class discussion about some item in the news. or some school issue everyone was concerned about. This got them expressing their opinions, connecting to some background information, and responding to the ideas of others. When it came time to write, students had several choices:
1-- Write on a topic you select. Some wrote multi-chapter stories, others wrote running commentaries on their favourite teams, others wrote about daily events;most varied their entries.. For a few, it was the first time they had EVER written anything on their own (and thus was seventh grade -- eek!) If any got stuck in a rut -- always doing the same thing -- I eventually intervened and required them to pick something different once a week -- then twice a week...
2. -- Write about the topic we were discussing. How would you solve the problem, what do you think is fair, etc.
3 -- Write from the prompt on the whiteboard. For this, I had several great (cheap) books to select from.... One was "The Kids' Book of Questions" (sorry, don't know author etc. because it is packed -- but I got it from amazon.com). This has a lot of questions that will get kids going, but some are a bit too personal (or in poor taste) to use in class. The kids took turns selecting the prompt and writing it on the board, but occasionally I had to exercise veto power. Another book we used a lot was "Journal Jumpstarts" from Cottonwood Press -- another gold mine of thought-provoking ideas. The third one was actually topics for short speeches, but many worked well for journal writing. I believe this book was called "Express Yourself" and was from Good Apple or Fearon -- one of those.
Having choices ranging from open-ended to very specific meant that pretty well everyone was challenged. This was a class with a preponderance of very low achievers, so structure helped a lot. I tried to read all the journals at least twice a week, and usually wrote comments (no corrections). A few students did not want me writing in their books -- so I honoured their request and wrote on post-it notes instead! When they show their grandchildren, they can remove the notes <G>.
Although I did not "correct" their journals, we did conference about them and discuss ways to improve their writing. I marked them at least twice each reporting period, and gave each student a rubric appropriate to his or her level, so they knew what the expectations were and had specific areas they were working to improve (I have the rubric (s)in Word/WordPerfect, but I don't think it will go on email -- anyone who wants to see it can email me).