For the purposes of this article, I have chosen to reflect upon the following three journals: personal journal, reading response journal and learning logs because I believe them to be the most effective. This was a very hard decision since each of these journals has their own place in the curriculum and each adds value when used effectively.
A personal journal’s strength lies in its non-structured approach in attracting students to write. Writing can feel like a great chore for some students, and many students need a place to talk about issues they face throughout the day, things they have noticed, things they have learned and feelings they have. This journal allows them to do that while also allowing the students to practice their writing skills without being graded or judged. This journal allows for much creativity. Its weakness also lies in its non-structure. Parents could view it as non-learning, and other more traditional educators. Some students crave structure, thus this type of journal could be a negative for them in that respect. A few students prefer that a teacher tells them exactly what to do for a more fill-in-the-blank approach. Since they have done this most of their school life, it is more comfortable. Personal journals can be a chore for them. On the positive side, it could also help to draw them out of this structured environment and get them to loosen up a bit and think more “outside the box” as they become more comfortable with their personal journals.
This journal can be used throughout the school year by adding it to the weekly curriculum. I see this journal as a more relaxed “Friday afternoon” time for writing. Students have one foot out the door for the weekend, yet we want to maximize our school hours. For many students, this will be their favorite journal, and we teachers can put their time to good use. I believe the personal journals need to be checked because if a student were to write something during school that could have some type of bad outcome, we teachers could be held responsible. For this reason, I would read them on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t take grades, but I believe they need to be checked to see if they doing it correctly, as well as for content.
Reading response journals have been around for many years with different type structures. They may have begun even as early as book reports. Some could argue they are much like a book report. The strength in these journals lies in the way in which the reader will write about what they have read. This can provide a clear picture to the teacher of reading comprehension of the subject matter. In addition, this type of writing can be used across the curriculum by adding it to the social studies lesson, science and numerous other subjects as the students get older. A very nice strength of these journals is that they check for understanding and whether the student has read the material. Its weaknesses are that for a teacher, they are harder to grade than simple answer, multiple choice or true false. In addition, they are time consuming for students who may struggle with writing. These journals are typically graded and recorded.
The best use for these journals in the classroom is to incorporate them in our Social Studies units to ensure the students are learning about the subject matter. It will increase class discussion because the students can question why our history ended up as it has. For instance, students could respond about why we had the Revolutionary war, and how they see it. It could be used in a current events lesson about any number of today’s issues that are in the newspaper and on the web, such as the Healthcare Bill passage and the stimulus package, the decrease in public school funding, the increase in mortgage foreclosures and how America could solve some of these issues in a more equitable manner because it is a “response” to what the reader has read.
Finally, my favorite journal is the learning log. I have used these all winter and watched my students’ writing skills improve far better than I ever expected. I believe its strength is that the students write in them every day. This provides them with grammar practice exponentially over and above their regular writing curriculum. My students are now using capital letters at the beginning of every sentence and punctuation at the end. They are painfully aware of the date. These students work hard to use complete sentences and now know what the difference is between an adverb and an adjective. Strength of this journal is that we can now see exactly what our students are learning. In addition, the learning journal is the best for “across the curriculum” learning, especially in science and math. The main weakness is that it is very time consuming. It takes some students a long time to write anything down, while another student has several pages already finished. It must be used in a timed situation (students must continue writing for 5 minutes for example) otherwise the slow students never seem to get it finalized. The weakness of this is that the strong get stronger fast, but the weaker students do not see as much increase in their skills because they don’t have as much written.
The learning logs need to be used on a regular basis to be effective. Each subject from science and math to language arts and social students could utilize the learning log journals. These journals can be used to study for a test as well as to check by the teacher for comprehension of difficult math skills.