Every student should have a journal including most students with disabilities and ELL students. Journal writing is one of the best teaching techniques to show students that their voice matters and that their schools are about who they are and what they do.
It also teaches students many writing skills. It is a 180 degree turn from the lockstep Uncommon School’s orderly march like a soldier, stare like a zombie, and get clicked at like an elephant in a circus performance, schools that reformers think will shape students up and make them conform.
Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality and David Coleman, President of the College Board don’t think journal writing matters.
They are wrong. My guess is many teachers are like me and know the value of having students keep journals.
Walsh, who has her knickers in a knot about how the “the reformers” are sometimes divided on what teachers should teach, even though reformers don’t teach, said Kids are paying a high price for our neglect. It [the reformers inability to get their act together] also allows many teacher educators to continue, unchallenged, taking an approach to reading instruction where the most popular assignment in reading courses is to ask students to “journal” about their own memories of learning how to read. And that exercise helps them [the students] how?
Coleman is on record saying that no one gives an expletive about student narrative writing.
But journal writing not only helps students formulate their ideas, it shows them that adults value them as people!
Journal writing can be a difficult exercise at first for anyone, because you have to
(a) think about what you are going to say,
(b) formulate the words,
(c) actually put the words down on paper.
This is especially complicated if your brain falls down on the job at any one of those three junctures. Students with learning disabilities often have difficulties with all of the above. Students with dyslexia might have problems writing too.
Some students come to class hating writing because they always got marked down for it in the past.
A few have motor difficulties where they can’t write legibly. Those students can dictate their thoughts and ideas and later rewrite what they said as a writing exercise. Knowing they are rewriting their own ideas gives them great pride.
This kind of writing also reinforces reading.
Students sometimes prefer printing words if they don’t write good cursive, and they can use computers for this now too. The important part of journal writing is that students express themselves.
The beauty of journal writing is that you can make mistakes! Students with some of the worst writing difficulties actually end up liking to write because they know they won’t be judged! If students have trouble thinking about what to write, most teachers keep a list of topics for them to choose.
Parents might encourage their children to keep a diary, especially in the summer, when writing skills might slide. There are beautiful bound notebooks that make this writing special if you want to be fancy. Children might want to decorate the cover of their journal made out of a plain notebook.
Famous writers like Virginia Woolf, Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag and others all kept journals. Journal writing is one of the best, most meaningful exercises you can do with students. It is, of course, a good exercise for all of us.
Insinuating that this is a useless task disrespects students and steals from them valuable learning, and it demonstrates the dark side of today’s school reforms.
As a teacher, I learned much about teaching writing through The National Writing Project workshop. They do try to align to Common Core now (who doesn’t?), but they are still a wonderful resource for classroom writing ideas.
I also would recommend Nancie Atwell’s fine books at the middle and high school levels.