Considerations for Journal Use
Considerations for Journal Use
Journals can be used throughout the day, at different times of the day, and for different purposes. Teachers may wish to consider the following process as they prepare their students for journal writing:
- Decide what type of journal best suits the purpose in your classroom. Think about the purpose(s) of the journal and how the students will use it.
- Prepare materials. Student journals can be kept in loose-leaf notebooks, in spiral binders, or on computer disks. The format of the journal must allow the student to bring the journal to and from school. If the journals will be used as a student reference for test taking, computer disks may be impractical.
- Model initial entries. Using an overhead projector or classroom chart, work together to write a sample entry. The students can copy the class entry into their own journals or write one of their own.
- Schedule time for regular journal use. Students are all engaged in the act of writing and this enables individuals to generate ideas, observations, and emotions.
One of the biggest challenges with writing journals is that some students use them simply as a way to record the day's events. They slip into the routine of writing diary entries without reflection or real purpose. This may be reduced by encouraging students to write about a variety of topics, then take what they feel are the better entries and develop them into finished pieces. Another way to overcome the problem is to use a split page method: one column for a record of the day's events and the other for personal reflection, questions, or elaboration. In this way the expectation for higher-level thinking is established. Modeling some journal entries helps students understand what is expected of them.
A second concern of some teachers is whether their students are too young to begin journal writing. Students should begin developing science journaling and writing skills early. They can develop their organizational skills, their questioning skills, and their writing skills through journaling. Teachers can move toward inquiry teaching and learning scenarios as they see the questions their students write in their journals.
Standard features of the journal may emerge and could then be consistent with each unit studied. The scientific method should offer a basis for consistency. Teachers may wish to vary the approach of writing in the journal with some of the units studied. Students may grow in their writing and organization skills as they try new approaches. Teachers may wish to
- have students include drawings and diagrams
- encourage students to write questions about process or outcomes of explorations. (Brainstorm with them how to develop and identify good questions. Take time to share the questions and decide if some of their questions should be explored together further. Encourage students to investigate some of their questions independently.)
- have students add graphs or data charts as they collect data
- as an interdisciplinary correlation, suggest the lab report be written as a letter
- suggest that students may enjoy writing a dream report. (In their dream, they should devise a plan to solve a problem.)
- have students rewrite a group or independent interdisciplinary project lab report in the form of a newspaper or magazine article written to the layman.
Evaluation and Assessment
While student work does not necessarily need to be graded for correctness, each student should receive feedback on the writings. The journal can be used as a reference file to help the teacher monitor individual development and progress. The teacher should not evaluate individual entries as finished products. Instead, teachers should offer suggestions, constructive remarks, questions, and encouragement whenever possible. Often students will respond to the teacher's comments.
Only finished pieces should be used for grading. The evaluation of journals should emphasize the content. While each journal is unique, good journals share the following characteristics:
- personal observations
- speculations and predictions
- evidence of developing self-awareness
- connections between personal experience and new information.