Classroom Journals For Upper Grades
3 Rules to make them purposeful, engaging & valuable
When I started teaching every ELA teacher started the day with journaling. We were hot on the heals of some heady research telling us, “The more they write, the better they write.”
I am sure it is true but as I found out during my 29 years in the classroom, when you practice bad writing all you get is a ton of bad writing. So in my quest to write more but write better I established some ground rules for my classroom and journaling.
First: You need to give students choice. When students have choice they value any activity more and nothing is less productive than a student staring at a writing prompt they don’t connect with.
This rule evolved from offering two topics a day, to giving them total choice and no prompt at all. Both had their drawbacks. So for me, a monthly calendar with more topics than days was the answer.
Calendars like this solve the choice problem. They solve the last minute panic about choosing a topic. However, their greatest benefit is you can set up a calendar to ask a variety of questions that prompt a large variety of answers.
If you choose you could really focus on a specific type of writing for a month. Students could be practicing your lesson skills an extra three to five times a week! Love that.
Second: The writing must be a structured routine. When they know the drill they can better navigate the prompts, select their topic and practice a writing technique you have taught. My schedule of Monday instruction and weekly practice works in conjunction with the students using the journal writing as a way to practice and perfect whatever the focus may be.
My schedule of journaling on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday seems to have hit a sweet spot. It is often enough they can continue a piece if needed. It is not every day so it doesn’t become monotonous. No one wants a classroom of Journal Walkers ( you know the zombie writers who just start writing lists of all the things they would rather be doing).
Third: The journal must lead to a goal, purpose or grade. After writing three days a week for a whole month, the students will be given 30 minutes to select a piece that showcases a standard that they have made progress on or mastered. They select from their pieces, complete a rubric and turn them in.
This is helpful as I don’t have to collect actual journals from all my students and they don’t have to have completed a master piece every day. Journaling allows them to explore a topic in writing, try out the techniques we are learning and then submit that skill to me for my feedback.
Like all great teaching ideas, I am sure you will want to try this, morph it into something like this and make it yours! Go for it!
Below you can sign up to receive my free November Journal Calendar and rubrics. See you on the other side!
-Kimberly Jacobs from 4thekids.net