As we learn about teaching writing, I have had a lot of thoughts, as I’m sure you all have as well, on how I’m going to teach writing in my own classroom some day. This seems obvious, but aside from the overall idea of teaching writing, I’ve been considering specific ways in which I might get my own future students engaged with writing. One thought that keeps popping up is the idea of journaling. Journal writing is something that I never did in-school during my elementary or secondary years. In fact, I never journaled for a writing class until college, in some of the creative writing classes I took. I love the idea of journaling for class because I know that my own personal experiences with keeping a journal is what led me to truly like writing.
My creative writing professor during my undergrad at Central College (go Dutch!) insisted that we write in our journals a minimum of ten minutes a day for each day we had class, which for my Personal Essay class meant thirty minutes a week. Now that doesn’t seem like an awful lot of writing time. But I found that once I got writing, thirty minutes could pass by as I wrote one journal entry before I even noticed that the clock hand had moved. Some days, our professor would give us writing prompts, other days we had “free write” and could write about whatever we wanted. I remember our first journal entry assignment was this: Look out a window and write what you see. I remember sitting in the window seat of my townhouse room writing about the big oak tree right outside that towered over a sloping hill, where you could see our little path through the bushes, created by years of students taking a shortcut from Mentink townhouse to the Weller Center next door. Writing this one assignment, though my writing at first seemed forced as I got used to writing from a prompt, made me realize that it’s not just about saying “there is a tree outside my window and a building next door,” but rather about showing the reader (even if you’re only writing for yourself) what is there. I like the freedom that journaling gave me to investigate my own writing.
After that long spiel, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get to the point. Well, I’m not sure where I stand on journaling. I know it is something that I would love to implement in my own English classroom, but how? In one of our first meetings of Orientation to Secondary Ed., the professor read a few things from Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students by Kathleen Cushman. One of the things that stuck out to me, as a future English/language arts teacher, is that students said they enjoy keeping journals in class and that they look forward to their teacher responding to those journal entries without criticism or a red pen for correcting. This kind of reminds me of what we’re accomplishing in our writing partnership. As soon as the professor mentioned this piece of advice, I knew I wanted to use it in my classroom someday. Though my creative writing professor never read our journal entries (he did check during one-on-one conferences to check that we had done them), I like the idea of teacher response to journaling. However, this is where I begin to question myself. In a reading for another class (I can’t recall whether it was for Approaches, Practicum, or Language & Learning), one writer mentioned that yes, you should have students keep a journal in class, but you as a teacher should never read or respond to those entries in any way. The contradiction here interests me because I wonder what led that particular article’s writer to say that. If it weren’t for the fact that the former advice about responding to journals actually came from students, I could probably convince myself that it were simply a difference in ideology formed by different classroom experiences. But this conundrum has repeatedly crossed my mind in the past weeks.
What is best? Is it invasive to read students’ journals? Obviously they would know ahead of time your intent to read and respond to their writing. Does this knowledge have a negative impact on the things they will write about? Will their writing seem contrived when they know they are writing to an audience, the teacher? Or will that knowledge encourage students to improve their writing, even when the teacher is not criticizing, but rather responding to the content of the writing? If a teacher decides not to use response as a part of student journaling, will the students take the assignment seriously?
I know that with the flood of insight and knowledge on methodology, I should expect differences in opinion among teachers. I should probably expect a whole lot of difference since each of these teachers whose articles we read, whether for this class or another, have had different classroom experiences; what works for one teacher might not work for the teacher down the hall. So my question to you is: what do you think? How do you feel about using journaling in the classroom? Will you use it in your classroom? And if so, how?