I have read and evaluated more student assignments and essays in my day than I can count. I am not complaining. I willingly and enthusiastically accepted my fate as a language arts teacher many moons ago. Even after all these years, I am still thrilled by my students’ writing and eagerly look forward to sitting down and reading their thoughts, analyses, arguments, descriptions, stories, and poems. Lately, however, I look forward to reading my students’ journal writing. Simply put, it has become the highlight of my day.
Every day from 12:15 until 12:30 p.m., my students respond to one of three journal prompts (or one of their own choosing). It is a Google Classroom assignment, and students respond to the prompts electronically, which facilitates their responses and does not necessitate the cumbersome act of putting pencil to paper with frequent scratch-outs and erasures. Responding electronically increases their ability to write in a stream-of-consciousness style with little thought to rewriting and editing, which is the point. I want students to write without artificial filters, and without self-consciousness.
How to create ideal writing prompts
I have provided my students with these writing prompts since the first day of school. Admittedly it is sometimes a challenge to create stimulating and thought-provoking prompts, but my quest for such prompts has not gone unrewarded. I have been regaled with authentic, honest, sensitive and revealing writing that reflects the heart and soul of my students’ fears and questions as well as their dreams, aspirations, and visions for their future selves.
Kay Burke, author of How to Access Authentic Learning, states: “Journal writing provokes more reflection and encourages students to take charge of their learning and their feelings. Journaling helps students make connections between what is really important to them, the curriculum and the world.” Others agree about the many benefits of journaling. In an article entitled 10 Benefits of Journaling published by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, experts argue that journaling:
- improves mental health
- encourages self-confidence
- boosts emotional intelligence
- inspires creativity
- boosts memory
- helps with achieving goals
- enhances critical thinking skills
- heightens academic performance
- improves physical health
- strengthens communication and writing skills.
Writing affirms self-worth, individual value
By its very nature, journal writing is an unstructured form of writing, a type of free writing in both content and form. I am not concerned so much with conventional grammar, structure, punctuation, and spelling as I am with students developing their ideas as their ideas are revealed to them. In this sense, journal writing is revelatory and profound. As Joseph Campbell, the noted mythologist argued, it is a way for students to “follow their bliss” and create a sense of meaning in their lives. It is essentially an existential act of affirming themselves and their value as individuals.
I encourage students to take an idea and run with it. To this end, each student uses their fifteen minutes to write responses as varied as serialized novels, short stories, poems, dialogues, songs, editorials, criticisms, and accolades. Some students use their journal writing to engage in dialogue with me. I have students ask questions of me that they would be too shy or inhibited to ask in class. We have a daily dialogue, a type of conversation where we have come to know and understand each other in a way that we might never have achieved in the normal student teacher exchange that often occurs during instruction. In this very private way, we have revealed our authentic selves and become better people in the process.
This summer, students can continue the joys of journaling
As summer break fast approaches, I will encourage my students to keep journaling and will introduce to them a variety of ways that they can keep the daily practice of and the joy of journaling at home.
I will encourage students to experiment with Metacognitive Journals, or Bullet Journals, Change Journals, Self-Reflection Journals, Creativity Journals, or Gratitude Journals. All these varied journal types are explained in considerable detail in the aforementioned journaling blog post.
As author Sandra Marinella once said, “Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.”
I wish my students the joy of writing, the joy of self-discovery; the joy of journaling! Write on!
Linda Hyde is a middle school teacher with New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.