Using Individual and Group Journals
When most of us think of a journal, we imagine something like a diary in which people record their daily thoughts or activities. Writers use journals to spur their creativity and compose their work. Accountants do calculations in a journal. Travelers, explorers and bird watchers use journals to record their discoveries. Remember the first line from every Star Trek episode? "Captain's log, star date…"
We can use journals with young people to do all of these things and more.
On the first day of the term or session, give everyone a blank book to keep as a journal. Have them make them their own by writing "My Journal" on the cover, or something similar, along with their name, the name of your center and anything else you (or they) would like. As we said, our use of a journal is much more than a diary—in fact, it's important that kids not think of it as a diary, if for no other reason than that, although it is personal, the journal is not private. One of the important uses of the journal will be to encourage sharing and communication by having kids show their work to each other and to thegroup.
But if it's not a diary, what is a journal? It's more like an "everything" book. It's a place you'll use to encourage kids to write their thoughts and ideas, but it's also a multimedia project where they can draw and paste things they find or make, whether it's a photo, a leaf or a souvenir from a field trip. Think of it as the "default" medium for your activities so that the kids become so attached to their journals that they carry and use them wherever they go. Whenever they have an idea they want to follow up on or a thought they want to remember; when they are feeling creative and want to doodle, or feeling reflective and want to write a poem, you want them to turn to their journal as a trusted friend and a safe environment. In order to achieve that, you'll have to do two things:
- Integrate journals regularly and repeatedly into many activities, everyday, in every session—especially the fun ones.
- Keep a journal of your own which you frequently share with thekids in your program. In the spirit of good modeling, it's got to be a real journal, one that you truly care about and maintain outside of the program. If they feel your pride and sense of enjoyment, they'll emulate your behavior.
We want students to feel pride in their journals and to develop a sense that it's an important reflection of themselves so that they use it on their own, in and out of the program, at home, at school and wherever they go. Good modeling on your part, combined with regular use of journals in your center, will help reinforce in students a lifelong habit for writing, observation, reflection, self expression, critical thinking, and much more.
What kind of books should you use for journals? The only real requirement is that they be of a standard 8.5" x 11" size which gives plenty of room to work on each page. Many different kinds of blank books will work, but we prefer the traditional school composition books with the black-and-white covers and tape bindings that we all grew up with. There are two reasons. One is that you'll want to keep a good supply of them in stock, and composition books are inexpensive. Second, they feel like a real book, not just a source of paper the way spiral notebooks or three-ring binders do.
You don't want the kids tearing out pages every time they feel as if they've made some small mistake or if they just need a scrap of paper. There are also advantages to having all of the kids start out with exactly the same beginnings which they personalize themselves, rather than choosing fancy (and more expensive) blank books like those sold in bookstores. If you like, try having the kids make their own books with blank paper bound simply between cardboard covers. We tend to prefer lined paper which provides a loose, yet non-intrusive structure for certain kinds of writing and drawing activities. In addition, remember to keep a supply of creative materials readily available so kids can have fun with their journal activities, including items such as pens, crayons and markers of various colors, paste, glitter, sequins and more.
Using Journals in Your Program
The best advice we can give you is to integrate journals as frequently as possible into every activity in which you can find an appropriate application. By doing so you'll give kids the practice, comfort and familiarity that turns into a habit of using their journals outside of your center as well. Additionally, repeated use will help them quickly fill pages with a "critical mass" of entries that they're proud of and want to show to others. In fact, one side benefit of this kind of journal is that it gives kids something creative and tangible to take home every day to show friends and parents what they did in your center.
Here are some ideas for using journals in your program:
- Open every day with a short journal activity such as What Does the Internet Look Like? that anticipates a theme or lesson you'll be working on during the day. These activities are perfect energizers to start creativity flowing. What's more, if everyday you have such an activity written where everyone can see it, the kids will learn to start working on it as soon as they come into the room. It's a great way to keep them productively occupied while everyone filters in. Be sure that you have everybody pair and share their work.
- Whenever a project or activity has a graphic organizing component, such as mapping to generate or organize ideas, always have the kids do their personal maps in their journals. Also, encourage the use of journals for brainstorming and clustering activities.
- Have kids use their journals for outlining and recording notes for an inquiry-based project.
- Provide kids with a selection of Web sites on a particular topic. Ask them to visit one or more of the sites and write three things they learned there in their journals. Now have the group share and discuss what they learned.
- When teaching drawing or doing drawing practice activities, have the kids do their work in journals rather than on loose sheets of paper.
- Journals are great for pattern writing activities. As you read sentences aloud, have the kids write them down in their journals, or provide sentence templates for which they can write their own variations in their journals. If you're doing a group activity, such as creating poems based on a pattern, have the kids record the finished versions in their journals when the group work is done.
- Especially with older kids, schedule writing time where they can spend five to ten minutes or more composing sentences, paragraphs, poems or free writing in their journals on topics you select or that they pick themselves.
- Anytime you create other projects that will fit into a journal, such as drawings, printouts of computer work or even an animation device such as a thaumatrope, have the kids tape them into their journals. Try using reusable tape so they can be removed and replaced easily.
- If you're doing a project for which kids will have to come up with lots of ideas, an interviewing project, for example, in which you'll want them to come up with lots of questions, have them write lists of ideas and questions in their journals.
- When kids learn a new technique at the computer, especially ones that are a little complicated or have several steps, have them record it for future reference. For example, "Here's how I check my email" or "How to make a Web page."
- At the end of the day, have kids spend a few minutes doing evaluative projects, such as recording in their journal "what we did today" or "three things I learned today."
Using Journals Outside Your Program
One of the many reasons for relying upon the journal in class is to encourage kids to make their journals an important part of their lives outside your program, as well. Here are some ideas:
- Give kids simple assignments to do outside of your program and bring in the results, such as people they met or things they'd like to learn next week. Be sure to make them fun and not at all like homework. Kids should want to use their journals, not see them as punishment or extra work. Be careful never to confuse the journal with a workbook or a place to simply take class notes. Journals should feel personal and special.
- Encourage kids to carry their journals around with them and record their thoughts, ideas or feelings when riding the bus, sitting in the library or anywhere else.
- Since many kids in your center will be using different computers at different times, have them record the URLs for their favorite Web sites or new sites they discover which they can share with the group. Have them record the email addresses of friends or online pen pals.
- Have the kids cut out interesting pictures or articles from newspapers or magazines, paste them into their journals and bring them to the program for discussion.
- Always make journals an important part of field trips. That can mean everything from pasting in a map before they leave, to recording thoughts and observations while they're there, to writing summaries about what they learned when they return.
- Bring the kids in your program to a neighborhood site, such as a park or restaurant, and have them do a saturation writing exercise in their journals. In saturation writing, you have the kids spend a given period of time writing down as many things they see, hear, feel, smell, etc. A pattern writing template may be used to guide their recording. Try something similar with drawing, such as going to the park for sketching activities.
Of course, the best way to get the kids to do these things is by modeling them yourself. Try them outside your program in your own journal everyday, and bring your journal to the program to share your additions. Try meeting with each child individually once a week or so to review and discuss their journals. Use this time especially to encourage using their journals outside of the program.
Other Kinds of Journals
As you can see, we use journals as an all-purpose tool, sort of a "Swiss army knife on paper" for learning, reflection and creativity. There are some other kinds of journals you may want to integrate into your program for particular uses, as well.
Group journals add a collaborative component to activities as well as a personal one. A group journal is just like an individual journal except that several people work in them simultaneously. For example, you might have your room set up so that groups of four, five or more kids each sit at several tables. You could have a group journal at each table where the children can work on a single map together. You can see another way to use group journals in our Internet journal activity, or give a group journal to a team of kids working on a longer inquiry-based learning project.
Dialogue journals offer an opportunity for you to provide more private and personal guidance to students, especially when teaching language and literacy. A dialogue journal is a written conversation in which a student and teacher communicate regularly, responding to questions and comments, introducing new topics or asking questions.
Online journals bring computers and new media into the world of journals. The Diary Project, for example, encourages teens to write about their day-to-day experiences growing up and share their writing with others. If you're feeling ambitious, you can try doing something similar for your program or center, or simply have kids transfer some of the entries from their journals to Web pages that people can view online.