Integrating Journal Writing with Middle School Students - Eva Varga

September 7, 2015

Journal writing can be easily implemented wherever we, as teachers and learners, happen to be in the process of day to day. Journals provide a non-threatening place to explore learning, emotions, daily events, and language through writing. They also provide opportunities to discover experiences and feelings teachers and students have in common.  Research has shown that teachers who use journal writing have found that when they are sensitive and respectful of students’ attitudes, life stories, and learning processes, the children come to value and enjoy journal writing, and journals become an integral part of the curriculum.

I see the power of personal writing as connecting what is significant in children’s lives with what goes on in an academic setting – whether that is in a public school classroom or at home. Personal journal writing can be a means of validating each child, of saying to each child that what goes on in your life is important, what you think and feel is relevant, and that everyday events are the things writers write about. Children are full of stories, regardless of their backgrounds, but many of them don’t know they have stories to tell. Through encouragement, teachers and homeschool parents can bring out children’s stories and celebrate them. In doing so, we affirm our students, build their self-esteem, and encourage them as writers. Students and teachers also grow to know and respect one another, and a sense of community builds.

Journal Writing with Middle School Students @EvaVarga.netWhen teachers also become part of the journal writing process, students get to know us better and see that we are all connected by our humanness. As students are involved in the task of writing in their journals, teachers can also keep a journal of their own. Periodically, they should model the process of formulating ideas and putting them into words by sharing their journals with the student(s). In this way, students are guided into writing more coherently and with greater ease. I believe that benefits of personal journal writing are significant for both teachers and their students. In time, they will begin to own the journaling process and may even initiate journaling on their own.

Journaling Writing with Middle School Students

Middle school writing skills are essential to building a solid educational foundation in children. To help reinforce the habit of regular writing it is essential to show kids that writing can be fun. Journaling is one way to do so. Journal writing is a fabulous way to reinforce your middle school student’s writing practice because it is creative, versatile and easy to implement into lesson plans.

Journals can take many forms. This variety is perhaps one reason why the value of keeping a journal can be experienced by all individuals. The following list are just a few examples of the many types of journals you may consider:

Travel or Trip Journal

A travel journal documents the events, places, and impressions of a day trip or an extended vacation. It may include sketches, receipts or ticket stubs, labels from packages (especially if traveling in a foreign country), photographs, and perhaps even audio clips if keeping an electronic journal.

Emotions Journal

An emotions journal focuses on the feelings and internal emotions that the writer wants to reinforce, control, or understand. This can be a useful tool if working with a child that is coming grappling with loss or change.

Reading Journal 

Reading journals are useful to record impressions of thoughts or short reviews of books that you have recently read. In today’s technologically savvy world, many avid readers keep a record of their reading via GoodReads or other online book review sites. These have the added bonus of connecting you to others with similar tastes in books and allow you to find related books more easily.

getting started in 5 exercisesNature Journal

As a Charlotte Mason inspired educator, I cannot emphasize the value of keeping a nature journal enough. It is the one component of our homeschool that has stuck with us from the beginning.

A nature journal is used to record impressions of nature including weather, clouds, animals, leaf impressions, quotes, factual information, and other nature wonders. Field sketches, regardless of the degree of artistic talent with which they are rendered, force us to look closely and observe nature as it really is.

Simply put, nature journaling is the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you. The recording can be done in a wide variety of ways, depending on the individual journalist’s interests, background, and training.

If you are interested in learning more about using nature journals in the classroom while also earning college credit, consider my course Nature Journaling in the Classroom. Offered through the Heritage Institute, the course will help you to integrate nature journaling into your K-12 art and science curriculum. This is an online science course designed for educators in both formal and informal settings.

Dream Journal

A dream journal is best kept at your bedside so that you may record exactly any dreams you have nightly. I find that I don’t remember my dreams if I get up so it’s best to write them down immediately upon waking.

Dialogue Journal

A dialogue journal is much like a private conversation between two people, only in written form. In can take place between and parent and a child, between teacher and student, or even between two students.

We utilize dialogue journals with each of our children. We don’t write in them regularly but the kids know that if they have a questions or concern that they don’t feel comfortable talking about face to face, they may use the dialogue journal to reach out to us. They simply place it under our pillow and we return it in a likewise manner.

Gratitude Journal

Perhaps the simplest of all, a gratitude journal provides you with a few moments of reflection. Within the pages, you record a list of what you are thankful for at a given moment. It takes only 10 minutes or so but should be done on a regular basis, preferably daily.

Some like to write in their journal first thing in the morning. Others prefer to express their gratitude at the end of the day just prior to bed.

Reflection Journal or Learning Log

Providing students with an opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned is the goal of a reflection journal. Students are also encouraged to summarize what they have learned, record any questions they may still have about the particular topic of study, and to communicate how and what she has understood.

We utilize learning logs in both science and history. I will be writing in more depth about each of these in the next few weeks. In brief, however, our preference in science is an interactive notebook. In history, we utilize simple notebooking pages, though we do occasionally include interactive components in our history notebooks as well.

JIAmArt Journal

Artist’s journals are illustrated journals on any theme or combination thereof. It can be a record of your daily thoughts, a travel journal, an exercise or diet diary, a dream journal, a place where you jot down your goals, a to-do lists, or almost any record that you’d like to keep.

We’ve just begun to use art journals in our homeschool. Predominately, we use it as a method of trying new art techniques or media. However, we also use it as a reading journal, creating a visual or artistic impression of books we’ve read.

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Journal writing with middle school students provides a wealth of opportunity to grow individually and to get to know one another. In our homeschool, we utilize a variety of journals (I’ve linked to various posts I’ve written in the past as I’ve address each above). Don’t feel you need to utilize all of them – pick one and give it a try. Maybe add another later on when you are ready.

The journaling process should be gradual – there is no need to rush or feel obligated to complete a certain number of entries within a given time. Allow yourself – or your child – to express themselves comfortably. Over time, you’ll grow as an individual and become more accustomed to the process as well as more accepting of who you are as a person.

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