I love using journaling in my classroom! As a social studies teacher, journaling gets students thinking and writing about the content instead of just selecting answers on a multiple choice assessment. There are three specific reasons I really enjoy using journaling: it’s flexible, it gives students a chance to form and express their opinions, and it can lead to great discussion in the classroom.
Journaling plays a couple different roles in my classroom. Traditionally it is used after content is delivered as a way for students to sum up what they’ve learned. While I still use journaling in this way, I’ve also included it as a way to track students’ changing understanding of a topic. For example, when I teach about the filibuster in the Senate I ask students, at the beginning of class, to write a short paragraph about what they know/how they feel about the filibuster. Generally the responses are negative and consensus seems to be that the filibuster is a waste of time. After I’ve taught them about the filibuster I ask them to write again. Most students are still apprehensive about the filibuster, but they understand that it’s a tool for the minority to protect themselves from the majority. This gives me evidence that students’ opinions about the topic have changed.
I also love the fact that journaling gives students a chance to form and express opinions. Especially in a government class, for some students a journaling activity may be the first time they’ve been asked their opinion on a political issue. A great example of this comes with the question, “What role do you think the government should play in regulating businesses?” Most students know how to parrot what they hear around the dinner table, but this question gets them to think about a fundamental political question that doesn’t ask them about political affiliation or a specific issue.
Finally, journaling has led to some great discussion in my classroom. Students can be hesitant to participate in a classroom discussion or debate. But journaling gives students a chance to get their opinion or ideas down on paper before they’re asked to talk about it. I usually have students volunteer to read their writing to the class and we may discuss some responses depending on the prompt. While some students may not share their writing, they are sharing their opinion and thoughts with me.
These three reasons in favor of journaling mean that it doesn’t have to be confined to the ELA or social studies classrooms. Because it can take a number of forms, a journaling prompt could be used in the math classroom. You can ask students to share how they got their answer or have them explain how they may use a concept or equation in their life. In the science classroom, students can share how they’ve seen a science concept in their lives or they can develop an analogy for a cycle or system. The important thing is to remember that journaling can be used in any classroom to get students to explain a concept or express their opinion on an issue.