Journaling is not an activity just for English teachers. The journal is one of the best ways to assess student learning after a lesson as well as a great way to provide one-on-one feedback for each student. It is important, however, for you to know exactly how you plan to use the journal in your classroom. What is the purpose of the journal and how does it help you meet curriculum goals?
Journals can have a variety of purposes:
1) To unload thoughts and feelings before starting class. Writing often helps people work through issues they are facing.
2) To focus thought on a particular topic. Get students in the right "mind-set" by having them journal on the topic or concept you are currently studying.
3) To review prior learning. Help students to make the connections between prior learning and new learning by reviewing the concept or topic taught the previous day through a journal witing activit.
4) To encourage creative writing. Offer students a fun or wacky thought, sentence, or word and have them journal thoughts and ideas from that starting point. Another great idea, especially for young students and ESL or ELL students is to use pictures and have students respond to the pictures. Calendar pictures make great journal starters.
No matter what purpose you set out for your journal, it is important that you provide structure for this type of learning experience. Simply telling students to write in their journal isn't enough. In the beginning students will often spend the entire journaling time flustered and looking around aimlessly. Give your students a topic of some sort to help them get started. If you are looking for free flowing thoughts, then give them a word or picture to start from and allow them to continue from that point. Always make it clear, when asking for open-ended journaling, that students are free to write about whatever they want, but that you are providing a starting point for anyone having trouble.
If you are using the journal to focus student thought or to review prior learning, it is important to use your objectives or key elements/strands to help you develop a journal prompt. Be sure that your topic is meeting your curriculum needs and is not just another busy work assignment without meaning.
Math teachers can encourage students to explain various equations or math concepts through words rather than always using symbols. You might even think about prompts that ask students to apply previous learning to a real world situation such as purchasing groceries or clothing, or designing a structure of some sort.
Just remember two important aspects of journaling - 1) Purpose, and 2) Structure - and you'll find the journal to be a meaningful way to integrate writing into your class!