A Class Journal

In my recent post ‘A Different Look at Writing’ I told you about a conference session I had been preparing for. This time I am sharing one idea from that session which I am referring to as ‘A class journal’.

I have wanted to try out this idea for years, but did not have a chance (or the courage?) to do so. In Ukraine the idea of keeping a journal is not very popular (if I may generalize so), and not many friends I know keep one. (Well, at least one friend keeps hers, and she even wrote a guest post about it!)

When I was a participant on a training course for teachers we had to keep daily journal and our tutor would read it (daily!) and leave responses to each of us. Sometimes, they were as long as one full page! Having become a trainer myself I am still amazed how organized she was to keep this writing routine through the whole 4 weeks!

The ‘Class Journal’ idea was something I heard from a fellow trainer during of our numerous ‘coffee chats’. She told me about a notebook she started for a new course, which was kept in the classroom and course participants would come and write in it when they felt they needed to share something. People could start their own page or respond to someone else’s entry. I really, really liked the idea of it, but have never done on an actual course being afraid to add one more written assignment to the already long ‘to-do’ list our participants have.

Finally, I decided to give it a try in a different format, and came up with an idea for this element of a session about writing. I thought that sharing it with colleagues at a conference may be a safer idea than trying it out on a course. So….

… the idea of the journal is to offer a notebook with page starters (topics, prompts, questions, quotes, pictures, etc.) for teachers to pass around the room and respond in writing on a page of their choice, or randomly. These were the instructions shared on the first page:

  1. Open the journal on any page.
  2. Read the title/the task
  3. Respond (by writing as much or as little as you feel like)
  4. Close the journal and pass it to someone else

Since I have tried this in a session for a couple of times now, I added a couple of ‘what if’ questions.

WHAT IF…

  • someone else has already written there?
  • (a) respond to the title/the task (b) respond to the writer
  • … I have no idea what to write?
  • Turn the page over and try again
  • … I don’t want to write on this page?
  • If you have looked at three pages and did not feel like writing, just pass the journal to someone else

Some Topics from the actual journal

 

Some thoughts on reflection

I have a friend and a colleague here in Lviv who usually listens to my ideas with full attention and then asks good critical questions helping me think about the idea in-depth. When I told her about the journal, this is what Natalia (her name is) asked me (and what I replied)

Natalia: What exactly could be the purpose (the point) of bringing this kind of task to students?

Zhenya: I mainly see the purpose/aim in helping students develop fluency in their writing, the ability to think of the ideas (not the language, or before the language) and then respond. I deeply believe in the idea that you can’t edit a blank page.

Natalia: So what would you do if the writing is not accurate and it stays in the journal?

Zhenya: I don’t think it is a big crime to edit the written entry (in a different color, by the same student). Also, color post-its can be used for drafting an entry and then re-writing the new piece on the actual page. In a way, this gives a reason for draft 2, which in my experience, students are not always happy to work on in a lesson.

Natalia: What if a student does not want to write in it? What if the whole group refuses to do it?

Zhenya: In fact, if the whole group refuses to write in a journal, it is easiest answer: stop bringing it to class! Sometimes, it may take time, as with any new(-ish) idea from us teachers. I am not saying that this is the best idea ever!

Natalia: How would you introduce the idea to your students?

Zhenya: Hm, this is a good question. I guess with students we could do it in a scaffolded way, with a specific page as an example, having peer responses and discussions at the end of it. Then, the idea of having writing prompts can be shared, and a class journal can be one way of developing the skill of (fluent) writing. I wonder if students could contribute to the topics/page headings, and thus feel more engaged with the jornal from the very start?

Natalia: I know students who hate hand-writing, and this journal will force them to do it. What can be done in this case?

Zhenya: I like this question! I think the journal does not need to be in the actual paper notebook and could easily be on a shared Google Document or in Drop Box folder, for example, or in a Facebook Group, etc. I think the format can be chosen by the students and with the students, depending on their comfort level with sharing what they write. Paper notebook offers a ‘safe’ classroom experience (a learning zone) whereas sharing what they write on social media is closer to the ‘performing zone’ (see Eduardo Briceño’s TED Talk for more on these zones)

What do you think about this idea? Would you like to try it out in the classroom with students (or a training room with teachers?) Have you tried something similar?

Thank you for reading!

 

Extra Links

 

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
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5 Responses to A Class Journal

  1. Pingback: A Different Look at Writing | Wednesday Seminars

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    I really love this idea! I’ve done individual journals before, and really learnt a lot from my students, but it takes a lot of time too. Not sure if I can figure out how to get this into my current class, but I feel like it could work really well on a CELTA or similar training course. I’ll let you know if I try it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you Sandy! I would love to try it out on a course, too: since I have used it as a ‘session’ three times for now, and teachers seemed to get into writing, I am curious how the idea would work for the 3-5 weeks of a training, with the same group members, coming back to the entries and adding/responding to them, etc.
      It would be nice to exchange reflections (blogging?) in the future. Thank you for the support!
      Zhenya

      Like

  3. It is soooo cool!! Mind blowing ideas as usual! I already see me using it instead of my “exit tickets”, thus, every time we finish the lesson, Ss have to open on one particular page (that I have prepared for them for today), complete the “task” or leave their “comment” and then in the end of course just give the journal to them and see how they would answer all those questions now, as they have developed/grown 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Viktoria
      Thank you very much for the warm comment! So much energy and enthusiasm in your words! I have never thought of turning this into a systematic ‘exit ticket’ idea. In fact keeping the entries (on post-its, or pieces of scrap paper, etc.) can be useful both for the teacher and students… As you said, this can be a ‘progress tracker’, too. A lot to think about.

      I would love to learn more about the other ‘exit ticket’ experiments you are carrying out. And I am so excited to discover your blog! Yay, I am your reader 🙂

      Take care and hope we keep talking!
      Zhenya

      Like

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