Monday, March 4, 2013

Fuss-Free Journaling

journal #19 random entry #2
Journal #19 random entry #2 (Photo credit: paperbackwriter)
by Van Kristine Labestre Mendoza

Three years ago, I made the mistake of returning the journals of my eighth grade students by just placing them on the teacher's table with the thought that they will just get their own journals.

The next day, a parent complained that her daughter had been receiving death threats through Facebook because her classmates read her journal!

It turned out that she's absent the day I returned their notebooks, so her classmates took turns in reading her entries which were composed of not-so blind juicy items about her fellow students.

The parent then proceeded to question my rationale for letting my students keep journals since most of them don't write anyway.

True, not all of my students passed their journals as required of them every week but I admit that three years ago I was an inexperienced teacher. I had every good intention, though of letting my students write down their private thoughts in a notebook.

First, I know that it would increase their writing prowess and second, their journals will serve as their freedom wall; a private page where they can rant all they want.

Since then, I have learned my lesson. These days I now personally return the journals to my students. And if they're absent I make sure that I don't just leave their notebooks in the classroom.

I've also since warned the classes I'm teaching about the dangers of backbiting their classmates. Here are also some other journal writing lessons that I've learned these past years.


Students would always find an excuse that they don't know what to write, so teachers should give journaling prompts or topics. Generally, in one week I would give four topics. They can range from generic ones (love, food, music) to more specific ones (how I got this scar on my cheek or my mom's home-baked cookies).

Every week, we also have an "Acta Diurna" entry which is Latin for daily events. For this topic, they can choose the most significant, boring, memorable day for the week and write about it. I sometimes suggest a topic and if they don't like it, they can suggest another one. I also let them write a "Freedom Entry" where they are free to write whatever they would like to write.


Students look forward to reading comments about their entries. Some would even ask for the teacher's advice and leave a space or box for it. More than anything else, comments make them feel that what they've been writing are also worth reading. Comments serve as a teacher's feedbacks.


When I find a journal that's been worked really hard and when I read heartwarming entries, I usually feature them in class by telling the students that so-and-so has done such a remarkable job in writing about his parents or his pet. This usually encourages the owner of the journal to continue writing.


Students like to doodle and what better place for them to doodle than their journals. I once asked them to have an art entry where they can draw whatever they want to draw. I was surprised with their impressive drawings and paintings. It would also be exciting if you turn this entry into an art competition. Students give extra effort if they know there's a prize at stake.


By journals, we right away think of composition notebooks but going cyber through weblogging is also one way for the students to get pumped up in journal writing. What more, it allows them to read their classmates' work and vice-versa (without being threatened to death), follow a blog or gain a reader, and even publish their work through online magazines.

These are just some of the activities that I've learned were very effective in prompting my students to write in their journals and guaranteed to be fuss-free, too. So far, I haven't received any complaints from parents about my requirement in letting their children keep journals. It was only that one time three years ago.

So what happened to that student who was threatened by her classmates? She went on to become a national winner in an essay writing contest and she's currently one of the staff writers in her university's publication. Her mother now believes that one of the reasons why she's such a good writer now is because of her journal writing. I like to think so, too.

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