December 8, 2019- Journal Writing as a Tool
Journal Writing is a pretty broad category. It can be as open-ended as a diary-like book in which personal random thoughts and ideas are recorded, to as scripted as a response-like book in which reactions to specific prompts are recorded. It can be personal and hand written, or public and shared. Journal writing can help to build writing fluency as well as strengthen our writing craft. Perhaps that is why I like journals so much as a tool.
Whether it is with my elementary school students, my college students, or my own writing projects, I often turn to using journal writing as a way to deepen understanding of an event, character, or time period.
For example, my elementary students were recently digging into colonial history with a unit on the Mayflower and its passengers. After reading about the historical time period and events, I was ready to have them dig deeper. We did this through journal entries. Not reading them- creating them. They selected an actual passenger on the Mayflower, did some research into their age, gender, and background. And then wrote journal entries from that person’s perspective. This of course, required an understanding of the time period and historical events in order to make their entries authentic. This activity absolutely helped to deepen their understanding of this time period in ways that other learning activities couldn’t.
Another activity I have done when conducting writing workshops, is to use journaling to help writers better understand their own characters. This is done before the actual drafting of your manuscript begins. As you are outlining your story, creating your characters and their back story, and plotting your storyline, take some time to create journal entries from the point of view of your characters. These are not designed to be used in the story in any way, but only to help you better understand your characters and their motivations and frame of mind before you start to write. I find this results in characters that are more complex and in writing that is more nuanced.
Once I had an elementary student who was going to miss almost ten days of school because of a family trip overseas. An opportunity the family could not pass up. The parents reached out for ways to help the child not fall behind in class, but embrace the learning the trip provided. My advice- get him a journal and have him record his activities, thoughts, impressions, questions, and experiences. They said he wrote in it several times a day and by the end of the trip, had a wonderful memento of his trip, along with evidence of his learning and thinking.
With my college students, I have used journaling as a way for them to capture their impressions and reflect on their understanding of specific content. The journal entries are not in any way assessed, only used as a tool to solidify and clarify their thinking. As EM Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
By their very nature, journals can become whatever we need them to be. So as the holiday shopping season heats up and you are struggling to find a gift for that special someone, get them a journal! Along with some fun colored pens.
Happy Journaling Everyone!