When I was a kid, I hated walking into my English class to face the drudgery of the daily journal topic the teacher’s pet had written sloppily on the chalkboard. I loved writing, but boy, did I hate the routine of journal writing day in and day out. I hated the dumb prompts, the lack of follow-up with a discussion...there was no such thing as discussions back then...,and I knew my teacher never read a single word I wrote. I didn’t mind being asked to write, but I didn’t like that we had to write on command every day for 180 days at the same time about the same irrelevant topics without any type of engagement. So, I vowed that one day when I became an English teacher, I would not resort or depend on the daily journal topic so I could take attendance and tend to other housekeeping duties. My students would have different writing experiences everyday at different times throughout a class period, and for the last 20 years I have tried my best to keep that promise.
I have had many discussions with other educators about the effective use of the daily 15 to 20 minute “journaling” conducted at the beginning of a class period. For me journaling should not be forced, and definitely not scheduled so a teacher could tend to clerical responsibilities. I have always felt that journaling must be as spontaneous as possible, and if not, should be prompted from thought-provoking readings, current events, or any other inspiring written or non written text. I believe students know when we assign journaling to keep them busy, and it’s a crime when students are forced to "journal" 180 days of the year, yet have no opportunity to share their writing, or give or receive writing feedback.
Today, web tools make the academic or personal journaling experience exciting and meaningful for all students, and offer the most important tool of all, the ability for students to share their writing with a community of writers, and the opportunity for feedback from diverse readers, not just their teachers. The comment and share features web tools offer have redefined feedback. Students are motivated to learn this valuable skill as they strive to join writing communities.
Oneword.com is a great web tool that allows students to practice a myriad of writing skills, specifically free-writing, and sharing with an online community if they choose to join the site. Users sign in free and see one word at the top of the screen; they have sixty seconds to just write about that one word. Students can choose to add their writing or keep it private, but if they add it, they will see the variety of responses for the one word prompt. Teachers can even use other contributors' responses as opportunities for revision and editing exercises. The learning opportunities are endless since students could analyze how other writers use different writing traits, such as figurative language, active vs. passive verbs, imagery, punctuation, and more. Oneword.com supports so many different writing mini lessons from grammar to literary elements, to a writer’s voice and diction.
Oneword.com is not the only web tool in cyberspace that supports the writing process and journaling. Of course there are blogs, wikis, and digital diaries like my-diary.org, deardiary.net, or livejournal.com. All of these options enable students to join a community of writers, provide opportunities for self-expression and creativity, and offer opportunities to practice revision and editing. The only disclaimer is that many of these tools are open to anyone so teachers have to be careful with inappropriate content kids could end up reading.
Here are some examples of safe web tools all students could use for journaling:
Ever thought of using Voicethread.com as a type of Dialogue Journal. Students upload a thought-provoking image or video, and each student adds his/her written and/or verbal reflections.
Kidblog.org can be used effectively to build Literary Journals focusing on reflecting or answering prompts about specific genres, themes, characters, conflicts, plot events, and other aspects of written or non-written texts.
How about using Glogster.com or Tumblr.com to create Subject Journals? Students not only add text and images, but all types of multimedia and widgets to explore one particular subject.
Electronic journaling can satisfy every student’s need for self-expression or kill creativity if not used effectively. Journals can take many shapes, but whatever the purpose of the journal, students today are lucky to have tech tools that spare them from the monotony of the daily journal topic, and help them improve their writing skills.
Take a look at a sample sharing page from Oneword.com. After having 60 seconds to write about the one word of the day, students have the option to post their writing to the community of writers.