Saturday, August 02, 2014

Using Daily Writing Journals -- Effectively

I have always wanted to use daily writing journals in my classroom.  However I never found a good system that worked well.  For a while I tried the topic calendars and had the kids pick a topic each day, or at least that was my hope and goal.  After their bell work they were supposed to write in their journal, but without my checking daily (and that just didn't happen) most of them just didn't do it.  I also tried writing a prompt up on the board with about the same success.  Eventually I just gave up on the idea of writing journals.

Our new curriculum is emphasizing all kinds of writing, including quick writes.  Seems our students need to be ready for those testing situations when they have to respond in a limited amount of time.  So I decided to give journals another time.  But this time on my own terms.

Last summer I created my own writing journals.  I collected all kinds of different prompts for each month.  Rather than use a spiral notebook or composition book, I decided to create the journal with the prompt and writing space together all bound up and ready for the kids.  I'll admit it took my a while to get everything worked out.  September's took a long while.

Finally I came up with something I liked.  Into the classroom it goes.  At the beginning, I tried to just have the kids write after bell work as I had done before.  We went to specials first thing, so they should have had enough time to do the morning warm up and then do one journal entry. My thought (and misguided hope) was they would be more likely to get it done since I could tell them specifically which page to do.

We tried that for a couple of months with some success.  There are always the kids who never seemed to get to it though.  Or those kids who could never think of what to write.   So I modified my method.  They were still expected to write everyday.  Then on Friday's (when we weren't rushing off right away) I would grade one of the writings they did that week.  They could pick which one.  I would remind them, that if they wrote everyday they would have more to choose from when it came time for me to grade one.

This did help.  I had more kids getting more writing done. And I was getting one more writing grade in my grade book.  But there were still those kids...  What could I do to tweak it a little more?

I went back to think about my goal. "The students will be able to write to a given topic in a given time limit" or something like that.  I was giving them the daily opportunity, but not the time limit.  Aha!  The next change was the time limit.  We started doing our journals after we came back from specials.  Everyone would get ready and I would set the time on the smart board where everyone could see it.  I started with a longer time limit -- 15 minutes and slowly worked down from there.  As further encouragement, those students who did get their 5 or 6 sentences done on time earned a Dojo point for completing work.  That was the lucky charm!

By the end of the year, all of my students were getting some writing done during that time and all be a couple were reaching the goal of at least 6 sentences.  Many of my students were writing 10 or more sentences.  A few were even running out of room.  And all of my  "I don't know what to write" students were writing! Having too much time was actually keeping them from writing.  With a time limit, they didn't have time to over think the topic, they just wrote.  Yay!

I was thrilled with the progress the kids made in their writing and with finally finding a successful daily writing program.  You can get my journals at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Each journal has over 20 prompts, including choose your own topic pages.  I tried to make the prompts fit the month and included creative writing, informational writing and opinion writing in each journal. I am sure you will see a difference in your students writing too.



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