Journaling with students… Who’s got the time?
My love for journals started with the locked journal in the Scholastic Book Club flier. I loved that thing and kept my key hidden in a secret spot. What my seven-year-old self had to keep away under lock and key I can’t imagine, but I felt so special having it.
As an adult, knowing all the benefits that come from journaling, I’ll make the time. It is a matter of priorities – and for me, journaling is a priority. Why? Because there are SO many great things about journaling and the benefits for students! Not only does journaling benefit the students, but it also benefits me in numerous ways – from decreasing behavior problems to having a g0-to resource when filling out report cards. Here are the top 9 reasons why journaling is so important, you’ll start next year if you don’t already do it.
1 – Relationship Building with Journaling
Building a relationship with your students is number one in my book – and the foundation of so much more. Journal writing can be a great way to build a relationship with your students. Using prompts like these 180 Journal Prompts can help you learn more about your students as individuals, which is one of the cornerstones of good teaching and helps you make concepts more relatable to students. If you can connect what you know about the students to the learning, then you’ve got a home run. Not only that, but it makes the students feel seen and heard, increasing their confidence and willingness to apply themselves in your classroom (not to mention the behavior benefits).
2 – Writing Begets Better Writing
The second reason journaling is so important seems obvious. The best way to become a better reader is by reading – the best way to become a better writer is by writing…And they both help you to become better at the other. This was always a mind-blowing concept to my students, that they could become better writers by reading and better readers by writing.
Giving students engaging opportunities to write, like journaling, will simply put, improve their writing. The safety of a journal entry will help build your students’ confidence as well – the fact that a journal is ungraded can alleviate some anxiety and allow students to make mistakes from which they can learn without the fear of a ‘bad’ grade.
3 – Choice and Empowerment
Choice is crucial in teaching and learning. Whenever possible, we need to give our students opportunities to be individuals, to express themselves, and to make their own choices (within the realm of what we need them to accomplish of course). Journaling offers a great opportunity for choice – choice in paper type, choice in content, choice in what the student shares – even the choice to not write some days (within reason) can tell us information about our students. There are SO many kinds of journaling students can do, from a response to reading journal to a double-entry journal to a completely free response journal.
Journaling can also help students to learn more about themselves – who they are and what they believe in. It encourages self-reflection and can make students less afraid to stand up for what they believe in. By starting with a small audience, students can gain confidence in their beliefs and comfort in sharing those beliefs with others.
4 – Mental Health Benefits of Journaling
Students today are more anxious, depressed, and wired than ever before. The simple act of journaling can help them to relax. I’m currently reading Rising Strong by Brene Brown – and in it, she suggests that when you’re in the midst of the fall, one way to get your story straight in your mind is to simply journal about it – figure out what is going on in your brain before you explode at someone else about a potential falsehood you’re telling yourself.
This is completely applicable for students as well – when they’re in the midst of a tough situation, writing about it can help immensely. I always included paper and writing tools in my Zen Zone (a calming area in my classroom) for students to write or draw as a tool to get them out of the red.
The benefits don’t just apply when you’re feeling angry, though. Focusing on gratitude can literally rewire your brain to see the good in the world – helping to make you a happier and more positive human. How can you pass on that? Check out this Free Gratitude Journal if you want to get started with this in your classroom! With the trauma our students come to us with and the pressures of life today, the mental health benefits alone are one of my top reasons why journaling is so important.
5 – Year-Long Informal Assessment
I love journaling for the ability to show change over time. Student work in their journal from September to November is a simple work sample to share at conferences, but I also relied on it to check for transfer of skills from writing lessons and help plan my instruction. I could easily pull small groups based on skills I was seeing (or not seeing) used in their journals. Their journals provided a significant source of information for report cards, too.
Depending on the kind of journaling you do, it can also be an inside peek into the thought processes of your students. This can be especially helpful for the quieter students who aren’t the ones in the front row raising their hand to volunteer an answer at every opportunity. If you can follow a student’s thought processing, you can better address misconceptions and more effectively help them learn.
6 – Boosts Memory
I don’t know about you, but my memory is gone. I walk five steps and can’t remember why I got up in the first place. So, if I can help my students with a tool to boost memory? Heck yes, I’m going to be all over that one. The act of writing information (not typing it, but writing it by hand) helps improve memory. I can attest to this – for taking notes in college, I absolutely had to write by hand. I tried typing the information and I bombed the tests. This is just one reason I’m such a huge proponent of hand-written work in schools (not all on technology). Journaling can also offer you a place to look back for trends, patterns, and information about yourself – or simply a refresher on what happened should you need it.
Journaling can also reduce stress levels, which frees up the mind to use its cognitive resources for other processes. (*Now it makes sense why I can’t remember anything – I’m too stressed! Important note to self – and to readers – journaling isn’t just for kids!)
7 – Creativity
Creativity is something I believe we need to actively fight to have for our students. Schools are often great places to squelch any individuality and creativity – a sad state for those free thinkers and dreamers, as well as everyone else. Journaling is a fantastic way to encourage creativity among students. A great example is this Transformation Station. I love doing these with students – they are given a line/design/shape of some sort and they are tasked with creating on the paper what their mind sees from that line. Is it a set of stairs going to a treehouse? Maybe it is a stack of books in a library? The opportunities are endless. The bonus? They write about their vision when they’re done drawing!
8 – Strengthen Communication Skills
Strong communication skills. A requirement for basically any job for which you may apply. Not only that, but if you want to affect change in the world, get others to believe what you believe, or have a healthy relationship, you need to be able to effectively communicate. This is one of those skills that are universally applicable and if you lack in this area, you will struggle.
Journaling helps students build strong written communication skills (which can lead to strong oral communication skills). I think of it as a place for them to play around with their writing – to try things out – to find their voice – to experiment in a safe space. The feedback I give can reinforce the positive skills I see being developed.
9 – Improve Physical Health with Journaling
New research shows a connection between journaling and physical health by reducing stress which then boosts your immune system. I don’t know about you, but whenever I am wicked stressed, I inevitably get sick. Immune connections to stress are very real. Studies have shown this has helped asthma sufferers, those with rheumatoid arthritis, and patients with HIV. By decreasing cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) through journaling, your immune system can exist in its full glory.
So, if you’re not journaling with students after reading these 9 reasons why journaling is so important, how can you afford not to start? If you already journal, why do you journal with your students? What kind of journaling is your favorite? Share below!
WRITTEN BY – KRISTIN HALVERSON, NBCT
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