A lot of educators can probably remember having journals as children. They were gilt-edged books with a shiny brass lock and key that was safely hidden from siblings to keep their prying eyes from seeing the precious secrets held within the individual pages. While today’s journals may look different, the idea of using them as a means to communicate thoughts, feelings, and dreams remains the same.
As a school counselor, I often use journals in my small group and individual sessions as a means to communicate with my students. Used on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, journals can be a great connection and conversation starter for even the most anxious students. I’ve found, though, that there are three key factors to making the most of journaling: making them personal, keeping them focused, and responding to the students’ entries.
Journaling in the Classroom
1. Making it Personal
Making the journals personal really helps the students feel like it is their safe space at school. I actually use the “Ready to Decorate” journals from Really Good Stuff and have found them perfect for this task! Using markers, foam cutouts, glitter, and crayons, the students can personalize their journals to match their specific tastes and to express themselves creatively. I’ve found that the project-orientated nature of this task related to the journals lessens the kids’ initial anxieties about keeping a journal. Plus, it gives immediate insight into facets of the students’ personalities: how inhibited or free they were with their creations, how they organized this open-ended task, or glimpses of personal interests (e.g., drawings of horses, drama masks, sports equipment, etc.).
2. Keep it Focused
Most kids write just like the talk: rambling, run-on sentences with the words falling over themselves, or short, bullet lists direct and to the point or, sometimes, not at all. Keeping the journals focused helps both the run-on kids stay on task and the minimalist kids feel less overwhelmed. The focus of the journals depends on the focus of the sessions, and so the method by which the journals are used also differs from group to group. Sometimes, I provide a template that the kids follow and fill in. It can be a Monday morning or daily check-in place, a spot for kids to write down thoughts that they need to put on hold, or even a little down time for free drawing is just the trick needed to feel re-energized and ready to go back to class.
3. Responding to Students
Kids are just like adults in that some are more private than others. When we first create the journals and discuss what we are using them for, we also discuss confidentiality. Some kids love to share with both me and the other kids, while some kids want only my eyes on them. Also, some kids want to use them as conversation starters for the group, while some kids prefer for me to give feedback privately and individually in their journals. I take my cues and respond appropriately to each student.
Journaling can be a powerful and personal experience. With guidance and support, journals can also be a very effective way for your students to connect with you. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
About the Author
Jeanette Moreau is an elementary school counselor who is learning the value of connecting with other counselors via social networking. She blogs at Ms. Moreau’s Musings, where she shares her school’s guidance activities with the school community. You can follow her on Twitter.