7 Reasons to Use Journaling in Your Classroom
Journaling has been a key component of my health classes since the day I became a teacher, and its benefits to my teaching practice continue to pile up every year.
Even with all of the technological advances over the last 15 years, I start every semester by giving each of my students a small spiral bound notebook.
Here are seven reasons why you should do the same.
1. It helps you gage student concerns to keep your content relevant.
When I first became a health teacher, I was given the teacher’s guide to an outdated textbook and told to "just go in order and get through what you can.” After thumbing through the first few chapters, it became clear that following that plan wouldn’t allow me to cover the topics my students wanted and needed.
So, I asked them what I should cover by writing the following on the board:
Journal #1: What are the biggest health concerns in our school community? In your family? For you personally?
I spent that afternoon looking through all of their journals, and built my curriculum from there.
2. It allows for one-on-one conversations with your students.
When I was a high school sophomore, I had a Language Arts teacher who had us journal at the beginning of each class. I still remember some of her comments back to me, as it felt like she really was getting to know me as a person.
I used to collect journals and write back to students twice a semester but would end up overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of work. So for the past few years, I’ve used a staggered “journal check” schedule. Each student has five days during the course of the semester when they’re assigned to hand in their journals. This keeps them on top of their entries, and gives me about 12 journals to read and respond to each day, making it much more manageable.
3. It’s a tool for formative assessment and reflection.
My journal topics are always connected to our current projects or units of study, so with the staggered journal checks, I can really get a feel for what’s working and what I need to spend more time on. I can also track individual student progress and get an idea of who needs help.
4. It gives students a healthy coping skill.
Research shows that keeping a journal is good for your health—physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially—making it well worth the time and effort to get students into the habit of writing down their thoughts and feelings. It helps them gain perspective and work out problems on their own.
5. It’s a good place to write down gratitude lists.
In a recent study, university students who took the time to write down five things they’re grateful for had a marked increase in their happiness levels. I have my students jot down a gratitude list in their journal during the first lesson of each week. It takes just a second, and as one of my seventh graders put it, “It’s like the fastest happiness hack ever.”
6. It increases students’ mindfulness and focus.
Every other day, my students spend the first five minutes of class writing in their journals. (Three years ago, we started alternating journaling and guided meditation.) If the kids have something pressing on their minds, they’re always free to write about that rather than the prompt I’ve given them. The opportunity to get their thoughts out of their heads and onto paper helps them mentally get ready for class.
Note: This is especially useful when you teach sixth graders right after lunch.
7. It builds student confidence.
Not all kids are good at thinking off the cuff, so by giving them the chance to get their ideas on paper first, they’re more comfortable when it comes time for class discussions. As for my introverts who have a hard time speaking up at all, they get a chance to strut their stuff on journal check days.
Surprisingly, some of the strongest student relationships I have are with ones who rarely raise their hands. And that is the biggest reason for journaling of them all.