Student Learning Journals . . . Getting started

Student Learning Journals . . . Getting Started.  Have you been wanting to use journals in your classroom?  Here's some practical advice on how to get that ball rolling!

How many times have you asked yourself if it's really worth all the time and effort to have your students keep journals.  It takes time to set them up, time to teach and model how to write a quality response, time to keep them organized, time for students to write responses and of course, time to read them.  But with all these factors I think they are well worth all of this time investment.

Student learning journals give teachers and students a way of looking at their thinking.  It's also a great resource students can use all year to look back at important ideas and concepts.  I often told my students that I can't open their heads and see what's inside.  They need to bring all of that understanding out so I can see what they're learning.  Learning journals are a great way for students to keep track of and show what they know.  

Now, let's get them set up.

There are several decisions you'll need to make before you introduce the journals to your class.
1.  Spiral notebook or composition book.  I prefer composition books because the pages stay in better.  I absolutely hate those wire spirals and what happens to them through the year!  The backing on the composition book is thicker and will easily last through the year. Look for back-to-school sales.  I could usually pick them up for less than $1 each.  Even though I asked students to bring in their own, I liked to have several on hand for students who couldn't provide their own.

2. Single subject journals or multi-subject journals.  You can set up one journal for each subject, such as, reading, writing, math, and science/social studies. Or, one journal, sectioned off, for different subjects.  I've tried it both ways through the years and finally settled on having two journals for each student.  One called an ELA Journal (reading, and writing) and one called a MSS Journal (math, science and social studies).  One year I put all subjects in one journal and found that the journal was full by mid-year. I had to have a second journal for the second semester.  Starting the year with two journals gave me enough space to last through the year. 

You can do a little calculation to get an estimate on how many journals you'll need for each student.  One composition book has 100 sheets of paper, or 200 pages.  If you plan on having two subjects in that journal, that's 100 pages to write on for the year. 100 pages divided by 36 weeks comes to 2.7 pages per week.  That should be enough for a few short entries and maybe a full page interactive notebook page each week.  If you plan to use more pages each week you may need a journal for each subject.

3.  What will you be writing in the journal?  Making this decision will affect how many journals you need.  Will you use the journals for student response?  interactive notebook elements?  class notes?  or a combination of all three?  I liked to use the journals for all three of these purposes.  I had students paste in interactive notebook elements if it was something I knew we'd want to refer to again and again.  If the interactive notebook element wouldn't be needed again we'd paste it onto a single piece of notebook paper to keep in our binders, which was emptied at the end of each quarter. Along with the interactive notebook pages I'd also have the students write important notes, tips, reminders, etc. so the information would be there as a reference source for the rest of the year.  The learning journals was also used to hold student reflections and responses. My goal was to have students write a response in each subject at least once a week. The responses were usually about a half-page long and asked the student to reflect on their learning or respond to a question.  (More about responses and reflections in a later post.)
Student Learning Journals . . . How do you get started?  Find out how to choose the right type of journal and how to get them ready for students.

Prepping the Journals
Before students begin using the journals you need to get them prepped.  Like I mentioned before, I put composition books on my supply wish list.  In my school, students usually brought in everything I put on that list.  But, just in case, I always had a supply of composition books for students who couldn't bring in their own. Sometime during the first week of school I gave students time to decorate the front with pictures or stickers they brought in from home.  Many students liked the picture on the front of the journal they purchased and chose not to add anything else. The only thing I put on the front was a label that said the name of the journal and the student name. (You can download a free set of editable labels below.) I put this in the top right hand corner of every journal. I also added tabs for the subjects.  The tab was simply an address label, folded in half, attached to one of the pages. If you have older students they can be shown how to put that tab on the first and middle page of the composition book (for two subjects).  If you have three subjects, count over 33 pages to add the second tab and 33 more pages for the third tab.
Free journal labels for the front of student learning journals, Fully editable.

Now, you're all set to begin using the learning journals!  Check back next week for the next post in this series . . .  Responses and Reflections.

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