My Journey of Journal Writing

Santona Neupane

A few months back I found myself counting the notebooks and diaries I had received in 2013 alone. They were given to me by my near and dear ones, assuming I would put them into good use, owing to the fact that I love writing. Including the two that I had bought for myself, the total was nine. Embarrassing thing though, was that, all the notebooks-except one- were empty. It was high time I did something about those notebooks. To put them to good use, I started to reflect on my days and jot them down on those notebooks. Not only did I put those notebooks into good use, I even established a writing habit: the one that helped not only me but would eventually help my students as well. In this article, I am going to talk about how journal writing helped me and my students become more expressive and creative in our writing. Further on, I will discuss why I think teachers need to implement this technique to improve students’ writing skill.

I teach in a secondary school and the students I was teaching were not good at writing creatively. We know teaching is a dynamic process and we learn as we teach. When things do not go as you plan, you have to look for alternatives. And thus I looked around for different approaches that might help my students. As I guided and taught them a thing or two about writing, I found that they did write but they were not enthusiastic about it. And, improving their overall language skills was another matter. That’s when I thought about journal writing, as it was helping me as well in my writing.

I hence proposed the students a journal writing project. The requirement was simple – write down about your day, every day. The students were under no restrictions except to write daily. They were free to write whatever they liked, however they liked and write how much long they wanted to. My condition was I would check their work initially to provide feedback and when it would be evident that they are able to do it on their own, I would read their work only if they wanted me to.

The initial entries included what they did at certain time that day.  Now as a reader that’s hardly something that excites. I suggested them to drop the conventional diary writing style they had acquired and to focus on only one important moment or event of the day. To break established habit is quite difficult and it was really hard for them to change their habit yet with persistence and practice they were able to achieve this.

The next step was to help them describe their day in terms of their senses. We had a class specially focused on five senses. At first, the students were given a magazine cutout of a beautiful scenery. They had to imagine themselves in that particular place and describe it in term as of sight, smell, sound, taste and feeling. This proved to be a useful exercise which helped the students to be expressive about their feelings.

Following the example of my own teacher, I asked them to be personal in their journal writing. I told them to be reflective and that their writing needed to mirror their individual self. Even though I had told them I wouldn’t read their entry if they didn’t want to give it to me, they insisted I read it and provide feedback. Following a month or so the writings they produced went through some transformation but there were still some exceptions. Once, on reading the entry of a class, I saw that everyone had written about the same event that had happened the previous day. Though the event was same, the perspective differed with different entries. With the permission of the class, the students presented the entries and we held a discussion on how each of them had different perspectives. This proved to be an interesting topic for discussion and by the end of the lesson students were aware of the difference and had a new understanding.

I would be lying if I said that journal writing transformed each and every student’s writing skill. Some of the students continued to produce uninspired entries. No doubt, they had followed my instructions yet their entries lacked life as they had detached themselves from their entry. But I asked them to continue writing to establish the habit. Once I found an approach of a student quite innovative and interesting; and with her permission, I shared it with others as well. She had described a typical winter morning in such a way it seemed as if everything was gloomy and dreary. Then her writing moved on to describe a transformation: as the fog cleared she described how she could see things clearly which only moments before, seemed blocked. This opened a new dynamics for others. They started to experiment different forms as there weren’t any particular restriction on how to write. Some of the entries that were produced were in the form of verse, drawings, haikus etc.

This writing project was a stepping stone for me as a teacher and for my students as writers. We did not have a separate time allocated for this writing class. As the work progressed I guided, taught and provided feedback to them within the regular classes and sometimes during break time. Time and again I shared my entries with them and that helped them.

Journal writing can be a special tool for your students to improve their writing skills; one that doesn’t take much resource and time. There is a high chance of this turning into a habit for life. It encourages them to reflect on certain element of their day and examine it. It awakens the writer in them and as is the nature of humans they look for ways to be more creative with it. This even helped my students produce poems and stories. It became a medium to share their views, ideas, opinion and feelings. The continuous writing helped them to be descriptive and expressive in their other writings as well.

Not only this opened a new way of understanding for my students, it also helped me to develop myself as a teacher. The problem had been bugging me for a long time and it encouraged me to look for ways. I had to do something. My personal experience, few suggestions from my teacher and inspiration from a Hollywood flick helped me conceptualize this project and few adjustments along the way helped this journey to be smoother.

santona

Santona Neupane
M.Ed. ELT, Second Semester
Kathmandu University

 

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7 Responses to My Journey of Journal Writing

  1. Shyam Sharma says:

    Santona,
    I read your blog post and found it interesting and inspiring. Writing is defined and taught in all kinds of ways that are not productive, even by language teachers.

    In contrast to what you did, one very common approach to teaching writing (and I’m not just trying to be funny) is to NOT teach it at all. This happens, as it does in our society, because teachers tend to believe (and indeed, the entire education system seems to make the same assumption) that writing doesn’t need to be taught. And it is not taught because writing is believed to be simply “transcribing” your ideas into words on paper. Not true. Writing involves thinking, and thinking while writing means generating new ideas as you write. The use of writing as a means/vehicle of thinking means that students can write well (at least in the sense of “having something to say” regardless of their writing “skills”) when they can write about things that they did/experienced in their real lives. In that sense, your assignment provided students an easy and interesting start.

    Your approach to teaching writing is also effective because you modeled it–instead of just giving instructions to the students, just assessing their work, just passing or failing them. When students see that we too do it–especially when we do it in a similar or relatable way–they tend to take it more seriously, see more value in the task. Especially when an activity is not given academic credit in the exams, it is not easy to make students do it, and so one needs to figure out a different kind of incentive. In this sense, when reading your article, I also wondered what other incentives (other than the fact that it will improve their language competency overall and maybe help improve exam scores). Because you indicated that this was “creative” (or reflective) type of writing, I was thinking if it would help further to let students know the benefits of writing reflectively. Here are some I can think of: 1) describe things, events, and other phenomena 2) practice using words they already know and try to find new words when needed 3) figure out how things are the way they are/come to be or why things happen 4) pick important or interesting details from random things in life/experience 5) make connections and organize thoughts and observations 6) create stories or other meaningful logical structures in the process 7) develop new ideas/perspectives and learn to value them 8) be “authors” of their own 9) get the opportunity to talk about their thoughts and their writing (and get feedback from teacher and peers) 10) allow the teacher and students to discuss ideas in students’ terms in class, etc. I’m not sure if and how the benefits could be conveyed to students, but maybe the metacognitive awareness about what and how and why they write may add some value/motivation.

    Let me know what you think about these, and I also hope you will write again about this project some time in the future.

    • santyona says:

      Shyam Sir, thank you for taking time to read and provide useful feedback. This project helped me a lot to move ahead. I was thinking ‘What next?’. Ten tips/ideas you have provided will definitely help me move forward. Those tips are wonderful and now I have a map. I would love to hear more interesting directions/ideas from you.

  2. Shyam sir, just to add to ur comment. I was lucky enough to attend Alan Maley’s workshop a few years ago. He told us that whenever we ask our students to do a writing activity in the class, we also need to write with them. I liked this idea really much and since then I have been following it. For instance, when I ask my students to write haiku, I also write one with them and share it with them.

    Great article Santona ! Keep it up.

    • Shyam Sharma says:

      Umes, I think that’s a good rule of thumb– meaning it may not work in some cases (such as when it’s clear that you’ve mastered a certain skill and you will appear fake if you write alongside students). But in this case, it seems to be a good way to inspire students.

    • santyona says:

      Thank you Umes Sir. Like you said, it is really inspiring to see the teacher working alongside.

  3. aparnagupta says:

    “Where there is will there is way.” Inspiring article!!
    When I was teaching in a private school I too used to make my students write every day. I used to give them questions with; “Suppose……”. It was quite imaginary but it worked. Your article inspired me to do something here in public school too. Keep it up!!

  4. santyona says:

    Thanks. Your idea is interesting as well. Its worth trying.

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