Giving Students Choice: Journals


On Tuesday, I received an express delivery from UPS. Inside the small package, three crisp notebooks from one of my favorite sources — May Designs — sat wrapped in tissue paper (You can see one of the small journals in the bottom right of the photo above). One of the notebooks is my new summer journal!

During the school year, I carry a sturdy Leuchttrum1917 journal with fabric bookmarks and dot grid pages.  A shelf in my reading room at home holds an array of brightly colored journals from the past few years. This may seem like a lot of information and care for a disposable journal but my journal goes everywhere with me. Inside, I write teaching ideas, inspirations, snippets of a YA novel in progress and a daily “to do” log.

For summer, I opted for a smaller, light weight journal that can fit in a beach or travel bag. While setting up my journal this morning, my thoughts drifted to September and the writing journals my 8th grade students will set up.

Writing journals play a pivotal role during the year and the school supply list always includes a standard composition book. Personally, I set up a composition book to write when my students are writing — the notebook is a quick model in the classroom.

If I am honest, the English class writing notebook has its ups and downs.  The year starts with a bang. Students decorate, jot notes, write drafts and draw in their notebooks. In the midst of writing workshop, students go everywhere with their notebooks. For some students, the notebook remains an integral part of their writing identity all year. However for others, the writing journal is just another thing they must try to remember to bring to class. In fact, there are a few students who do most of their drafting during the year on loose paper because they always forget their notebook at home.

Looking at my new summer journal (with a lovely abstract painting in blues and greens), I wonder if the issue begins when the supply list goes home? Students dutifully arrive with a generic composition notebook that they then spend time trying to personalize. What if choice were part of the early equation?

This year, I will have an array of journals on hand for students. I will:

  • pick up a stack of composition notebooks on sale at Staples (some students love them)
  • search the sale shelves at Michael’s/AC Moore/Target
  • grab a handful of journals at Ikea
  • donate a few of the blank journals I have on my shelves 🙂

With options in hand, I will give students choice. Since I teach 100+ students, some students will need to supply their own journal. However, I believe the search for “just the right journal” will increase the journal’s importance for many students.

This past year, one student carried a small black leather journal. The notebook went everywhere with him. A strong artist, he drew, wrote comic pages and journaled for class in the notebook. When it was time for David to turn in his notebook so I could read drafts, I always collected his notebook in class and returned it before the end of the day. I did not want David to be long without his journal.

When introducing the writing journal next year, I will spend time talking about the importance of a place to write. Students will see pages from famous writer notebooks and hear the voices of writers they love talking about notebooks. From the start, the writing notebook will be personal!

Hopefully, a small investment in time and dollars this summer will lead to a new practice in classroom journal design. As I head out the door with my indispensable journal, I have high hopes for the coming year.