Throughout the years, I have used participant journaling to increase communication, build relationships, improve writing skills and gain a perspective on what my youth had learned from our activities and lesson plans.
Journal writing increases students’ communication skills, allowing them to exchange ideas and information with you informally; in turn, students will learn to form a more meaningful connections. This activity provides the opportunity for students to voice questions, concerns, or opinions they may not feel comfortable raising in front of their peers, as well as, provides the opportunity for you to give individual attention and feedback to the student.
Sometimes, in a busy day, it is difficult to get the needed one-on-one time with students or participants to build those important relationships. Journaling is one tool which affords this opportunity for participants or students to…
- Reflect and process information learned in the group or class
- Begin to develop and strengthen critical thinking and abstract reasoning skills
- Increase communication and writing skills
- Form a more personal connection with staff
- Receive individual attention and feedback on thoughts, ideas, and understandings
Easy tips for implementing journaling:
Materials needed – If this is a class you can ask the participants to buy a notebook or binder, whichever you prefer. If you are a program with funding, you can purchase the materials for the participants. However if you are a program with limited resources, you can use recycled binders or make DIY journals.
Journals should remain in the classroom. They can be placed in a bin or a shelf in the room. I had allowed students to bring home the journals, and that was a BIG mistake! They were unprepared and frequently left the journals at home. There was always some excuse, and it made it difficult for them to keep all their writings together. This can especially be a problem when they do not have a class daily (if the group or class only meets one or two times a week).
Have participants decorate the covers of their journal to express who they are as individuals or create an activity which ties in what the group or class is about. Make sure you inform them that the covers need to be rated PG! You want to avoid scantily clad pictures, explicit language, or inappropriate gestures on the covers. Yes, I have seen it all!
Have participants date the top corner of the page and write the question being answered. (You can also use your assigned method of labeling papers). An alternative is to have the question typed on a printed out page for them to place in their binder.
With the dates and assignments labeled, journaling is also an excellent way to verify attendance and participation.
At the end of each group or class, pose a question to reflect what was learned during the day. If your students state that they didn’t learn anything, ask them what they would have wanted to learned. Allow the students 5-10 minutes to reflect, process, and write down their thoughts. Explain that their answer should be no less than one paragraph, but they can be longer.
Participants should also be allowed to ask questions in their journal that they may have been uncomfortable asking during the class or group.
Read each journal entry, and provide written feedback. Pose questions which will elicit a more thoughtful responses, if necessary.
Be aware, participants may disclose personal information or surprise you in some of their writing. Be neutral in your responses and non-judgmental. If they do disclose indicate something that may be questionable (If they are hurting themselves, hurting others, or someone may be hurting them), as a mandated reporter, you should discuss it with the school, organizational counselor, or your supervisor.
You can assign one student to distribute and one student to collect the journals at the end of each group. Students who need to be constantly occupied are excellent for this regardless of the age level.
Have fun with this activity! It will help you learn a lot about who your students are, what they understand, and how you can best support them.
Do any great ways that you have incorporated journaling into your group or class?
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