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The purpose of this module is to empower students to be more fluid, confident, and effective writers. Whether writing email, school papers, memos, projections, reports, or business presentations, students need to be able to write clean, clear prose. How to entice them to enjoy writing and to become better writers does not have to be frustrating or confrontational; indeed, these attitudes will cause more damage than good. Ironically, an age-old method (with a twist) can open students up to becoming the writers they were meant to become.
Many students have had negative experiences that make them shy about or disinterested in written expression. Countless studies show that students must write a lot to gain confidence and fluidity in their prose. Assignments often require a level of writing that many of our students do not possess. Unfortunately, they do not write well because they do not practice. To help get students’ pens moving, instructors often assign journals. However, most students do not like journal writing and/or do not have very effective or imaginative responses to discussions, films, debates, essays, images, poems, stories, etc. As a consequence, teachers and students become frustrated and a helpful process tool for teaching reading, analysis, and writing is often discarded.
Creative Journals—imaginative responses to texts—emphasize creativity and imagination, making it more interesting for students. As a consequence, journal responses are a creative act, just like the texts and experiences to which they respond. In addition, instructors should make the journals count for a significant portion of students’ grades, so the amount of work they do and the project are not marginalized, but emphasized. Journal writing, can be used in almost any class as a project to engage students in texts associated with a course, to reflect upon what they have read, and to become better writers and communicators. Again, the concept is simple: the more students write, the better writers they become.
Teaching and Learning Methodology
This module uses Andrea J. Kaston’s twenty Suggestions for Journal Responses as its model and focuses on an assignment posted on a website. Realize this is one approach that has proven successful, but it is by no means the only approach. The extended bibliographical information, the list of websites, and the alternative lesson plans featured in the Resources section should be explored by anyone wishing to research the topic further.
Based on research and instinct, instructors can make up their own lists of suggestions and develop their own requirements and delivery methods. This module is but one approach, one that has worked successfully on college students; however, to think it the best or the only one would be foolish. Instructors should feel free to work off the module, ignore it, or use it in its entirety. What is important is to get students writing. Journals do work. Also, creative journals with suggestions that can prime students imaginations and make them excited and/or challenged are more effective than journal assignments that do not.
Instructor Guidelines
This assignment can be integrated into any course as a writing assignment. As previously stated, it should be a significant portion of a student’s grade—from fifteen to twenty-five percent. This creates student buy-in and emphasizes rather than marginalizes the importance of the writing.
  • The use of Andrea J. Kaston’s twenty suggestions gives instructors a number of options from which to make assignments. The twenty options are divided into five subcategories, which may be assigned inclusively, progressively, exclusively, or individually depending on student needs or abilities.
  • The journal assignment should be made at the beginning of a semester and cover as many weeks of the semester as possible to allow for the maximum number of responses and time for student growth and reflection.
  • Assign students into groups immediately so that they can discuss the assignment more intimately and share work and concerns.
  • Do not emphasize grammar, mechanics, syntax, spelling, and structure as part of the grade. Do require entries be typed so you can read them easily and efficiently. Consequently, students should have access to computers and paper. Require the materials to be clipped and organized by a Table of Contents, which precedes the entries. If an instructor is willing to read student handwriting, students will need to purchase a notebook.
  • If an instructor wants to inquire into the efficacy of journals, their effect on student writing, and/or other approaches to journaling, see the Resources section.
Students learn to write by writing, so the emphasis should be by immersion in a journal assignment that incorporates as many different approaches to writing and reflection as possible.
Students should be given direction and creative alternatives, so that they cannot say, “I don’t know what to do or what to write.”
An effective model of journal assignments is Andrea J. Kaston’s innovative twenty “Suggestions for Journal Responses,” a list of journal approaches that has exercises for different levels of ability and imagination. Beyond a list of journal approaches, instructors should provide specific requirements to students with goals and objectives that they can measure and meet. Some of these include:
  • Models: Student concerns over whether or not they are meeting expectations or developing the assignment effectively can be addressed by providing them with models of student writing from previous classes.
  • Group Work: Students should meet in groups of three or four students at regular intervals to discuss the assignments, get peer feedback and support, clear up misunderstandings, and see what others are doing.
  • Instructor Feedback: Journals should be picked up on a regular basis to prevent procrastination and to give positive reinforcement, acknowledgement, and encouragement.
  • Tools to enhance methodologies include: Websites that explain and model the assignment, handouts, visuals, group interaction, presentations, lecture, discussion, etc.
Expected Student Outcomes
  • A large quantity of writing: sixteen to thirty pages of typed prose, poetry, dialogue or creative work, depending on assignment and parameters
  • Not every text will inspire students to write deeply or to be touched by what they read
  • Over time, however, expect the following for some students if not all in varying degrees:
    • Increased fluidity of prose
    • The emergence of voice
    • The emergence of insights
    • Creativity that classroom work does not reveal or promote
    • A bleed over of voice, creativity, insight, and fluidity into class and assigned essays that makes them more readable, therefore, effective.
    • A sense of pride and confidence in written work
    • An increased understanding of writing as communication
Student Guidelines
Learning to be an effective writer takes practice and practice takes time and energy. Journal writing is a form of informal practice that will help you write more fluidly, thoughtfully, and effectively. This journal will require you to type responses and organize them according to the approaches used.
The students’ first job is to understand the assignment and to ask questions about anything in the handouts, classroom explanations, and website information not understood. In addition, students should study any models of journal entries and tables of contents provided to see specifically what other students have accomplished so that you can emulate what they have done.
journal illustration
If presented with Andrea J. Kaston’s twenty “Suggestions for Journal Responses,” study these. You will be expected to respond to texts using one of the twenty different types of responses and to choose approaches from all five of the categories in which they are listed to complete the entire journal assignment by the end of the semester.
You will be graded on the amount you write and your ability to follow directions, think clearly, write in complete thoughts, and meet requirements.
To do well in this assignment:
  • Meet in your groups and discuss the journal assignment. Make sure every group member understands the assignment in the same way. If this is not the case, ask the instructor for clarification.
  • If the journal is to consist of reader responses to many different kinds of texts (essays, photos, cartoons, editorials, films, advertisements, etc.), treat them all in the same manner:
    • Read the text and reflect on it
    • Look at the twenty suggested approaches
    • Decide on which to use
    • Look at a model of student work using the approach
    • Write using the approach
  • Discuss what you wrote with your group and share your work with them. Make sure you have met requirements clearly and effectively.
  • Develop a Table of Contents per requirements.
  • Turn in work on time.

You will see that you and your fellow group members will respond to texts differently. Learn from them. Compare your work to theirs. Experiment. Show your instructor your thoughts and insights with pride; they are as individual as you are.