Writing and Viewing: Please Don't Ask Me to Write or Draw What I Did in the Holidays

Article excerpt

My heart sank when I read the topic for this edition of Practically Primary writing competition, as I realised instantly that I ask my students to write and draw about not only their holidays but about their life five days a week! In my classroom and now throughout our whole school students keep a personal journal. The premise for the journal is that, in order for students to develop their writing, they need to practise their writing. It has been well documented that writing is a skill that needs to be taught explicitly. In order for students to develop their writing they need to practise writing and develop the skills of using appropriate text structure, sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, spelling, proofreading and editing. Every teacher then faces the same task of finding ways for students to practise their writing so it is an enjoyable meaningful activity. A key to developing good writing in students is awareness of purpose and audience--that is, the reason why the student should write and who will read their writing.

As adults we write for a purpose: a letter to a friend, a note for a teacher, a university assignment. There is always a purpose for our writing and an intended audience. The purpose and audience are set in our minds clearly before we start the process, as are the style or context in which we will write. It is from this notion that journal writing provides a daily purpose and audience.

Journal writing in my classroom started after experiencing the joy and benefits it gave two ESL students. As in most schools the students had an ESL teacher who visited the school several times a week to give them individual lessons to increase the speed with which they learned to speak, read and write in English. Over the holiday breaks she encouraged the students to keep a journal to share with her when they returned. This kept the students writing in English during the holidays when they usually interacted with their own families more, which limited their time using English. The two ESL students filled several exercise books with their holiday exploits, which their teacher read and discussed when they returned. It was then with great pride they showed me their journals and I was let in to their world away from school. What joy it gave me reading their entries and watching their growing pride as they shared their journals with me. It was then that I decided to try the process with my whole class. That was five years ago and now journal writing at my school is part of the routine of every classroom.

In order to start the process I realised that the students needed to read 'good' journal writing, so over the Christmas holidays I bought a journal and began to write. I wrote about places I visited, restaurants I ate in, movies I watched, the exploits of my children and dog. I collected business cards, movie tickets, and maps, cut out newspaper articles and printed photos of my 6 week break and created a journal full of writing and pictures. When I returned to school I shared my journal, to the delight of my students and myself. I was bombarded with questions, comments and thoughts about what I had done during the holidays.

The students then bought a notebook of their choice as their journal. As a class we discussed the purpose and audience for their journals and therefore created several rules for 'Journal Writing', as it is affectionately known, in our classroom:

* Other students, teachers, parents and classroom guests can read journals therefore the content needs to be appropriate.

* When you read someone's journal you can write a comment on a sticky note and attach it on the page of the entry you read.

* If the writer has a questionnaire, you may ill it in directly on the page.

* Journals need to be at school every day.

So the writing began! Students were given at least two sessions a week at school to write in their journals and they were asked to write for homework each week. …