The Writing Class: Journals in Context
On the first day of the spring 1992 semester, I hurried through corridors crowded with students. My usual first-day nervousness was heightened by the knowledge that these new classes would provide the data for my study of student journal writing. Because the classroom was on a floor undergoing renovation, the elevators and the main stairs had been sealed off to protect the college community from asbestos fibers and other debris from the construction. To get to the classroom, it was necessary to use the fire stairs from the floor below, which remained open for safety reasons. The following excerpt from the teaching journal I kept for a professional development seminar will give a sense of the setting in which this study began:
When I open the fire door, I enter a surreal environment lined with firebrick and fitted out with fire hoses and extinguishers. On one of the stairs my foot slips on something gritty, and I realize that a sandbag used to prop open the door has burst, scattering sand all over the floor.
As I leave the stairway and walk down the hall to the classroom, the light emanating from work lights dangling on wires in their yellow plastic cages casts an eery glow. "It's going to be a long semester," I think as I pass the door to the adjoining classroom with its yellow and navy poster announcing: "Danger: Radioactive Materials."
My first reaction on entering the classroom is relief. The space is intact. One corner of the ceiling has been damaged by water seeping down from the floor above. The plaster is peeling and crumbling but does not appear to be in danger of falling.
The room is large, about 25 feet square, with high ceilings. There are six very large windows, three on the west side and three on the south side. The windows are covered with tattered shades, but they have a great advantage over the windows in the newer buildings in the college: They open.
The metal desk/chairs are lined up in neat rows facing the blackboard. A few students are already in the room, sitting quietly. I put my briefcase down on the desk at the front of the room and ask the students to help me move the chairs into a circle. Someone has written, "I love Paul!" on the board. But