In the history of humankind, few ventures have been started and abandoned with such persistency and consistency as the journal. I think the elementary and middle school classroom is where this habit begins, and then with each new year, with each new journal, a commitment is made that this time will be different. Here is how it all begins:

Having read a fantastic new book on using journals in the classroom over the summer, the teacher begins the year enthusiastically, “Okay kids, the word journal comes from the word journey. We are going to take a journey into the world of writing and discovery. This new journal is where you will explore and discover the vast depths of knowledge found within the universe and within your mind. This journal will be a safe place where you will be free to explore and reflect on your thoughts, as well as develop new thoughts, new ways of thinking, and new insights into your new thoughts.”

Two weeks later – tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. “Excuse me, teacher… I thought we were going to write in our journals.”

Worried about a new district mandate on using technology in the classroom, the teacher defensively snaps, “Billy, not now. We simply must… we have too much to do! We will get to that… soon… someday soon…”

The journal lingers about, abandoned, but not forgotten, a sad reminder to all that the teacher may not know what he is doing.

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Journals Are Put Forth as an Educational Cure-all

Journals come in many forms: learning logs, writing journals, writer’s notebooks, reflective journals, reading journals, and more.  People mention journals conversationally as a solution for most any problem. For this reason, many school desks contain many abandoned journals.

The school day only allows for so much journal writing, so teachers need to make effective use of journal writing time. Be sure to read How to Use Journals in the Elementary and Middle School Classroom. You will better understand how to plan for and effectively use journal time in order to reach your academic goals and objectives. Like all academic tools, teachers must use journals wisely.

Problem: Students don’t like to write.
Solution: Journals inspire children. They love to write in journals.

Concept: Students need to reflect on their learning.
Solution: Journals are an effective place for students to explore and create an authentic understanding of their own learning.

Problem: Students are not engaged in their learning.
Solution: Journals help students take ownership of their learning.

Problem: Students are noisy and distracted.
Solution: Get these students writing in a journal! They will surely enjoy it! And it will focus them and engage them in learning.

Problem: Students are troubled, unmotivated, uncooperative etc.
Solution: Get them to connect with and express their thoughts and feelings in a journal.

Problem: ESL learners are struggling with the language.
Solution: Try using a journal. It’s a safe place to play with language.

Concept: Students need time for creative writing.
Solution: Journals are a gateway to student creativity!

Concept: Students need many daily opportunities to write.
Solution: Have students write in many different types of daily journals.

Extreme Journal Abandonment

With all the excellent reasons for using journals, keep in mind that abandoned journals are a failure. Abandoned journals in students’ desks are a sad reminder of something started and not finished. This sad reminder is something students interact with daily as they sort through their desks looking for that very important misplaced worksheet. “If only I didn’t have this collection of abandoned journals in my desk, I would have been able to keep track of that important worksheet!”

I know I’ve ended the school year with a few different abandoned journals.  The purpose behind each journal has always been so promising, but when time is important, and the administration is reminding everyone about upcoming assessments, journals get lost in the shuffle.

Many teachers have the journal problem worse than I ever have. I’ve subbed and taken over classrooms on a number of my vacations. In other words, I’ve been in many classrooms. Sometimes you come across desks that are stuffed to the brim, and you have to empty them just to figure out what is going on inside of them. You usually find a number of abandoned journals contributing to the clutter. When you ask students about the journals, here’s how they respond:

This is our Real Readers Reading Log. Reading is so true to life, and we connect the written word with what we experience in the world and in life. We wrote in it once—the first day—and then again two months later. A couple weeks later Billy asked the teacher if we were ever going to write in it again. He ended up on the bench, so no one has mentioned it since. This is our Science Explorations Journal, we have our Deep Thoughts Journal, and we have our Connections Journal. Not all have been as successful as the reading log.

Re-Abandoned Journals: Sending Kids Home for the Summer with Abandoned Journals

What should a teacher do with abandoned journals at the end of the school year? Personally, I hate to waste paper. I also don’t like to admit defeat. Here’s a trick I’ve tried once or twice:

Kids, it’s summer vacation. I want you to take this collection of abandoned journals and continue the journey without me. We began it together, but I’m afraid I can’t continue it with you. I’m too old, too tired to go on—and I’m going to Belize for my summer vacation. But please, continue on your journal journey without me—and remember me from time to time. Write a little passage remembering your old teacher—and journal traveler. Promise me—promise me—that you will continue the journal journey all summer long! The students cheer, “We promise! We promise!”

This is how these journals begin round two in the life of the abandoned journal. Abandoned during the school year, and then once again abandoned in the summertime. Years later, people toss them into the recycling bin and cry, “What a waste of paper.”


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