Sunday, April 19, 2015


As a teacher, I've always struggled to incorporate journaling into my lesson plans. This may be surprising because I am an English teacher. However, there is only so much time in a lesson or unit, and often I have chosen to prioritize other skills such as reading comprehension, writing essays, creative writing, speech writing, grammar, and vocabulary. However, I was inspired to integrate journaling into the teaching of a new novel that I am teaching called, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One of the many reasons I introduced this novel (for another post) into the 10th grade curriculum is that the narrative focuses on teenagers, and after reading classical literature, I thought this would be a great way for my students to end the year. The novel lends itself to journal writing as the themes and topics are relevant to them.

Another reason is that although I do believe mastering the art of formal writing is critical to a students' success, so is the ability to express their opinions and ideas articulately in an informal setting. Also, formal writing is formulaic, or at least the way that I teach it so that they can achieve mastery. Journaling allows students to draw from their own experiences to articulate their ideas however they see fit.

In addition, just like I have written about developing reading endurance, the same is true for writing. Writing for ten minutes every class will help them to become more expressive without fear of their classmates' judgments during discussion.

Lastly, it helps me connect to my students in a non-judgmental and egalitarian way. Although, ideally I hope that I am a teacher who helps teens to be masters of their own education, oftentimes I find myself in the role of critic and disciplinarian. Journaling allows me to have an authentic interaction with my students which, I hope, will enhance our relationships. These enhancements, I hope, will lead to their continued investment in the material through the end of the year and in the future.

So why have I not always had students journal? To be honest, it is a huge time commitment both in class and out of class.  However, Google Docs makes it much easier than dealing with 50 paper journals. Also, our school uses a program called Google Dashboard that allows you to view multiple student folders and documents at once. I can even see if students are actually typing or off task. This feature brings me 1984esque discomfort, so I try to only use it if a student seems really unfocused

One last thought. The questions that you pose to students for journaling have to be both excellent and diverse. You cannot come up with questions at the last minute or your students' answers will reflect your lack of thoughtfulness.  Amazingly, the converse is true as well!

Here are the journal questions from our last assignment:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author study

  1. Do you feel like “your story” is honored by your teachers and your peers? Why or why not?
  2. What stereotypes do you find people have about your background?
  3. Respond: “It’s not that stereotypes are untrue. It’s that they are incomplete.”
  4. Respond: “Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”
  5. Respond: The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."
  6. What is your impression of the author based on the Ted Talk?

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