Journals are bedrocks in my teaching practice. On the first day of school I give each child a composition book and a letter from me that begins like this:
Welcome! I am very excited about our year together and hope you are too. We are going to do all sorts of interesting things and I hope very much that you enjoy them. One of these will be corresponding in this journal. That is, we will write letters back and forth to each other. So, let’s begin by introducing ourselves to each other. I’ll go first.
Every week or so after this the children write to me in their journals and I write back. These letters are about personal stuff, thoughts that arise out of our literature discussions (e.g. “Who is heroic in Charlotte’s Web?”), responses to prompts related to the curriculum, suggestions on how to resolve classroom problems, and about their independent reading.
I love these journals. They are safe places for children to communicate with me, especially those children who might be too shy to approach me directly. In them I advise, recommend books, and just connect to my students. They are such great teaching environments, places for my students to develop their basic writing skills as well as their intellectual ones. In these letters they learn to organize paragraphs, to argue effectively, to write a concise summary of a book, to critique effectively, and more. As time consuming as it is for me to write substantial letters back to each of them (as I promise them that if they write a good letter to me they’ll get one back from me), it is worth it.
Last week, feeling a need for something new, I changed the rules. Instead of writing me, they wrote to the class. And now, instead of my writing back to them, they are all writing back to each other. And — duh — I realized that I’d just had them do paper blogging. Those responses they are writing to each other — a form of commenting, of course! And so I began thinking about having them move from their composition books to the computer — to start them on blogs. Only one thing held me back. You may laugh when I write this, but here it is — handwriting.
Yes, handwriting. Pretty much all the other writing my student do is on a keyboard. They are fortunate to each have a Alphasmart to use for the year, a small portable word processor. We also have access to a cart of laptops and so just about all writing is on keyboards. The one place they must write by hand is in these journals. What, I’ve wondered, would happen if they no longer had even that to do by hand. Would their handwriting atrophy before it had even solidified? What would happen to them in the future if they had to compose by hand? Would they even be able to do it if we did not force them to occasionally? However, after speaking to my colleagues, I’ve decided to move forward with the blogs. They reminded me of other places where the children will still be writing by hand. Besides, moving from the journals just seems like such a natural next step now.
I’ll continue to fret about cursive, script, print and whether they will, in the future, be able to write legibly and comfortable using those increasingly obsolete articles — paper and pencil. But if I’m having a blast blogging why shouldn’t my students have a chance at it too?