I had a definite love-hate relationship with journals! I found it took me about an hour to respond to them. On Fridays during the last 45 minutes, I wrote a prompt on the board. Some prompts were more introspective, some silly, some brief — I had a zillion of them I made up over the years, a great collection that I wrote down as they occurred to me:
- What would you do if you were invisible?
- Complain about something.
- Compliment somebody in this class.
- What makes you really, really mad?
- What's the best part of a school day for you?
- Who do you admire?
- What do you think about writing in this journal?
Anything! The students were required to date and sign each entry. Some students wrote more, while others were terribly brief. As they finished, they piled them on the corner of my desk. Then they cleaned out their desks, while I got a head-start on responding. I finished up as soon as school ended, before going home or took them home for the weekend (hence, the love-hate).
The insight I got into my students was my favorite part, hands down. I could pick up sadness, hostility, insecurity, etc. I always used humor in responses wherever appropriate. When they came in on Monday morning, the journals were on their desks, and they were mostly eager to see what I’d written. Some hated the whole thing — a tiny number. I loved having a personal dialog with each student.
If a student refused to cooperate and to write meaningfully I could bring this up at conferences, though I never divulged the contents of a journal unless I had a student’s permission. Over the years I had several instances when students cried out for help or bald-faced asked me for help on a personal issue. Oh, and I always said, “After you have responded to the prompt, you may write whatever you want.” I got a lot of questions from students or complaints about the classroom, things like that.