As a former teacher, I found assigning students journal work was critical for them to write clearly and communicate effectively. This “safe space” allowed them to work through their frustrations with English grammar and formal spelling before they tackled their essays.
High school and college students frequently struggle to express themselves in a way that is considered professional. Words and phrases often have several meanings depending on the region or culture, and even new meanings created on the internet. The abbreviated “text speak” on cell phones and emails convince students that this is appropriate when in fact, it is not. Until they learn the differences between colloquial dialects, whether spoken or written and professional communication required by potential employers, they will continue to grapple with their papers.
An assigned class journal can provide students the practice needed to cultivate their writing skills. Each week, I asked my college freshmen for three paragraphs on any event that covered the arts or music. What did they like or didn’t like? How did it make them feel? What would they change if they could? Suddenly I found students sharing personal observations and life experiences, going beyond the assigned three paragraphs. From their journaling, they developed a keener sense for how to effectively communicate an idea, analyze a text and craft an argument based on that analysis. Although the journals were only assigned to improve their writing, it soon became a tool promoting their creativity and proved to have a positive impact on their mental health.
With the journals, I identified sentences that worked or didn’t work, flagged colloquialisms, and suggested ideas that would improve their analysis. Since the journals were not graded, students took more chances with their writing and were more open to specific prompts and recommendations. In fact, these journals helped students recognize their own informal writing and correct it, without the stress of writing an essay that represented a significant portion of their grade.
Any English teacher looking to encourage students to improve their writing skills without having to dedicate class time to reteaching the basics should consider assigning a weekly journaling exercise.