Journal writing reminds us that our interaction with a text (whether it be a written text or a visual one) takes place in a much larger place than just in the traditional ways that students often associate with their academic work – essay questions, research papers, poetry explications, or even lab reports. Our cultural conversation with the texts that we encounter extends far beyond the traditional academic genres of summaries, comparisons, contrasts, or synthesis. Our responses to the texts we encounter allow us to use our human agency to become more fully human as we interact with the world of ideas around us in meaningful ways.
Some strategies that students can use for keeping journals can include but are not limited to an awareness of the text or an idea. Students can draw inferences from the texts, make the author’s claim explicit, and then respond to those texts or ideas in a meaningful way. These responses should be active and engaged responses. When students do journal writing, they should not just mirror the author or summarize the text, but should “talk back” to the text and interact with the ideas, the symbols, the language and the style of the text. While it is expected that students do a limited amount of free writing on a given journal topic, students should develop their ideas after they engage in the process of invention. Students should take some care in how their interactions with text are presented, make rhetorical choices, and choose their words with a sense of craft.
Journal writing may not come easy or seem natural to students at first. It is a disciplined act that takes effort. One strategy that a student might use to begin writing a journal entry is what is commonly known as “the double entry journal.” Students should write quotes from a text or central ideas that are found within the text on the rights side of a piece of paper and then write down their responses to these quotes or ideas on the left. A double entry journal can easily lead to a summary/ response paper.
For complex texts that use a specialized vocabulary, students might consider writing out a dictionary or a glossary of key terms and ideas so that they can integrate these terms in to their understanding and use them at a later time. In addition, students might consider explaining how the ideas in one text fit in with the ideas in other texts that the student might have read. Visual learners might consider writing out diagrams or concept maps of these ideas to help them “see” the text better. When all else fails, free association or stream of consciousness writing about a particular text can always lead to the development of topics for a journal.
No matter what approach that students take to journaling, they should make the journaling exercises work for them in some meaningful way. That is the essence of education – figuring out how you can make what you are learning work for you in your unique and particular situation.