Calkins’ approach to journaling weaves together writing instruction with student-generated topics, in an effort to form a balanced approach to writing development. Important characteristics of this strategy are:
- All of the writing in the seed journals comes from the students' lives. They are a collection of things they've done, seen, and thought about; past and present. A seed journal isn't a place for fiction, just mini memoirs. (Here’s one teacher’s very clever idea for making an engaging “watermelon seed” journal.)
- Students are encouraged to write about brief moments or “seeds” of a larger experience. Instead of writing about a trip on an airplane, students learn how to look within the larger topic for something smaller. Maybe a piece in the journal could be about feeling nervous while walking down the jet way or how the world outside the plane looked from the air.
- Writing conventions should not be the focus of the journal writing time. Yes, students should be expected to use proper conventions and grammar, as appropriate, by their development and grade level standards. But spelling and punctuation should never impede a child from putting their thoughts on paper.
- No two students are alike - some will be able to easily identify a seed topic and write for the entire journaling time while others will struggle to even develop an idea. Some may be able to write lengthy pieces with well-developed content and others may compose one sentence accompanied by a basic illustration. Allowing students to include an illustration with a seed journal entry can be powerful for certain students, as they will be able to communicate ideas via the illustration that they may not be able to convey in their writing.
- Seed journals aren't the end product goal for these young writers. Via direct instruction, teachers will model and teach students how to turn these small seed ideas into a larger, more developed piece. Every great piece of writing started out as a small seed!
We’d like to point out that writing in journals of any kind is a very personal exercise for students. Students should never be forced to share the contents of their journals; sharing should be on a voluntary basis only. In this notorious and very dangerous time of bullying, a journal should not in any way be used as a diary. Especially for older children, teachers must take care to connect journal exercises directly to classroom assignments.
Journaling as a writing exercise can provide an appropriate opportunity to discuss boundaries and why they are important in writing about one’s self, and others. It also can be used as a "teachable moment" to emphasize how writing on social media sites like Facebook can negatively impact personal boundaries and invade privacy. Many districts are wisely incorporating social media policies into their codes of conduct.
For more effective ways to engage readers, download our Best Practices Guide for K-6 Reading Comprehension, today!