8 Reasons To Try Whole-Group Journaling With Your Early Childhood Students
The idea of incorporating a journaling practice into your classroom routine probably isn’t so foreign - perhaps it’s something you already do to foster reflection or hone literacy skills. It’s a practice I’ve incorporate in the past, but honestly, it often felt like a chore and I didn't feel like the children were getting as rich an experience as I would have liked.
This year, inspired by Claire Warden's Floorbook model, as well as the idea of "Story of the Day" from Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature, I’ve introduced a new approach: whole-group journaling. Instead of working in individual journals, as we have in the past, we now wrap up our school day by working collaboratively to document the happenings of our day in a jumbo 18 x 24 inch sketch pad laid out on the carpet.
Before we begin, we circle up and I ask the students to think back on their school day - what did they observe outside? What did they learn? What play scenarios did they engage in? After that, I turn them loose with pencils and markers to begin their contribution to our "story of the day." As the children are working, I move around to them one by one and ask them to dictate a description of what's happening in their picture. For ease I generally write these on post-it notes that can then be affixed next to the corresponding illustration. Depending on the age of your students, you may want to encourage them to do some or all of the writing themselves. A simple place to start is to have them at least label any people or key objects in their illustration with initial letter sounds. Once all the illustrations are completed and text has been added, I then read aloud our "story of the day" to the whole group, a process that aways leads to interesting conversations and thoughtful reflection.
This approach has quickly become a favorite part of the day for my preschool students, and now that I’ve seen the incredible impact of this practice I’m convinced that it should be a part of all early childhood programs.
Not convinced yet? Here are eight reasons to try whole-group journaling with your early childhood students…
1. Build Literacy Skills
There’s a tendency in early childhood to adopt a single-minded focus on learning letters and letter sounds, forgetting that a solid foundation in literacy includes speaking, listening and language skills as well as reading and writing. The beauty of whole-group journaling is that it inherently supports all of these elements. Children start by recalling key events from the day, before moving on to using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to document those events. The group nature of the activity means that throughout the creative process, students are observing each other’s working, asking and answering questions, and prompting each other to add more details or description. Finally, when the full group circles up to read their “story of the day,” they're engaged in group reading with true purpose and understanding.
2. Differentiate Learning
With whole-group journaling it’s incredibly easy to meet each student in their zone of proximal development. In my mixed-age class I have some students whose contributions consist simply of scribbles (an important pre-writing stage!), and others who are drawing detailed representational drawings and labeling them independently, and that’s alright. They’re all following a common prompt and working toward a common goal. As the students work, it’s easy to push in and encourage them to take on the next level of challenge, whether that’s recalling details from their day, sounding out an initial letter sound for a label, or adding detail like opinion or emotion to their written description.
3. Foster Teamwork & Conflict Resolution
A group of children working all together on the same page creates the possibility for conflict - it's not infrequent that one child bumps into someone or unintentionally draws or writes in another child's workspace or bumps. Sure, you could avoid these tensions by having the children work separately, but than you'd miss out on all those fantastic "teachable moments," from practicing communication and conflict resolution to working toward improved spatial awareness. Real life requires teamwork, and it's never too early to start working on those skills.
4. Develop Empathy & Fresh Perspectives
One of the most interesting aspects of the whole-group journaling process is seeing how multiple students remember and describe the same event. On days when some sort of conflict or disagreement arose during play time, children will often draw and write about their take on the situation. Seeing these different representations side by side helps even very young children to see other perspectives, and when we come together as a group to read the “story of the day,” these varied accounts lead to conversations that help promote greater empathy and understanding.
5. Harness [Positive] Peer Pressure
In any group of students, children are going to be in different places when it comes to drawing, writing, and reflecting. Because all the children are working side by side in a shared space, they're very aware of what their peers are doing. I've noticed that children who are initially reluctant to draw or write at all quickly begin putting more and more effort into their contributions as they observe others around them doing the same.
6. Make Learning More Engaging & Meaningful
I don't know what it is, but something about pulling out a jumbo sketch pad and plopping it on the floor makes the kids eyes light up each and every time. There's something almost rebellious about working on the carpet instead of on a table, and the scale of the notebook makes even the simplest drawings feel impressive. There's also the element of ownership - the children are telling their story, and that makes the process so much more meaningful and engaging for them.
7. End Your Day With Reflection & Celebration
If you’re familiar with the Responsive Classroom framework for closing circle, you already know how important it is to end the school day by reflecting on and celebrating the learning that was accomplished as a group that day. We want our students to leave school each day able to vocalize what they learned and feeling a sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm. Telling the story of the day through whole-group journaling prompts students to make meaningful connections reflect on their learning, and celebrate their growth and achievements while reinforcing a sense of belonging and strengthening the classroom culture.
8. Document Learning in Real Time
Group journals by definition provide incredible documentation of student thinking and learning. Each child’s contribution offers unique insight into what is catching his or her attention at any given time, allowing teachers to better tailor learning to align with student interests. Longer term, you can track the development of a student's drawing and writing skills across the school year and in relation to their peers. The daily entries are also a wonderful thing to share with families. Each day I photograph the page and post it on our class Facebook page, giving parents a unique insight into the children's experience of their school day. The children also enjoy looking back at their entries from weeks prior, allowing for longer-term reflection and sparking new ideas and connections. Especially in play-based programs where learning is largely student-driven, this type of documentation is key in demonstrating student growth and evolution.
Already incorporating whole-group journaling into your classroom routine? I'd love to hear about your experience. Shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how it's working for you.
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