Almost all the teachers I know have journals for students. Most often these journals are used at the beginning of the day where students are given a topic to write about and then they write on that topic. While I don't believe that writing on the topic is a bad thing, it just doesn't seem to fit the journal metaphor. In my personal journal I use it to reflect on the events of the day, therefore using it at the end of the day is the only thing that makes sense.
I have began using my journals at the end of the day is a reflection tool for student learning. I'm finding great value in the students taking a little time to reflect on the events of the day and on their learning. It seems that my most challenging students are also the ones that rarely take the time to think about consequences or the results of their actions. By setting aside time to think about those things I am even seeing behavior improve.
While I think for older students you could just give them the time to reflect on what they learned without too much guidance, yet with my students in fourth grade I find it helpful for them to have an outline of keys concepts to write about. The way I do this outline is with the bulleted list on the board, like the following example:
- Tell me one important thing to remember when multiplying two digit by two digit numbers?
- List five more exciting verbs than "walk".
- Why do you think mountain men came to Utah?
By giving a little guidance it helps to reflect on the key concepts taught that day. This reflection solidifies learning, and puts journal writing in the proper context. If you're wondering whether I abandoned writing to a prompt, I have not. While I don't do it every day, I call it a quick write, and we will do it a couple times a week.