So, What's The Problem With Student Journal Writing?

Teachers often encourage or require their students to participate in the writing of journals. The rationale being that journal writing facilitates reflection on the part of the writer. Despite the practice of journal writing persisting in schools, surprisingly little research data has been published about the theory and practice of journal writing and it contribution to student writing development
I want to explore some of the potential problems of the journal writing process and put forward some suggestions for dealing with these problems.


An initial problem with journals is that students are frequently introduced to them without any exposure to models of effective journal writing. They are provided with little understanding of text features and structures associated with the genre. It is often assumed that young writers will somehow understand how to write in this specialized way. In addition to providing time for journal writing, teachers should surely model good journal writing behaviours. If a teacher, keeps a daily personal journal, and helps to facilitate reflective activities, then students are more likely to give a positive response to journal writing.

The overuse of journals, (a common issue) generally results in students feeling like they are being ‘journalled’ into submission. This overuse of journals occurs in situations where teachers rely on journaling to the exclusion of other writing forms, or they use it as a daily mechanism to ‘focus’ student energies or fill time that could be more fully employed actually teaching students the craft of writing.
Such an approach by teachers builds the perception of journal writing as a somewhat ritualistic exercise that eventually leads to pale and meaningless words. Students frequently end up writing ‘whatever pleases the teacher.’  The goal of the writer is to get the teacher off their back.’  The entries are frequently recounts of daily events or reviews of weekend rituals.  Such entries frequently arrive on the page with limited student reflection. Teachers often complain about the quality of the writing students produce, proclaiming, ‘The writing has become somewhat predictable and uninspired…’  The writing produced frequently descends into formulaic and unremarkable text responses.

Recognize that students will have varying interests in journal writing. While initially many students will be supportive of journal writing, it is important to remember that some students may actually resent journal writing and its continuing sameness.

It is important to consider offering alternative means of facilitating reflective writing. Consideration could be given to the following:
  • Video journals,
  • Focus group journals (group writing)
  • Blogs and wiki’s.
  • Character Journals (adopting a character from a book and writing from that character's perspective often works well)
We also need to recognize gender perceptions of journal writing.  According to research findings girls often are more open and receptive to the journal writing (Burt, 1994; Dyment & O'Connell, in press-a). Some boys may need additional training to feel accepting of journal writing.
Maybe journal writing needs to have some time limits placed on it to ensure its freshness? Afterall, it is but one form of writing, not the one and only form.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree! I don't have "writing journals" in my class for these reasons. I teach using the writer's workshop model and we each have a writer's notebook. I teach mini-lessons on a particular genre and provide mentor texts (both published texts and my own writing) to guide them and provide them with a model with which to understand the genre. Each student also has their own blog which they can access at home and school. Our blog has taken on a "journal" feel, but they love it! Writing on the blog is not required, and there are no rules (other than to be polite and appropriate). I feel this method works well. Thanks for sharing!


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