Description of a Response Journal

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What is a Response Journal?

Journals provide learners with an opportunity to record their personal thoughts, emotions, ideas, questions, reflections, connections, and new learning on what they hear, view, read, write, discuss and think.

“What we as educators want is that their writing enable students to personalize a story and gain insights about the character, to help them reflect, and to help them see the world in a different way.” (Brownlie, 2005)

“Our reflections are the making of deeper meaning and richer understandings. Our reflections are our dreams, our ideas, our questions, our initiatives, our visions – our journeys of lifelong learning and teaching.” (Schwartz & Bone, 1995)

Why are Response Journals an effective reading strategy?

Response journals allow the students to “remember to hold on to their thinking” about what they are reading. (Zimmermann, 1997)

Response journals are easily implemented at all levels. They can be used to target specific outcomes of the Provincial ELA Curriculum.

Response journals can be used with any genre of literature (poetry, short stories, media text, novel studies) and in different content areas that use expository text.

When should Response Journals be introduced?

Response journals should be introduced as soon as possible using scaffolding such as sentence frames or prompts to start. The goal should be to have students enter the middle years feeling comfortable with recording their responses to reading with little or no scaffolding.

How can I ensure student success?

Choose poetry, stories or books with enough depth to elicit responses. Students should have the opportunity to discuss the reading before ever being asked to write a response. Use of the “Say Something” strategy (Brownlie, 2005) creates an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Modeling, scaffolding, building criteria with students and practice with feedback are the most important tools for improving the quality of responses. Scaffolding is the use of a variety of starters, frames and graphic organizers to allow students to develop thoughtful responses. If needed, open ended prompts may be used for some students. (See Appendix) Modeling is critical to the success of student journal writing. Teachers need to model their thinking about a selected piece of text and how that thinking can be used to form a written response. This needs to be done regularly throughout the year with a variety of texts and responses. Students require frequent practice in the various forms of journal writing. The teacher must provide feedback based on criteria that has been developed with the students. This practice with feedback allows students to monitor their growth and set goals for future journal responses.

What are the different formats for Response Journals?
(See Appendix for examples)

1. Double Entry Journal
This is the most common response journal. The page is divided in half lengthwise. One side refers to a specific piece of text in the form of a quote or a summary. The specific text may target a literary strategy, technique or element of the author’s craft. It may also elicit a personal response such as a connection, feeling or opinion. The other side targets the students’ thoughts regarding the selected piece of text.

2. Diary Entry
In this style, the student writes from the point of view of one of the characters. It should include what the character might be thinking or feeling.

3. Illustration
Students draw or illustrate a specific scene using thought bubbles or captions to show the character’s thoughts and feelings or demonstrate the scene’s importance. (Brownlie, 2005)

4. Interview
The student makes up questions they would ask one of the main characters. The questions are answered in the characters “voice”.

5. Letter
There are many options in this response. Students may write a letter to a character, to the author, to the teacher, to a friend, to...
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