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Including the Journal in the Composing Curriculum
Based on "The Contemporary Writing Curriculum"
Huff & Kline - 1987

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Detailed Outline:

1- Controversy about Journals

  • 60s: journal writing was the vogue in high school and college composition classes.
  • 70s: against the use of journals in the English classroom
  • => The use of the journal in the English classroom diminished. It started to be associated with undisciplined and unproductive student writing.
  • Why has journal writing been criticized?

  •         - It is the therapeutic model of journal writing that many teachers condemn
            - It is the skill-building model of journal writing that is appropriate for the writing classroom.

    2- Own Position
    A- Journal writing fosters cognitive growth (Britton et al., 1975)
    B- Points that need to be taken into consideration:

    1- Teachers need to structure the writing and provide a stimulus.
    2- Expressive writing needs to be evaluated differently: Journal feedback responses can be derived from film making  + "director's voice"  rather than editorial voice
    3- Students need to be given the opportunity to elaborate the expressive response into a transactional response so that they learn how to move from the expressive to the transactional.
    4- Teachers need to structure the journal in such a way as to allow for, encourage, and demand the expression of all of the functions of the student's voice in a variety of modes and genres.
    C- Conclusion: The journal serves 3 purposes
     The journal is to the composing curriculum as predrafting is to the polished essay: ESSENTIAL.

    3- Instructional Plan: How to integrate the use of skill-building journal into a contemporary process curriculum?
    A- DEFINE the particular developmental needs
    B- Define types of journal exercises that are needed
    C- Set Rules for students
    D- Miscellaneous
        a- How to structure the journal as an expansion of voice:
        b- How to check students' completion of assigned journal entries:
        c- How time could be scheduled to respond to students' journals:
        d- Require students to derive at least half of the subjects for their major writing assignments from the journal.

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    1- Controversy about Journals



    2- Own Position

    Journal writing fosters cognitive growth.
    In order to explain how journal writing fosters cognitive growth, we need to mention what Britton et al. (1975) concluded by studying the development of writing abilities in children from age 11 through 18. They concluded that the kind of writing that promotes cognitive development lies in the FUNCTIONS of language that are derived from the relationship between the writer and the audience. => 3 major functions of language:

    Britton et al (1975) conclude that regular exercise of each of those functions serves as a vehicle for cognitive growth, and the expressive function is PRIMARY since it serves as the primary vehicle for the acquisition of all the functions and is the foundation for the development and elaboration of all of the functions of language.

    This primary role of expressive writing in cognitive development has radical implications for the role of the journal.

    If we are to foster the development of the expressive function, we must provide regular opportunities for expressive writing in a format that encourages and rewards it (Emig, 1971).

    Without ongoing practice in the expressive function, a composition course may actually retard cognitive development rather than promote it.

    Therefore, we can conclude that the journal should definitely be included in the composing curriculum. However, there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration so that the journal assignments will actually be useful and help to improve the students' basic writing skills and lead to cognitive growth:

    1- Teachers need to structure the writing. The students need to be provided a stimulus designed to bring a variety of latent societal contradictions rudely into their consciousness. These "stimulus units" consist of stories and poems from anthologies, songs, cartoons, advertisements, and art work that portray differing beliefs or role models. These are organized into sets of 2 or more contradictory views on the same issue.
    In addition, expressive writing in response to carefully constructed and significant stimuli (that represent for the students societal contradictions) fosters the elaboration of expressive writing into transactional writing.
      According to Hilgers' (1980) empirical study, the students who engaged in focused free writing before drafting wrote significantly better essays than those who employed rational heuristics.

      2- Expressive writing needs to be evaluated differently: with its lack of concern for a public audience, it cannot be evaluated by the same standards by which we judge transactional writing. A response system is needed to encourage critical awareness and give students feedback about the basic writing skills involved in composing prose. This system can tackle the following three basic writing skills that are above the syntactic level and necessary to writing competent prose:
      - limiting and defining a subject
      - establishing a thesis
      - supporting generalizations with specific details, examples, or evidence. (+ voice)
          Journal feedback responses can be derived from film making; its terms are easily grasped by students and are designed to point out the particular skills that need to be practiced and errors to be avoided the next time the students write, not to evaluate/grade what was written.

      Responses to what the students are failing to do: Responses to students' successes:


      Using these feedback terms to respond to journal and nonstop writing not only promotes fluency but provides a risk-free environment for the practice and mastery of essential writing skills.

      Consistent use of these feedback terms in the writing classroom enables students, as they themselves report, to internalize "a director's voice" as they write, listen to their own authentic voices and attempt to record the progression of their thoughts; they hear this "director's voice" urging them to "roll the camera back" or "set the scene." When this happens, students have become self-directed writers.

      As for the students' editorial voice that prompts them to edit their writing for correctness, it is appropriate in the final stages of revision, when they get ready to make the manuscript public.

       3- Students need to be given the opportunity to elaborate the expressive response into a transactional response so that they learn how to move from the expressive to the transactional.

      Follow-up exercise designed to teach students how to transmute the expressive response into a transactional statement:
      1- students write a ten-minute nonstop in response to a particular stimulus
      2- students are given a five-minute break to "shake out" their hands and count the number of words they have written (this number increases by 20 to 30 % after 2 to 3 weeks of writing nonstop: increase in scribal fluency).
      3- students are asked to read back over their nonstops and identify one idea that they are willing to elaborate into a transactional statement.
      4- students spend 15 minutes to develop this idea for a public audience.
      => In this exercise, the expressive nonstop serves as a predrafting exercise for a transactional statement.

      4- Teachers need to structure the journal in such a way as to allow for, encourage, and demand the expression of all of the functions of the student's voice in a variety of modes and genres.

      Conclusion: The journal serves 3 purposes:
      1- It promotes the practice of basic writing skills and can serve as the primary vehicle for the development of the writer's voice (Moffett and James Britton).
      2- It is the primary vehicle for fostering the expressive function (in the larger context of cognitive development)
      3- It bridges the dichotomy between writing for the self and writing for others

      The journal is to the composing curriculum as predrafting is to the polished essay: ESSENTIAL.

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    3- Instructional Plan

    How to integrate the use of skill-building journal into a contemporary process curriculum?

    A- DEFINE the particular developmental needs: Before constructing specific journal assignments, teachers need to DEFINE the particular developmental needs of their students. They need to take into account 3 variables:

    1. reading comprehension
    2. syntactic maturity
    3. cognitive complexity
    B- Define types of journal exercises that are needed: (middle school to early college)
    (The Journal Privacy Policy needs to be set at the beginning of the class)
    1. write regularly => essential for developing fluency
    2. nongraded formats
    3. practice all functions of voice (expressive, poetic, transactional--informative + persuasive)
    4. practice all modes of language (descriptive, narrative, informative, persuasive, poetic/literary)
    5. practice a variety of genres (essay, letter, poetry...)
    6. engage stimuli beyond their immediate personal experience => teacher needs to carefully design stimulus units
    7. ongoing practice in moving from expressive responses to public, transactional responses (revised entries) => writing transactionally in response to expressive journal entries provides a crucial bridge between expressive and transactional functions.
    8. practice in audience analysis: writer's stance, needs of audience, definition and limitation of subject, purpose of text
    C- Set Rules for students:

    => Write about subjects that really concern you since your journal will be used as a source for topics for papers.
    => Each entry needs to be identified with: - week of the term- day of the week- date
    => One revised journal entry per week- Type your revision, paying particular attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar conventions.
    => Journal Format:
    - 2 major columns
    - each column has a small sentence-level revision margin for minor revisions of syntax and vocabulary
    - right-hand column = for initial drafting / nonstop writing
    - left-hand column = for notes, predrafting, problem-solving drafting
    => Journal Sections: (use posterboard dividers to separate the sections)
    - section 1 = for daily journal entries (biggest section)
    - section 2 = for special journal entries written in class or assigned as predrafting activities for major writing assignments
    - section 3 = for the actual drafting of major writing assignments.
    => Cross-referencing of the students' own writing: The cross-referencing of the students' own writing embodies a significant rehearsal of one of the most difficult cognitive steps of the composing process: finding/discovering an authentic subject.

    D- Miscellaneous:

    a- How to structure the journal as an expansion of voice:
    A series of daily journal entries in which the form but not the content is prescribed. This same sequence is repeated week after week throughout a course, with occasional modifications.
    => the formal constraints of the assignments and the daily writing force the students to voice their lives in a variety of functions, modes, and genres.

    b- How to check students' completion of assigned journal entries:
    - Completing all journal assignments is graded.
    - All journal entries are written in a notebook reserved solely for that purpose.
    - The journal notebook is divided into 3 sections.
    - At the front of the journal notebook: a checkoff sheet that identifies all assigned journal entries. Students are responsible for checking off each assignment when it is completed. Every week, beginning of first class meeting, students exchange journals randomly + each student turns in a half-sheet that reports on the status of their classmate's journal. Missing assignments are itemized and each report is signed.
    Let us not forget to use feedback terms that promote the acquisition of basic writing skills

    c- How time could be scheduled to respond to students' journals:
    Weeks 1 & 2: each student selects 2 journal entries to be read aloud to a classmate. Using the journal feedback terms, the listener responds orally to the 1st piece and briefly in writing to the second.
    Week 3: students turn in their journals, having identified 4 pieces they would like the teacher to read. The teacher responds in writing to 2.

    d- In composition classes, so that the ongoing rehearsal of the journal can be integrated into the larger context of the composing curriculum in immediately practical terms, students should be required to derive at least half of the subjects for their major writing assignments from the journal. When students derive their subjects from their journals, almost 80% of them write adequate papers. When students derive their subjects from other sources, only about 50% write adequate papers (Huff & Kleine, 1987). When students choose subjects from their journals, they are asked as the first step of their composing process to read back through their journals, cross-reference the entries, and identify related entries that constitute a focus of concern.

    Conclusion
    For young writers, the rehearsal provided by the journal in terms of form and content is essential. The assigned daily journal entries promote the writer's foregrounding of issues, ideas, and conflicts that represent true concerns.
    There is no replacement for the journal within the composing curriculum. It serves as an ongoing rehearsal of skills and ideas that interact to ignite the composing process, turning it into an act of discovery.


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    Page created on January 5, 2006
    Last updated on January 10, 2006
    Copyright © 2006 Nada AbiSamra
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