I’ve been introducing the Dialectical Journals to both my IB 11s and my grade 9s this week. I’ve never done the journals with grade 9s before, so it’s a learning curve for both me and the kids, and we’re starting off really slowly.
This week I gave them a handout with the basic requirements of the journal (T-graph form, quote on left, analysis opposite on the right), the rubric that goes along with it, and gave them a substantial chalk-talk on the kinds of note-taking strategies they can use as they read (more on this in the next blog post).
Then for homework I only had them read three pages and do three entries (three quotes + analysis).
I took a tip from veteran teacher and former colleage in Doha, Ms. Janet Haigh, and turned the kids’ journals into instant models for learning.
The students’ desks are in a circle in my classroom, so I asked each student to take out their journal, place it facing inside the circle, get up and walk around, read everyone’s entries, and choose one entry they particularly envied (because it was so insightful that they wish they’d written it.)
I’d seen Janet do this with practice commentaries in IB and thought it was effective, but it was wildly effective for the Dialectical Journals today.
Immediately students were oohing and ahhing over the best journals and their insightful, sometimes lengthy comments. But that wasn’t what made me truly happy. What really pleased me was the handful of students, mostly boys, that came running after they’d read half their peers’ journals and said things like, “I think I did mine wrong. Can I do it over?” and “I didn’t realize we could write more than a line or two. Can I write more? Can I even add questions?” and “Can I do some bullet points, and some questions, and some just straight writing of my thoughts?”
The answer: Yes, yes, yes.
I reiterated that this was a work in progress, their “baby” that they get to work on, build, revise, and adapt as they learn what approaches to the Journal best aid them in making meaning of the text.
It was such an easy and great way to turn the class itself into a class of models. Students immediately got a feel for the variety of formats, insights, and approaches, and the ones who’d clearly put very little effort into their entries seemed sheepish that their peers had all seen. All students reported feeling like they have a much clearer idea of what to do for tonight’s reading and new Journal entries.
So thanks, Janet, for the good model of teaching. And thanks to the kids for showing me how models that are right under our noses can be such an effective learning tool.