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Using Interactive Journals to Enhance Kindergarten
Celenia Calderón and Jessica Baird at Saturn Elementary 

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From 2004 to 2006, Celenia Calderón and Jessica Baird taught kindergarten literally side-by-side at Saturn Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.  In two classrooms next door to one another, they sometimes combined their classes, and always consulted with one another. They worked collaboratively over two years to improve their students’ English proficiency through interactive journals and parental involvement. The following project description was adapted from a PowerPoint presentation that the two teachers gave at the Office of English Language Acquisition’s 2007 Summit in Washington D.C.

For a more detailed description of this classroom inquiry project, download this Interactive Journals PowerPoint presentation by Calderon and Baird.  

Like all classroom researchers conducting inquiry projects, Baird and Calderon began with research questions:

Can we improve students’ oral and written language skills and explore students’ cultural backgrounds through interactive journals?

They identified their goals, which were to:

  • encourage their students’ developmentally appropriate independent writing
  • learn more about their students’ culture through writing

Before starting the journals project, the teachers read literature on children’s writing development and interactive journals. University faculty familiar with interactive journals and experienced at using the process with English learners, provided them additional guidance throughout their inquiry projects.

Selected Interactive Journals resources (See Resource Central for more.)

Cress, S. W. (Sept., 1998.) A sense of story: Interactive journal writing in kindergarten. Early Childhood Education Journal. 26(1). 

O’Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996; see resource central for more resources.

McCarrier, A., Pinnell, G. S., Fountas, I. C. (2000.) Interactive writing: How language and literacy come together, K-2. 

           

Interactive journals can be all of these things. . .

  • A notebook or any bound paper used to record students’ ideas, feelings, and experiences
  • A place for teachers to model writing using student-driven topics
  • A place and time for the teacher and student to communicate and exchange ideas through writing

Journals provide regular opportunities for students to engage in meaningful writing activities, and for teachers to learn about their students’ interests and family lives.

 

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Quick review of writing development

Writing development begins with drawing. In kindergarten, children often begin journal writing by drawing a picture of something they want to tell their teachers about. As they become more aware of the alphabet, they write letters in long strings, usually at random (Moats, 1997), like in the example below.

The next stage of writing development seen in journals is invented spelling, which takes many forms, and is related to the sounds a child hears in each word. At the beginning of this stage, children may write one letter to represent one word. Later, words are represented by two letters, and then by initial and ending letter sounds. As the child’s writing continues to mature, most sounds are represented in their invented spelling.

However, with interactive journals it is important to note that the teacher emphasizes that it is the communication of the story in writing that is important, not the spelling, or the number of words used.

In time, the child at the “common spelling” stage begins to write more and more words spelled correctly.

 

 

 

What these students and teachers did

Students worked on their journals 2-3 times per week. Students took their journals home once a week to write with (or in the company of) their families.

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Baird and Calderon decided to hold workshops in both English and Spanish, so that parents could become more involved in the interactive journal process. Here they encountered additional challenges: parents had varying levels of education, and some wanted their students to work beyond their developmental levels. The teachers explained writing development and demonstrated the interactive journal process to the parents, who were supportive and enthusiastic. 

 

Calderon and Baird modeled interactive journal writing for their students in mini-lessons such as these:

 

 

 

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During the writing journal time in class, students collaborated with each other, thus providing them a way to practice verbal literacy in both their first and second languages.

The teachers interacted with the students in writing as they wrote questions and commentary to each student in their journals. For example, if a student wrote “I went to the park,” the teacher might write in response, “How fun! What did you do at the park?”  They also held conferences with students about their journal work, as seen in these video clips: 

 

At the end of the first year, after reviewing student work and videos of their own instruction, the teachers found that:

  • Students were enthusiastic about writing.
  • The journals provided ongoing authentic assessment of the students’ writing
  • the teachers were able to identify and prepare lessons that focused on students individual needs.

The teachers also discovered some practical things that helped them fine tune their instruction the next year:

  • students tended to use the same sentence pattern repeatedly
  • some students required or preferred lined paper

The next year, the teachers decided on an ambitious plan to expand their project. They wanted to:

  • incorporate technology
  • continue to collaborate with university faculty and colleagues
  • model focused, thematic mini-writing lessons before journal writing
  • provide an audience for the students and to share authentic learning opportunities with parents and family members

 

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The idea—at that time, ahead of its time, but now (given technological advances) easier to achieve—was to videotape students as they presented their interactive journals in class, and to email these videotapes to the parents. The teachers began the 2nd year of the project by surveying parents about the use of computers and email in their home.

Teachers helped families without email to set up accounts, and the school agreed to provide a workstation where families could access the videos. Despite their efforts, it took quite a lot of time to get all the technology in place. Now, with YouTube, and other media software, the process would be much easier. In spite of the obstacles, Calderon and Baird did send videos home to parents. The response was extremely positive.

The journals themselves, however, continued to be a great assessment and teaching tool, and the students’ enthusiasm for writing grew.

Dialogue Journal: "A type of writing in which students make entries in a notebook on topics of their choice, to which the teacher responds, modeling effective language but not overtly correcting the student’s language" (O’Malley, J.M. & Valdez-Pierce, L., 1996, p.238). Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners: Practical Approaches for Teachers. New York: Pearson Longman