Free topic journals as a form of low-stakes writing

Weiner’s idea about using visual media to allow students to express their thoughts without fear of penalty intrigued me—but I also appreciated Palmeri’s critique that one can accomplish the same goal with a different kind of writing assignment. In the class I have been teaching, students wrote weekly free-topic journal assignments by hand which they turned in to me once a week. I never commented on or corrected spelling or grammar or made any remarks about the structure of their writing—and when I first gave them their journals, I made sure to emphasize that they could write anything and even choose to ask me not to read a portion of it if it became more personal than they wanted to share. Instead of commenting on mechanics, I wrote them a note about their ideas or responding to the feelings they shared.

Many of them were intimidated by the journal assignments initially—it’s clear in their careful penmanship and attempts to write profound thoughts—but as the term progressed and it became clear that I really was not going to critique their writing at all (and as they got to know me better), they became more comfortable writing freely. I loved having journals as part of my class and think that other English teachers would benefit from adding them to their curricula. I would also be curious to see more “brainstorming” assignments that include visual media, to remove the fear of needing to be correct, AND I am especially intrigued by how visual media can be used to support and develop writing outside of the conservative traditional models that Weiner articulates. Maybe our ideas about professional writing should evolve as our technology does…

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