Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model|
by Cheryl M. Sigmon
Are Journals a Part of Four Blocks?
So often I'm asked about whether journals can or should be used in Four Blocks. "Journal," of course, has been among the buzzwords in education for the past ten years. Consequently, most teachers have felt the need to include "journaling" as a part of their classroom day. However, where Four Blocks is concerned, the answer to whether journals can or should be a part of the Four Blocks day isn't just a simple "yes" or "no." There are, to my way of thinking, three different types of journals, all serving different purposes. Let's discuss those and explore whether any of them serve a good purpose in our Four Blocks day.
One type of journal, probably the one best known and probably the one that most strictly defines journal writing, is merely a free-writing exercise. When I refer to journals, this is the one I think of most often. This type of journal writing is usually done without any consideration that the written work will be published. In fact, such writing is rarely written for any audience other than that of the writer. Usually students jot down their thoughts--whatever comes to mind. Some teachers tell students just to write, "I can't think of anything to write" over and over if they can't think of what to say until something comes to mind. Many teachers like to start the day with such a journal response or with students addressing a stimulating "thought of the day" that is written on the board. Another use of this journal is for the content areas. Certainly in all subject areas, you would want students to respond to what they're learning and to write to clarify their thinking. Students may respond freely to what they've read, may address a question about what has been read as closure or as part of the purpose that is set for reading, or may respond as they read as with something like a double-entry journal (There's a good example in Modifying Four Blocks for Upper Grades about double entry journals with examples used from the novel, The Giver by Lois Lowry).
I think that there should be many opportunities to do this kind of personal, reflective or responsive writing that is not intended for publishing or going through the writing process. For many students, this will offer clarity; for others it will help them process what they've heard, read, or studied. This should, however, be only one type of writing that they have the opportunity to do, not the regular writing diet. Having an audience for students plays a critical part in the development of quality writing. I have evidence of that! I presently possess a large tub of journals gathered from a classroom that did a project for me. My request of the teachers and classes that authored these journals was that I needed writing samples gathered over a period of a couple of months. I gave them nice journals and asked that they write in them daily whatever they wished to write. At the end of the time, I was to collect the journals and use them in a teacher-training program. The students wrote faithfully, but no one responded to them. After the time period for the writing collection, I gathered the journals and enjoyed reading them. What stuck me, though, that I had not anticipated, was that the quality and amount of writing in most journals diminished over the period of the two months. After analyzing what had happened, I concluded that the students lost interest in their work because they didn't have an audience. These students were proof that children need a purpose and audience for their writing for it to improve over time. They need to know that someone else will read and respond in some way to what they've written. Critical!
If you're having students write journals as sponge-activities early in the day and then having students write again in Writing Block, I do think that you need to be aware that offering too much free or self-selected writing time within the day can be dangerous. Just as with SSR Block, students sometimes don't value the time as much when it occurs too often or for too long a period of time. If too much self-selected writing time is offered, many students have trouble staying focused, writing quality diminishes, and many students don't value it as much as they do a shorter amount of time. Kind of the "forbidden fruit" theory! You'll need to watch your students so that you can gauge how much time is enough.
Therefore, the free-writing journal may have an occasional place in Four Blocks and during other times throughout the classroom day. This type of journal is not required for Four Blocks, however, as there are other options that might be chosen.
A second type of journal is one which is more a collection or portfolio of students' work. This may be nothing more than a writing notebook, which is needed for every Writing Block. Each student needs a place to collect what they write each day. On some days what is written will be self-selected or free writing. On other days, students will write focused or assigned pieces. At upper grades there will be more of a balance of self-selected and free pieces. You wouldn't want to move to all focused writing pieces. Students at all grades tend to write best and most what they know best and most about. However, much--if not all--of the self-selected writing in Writing Block can be considered for publication, so that the students would write with a different audience in mind. Summarizing the use of this journal, however--if a journal is defined as a portfolio or vessel for collecting students' work, then the answer is "yes," we keep journals in Four Blocks classes.
A third type of journal is one for which I'll borrow Jack Gantos' definition--a place for students to gather the raw materials which will be transferred into literature. I just heard Gantos speak at a conference this past week on this subject. (By the way, he was fabulous, and if you get a chance to see or hear him, do it! He's informative and very entertaining!) He personally has written and still owns around 200 journals, though he brought only one of his collection to share with the audience--a small, thick, fat, black leather book with all sorts of papers and keepsakes sticking out of it. This was the place he kept ideas, memories, tickets, programs, news and magazine articles, photographs and sketches that he used for his writing. This was the brainstorming part of his writing, where he observed, recorded, and collected from his everyday world. I'm sure it helped him to make some sense of the world around him.
So, if the journal you're thinking of using is such a keepsake, then, again, the answer is "yes". We can use a keepsake journal or diary for our Four Blocks classes. Students shouldn't be limited to this keepsake journal. It would just be part of the brainstorming involved in writing and doesn't have to be limiting to the students.
To summarize, journals can be instrumental in Four Blocks Writing Blocks. The free-writing journal done without an audience, however, is the one that is not as desirable as the others on a daily basis. Good luck with your journals!
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Below are seminars that I have coming up in the future. Please know that I have a small group of really excellent folks who work along with me, too. We do site-based work in schools and districts at your request. They did not come from a train-the-trainer program. Their expertise with 4-Blocks evolved over many years of training, teaching and support. For their services, you can simply call 843-539-1213, fax 843-539-1214 or visit ERG's website at
www.ergsc.com. We offer various types of staff development: classroom demonstrations, on-site presentations, classroom observations and feedback, and exploring 4-Blocks in more depth, among other offerings.
My seminar presentations:
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For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-539-1213 or go to www.ergsc.com. For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908 or go to
Hope to see you at a workshop soon!
My visit to Europe from late September to October 20th was wonderful! I was really excited to see how much the schools in Germany (American DODS) have grown since I was there last fall. The thrill of a life-time for me was getting to present in a real castle for three of the nine days that I worked in Germany! Wow! Thanks to the wonderful group there in Kaiserslautern for making my visit memorable--Sharon Squires and her husband Rick for picking me up at the airport and being such great hosts, Bill and Darrell for hosting a wonderful dinner, David and Deb for a great night out, Tim for spending 6 whole days with me in workshops, and, last but certainly not least, Peggy, for granting my every wish and making my trip a wonderful memory! My husband and I explored Italy for another week before returning to the States. It was good to be home again--back in the USA! Thanks again to the Kaiserslautern group!
The advent of my second grandchild is just 5 weeks away! Did I tell you that it's going to be a boy? This will be an odd occurrence in our family of many, many girls! If you have any suggestions about how to care for a boy (because we're all clueless!), then do let us know!
Hope to see you at a seminar soon! Take care! ----Cheryl
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.