Michele A. Polselli NBCT '06
Literacy Coordinator & Kindergarten Teacher
Melville Elementary School, Portsmouth, RI

Philosophy of Journal Writing

To understand the value of journal writing and the suggested classroom procedures for effective implementation, it is important to understand the philosophy that underlies the process.  Once this is understood, teachers can adapt procedures to the particular conditions of their classroom without straying too far from the essential pedagogical elements of journal writing.  The key premises of our philosophy are as follows:
bulletChildren learn to read and write best through gradual approximation to adult conventions.
bulletChildren learn best in risk-free environments with high levels of challenge and support.
bulletChildren need many opportunities to write about topics of their own choosing.
bulletChildren learn best through social interaction with a more knowledgeable peer or adult.
bulletChildren need frequent, ongoing opportunities to play with written language and investigate how written language works.
bulletTeachers need to provide frequent and varied demonstrations of writing in full-group situations in order to model the knowledge and thinking processes involved and to show that writing is an important and integral part of the classroom culture.
bulletTeachers need to help children do their own phonics-based writing or kid writing, rather than take dictation from children.  Teachers' expectations of children's writing send the empowering message, "You can do it!" Taking dictation sense the self-limiting message, "You can't, so I will do it for you."

The last point, expecting children to write rather than to dictate, is the one in which we differ most dramatically from previous recommendations from the field.  Our premises place emphasis on the teaching and learning relationship of social interaction rather than on the teaching materials.  These ideas combine Vygotsky's 19780 notion of the zone of proximal development with Bruner's (1981) notion of scaffolding:  What a child is potentially ready to do and learn today with adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers, he or she will be able to do independently tomorrow.  Our beliefs are grounded in the theory and research of Anne Haas Dyson (1989)on the importance of the social interaction in children's writing development and on work by Donald Graves ( 19830, Lucy Calkins (1986), and Nancy Atwell (1987 on the writing workshop approach to writing development, which emphasizes the importance of students' choices of topics and writing styles. 

It is the creativity and quality of children's work and the endless possibilities for teachers to systematically focus children on phonetic concepts that provide the strongest arguments for incorporating a writing program in the early years.  Examples of children's work come from our urban Kindergarten classes, in which most children begin the school with very little knowledge of letters or sound-symbol relationships.  The examples represent a full range of children's abilities in the classes.  All of the procedures and many of the projects have been successfully adapted in preschool through grade two classrooms.

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