Earlier this year, my son (a first grader) came home from school extremely excited because he had homework. He quickly unzipped his backpack and pulled out a small notebook. He flipped it open and started to read aloud a note from his teacher, Audrey Hinote. Then, he went to the drawer, pulled out a pencil and started to write. I asked him what he was doing, and he responded, "I am writing a note to my teacher." Nathan took his time and was meticulous in writing his note. He wrote some, read it aloud, wrote some more, read it again, and continued until he was finished. He then put it on his desk so he could add more throughout the week.
Student/teacher journals in his classroom work like this: On Monday, he brings the journal home. He reads a note from his teacher and has until Friday morning to respond. He can write one note back, two notes, or a note a day; the quantity is up to him. Then, on Friday morning he returns his notebook to school. Mrs. Hinote has the weekend to read through his comments and write a note back to him for Monday morning. This process continues throughout the year. In her responses, Mrs. Hinote comments on what Nathan has written to her and provides feedback on writing targets Nathan is working toward, giving him something to focus on during his writing the following week.
Nathan's teacher has taken the time to develop an authentic assessment to measure his growth in writing and language. Not only does this journal serve as an assessment piece, but it has also proven to be a relationship builder and time-saver. Nathan shares more with her about his life because he has time to think and write, and she has more time to concentrate on what he is saying to her because she can read it in the absence of the twenty-two precious children that vie for her time each day. I have seen tremendous growth in Nathan's writing this year and I have no doubt it is because of the instruction he receives on a daily basis and the enthusiasm his teacher has created.
If you are looking for an authentic way to assess your students on current writing goals, or a way to develop a stronger relationship with your students and a way to coach your student without classroom distraction, a student/teacher journal is a great way to do it!