Dialogue Journals Deepen Student-Teacher Relationships

In August, I challenged myself with finding more and more ways to encourage my students to find their voices as they develop and share their passions. I came across a Cult of Pedagogy podcast titled, “How Dialogue Journals Build Teacher-Student Relationships.” You can read the article and listen to Jennifer Gonzalez’s podcast here. Gonzalez interviews Liz Galarza who uses dialogue journals in her classroom.

We spend 5 days per week with our students, but how well do we know them and how well do they know us?

What are dialogue journals according to Liz Galarza?

  • Dialogue journals are ongoing written conversations between a teacher and a student in the form of a letter
  • a written conversation as opposed to an oral conversation
  • usually finds complaints and questions in dialogue journals which are missing in normal classroom discourse and conversation
  • students choose the topics of conversations which allows them to share their passions or questions
  • teacher writes the first entry in every journal that is personalized to each student and then asks them to respond
  • teacher models the length, tone, format…
What happens if the conversation falls flat or students haven’t bought in to the journals?
  • she usually responds with, “This is a place where you can talk about anything. What do you want to talk about? Teach me something.” 
    • tends to empower students
  • goes back to original “all about me” sheet and starts to ask questions about information on all about me sheet
  • accepts one sentence and she responds in a small amount; realized through research that if she responds with too many sentences, student feels overwhelmed and thinks either, “I can’t write that much or I don’t want to”
    • realized not to ask too many questions because it puts teacher in authoritative role so tries to get them to ask the questions 
    • by disclosing information about her own life (not in question form) she realizes that it opens the door for them to feel comfortable and share
    • the more real the kids see her, the better the relationship will be and the more they see themselves as important people
Where do you store the journals?
  • trays in classroom labeled with periods
  • turn in on rotating basis so she doesn’t get all in one day
What happens if they write about something that needs to be discussed with an administrator or counselor?
  • she explains at beginning of process that she will come to student first before going to admin
    • explains that many students are writing it for that reason – a cry for help
How do you grade the journals?
  • no grade for content, grammatical errors…
  • journal is for relationship purposes
  • if they spell a word wrong/write something grammatically incorrect, she will respond with the same word or grammar to model how to use it correctly and hope they see her usage
  • only grade = them handing it in (completion grade)
    • the more you put a grade on something, the less empowered the student feels (very interesting comment and point she makes here)
    • the more a teacher requires something, the less empowered a student feels so next year she is thinking of not grading at all and not making it mandatory 
What benefits/affects/impacts has Mrs. Galarza experienced due to dialogue journals? Why should teachers try this?
  • become better writers overtime by writing in these journals
  • students are looking for an authentic adult to hear them and converse with them
  • mentor text 
  • closer to speech than other writing styles which is easier for lower leveled students
  • teach a skill within journal (Example- highlighting a sentence and saying, “You could use a semi colon here instead of a period.) as long as they are going to be receptive
  • leads to a class grammar mini lesson if notices many students are misspelling or misusing same thing over and over
  • a way to collect data from students 
  • gain insight into their thinking and feelings (for example- a grandmother just passed away)
  • journal is all about dialogue and differentiation 
What if I am a non-English teacher? Are journals worth incorporating?
  • math teacher- base on math questions; a little more prompted
    • example) write in journal something you liked, understood, didn’t understand, want to review with you
  • believes it could work in any classroom/discipline
Who remembers the movie, “Dangerous Minds?” After listening to the podcast and reflecting upon what Mrs. Galarza discussed, I immediately thought of the movie “Dangerous Minds” in which the teacher asks the students to write in journals. At first, the students are incredibly apprehensive and have not bought in to the idea of the journals. However, their mood and mindset quickly shifts and her unsuccessful classroom quickly becomes a learner-centered classroom with student buy in. I attribute much of her success as a teacher on the investment she made to get to know her students. 
Upon reflecting, what did I take away from this podcast?
  • Do I spend my time checking in with my students? Do I need to invest more time on the relationship aspect? More time on giving them an empowered voice? 
  • kids move from elementary to middle school and philosophy changes; middle school teachers are teachers of content, of transmission
    • elementary teacher’s philosophy is that you are teaching a child over teaching content
  • could these lead to connections? (If a student shows interest in geography, could you connect them with an expert to deepen learning?)
  • Galarza explained, the way in which we empower our students or give up our own control, is by giving them the power to have valuable things to say 

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