The examples were all written and made up by me but in every class they tried to pick which student the writing belonged to. Some students even admitted to writing them which was ironic and hilarious.
I showed them the medium one, then the terrible one, then the excellent one.
I was surprised at how many graded the excellent one a C for writing too much. Oh no, not a complete sentence! Or some said an A because the writing was pretty but too much to read. Wow. For the majority though, they graded them B, D, A. I asked them what pushed the B to an A and eventually got to 'restating the question in their answer'.
I made a list of qualities on the board as they talked and they named everything I wanted them to name.
Then I delivered the blow: "Now that I know you can point all of these things out and now that you know what an excellent journal response looks like, this is what I expect from you". There were a few groans but only one person saw where I was going before I got there. The trade off was that I would no longer make them write out the question as long as they restated the question in their answer.
Then they got their journals and first took the time to respond to my comments or questions from last week. I put up the new journal prompt and we talked about how their response should start.
I've read 20 out of 44 and so far every one has restated the question. The answers have still been very short, one to two sentences but we are making progress. I thought that everyone would love to tell me what they think but I guess when it's combined with such a chore as writing, the novelty wears off. I'm hoping that by commenting and being consistent that I will begin to draw them out.
One student asked me why don't I ask them questions to get to know them better. The look of vulnerability made me want to cry. I would love to do that but I don't know how to do that on an academic level and not have it lead into places I don't necessarily want to travel. We recently had an assembly with Erin Gruwell, the teacher of the Freedom Writers, and that really sparked my interest in the journals. Her message is to 'write what needs to be written' but I'm not ready to go there. Yet.
I have gotten some interesting responses to the journal prompt so far. The majority said they are responsible, the minority said both, and one person said it is the teacher's job to entertain and keep the students awake or 9 times out of 10 the student would not learn.
I'm satisfied with the progress we're making right now.
Still making my heart happy.
Along with my newly organized bookshelves of course.