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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Journaling with Technology
Carl Sannito

I'm a teacher in an elementary school in inner city Chicago. I teach in the computer lab, but I've been in the classroom for a number of years as well, so I try to remain sensitive to the needs of classroom teachers.

As I was thinking about what to write about for this month, I thought about a project my middle school students are working on right now. This is a project we are doing in the computer lab, but it is easily adapted to the classroom. It doesn't take a lot of set up time, it doesn't require lots of software, and it's not hard to teach.

The project is for my students to basically keep a journal on the computer. It's a little more complicated than that, but not by much.

The purpose of this activity is multiple. Besides integrating language arts and technology, it gives the students an opportunity to learn word-processing skills. Another very important skill they can work on is learning to write at the computer. Oh, I know, that's blasphemy! We always do a chart and then a rough draft and then 3-5 more drafts before the final draft and THEN we go to the computer to type it up and publish. In the real world, life doesn't always work out that way. I'm thankful that I can type, word-process and write at the same time. It saved my behind many times in college and at work.

Let me tell you how I use it in the lab and then let me provide you with some ways to adapt this to your classroom.

Basically, I use the journaling as a vehicle to teach technology. So each time I see the students, I teach them a little something about word-processing. This starts out with opening and saving a file, printing, deleting, etc. (the fundamentals). After a mini-lesson in word-processing, I give them two or three topics to pick from. The topics are personal topics and lend themselves to narrative essays. We discuss the topics and then they pick one to type in and write about. Their time is limited so they can't really mess around too much. (For journal topics, go to www.google.com and search under "journal topics for students".)

The word-processor that you chose to use isn't that important. I like Microsoft Word because it has security password protection for the files (which I have all students use). But use what you have at your school. And if you don't have a word processor, check out this article from PC Magazine. You have many to pick from, including one that doesn't cost a thing. Or, if you want to keep it simple, use WordPad. This word-processor is built in to Windows 98/Me/2000/XP.

After doing this a few times, they get the routine down, the entries really become good and the students get into it. I think it would be great if the students did this for an entire year and then printed their work out as a keepsake. I wish I had a journal of my seventh grade year.

Last week, I had them pick out one entry that they were really proud of. I demonstrated how to copy and paste it into a new document. I asked them to reread the entry and edit it (whoops, how did that writing process get in there?) Then I showed them how to format it with nice fonts and a heading. We took out names of people mentioned, so as not to embarrass anyone. They printed them out and I was amazed at how great they turned out!

Now, if you have one computer in the classroom you can set this up. You will have to demonstrate how to open and save a file. You should also decide where the students keep their files: hard drive, floppy disc, server, etc. You need to set this up as a center with lots of journal topics handy. It would take some set up time, but it could be done. If you have a lab setting, you could train students in the lab (or ask your lab teacher to train them) on word-processing basics so they can function smoothly in the classroom.

Happy journaling!

Do you have a comment or suggestion? You can e-mail Carl at carlsannito@yahoo.com.


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