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Kelli Schuster

© 2001

Action Research

Dialogue Journals

In my licensure program for Second Languages and Cultures, I was inundated with second language acquisition (SLA) theories and best practices. In creating my own ELL classroom last year, I decided to focus on creating a safe and nurturing environment. I tapped into the following theories: affective filter, comprehensible input, and Maslow's hierarchy.

The dialogue journal was an invaluable tool that responds to these theories. It allowed me to develop deeper personal relationships with my students, ultimately creating a safe classroom environment. It also allowed students to ask questions they were afraid to verbalize in front of others and to practice with the language within their own zone of proximal development.

Now, for the upcoming school year, as I look to extend my focus, I want to foster growth in the fluency of my students' writing. Again, I see the dialogue journal as a useful tool. Therefore, I am compelled to extend the use of the dialogue journal in the classroom, as well as develop research strategies for assessing its value.

By definition, the dialogue journal is an ongoing conversation between student and teacher via the written word. It is typically carried out in a notebook kept secure in the classroom. In this notebook, the student writes on topics interesting to him/her and the teacher responds. It is vital to state outright that the teacher should not correct the students' entries. Instead, the teacher models appropriate language usage. Furthermore, the conversation should be student lead and teacher responses should be typical to the type of response that would be given in a verbal dialogue.

In my first year of teaching (in which I used the dialogue journal sporadically and without proper attention to effective practices), I lacked a consistent measure for growth in fluency among the students as well as a bredth of knowledge in terms of effective response techniques. The dialogue journal (used effectively) should provide a one-stop, ongoing project that demonstrates growth in any student developing his/her language skills. The research indicates that the dialogue journal (due to three factors such as motivation, safety and privacy) are reliable tools for encouraging fluency. "Dialogue journals develop fluency because they are meaningful, because they are responded to, and because they give writers the freedom to concentrate on what they are saying, rather than on how they are saying it." (Peregoy and Boyle, pg. 207)

Consequently, in implementing proper use of the dialogue journal, I hope to discover that my students become more fluent writers. In order to properly implement the dialogue journal, I have already done a great deal of researchs. Primarly, I have noted that I need to be more conscientous about my responses and more committed to the dialogue. The research states that a brief reply with a question to continue the dialogue is not an effective response. Rather, responses need to be reflective and thorough in nature. The teacher should acknowledge what the student wrote, encourage elaboration, and write something interesting and motivating for the child to read. Furthermore, the conversation needs to be student-lead, so it is not advisable to always end in a question, particularly if the question changes the subject.

Another variable in the response is modeling. The teacher should note errors in the students' entries but not correct them directly. Rather, the teacher should model correct usage of some errors in his/her response. This should prove effective in terms of language usage growth. Of course, the teacher does not want to include all the errors or do so in a way that seems contrived.

My plan:

  • I will establish a routine for dialogue journal writing in the class. I will use the journals in my two ELL II and ELL III classes. The students will read and write in the journals for the last ten minutes on Mondays and Fridays.
  • I will follow the "response" guidelines offered in the research. It will be most effective if I take notes on a separate piece of paper before I commit a response to the journal.
  • I will keep anecdotal notes on journal entries. These notes will look at
    • Number of words used in each entry
    • Number of spelling errors/per words in entry
    • Students' ability to respond to my modeling. For example, if the student spells a word wrong in his/her entry and I model the correct spelling back, does he/she use it correctly in the next entry.

Atwell, Nancie. "Procedures for Dialogue Journals." In In the Middle: Writing, Reading and Learning with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.

Bode, Barbara A. April, 1989. "Dialogue Journal Writing," The Reading Teacher, April, 1989, pp. 568-571.

Fulwiler, Toby (ed). The Journal Book. Porstmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1987.

Gambrell, Linda B. "Dialogue Journals: Reading-writing Interaction," The Reading Teacher 38(1985): 512-515.

Kreeft, Joy. "Dialogue Writing: Bridge from Talk to Essay Writing." Language Arts, 61(1984): 141-150.

O'Malley, J. Michael and Valdez Pierce, Lorraine. Authentic Assessment For English Language Learners: Practical Approaches for Teachers. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1996.

Peregoy, Suzanne F. and Boyle, Owen F. Reading, Writing, & Learning in ESL. White Plains, NY: Longman, 1997.

Routman, Regie. Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

Staton, Jana. "Writing and Counseling: Using a Dialogue Journal." Language Arts, 57(1980): 514-518.