Teacher strategy influences dialogue-journal writing

iStock_000020536048XSmallThis study by researchers at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., describes the effect of one teacher’s strategies on her students’ journal writing.

J.K. Peyton and M. Seyoum examined student performance in a class whose teacher has had 15 years experience using dialogue journals. The subjects of the study were twelve 6th graders (half boys and half girls) with limited proficiency in English. Half of the students were Hispanic and half were of Asian decent.

On the average, students wrote for 10-15 minutes each day in the journals they were assigned to keep. However, no time was specifically set aside for journal writing; they wrote whenever they had time, often before or after class. The teacher wrote in each of their journals every night, responding to what the student had written that day.

Eliciting longer entries from students

In their earlier research on dialogue-journal writing, Peyton and Seyoum observed that when teachers begin using dialogue journals, they tend to rely on the same techniques they use in oral classroom-instruction; that is, they choose the topic and they ask the questions.

With this technique, student responses, not surprisingly, tended to be short. There was no impetus to discuss the subject, they simply answered the teacher’s question as briefly as they could. Based on the much longer student journal entries in the current study, this teacher generated real enthusiasm among her students for journal writing. Peyton and Seyoum set out to determine what strategy she used to achieve this success.

An analysis of her students’ journals revealed that fundamentally this teacher responded to whatever topic the student introduced, contributing her own information, opinions or feelings about the topic. By establishing a dialogue, she could then ask a question or introduce another topic. Occasionally, she did ask a question without first making a contribution to the topic and almost always the student responded with a short answer.

In the opinion of Peyton and Seyoum, this teacher’s success can be attributed to her participation with the student in the journal. She demonstrated her interest in the topic through correspondence. Through a kind of collaborative effort, student and teacher shared opinions and information.

Importance of topic

Peyton and Seyoum confirm that the amount and complexity of the students’ writing depended, at least to some extent, on the topic itself.

When a topic of mutual interest to both teacher and student was discovered, the students reacted with greater enthusiasm and, as a result, wrote more freely.

Other factors, such as the level of proficiency in English, also influenced the length and complexity of student responses. However, the findings of this study suggest that success with dialogue journals depends in large part on the teacher’s participation as partner in a shared dialogue with the student.

“The Effect of Teacher Strategies on Students” Interactive Writing: The Case of Dialogue Journals” Research in the Teaching of English Volume 23 Number 3 October 1989 pp. 310-333.

Published in ERN November/December 1989 Volume 2 Number 5

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