We recently finished reading “Julius Caesar” in my sophomore Language Arts class which ended in a discussion on the merits of tragedy as a genre. I explained to the students that Aristotle, who coined the term, meant for audiences of tragedies to introspectively think over the events of the play and use the experience as a form of catharsis. Then I spent the next ten minutes explaining what catharsis meant. After which I asked them: How do you vent? What methods do you use to expel yourself of emotion and reflect on life? The answer, shockingly, was Twitter. Twitter! “Yeah” my students said “Twitter rants”. Evidently a “Twitter rant” is where you tweet about a subject consecutively and in short order (no pun intended although Twitter only allows for 140 characters to be tweeted at a time). Am I the only one who sees a problem here? It’s a wonder we don’t have students running wild and burning down the schools. Oh wait, one of our students tried to light the school on fire this past week completely destroying two palm trees and causing the campus to be evacuated. I believe we have a problem.
I have nothing against social networking. I’m a member of many social networks: Twitter (@CarolynNicole), Instagram (@Cinnamonmouse), Snapchat (@Mrscgrayson), Facebook, Pintrist, Tumblr, WordPress…you get the idea. The point is, they’re called social networks for a reason: they were designed to share ideas with the rest of society, to network, and connect. I’m not exactly sure catharsis applies. It’s difficult to be honestly introspective when you’re writing for an audience. What I’m posting here is not my journal, it is not my private soliloquy (although I do write in prose, which is much more intimate than formal writing) this is intended to be read by other educators who grapple with similar issues. In other words, the next generation doesn’t reflect, they perform. And how are you to acquire a sense of self when you’re always putting on a mask for the approval of others?
The kid who set the palm trees on fire? He posted it on Snapchat.
Students need a way to open up and be honest with themselves, to really analyze the way that they are feeling, and to have an outlet for letting some of those feelings free. One solution to this is giving your Language Arts or Creative Writing students class time to write in a journal. Not a graded journal, not something which is turned in for credit, but something private for themselves. I experimented with this idea this past year as we read “Night” giving students the opportunity to choose a bound notebook or the use of Evernote (iOS/Android/Windows). It was a short experiment but one I think I will pick up again when I return from maternity leave (for the record I’m happy I’ve kept up my workout routine while pregnant. In case of an emergency I’m still pretty quick and nimble at 7 1/2 months).
Isn’t this a waste of class time?
No, like everything else, you have to practice in order to get better. Just because students are writing on a non-assigned topic doesn’t mean that they aren’t practicing writing. Have your students look back at past entries on some days. Have them correct their mistakes as well as recall memories. Any assignment you give which you believe is for the betterment of their education and for the improvement of society is not a waste of class time.
How do you grade them? They won’t do it if it’s not worth credit.
I walked around the room, I looked over their shoulders, I monitored but didn’t intrude. Sometimes I would have them flip through their journals in front of me to prove it had entries even though I didn’t read them. They did it. Most of them did it. If I was monitoring them and they were writing they received credit. If they were playing games or off task they didn’t receive credit. You have students in your class who aren’t going to do anything regardless of incentives or grades. That level of disregard of school, authority, and their future comes from their homes and from society. We all try to improve student attitudes and inspire them in 55 minute bursts for 180 days but sometimes you can’t undo 16 years of apathy. Let them know you care about them as people that’s all you can do.
If your interested in journaling and the importance of keeping a journal check out these resources: