Reading and engagement with classic literature is a task becoming increasingly more challenging for students and frustrating for teachers.
There is little room today, in a testing-driven curriculum, for creative writing. Here students experience (and relish) the opportunity for creative expression. They decorate the covers of their journals, choose different colors of pencils and pens, and experiment with going different places or with different times of day. Nature journaling is conducive to creative and artistic expression.
This is the first year I have had a website, and when students learned their work is to be published on the Imagine Outside website, they were ecstatic. Some even asked to revise their work (which I allowed), but many were simply pleased to be able to see their work on the website. There is also a relatively new Imagine Outside Facebook page that is popular.
Adults are embracing the notion of nature journaling. Several students have their parents going out to nature journal with them. A math teacher friend of mine, recently retired, who previously eschewed both reading and writing, is now practicing nature journaling.
I found that using rubrics to grade the journals is counter-productive. Students know they will get credit (in some classes extra credit) for simply doing the activity. You can easily discern student engagement with the task by the details and content embedded in their journal responses. I have a chat with those students who have journals that were obviously completed at lunch or the night before, sitting in their rooms, to see what the issue is. Students frequently comment on how grateful they are to get credit for such a “stress- free” assignment.
Over a short period of time, student responses elevate from the rather pedestrian, “I saw a bird, I saw a tree,” to more lyrical prose and even poetry, rich with imagery.
When I began doing this activity with students eight years ago, I was quite surprised that many students were writing about how nature journaling helped them to “de-stress” and relax. Since then, a great majority of the students comment on how “peaceful and calm” nature journaling can be.
Amazingly, many students consider this to be a novel idea. Students ask me, “How did you think of this, Mrs. Lovelace?” That’s when I give a mini-lesson on Thoreau.
Initially, students question, “what should I write,” and need some guidance. I tell them to attend to each of their senses and just write what they are observing. After some feedback from me, they become more open to experimenting.
Nature journaling helps students with issues such as grief, self esteem, and coping with stress in a high stakes academic program.
Lower performing students respond well as it is an opportunity for them to write without being penalized for errors. They get to practice getting their thoughts on paper.