A High School English Teacher Transforms Her Students’ Journaling

The following is a guest blog by high school English teacher Tina Johnson. Scroll below to read her bio!

For the last fifteen years, I have used journaling as a “Do Now” activity in my English classrooms. I’ve worked with a variety of special education high school students who are reluctant readers and writers in the resource or in class supported setting. Getting my students to journal seemed so redundant and tedious, and frankly went from a “Do Now” to a “Why do we have to?” activity. I used multiple avenues of prompts, colorful pens and pencils, and inspirational quotes, but those composition books just seemed to bore them.

Over the summer, I was invited to the Buncee office in New York to learn about the program and new application they created to inspire students to be creative and use their voice. Users are able to produce slide shows and presentations that include animations, stickers, drawings, web images, hyperlinks, QR codes, sound, and video. They were even able to include YouTube videos - and it’s a known fact, all students love YouTube.

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At first, I was really curious how this would differ from Google Slides. However, while the presentation commenced, my interest was peaked when I saw how creative and detailed the slides could become. A particular member of Buncee, Sean, showed me his student’s Science Journals. Immediately-I think my light bulb went off.

Using Buncee would also help me to provide a variety of expressions/tools for students to use; this allowed me to provide differentiation for my students on narrative and informational journal writing on the same program. I began to imagine the possibilities of exploring The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with my class, having them to respond to more critical and higher level questions with Buncee-and the ideas just keep coming.

Sean’s students created video journals, answered questions with texts, photos, stickers, and links to other sites that were meaningful. Meaningful was the exact word and goal of what my “Do Nows” should be in my English classes. If it isn’t meaningful to the students, what is their drive to complete the assignments? I’ve done so much research on making assessments matter, but these journals should be enjoyable and show students that writing and creating in English class can be fun.

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After chatting with the members of Buncee, I was inspired. I decided that this school year, I would start to have one of my smaller English 11 classes journal using the Buncee application. On the first day of school, I introduced the program to my small junior class. I modeled what I would make my own cover look like of my Buncee journal, adding a shark animation, star stickers, and some character stickers the team had developed. The students were engaged with the program. They had created accounts on their 1:1 Chromebooks, and immediately began playing with the animations, stickers, and some were even creating little videos of themselves on the cover of their journals. I was ecstatic! They were even sharing their journals with each other without being prompted to do so.

My “Do Nows” all of a sudden became meaningful and inspired them to write more than a sentence or blurb. One of the first journals I had students complete was to describe what they did over the summer. One particular student added beach stickers and animations, while another student video recorded his answer and placed it on a new slide of his Buncee Journal. The students ask to journal at the beginning of class time, and I love it!  I will continue to use Buncee and plan on introducing it to my senior English class at the beginning of October since my trial English 11 class is going so well.

Tina Johnson is a teacher at Sparta High School in Sparta, New Jersey. She teaches resource English, History, and Science. Tina is a graduate of Centenary University, class of 2003, with her Elementary and Special Education certifications and her B.A. in Psychology. She became highly qualified in English, History, and Science in 2007. As of this September, she is back at Centenary University in order to get her Masters degree in Educational Leadership.

She is frequently adapting and differentiating lesson plans and assessments to meet the rigor of Sparta High School curriculum while accommodating the needs of her students. She is also excited about being a co-organizer for the November 4th  #EdCampHAT team and expanding her technology skills and networking with other people in the educational field.

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