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Promoting Children’s Healthy Social-Emotional Growth: Dialogue Journal

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Abstract

Dialogue journals are a form of writing in which a student and a teacher carry on a conversation over time. This paper addresses the benefits of using dialogue journals for promoting a positive social-emotional learning (SEL) environment for children in school settings. Educators and researchers have increasingly acknowledged the importance of SEL in schools, and the recognition has been gradually spread around the world in recent years. Despite the increased recognition of the importance of SEL, teachers often appear to feel unacquainted with tactics for promoting children’s social-emotional growth. We provide our readers with a theoretical and practical rationale behind the benefits in the framework of SEL. We also provide practical guidelines for the implementation of the dialogue journals in schools. Further, successful examples of the use of dialogue journals which we have drawn upon during classes in different countries are presented in order to help teachers promote the positive SEL environment for students at school.
Journal of Education and Learning; Vol. 6, No. 2; 2017
ISSN 1927-5250 E-ISSN 1927-5269
Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education
246
Promoting Children’s Healthy Social-Emotional Growth: Dialogue
Journal
Chiaki Konishi1 & Sol Park2
1 Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
2 Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Correspondence: Chiaki Konishi, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University,
3700 McTavish Street, Montreal, QC, H3A 1Y2, Canada. E-mail: chiaki.konishi@mcgill.ca
Received: December 9, 2016 Accepted: January 20, 2017 Online Published: February 13, 2017
doi:10.5539/jel.v6n2p246 URL: http://doi.org/10.5539/jel.v6n2p246
Abstract
Dialogue journals are a form of writing in which a student and a teacher carry on a conversation over time. This
paper addresses the benefits of using dialogue journals for promoting a positive social-emotional learning (SEL)
environment for children in school settings. Educators and researchers have increasingly acknowledged the
importance of SEL in schools, and the recognition has been gradually spread around the world in recent years.
Despite the increased recognition of the importance of SEL, teachers often appear to feel unacquainted with
tactics for promoting children’s social-emotional growth. We provide our readers with a theoretical and practical
rationale behind the benefits in the framework of SEL. We also provide practical guidelines for the
implementation of the dialogue journals in schools. Further, successful examples of the use of dialogue journals
which we have drawn upon during classes in different countries are presented in order to help teachers promote
the positive SEL environment for students at school.
Keywords: dialogue journal, social-emotional development, school climate, student-teacher rapport,
collaborative learning
1. Introduction
We have known for a long time that an aspect of social and emotional learning is important to enhance children’s
well-being. For instance, Ashdown and Bernard (2012) looked at the effects of implementing a social and
emotional learning skills program called the You Can Do It! Early Childhood Education Program (YCDI) on 99
grade 1 students. The results supported the importance of social and emotional learning in strengthening
children’s well-being—children who received YCDI had increased levels of social-emotional competence, they
managed their emotions more effectively and were able to get along with their peers better than those who did
not receive the program. The study also found a decrease in problem behaviours and greater reading achievement
levels in students who completed the program.
Furthermore, research (Brackett, Elbertson, & Rivers, 2015) has suggested that children who have developed
their emotional skills tend to have an increased level of social competence, good mental health and good
academic performance compared to those children who have not adequately developed their emotional skills.
These latter children are reported to have poorer mental health than the former children, including experiencing
depression and anxiety. They also engage in more destructive relationships as well as being associated with
drugs and alcohol (Brackett et al., 2015).
However, social and emotional learning (SEL) is still neglected, because of traditional emphasis or pressure from
academic reliance on the three “R’s” of reading, writing, and arithmetic in our education system (Greenberg et
al., 2003; Jaffe, Wolfe, Crooks, Hughes, & Baker, 2004; Schonert-Reichl & Hymel, 1996). Components of
social-emotional development including Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan &
Powelson, 1991) are critically associated with academic and life success. We are still continuing to understand
the importance of this area.
The purpose of this paper is to propose the benefits of using dialogue journals at school to foster a positive SEL
environment for students at school. This paper provides the audience not only with theoretical and practical
rationale behind the benefits of dialogue journal use but also with practical guidelines for the implementation of
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the dialogue journals. In addition, successful examples of the use of dialogue journals which we have drawn
upon during classes in different countries will be presented in order to help teachers promote the positive SEL
environment for students at school.
1.1 Social and Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is defined as the process through which children develop their ability to
integrate thinking, feeling, and behaving, to achieve important life tasks (Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, &
Walberg, 2004). Individuals competent in SEL are expected to be able to recognize and manage their emotions,
establish healthy relationships, set positive goals, meet personal and social needs, and make responsible and
ethical decisions (Payton et al., 2000). As educators, we are in general agreement that it is important for schools
to foster children’s social-emotional development in a way that it has an impact on non-academic outcomes such
as children’s physical and psychological health, for example, reduction of violence and substance use (e.g.,
McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhirter, 2003; Payton et al., 2000). However, recent research has
shown that SEL plays a critical role in impacting academic functioning and life success as well (Christenson &
Havsy, 2004; Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg, & Gullotta, 2015; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, &
Schellinger, 2011; Farmer, Lines, & Hamm, 2011; Mlecki & Elliott, 2002; Pianta & Hamre, 2009;
Schonert-Reichl & Hymel, 1996; Wentzel, 1993).
As previously described, key components for SEL growth include autonomy, belonging, and competence (Ryan
& Powelson, 1991). School success requires students to take initiative and be responsible for their learning
(autonomy/ownership), to have interpersonal bonds with school, school staff, and peers (belonging), and to have
a sense of mastery (competence). It is important for us to be aware that effective SEL is optimized within caring,
supportive, and safe environments. Considering these important elements, schools can provide a unique
opportunity for promoting children’s social-emotional development. Some children may have a fortunate
opportunity to develop social and emotional skills through their experiences with parents, friends, community
members and extra-curricular activities. Thus, they are at an advantage compared to those children who do not
have these opportunities outside of school in developing social and emotional learning competencies, such as
self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making
(Elias et al., 2015). Therefore, educators play a tremendous role in providing social and emotional learning to
other children who do not have these experiences at home or in their neighbourhoods, and who are at risk of
struggling academically and socially. Despite the potentially great opportunities for encouraging
social-emotional growth, teachers often appear to feel unacquainted with tactics for promoting children’s
social-emotional growth.
Let us take an example by looking at a theoretically based approach to social and emotional learning. RULER is
an approach that was designed to be used by educators to foster an emotionally intelligent school environment
(Brackett et al., 2015). The model of RULER is to emphasize that students will be more “effective” when they
can Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate their emotions. Early research, however, showed that
although RULER was designed for educators to use, students were not developing emotional skills efficiently
because some teachers were uncomfortable teaching it, whereas others simply did not want to teach it (Brackett
et al., 2015). Thus, the content in which RULER or any other social and emotional learning techniques are
delivered is a crucial factor in the development of emotional skills among students.
Subsequently, we introduce how effectively dialogue journals could be one of the most useful tools to help
teachers promote the positive SEL environment for students at school.
1.2 Dialogue Journal
In order to stimulate efficient SEL in schools, dialogue journal writing can be used to promote this kind of
learning. As mentioned above, SEL is a way to promote integrative development of thinking, feeling and
behaving, and thus allowing the child to develop an enhanced level of understanding (Zins et al., 2004). The
nature of dialogue journals is interactive, as it allows the student to express his or her feelings and thereby,
explore emotions with the teacher during the learning process which is crucial to the well-being of the child
(Eski, 2013; Fulwiler, 1987; Gambrell, 1985).
Daniels and Daniels (2013) describe the use of a technique that they call “written conversations” which includes
the use of dialogue journals. They describe that these “written conversations” allow students to communicate
creatively, critically and actively with their peers and teachers all together, instead of one at a time. Daniels and
Daniels describe the functioning of “written conversations” in four steps. First, teachers use short letters
addressed to individual students to introduce themselves and to make a connection with their students. This
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technique is known as “mini-memos”. Second, the method of dialogue journaling is implemented for the teacher
and the student to have deep and critical, but also open discussions related to academic subjects. Third, students
engage in what Daniels and Daniels describe as “write-arounds,” where students are put into small groups and
they can write down a response to a video clip, or poem, or story. After a few minutes, the students pass their
response to the student next to them and they write a response to the previous student’s response, and so on. The
students can then discuss verbally about their thoughts and ideas about the video, poem or story. Daniels and
Daniels argue that by using “write-arounds,” students are more motivated and engaged in participating in
discussions with their peers. Finally, students get involved in having discussions online with peers from their
classrooms and from around the world.
Dialogue journals could be of great use to create positive school environments to enhance children’s
social-emotional development for the following key reasons. First, they promote rapport between teachers and
students, in which students disclose their concerns (Hail, George, & Hail, 2013; Staton, Shuy, Kreeft-Peyton, &
Reed, 1988). Second, they enhance collaborative learning between teachers and students (Bruner, 1988). In the
following, we discuss these reasons by beginning with the definition of dialogue journals in order to seek the
possible application of journal writing to the context of SEL promotion in schools.
1.3 Building Student-Teacher Rapport
A strong student-teacher rapport is crucial for the well-being and positive development of a child during school
years. A coherent and strong relationship between the student and the teacher allows for a safe and secure
environment for the student to explore and develop their academic capabilities, recognize their emotions and
establish positive relationships with their peers (Hamre & Pianta, 2006). For example, Skalicka and colleagues
(Skalicka, Stenseng, Belsky, & Wichstrom, 2015) studied the association between student-teacher relationships
and behavioural problems of children in 819 4-year-old children until first grade. They found that greater
student-teacher rapport indicated fewer behavioural problems in students in small groups compared to poor
student-teacher relationships.
Dialogue journals are a form of writing in which a student and a teacher carry on a conversation over time
(Staton, 1987). A number of researchers have supported dialogue journals because they provide opportunities to
develop mutuality between student and teacher (e.g., Kreeft-Peyton & Seyoum, 1989; McGrath, 1992; Potts,
1981; Staton, 1980; Staton et al., 1988; Wall, 1981). Having conducted the in-depth reading of 15 of 26
sixth-grade students’ journals available, Staton et al. (1988) found that only three or four journals lacked
evidence of substantial development of mutual understanding after one school year. In this study, students began
writing about “safe topics” such as their problems with homework and other academic areas. However, after a
certain period of time, students found their own ways of freely expressing their frustration, feelings, and
complaints to their teacher (Staton et al., 1988). Referring to a similar study, Kreeft-Payton and Seyoum (1989)
illustrated the process of how the mutuality was built between a student and a teacher.
Students write regularly to the teacher. The teacher writes back, ideally-not to evaluate or
correct the writing, but as a co-participant in it. Because the interaction is written and time
passes between contributions by the participants both can introduce a number of topics in one
journal entry. Topics are introduced, responded to, and dropped as the writers see fit. Where
there is mutual interest, a topic can be continued for an extended period of time (p. 311).
Kreeft-Payton (1988a) concluded that equal participation in the process of keeping the journals promoted
developing trust and mutual understanding. On this foundation, both students and their teacher can move on to
new levels of mutual understanding about more in-depth topics. Accordingly, students start revealing their real
concerns in the dialogue journals. This function of the journal has been supported by a number of other scholarly
works (e.g., Casanave, 1993; Hall & Duffy, 1987; Potts, 1981; Staton, 1980).
According to Galarza, a teacher who has been teaching for 33 years, dialogue journals are especially important in
the education setting as it promotes getting students to write daily and to build a connection with the teacher.
Dialogue journals also encourage students to use “authentic” and “real” language. Furthermore, Galarza
describes that complaints and questions arise the most in the dialogue journals she sees from her students,
however, students rarely speak up in the regular classroom settings to talk about problems or ask questions
(Gonzalez, 2016). Thus, students, especially those are shy and introverted can voice their opinions in a
non-confrontational way, and build a deeper connection with the teacher compared to a regular classroom
setting.
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1.4 Collaborative Learning
Another benefit of the dialogue journals is to provide a setting for the process of collaborative learning between
students and their teacher (Bruner, 1988). In his study, Bode (1989) asserted that dialogue journal writing is
liberating in the sense that it allows for the possibility of mutual conversations. This is the essence of teachers
becoming liberating educators; teachers learn with and from their students. Both are empowered. This is in direct
contrast to what Freire (1970) refers to as a “banking” method of education in which the teacher deposits
knowledge into the heads of students. Instead of transferring knowledge statically as a fixed possession of the
teacher, dialogue journals allow for the dynamic exchange of information. It is through dialogue journal writing
that the educator can be personalized. This is very empowering in the sense that the essence of teaching is to
meet each child at her or his point of need.
In addition, from a teacher’s view, from keeping dialogue journals with her students, Reed (1988) stated that not
only students, but also teachers learn from their students; then the teachers apply their knowledge for their
instructions in the classroom along with the students’ needs. Furthermore, Staton (1988) contended that dialogue
journals provide teachers with opportunities in which they can find the appropriate “zone of proximal
development” which identifies the difference between what each student is able to accomplish unaided and what
the same student can accomplish with assistance.
Then, how do students progress through the learning process in journal writing? “Interactional scaffolding” is a
good concept to explain how students are learning or exploring what they are writing in the process of keeping
journals. Kreeft-Payton (1988b) explained the concept of interactional scaffolding as the way in which an adult,
or more experienced peer, through social interaction with a learner, provides a process to solve a problem,
achieve a goal, or carry out a task which would be beyond the learner’s ability unassisted. In other words,
through the process of writing and receiving feedback, students build on and use the teacher’s actual thinking
process to reach a goal or to solve a problem. This concept is based on the Vygotsky’s (1978) theory that
development of a child begins in social interaction with an adult as guide, until the child internalizes the kind of
help received from the adult and guides herself or himself.
1.5 Application to SEL
Two major benefits are attributed to the use of the journals in schools. First, in terms of “building student-teacher
rapport”, dialogue journals can establish trust between a student and teacher, which encourages the student to
express individual concerns to a responsive audience without fear. The sense of taking equal roles with a
confidential nature between a student and teacher enhances the student’s trust to the teacher. This aspect of
dialogue journals possibly encourages the children’s sense of “safe school” and belonging to the school
environment. McGrath (1992) stated that students were able to interact with their teacher in the dialogue journals
in a confidential manner, and the journal medium was to be a “safe place” in which to converse. The findings by
Hail and colleagues (Hail et al., 2013) support the idea that dialogue journals enhance the positive relationship
between teachers and students, which further demonstrates that dialogue journals create a safe-space for students.
They recruited 52 fourth-grade students in the United States to implement dialogue journals in order to look at
the type of content that the students would write about. In the student-teacher dialogue journals, the students
discussed various topics that they would share with their peers, as well as personal opinions, discussions about
different aspects of their lives, and problems they were facing at school and at home.
Second, in exercising “collaborative learning”, both students and teachers are able to find what they can do for
improving their life. By identifying “the zone of proximal development”, the teacher may be able to give the
students appropriate suggestions in accordance with each student’s needs. Through the “interactional
scaffolding” in the dialogue journals, students may be able to identify their problems, and learn effectively to
cope with the problems from their teacher.
During the process of writing journals, both students and teachers are empowered. Students especially feel a
sense of ownership in learning and more autonomous in managing their academic and interpersonal life.
2. Educational Implications
Instructing students to write a lot on their own, and having them understand that writing creatively and freely is
an important skill, can be a difficult aspect for teachers to teach. When teachers assign their students a writing
task, most students may write on subjects only to please their teachers and parents. Therefore, teaching students
motivation to write can be a challenge that can be solved with the use of dialogue journals. Gambrell and
colleagues (Gambrell, Hughes, Calvert, Malloy, & Igo, 2011) conducted a study to examine the relationship
between literacy motivation in 180 elementary school students and authentic literacy tasks. Authentic literacy
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tasks involved the exchange of thoughts and ideas about books they were assigned with their adult pen pals, in
which teachers were acting as the responder to their students’ letters. The authors found that through the use of
pairing up a student with an adult pen pal, students’ literacy motivation increased and were maintained. They
also found that when students write freely to an adult for a task that does not involve receiving a grade, students
are more likely to engage in the task more forcefully because they value having an adult with whom they can
exchange letters.
Dialogue journals may also be an activity that enhances free and creative writing that allows students to explore
their thoughts and emotions, and even perhaps, bolsters their imagination—not just in the playground—but also
in the classroom. By allowing students to communicate and explore their emotions and thoughts through
dialogue journals, Mahn and John-Steiner (2008) argue that students can thereby transform their experiences
from something that is interpersonal to an intrapersonal one. By doing so, they become self-aware of their
process of writing, which is important in the process of learning to write creatively and effectively. Creative
writing also takes practice and diligent guidance, just like any other form of learning. Thus, implementing
dialogue journals in classrooms can allow teachers to attend to each of their students’ writing by helping them
improve their handwriting skills, grammar, and spelling. Teachers can also use dialogue journals to help their
students articulate their thoughts and feelings clearly and distinctly (Staton, 1980).
2.1 Introverted Children
Introverted children have a preference for an environment that is not too stimulating compared to extroverted
children (Cain, 2012). Thus, being surrounded in a classroom setting where one is expected to continuously
participate in discussions and present projects and thoughts in front of peers and the teacher can be a difficult
situation for introverted children to be in. It can especially be challenging for teachers to assess academic and
social development of these students because they are less outspoken than their extroverted counterparts.
Dialogue journals may play a critical role in allowing teachers to see how introverted students are following with
their school work, making friends and any problems that they may be perceiving, and to best help them develop
socially, emotionally and academically. The nature of dialogue journals as mentioned above allows teachers to
get to understand and know their students by building rapport with them, and thus it can become a means of
providing support for the students (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2008). Introverted children may therefore benefit from
dialogue journals with their teachers as it builds a safe-space for them to communicate their emotions and
thoughts about any topic they wish to write about. Through the interaction, teachers may be able to learn the
strengths and weaknesses of their introverted students and find out their interests in order to gear individualized
classroom instructions that will be in the best interest of them (Jones, 1991; Peyton & Staton, 1993).
2.2 Learning a Second Language
For individuals writing or speaking in a second language, support from their teachers and peers is critical to
facilitate confidence and to reduce the anxiety in using a second language. Dialogue journals create a safe
environment for students to explore different forms of writing, and even allow students to take risks in writing by
not putting focus on grades, but rather accepting that mistakes are normal and the importance in learning from
them (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2008). Reyes (1991) compared the effectiveness between dialogue journals and
literature logs in 6th grade Hispanic bilingual students, and found that students were more likely to derive
meaning from writing in a second language through dialogue journals than literature logs. The author suggests
that positive findings, such as the development of creative ideas and meaning, were reported through the use of
dialogue journals because unlike literature logs, dialogue journals allow the student to choose a topic of his or
her choice, which then implements a friendly and open atmosphere for the student to write in. Writing and
speaking in a second language may be an intimidating activity, especially for children. Teachers can become
mindful of their students’ experiences framed by different cultures, religions and ethnicity, and provide friendly
and individualized support to them to allow them to become more confident in their writing and communication
skills and in their self-concept (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2008; Reyes, 1991).
3. Conclusion
This paper has examined the benefits of using dialogue journals for enhancing children’s social and emotional
development. From the “building student-teacher rapport” perspective, dialogue journals would develop
mutuality and trust between a student and a teacher, which encourage the student to express individual feelings
and concerns without fear at school. From the “collaborative learning” perspective, journal writing would let
both the students and the teacher be aware of what they can do for improving their environment. In the
progression of “collaborative learning”, “interactional scaffolding”, would help students optimize their autonomy
through which the students can cope with their problems. In addition, opportunities of identifying “the zone of
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proximal development” of students can be promoted for the teacher. This process would, finally, lead to the safe
school environment. Accordingly, dialogue journals could greatly help teachers enhance children’s
social-emotional development.
In applying the dialogue journals at schools, however, there are two important points that teachers need to
acknowledge. First is the issue of time constraints. In the meantime, it may be a good idea for a teacher to start
exchanging the journals with his or her students once a week instead of every day because it may be difficult for
the teacher to read forty journals every day. Hail et al. (2013) found that student-student dialogue journaling was
successful at encouraging students to effectively and productively communicate with their peers because they
felt respected and supported. Furthermore, students reported that they wanted to continue dialogue journaling
with their peers after the study was completed, and they wanted to write freely to their peers.
Second, unlike more standard instructional methods, the dialogue journals may not work for all teachers. The
journals symbolize a communicative process that depends on the involvement of both student and teacher; and
what makes them effective is the mind and language of an interested and committed teacher. The success of
dialogue journals depends on the teacher’s enthusiasm and motivation. Principals and supervisors who want to
encourage their use should stress the voluntary nature of the process, letting teachers initiate the project in their
own way, when they feel ready. Nonetheless, we believe that the dialogue journals would be a great device to
promote effective children’s SEL environments.
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... Research studies have explored how DJW relates to psychological factors and learners' personalities (Konishi & Park, 2017;Madeng & Palanukulwong, 2019). It is believed that DJW, which entails a studentteacher conversation over time, promote positive social-emotional learning (SEL) for students at school (Konishi & Park, 2017). ...
... Research studies have explored how DJW relates to psychological factors and learners' personalities (Konishi & Park, 2017;Madeng & Palanukulwong, 2019). It is believed that DJW, which entails a studentteacher conversation over time, promote positive social-emotional learning (SEL) for students at school (Konishi & Park, 2017). This happens because dialogue journals facilitate students and the teacher to establish trust, which encourages individual concerns. ...
... More importantly, there is a sense of ownership in learning which rises from the interaction. As Konishi and Park (2017) argue, this makes students more autonomous toward their academic and interpersonal lives. A survey by Madeng and Palanukulwong (2019) revealed that students had positive attitudes towards writing in English, the use of DJW, and they were more willing to write after the implementation of DJW. ...
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