Journals: Windows on Thinking and Learning

By Eve Pranis

"I want my second graders to begin to think and act like scientists," reports Durham, NC, teacher Sarah Meyer. "When they're exploring plants and other garden elements, for instance, we discuss how scientists carefully observe objects, then draw what they see, not what they think they see. I typically challenge the students by asking, 'Can we help people who haven't before seen a (flower) better understand what one is?'" Students' garden journals feature such drawings, along with questions, observations, and descriptions of investigations.

After reading the chapter of Frog and Toad (by Arnold Lobel) called "The Garden," for instance, Sarah's students were inspired to make predictions, then test some of their ideas, about what might help plants grow. Daily observations, measurements, and comparisons of plants grown under different light conditions, with and without being sung to, and so on, filled student journals. "It works best for me to structure their journals so they have one area for writing and an adjacent block for drawing," explains Sarah.

"With the help of students' journals and our conversations, I was able to hone in on areas in which individuals and the class needed more support (for instance, making more detailed observations)," says Sarah. "I also had something concrete to share and refer to when I spoke with parents."

Broadcasting Results

Don't be shy about sharing the positive results of your informal research on gardening's impact. "I always gather additional types of information beyond students' work, quiz results, and so on, to build support for school gardening," says sixth grade teacher Arlene Marturano. "For instance, I present our administrator and funders with details on the percentage of kids who implement gardens at home after participating in school, related parent comments, and the degree of parent participation in or visits to the school garden. I also send press releases to local newspapers to solicit coverage of garden events or unique projects. Administrators love this type of positive publicity."

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