Journals are an excellent way to watch the growth and development of early writing. Students are expected to write independently right from the beginning of the year. Students are also expected to spell word wall words correctly.
For the first few months most of the students go through very similar stages of writing.
First I see journal entries that have some letter-sound representation.
Then I begin to see sentences based on patterns. (I like. . ., is a popular one)
Now, part way through the year, most children have enough confidence to branch out beyond the pattern sentences and create brief personal narratives.