One of my favourite blogs is todaysletters.com. The author writes her blog in letters to her husband, daughter, family, friends and even to herself. Her letters are often humorous but always from the heart. She thanks those around her, reflects on what has gone on in her world, asks meaningful questions and offers up gratitude for everyday things. I appreciate her format mostly because it is laid back and to the point. Letters are special and as the header on her blog states "There are many things that can change a life...a letter is one of them."
Letter writing is something that in school has been relegated to English classes and mostly for a business purpose. I think a lot of the romanticism of letters has been lost when we restrict them soley for business purposes. Writing letters used to be the one and only way to communicate with those at a distance - in a pre-social media world - and the only way we could express our wants, needs and desires to those around us other than face to face conversations. I believe we should use letters in a BIG, MEANINGFUL, AWESOME way in our classrooms from day 1.
I have used letter writing as an intro tool during the first days/weeks of September as a way to get to know my students in a more meaningful way. My Pod Team used this exercise when meeting our "Pod" for the first time this week, and I know another new teacher who employed it in his jr. high classroom too. It is an effective way to let students know you are there for them, want to get to know them and care about their needs. Below is my outline and a few tips for a successful letter writing activity:
1. Begin by outlining what you want your students to write:
- I post this somewhere for students to refer to. I usually have them include the following: Introduce yourself, passion areas, strengths/areas of success (academic or otherwise), weaknesses/areas to work on (academic or otherwise), what I need from my teachers this year, other information your teachers could need in order to best SERVE YOU (I strongly recommend using this language. I remind students constantly that that is what I am really here to do: SERVE them the best way I can.)
2. Remind students this is completely individual and confidential:
- These will not be shared with anyone but the instructors
- These letters are meant to be individual...you don't need to talk to a friend about it beside you.
3. Give TIME to write:
- Great letters won't come out of a rushed writing session. Students need a good chunk of time. Also, if students don't complete them, have them hand in what they did complete, and they can finish writing to you at home if they think of more things later on.
4. THESE ARE NOT SUMMATIVE. I REPEAT. THESE ARE NOT SUMMATIVE.
- Make sure to reiterate to students, that these are not for assessment. Remind students that this is an opportunity to ask your teachers for what you need to be successful. They should be legible, but spelling and structure are not as important as content.
5. Keep it light!
- Some students will shoot back an eye-rolling-groan-slump-in-chair attitude, but tell them if they wish to add in a drawing, diagram, song lyrics, anthem, or ANYTHING that will help their teachers understand what makes them tick...then put it down!
6. It's a two way street:
- It is usually best practice to begin with an example or do this exercise yourself. I usually narrate my introduction and what I need from my students to be the best teacher I can be before beginning the letter writing activity.
7. Keep the letters:
- Do not read and toss these. There is some SERIOUSLY valuable information you may need from them at a later date. I usually keep these until the end of the year and then return them to the students. It is a great measure of growth and sometimes great for a laugh or two.
This is a great intro activity to get to know your students and truly find out what the needs are of your students. I look forward to reading the letters from my new pod students and know they will serve to make me a better educator for my students this year. Happy September and may your year be fulfilling and full of growth.
Mrs. Katherine (Kate) Weber