#1: Friday Letters
I stole this entirely from a middle school teacher (now assistant principal) in my district, Scott. Every Friday, my kids have the choice to either do the warm-up on the board or write me a "Friday Letter" (a letter to me from them about anything they want to talk about). In the beginning of the year, I remind them of this choice often. When they enter the classroom, the board might look something like this:
At first, this is a pretty novel concept for most of the kids. Plus, they get to get out of the warm-up, so most everyone writes a letter. As the year progresses, I remind them less and less (and consequently fewer kids write). However, I keep some promises:
- The mailbox will always be in the back of the room for you to put letters in.
- I will check the mailbox every Friday.
- I will personally respond to every letter I receive.
Yes, #3 can be daunting at times. At first, I got a lot of letters that were mostly just, "Hey Mrs. P! Hope to see you at the football game tonight!" or "What's your favorite Harry Potter book?" And I had promised to respond to every letter, so I did. But, as the year progressed, I received fewer of those kinds, and I mostly only got letters from kids who really enjoyed communicating through writing. I would have kids write their letters at home on Thursday night so that they could put them in the mailbox on Friday (several letters were a full page, front-and-back).
I got funny letters and heart-breaking letters. Sincere letters and goofy letters. But each letter gave me insight into a kid; insight that I wouldn't have gotten any other way. I kept each letter in a big, green binder that I'll add to this year.
I found that my quietest (usually very successful) kids would have the most to say. When I would check in with them in class and ask how things were going, they'd reply with a quick "Oh, I'm fine! No questions yet!" But then I would get these novels from them in their Friday Letters. It was a way for me to connect with kids that I really don't think I would have connected with otherwise, or--at least--not on that level.
Some people asked me how I would respond to the letters. You know those yellow legal pads of paper? You can buy them in a smaller size (5"x8"), and that's what I used to write return letters. I tried to fill at least the front side half-way. Sometimes, though, I would fill both front and back fully...depending on how much the student had to say and how much I had to say in return.
#2: Mathematician Spotlight
I made a new sign for this year (above). Feel free to print and use it if you'd like (click here to download).