Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Favorites {TMC14}

I hope everyone who did a My Favorites talk at TMC14 has blogged or will blog about it at some point.  I shared two favorites and wanted to document them here, for those who had any questions or for those who didn't get to attend this year...

#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:

  1. The mailbox will always be in the back of the room for you to put letters in.
  2. I will check the mailbox every Friday.
  3. 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've actually blogged about this before here and here.  This is a way I incorporate a little (emphasis on little) history and language arts into my PreCalc classes (though I think this could be done at just about any level for middle school, high school, and college students).  Essentially, my kids research a mathematician for some extra credit for each unit test.  Last year I also gave them a quote by the mathematician and had them defend or dispute the quote.  I think this year I will have them find a quote on their own, instead of giving one to them.

I made a new sign for this year (above).  Feel free to print and use it if you'd like (click here to download).