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).


  1. These two ideas are absolutely golden, Rebecka. Thanks for sharing!

    Do you think the letters are feasible with 150+ students?

    1. Yes! That's about how many I have. Again, they tend to forget if you don't remind them every Friday. So, in the beginning, I sometimes rotated which classes I would remind. For example, one Friday I might remind all my PreCalc classes; the next Friday my algebra and calc classes. I know that sounds a little horrible, but if you overwhelm yourself, you'll take out the joy in it.

      As the year progressed, I hardly ever reminded them. Consequently, there were weeks I didn't get any letters. But, I still feel this open line of communication was very valuable.

      Hope that helps!

  2. I'm so excited about implementing Friday Letters this year. Thanks for sharing, Rebecka!

  3. I loved your favorites AND meeting you! Thank you for sharing. :)

  4. Rebecka - sorry I wasn't able to attend TMC14 in person and hear about this first hand. How long do you give for this warm-up/letter-writing activity? I love the idea, but my periods are 44 minutes long...Thanks - Wendy

    1. I'm so sorry I'm just now responding! I give less and less time, to be honest. I find that the students who really want to write to me, will find the time to do so and put their letter in my box by Friday.

  5. Just like Sarah above, I to plan on implementing your letters idea this year! What an AWESOME idea. Since TMC14 when you introduced it, I knew I wanted to do it.

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