As last year was winding down, I realized that the kids I ended up with at the end of the year were very different than the kids I began with. I thought about where they were on the first day, and how much they had learned in the intervening months. Not only did I have to get used to them and their quirks, learning differences, personalities, but they had to acclimate themselves to my course, my personality, my quirks, my method of presentation.
And so, in the last week of classes, I asked each student to type a 1 page (double spaced) letter to themselves 9 months ago. I asked them to give themselves advice on how to succeed in this course. Things they know now which they wish they had known then.
And they gave me some pretty awesome reflective letters, full of advice useful to my classes this year. Instead of me telling them that doing their homework nightly is important, or that cramming at the last minute doesn’t work, they now have it from the horses mouths. From those who were forged in the crucible of my math class.
What’s great about these documents, read in their entirety instead of just the snippets I provide here, is that I get glimpses of my class — and the way I am as a teacher — through the lens of a student.
After talking with my colleagues, I decided not to foist this upon my students in the first few days. There is too much information flying around and it’s too potentially useful to be flung into the “first day crud” pile. Better to wait two or three weeks, when they’ve had a chance to get to know me and my class, and I get a chance to know them and their class. Then I’ll have two or three histrionic kids read a few pieces of advice.
For students, by students.
Great idea! Maybe I’ll try it with my students, too. (I’m teaching at the university, so things are a bit different, but I’ll think about it.)