Advice from Calculus Students Past, Informing the Calculus Student Present

I’ve done Standards Based Grading in Calculus for two years now. This is the start of my third year.

One of the things I have my kids do at the end of each school year (not just in calculus, but in all my classes) is to write a letter to themselves. But in the past. Yes, I tell kids to compose a letter that can be sent back into time, to them, at the beginning of the year. Things they wish they had known at the start of the year that they know now that it is the end of the year. And I let them know whatever they write is up to them, and that I don’t look at this until way into the summer. We seal them up.

I usually share these letters with kids the following year. When I do, I ask kids to think about commonalities they noticed in the advice from students, and also, if anything struck them. We have a conversation about that. I definitely emphasize that what works for one person might not work for another.

Without further ado, here is the advice that my 2011-2012 calculus kids wrote to their past selves, which I will be sharing with my 2012-2013 calculus kids.

To me, the major commonalities are… advice to do their homework even though it’s not graded, not to use reassessments as a crutch because it’s to your benefit to learn things the first time around, and to ask for help from colleagues and Mr. Shah.

With that, I’m out like a light.



  1. Genius idea Sam! I do an end of the year survey, but just might add this to the repertoire. I think I’ll let my 8th grade Algebra students read these next week since I’m doing SBG for the first time this year.

  2. I do the same thing, although I have the students write directly to next year’s class. It’s especially fun when they decide to write directly to another student. This year I gave a letter to a student from his brother that graduated two years ago. He was very surprised and excited about it! But overall, my students say the same things yours did: Do your practice, study for tests, and ask other people for help.

  3. I taught Calculus for the first time last year and did something similar as well as an advice to freshman version. Overall, there are a lot of commonalities, although my students went into details on studying (it isn’t cramming, reworking problems you struggle with, studying regularly, etc.). In addition, I loved a comment regarding homework that was made by some. They emphasized that it is not about doing the problems but understanding and learning from them. In my head, I knew that they had been listening to me on my soap box all year and were repeating what I said, but hey, at least they were listening!

  4. What would you recommend as a good resource to use first to get up to speed on standards-based grading and second to support a pitch for it to my principal and community? This sounds like the perfect way to handle Calculus (and thus why not Pre-Calc and Algebra 2?)


    1. Hihi-

      I don’t have a good answer. I would read a bunch of blogs/blogposts that do it and then see if you have totally flipped your views of teaching and learning and grading. If the more you think about it, you feel convinced, you should make your pitch drawing upon those blogs/blogposts that spoke the most to you.

      All my SBG posts are tagged (see on the right bar, I have a list of tags) and I’d read the earlier ones (as they show my thought process as I was jumping in, and how things changed). I also would read a lot of Shawn Cornally’s stuff (blog: Think Thank Thunk) and Matt Townsley’s stuff (blog: MeTA musings), as they are really key people in this… and will have links to many others who do it and are worth reading. But personally I think on the ground teachers who do it are the best resource. I tend to eschew academic/ed writing/research…


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