End-of-Year Letters: Looking Back and Moving Forward

May 2018 Blog Series ImageEvery year, in June, I asked my fourth and fifth-grade students to write me a letter. This letter provided students with an opportunity to reflect on the school year they had in my classroom. The letter was an opportunity for them to think back about what they accomplished, what was still challenging, what field trips were useful, etc.

In a 2008 blog post, I wrote about end-of-year letters, I stated:

I’ve had my students write me letters right before I do their final report card. I’ve come to believe that these letters not only help me understand my students better, but they make me a better teacher since I learn what they liked about being a student in my class (i.e., I keep the pen box fully stocked) and what I could do better (e.g., get rid of the color-coded behavior chart).

Yes, you read that right. It’s because of a student’s advice to me that I had a wake-up call about the detriments of using a public behavior management system. As a result of what a child wrote to me in 2007, I realized I should be building kids up and using my Responsive Classroom training to help me engage my students in ways that would foster student engagement and provide positive attention.

Over the years, I developed suggestions to help students complete their end-of-year letters. I created “guidelines” since none of my students had ever been asked to reflect on their whole year – in a letter – to their teacher before. Having loose guidelines helped some of my students structure their letters to me. While many kids followed the guidelines, others let their thoughts flow.

Here are the optional end-of-year-letter guidelines I shared with my students during my final year in the classroom. (Please note: I never assigned these letters as homework. Instead, I set aside two periods of time in-school for students to complete their letters.)

Guide to End of the Year Letters to Ms. S.

Remember: Your paragraphs do not need to follow this exact structure! It’s merely a guideline to help you if you’re stuck.

  • Paragraph 1: What is your greatest accomplishment since March? Tell me why you’re proud of yourself for this accomplishment.
  • Paragraph 2: Now that we’re in June, reflect on what’s easy for you (that was challenging for you in September). Elaborate on what made this particular item/area simpler as time passed.
  • Paragraph 3: What is still challenging for you? What are you going to do to overcome this challenge?
  • Paragraph 4: What was the best part of being a 5-310 student? What was the worst part of being a 5-310 student? (Elaborate on both responses.)
  • Paragraph 5: Have you accomplished your Hopes and Dreams this year? If not, then tell me what stood in your way. If you did accomplish them, then have you set new goals for yourself?
  • Paragraph 6: What have you learned about cooperative group work/partnerships by being in this class?
  • Paragraph 7: What advice can you give me as a teacher?
  • Paragraph 8: Anything else you want to tell me.

REMEMBER: Follow a friendly letter format. If you have swirly handwriting, then please skip lines. Please sign your name in the closing of your letter.

Once I received students’ letters, I took the time to respond to each of them, by writing a letter back, before the end of the school year. While I had many other things to do, I felt it was important to respond to each child – even if my response was only a paragraph long – to show that not only did I want to celebrate their successes, but to help guide them towards next steps they could take to succeed during the summertime and the following school year.

I’D LIKE TO KNOW:

  • How do you help your students reflect on their academic and social progress during the final weeks of school?
  • Do you ask your students for feedback or advice to help you grow your teaching practice? If so, how has a child’s feedback helped you become a better educator?

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • Day by Day Cover ImageThis giveaway is for a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book. If you have an international address, then Stenhouse will send you an eBook of Day by Day.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 7th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – DAY BY DAY. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.