Write Them Back!

A new school year brings 24 new third graders into my life. 24 different children with different backgrounds, personalities, interests, strengths, needs, and goals. My writing curriculum calendar details the units I must teach and the expectations for students as writers. How does a teacher begin to know her students and what they can do as writers?

One strategy I’ve been trying is to create a binder with a page for each student. On each student’s page, I’ve been taking notes on last year’s academic and behavioral comments by previous teachers. I’ve also been writing down what I learn from students as they share information with me and the class during our Morning Meeting.  I asked students to bring in an Autobiography Bag-five items that tell a little bit about themselves. Each day, another student shares the items and then the class says what we learned about that student. We know some of our classmates are beach lovers, baseball fans, and enjoy making slime. I jot down notes in this binder each day the students share.

Another way I’ve gotten to know my students as writers is by reading the letter they wrote at the end of second grade to their future third grade teacher. My school asks students to do this in June- to write to their next year’s teacher and share accomplishments and successes experienced during that year. I always ask my students to tell their fourth grade teachers something the teacher might not know about them. These letters go into the student’s literacy profile. When I receive my stack of literacy profiles, I always pull these letters out.

I read the letters to get a sense of what the student enjoyed about second grade. When students tell me about themselves, I certainly jot down any ideas in my binder. One year, a student revealed she loved tacos, unicorns, and mermaids! This year, most of the letters focused on what the students enjoyed about school. I learned about roller skating field trips, owl pellet dissection, and that students read fairy tales and wrote biographies. It was interesting to see who mentioned the writing they did in second grade and the students who focused only on math or reading. The letters helped me understand what stood out to the students about their second grade experience.

With new notes in my binder, what was I to do with the letters written to the third grade teacher? I could have filed them back in the profile, but I thought it would be more effective to write back to each student. In this way, they understand that when you write, there is an audience and real purpose. It isn’t just a school task. When you write a letter to your future teacher, she reads it and responds to your words. I typed a letter back for each student and celebrated all they learned. I asked a few questions too. Handing out my letters, I saw many students smile that they were receiving a letter from me!

Do you receive letters from your students at the start of the year? Do you write them back? In what ways do you get to know new students? How do you keep track of the information and use it as a guide for helping your writers grow? Please join the conversation and share your ideas in the comments.