Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Campbell Letter

I have been fortunate to work with some amazing teachers during my career. While doing so, I have developed into a very good thief. No, I do not claim the work of others as my own. I simply use what is working for my colleagues in my classroom. 

The best example of this is the Dear Mr. Campbell Letter. Back in the late 1990's, I worked with a middle school Language Arts teacher who would have each student write a letter to their parents once a week. In the letter they would describe what they had learned, what had been fun, and any problems that had developed. After writing the letter, the student gave it their parents to write a response and sign. The student then submitted the letter as one of their weekly writing assignments.

Here are the reasons I "stole" the Parent Letter:
1) Students produced authentic writing samples on a regular basis.
2) Most parents received more information from their middle school child on one page than they had ever received via a conversation.
3) A natural reflection process developed.
4) Students developed a voice related to their learning.
5) As a teacher, I learned more about my students than ever before. Opportunities to adjust the course to accommodate individual differences became readily available.

Here are the modifications I made to the Parent Letter:
1) In mathematics, I ask my students to write a letter at the end of each quarter.
2) I use the letter as a summative assessment. For me, the letter has become as valuable as any project, quiz, test, or exam.
3) I ask the students to make suggestions for improving the class instead of identifying any problem they may have.

The most satisfying result of using the Dear Mr. Campbell Letter is the increase in student ownership of the class as I implement their suggestions. The students see I value their opinions and respond accordingly.

Reflection: How might the use of such a letter impact your class? Can writing the letter be linked to any course objective or critical thinking standard? What modifications might you make if you decided to use the letter as part of your course?

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