The book, First Year Letters, covers Mrs. Hartwell’s first year teaching at a new school. Through her student’s letters, we see their class grow through the year, complete with mistakes, mishaps, learning and growth.
The end of the year is a perfect time to look back and reflect. For most of us, mistakes and mishaps are inevitable, but luckily, they can often lead to learning and growth. In a classroom, learning and growth also comes from new friendships, exciting curriculum, mastering new skills and reading about new people and places.
Instead of writing to their teacher, as they did in First Year Letters, in this exercise, students will write letters to themselves reflecting on the positives of the school year that is finishing up. Not only will they benefit from naming, and more importantly, figuring out how their actions created that success, it will also help end the school year on an empowering note.
Objective: After being given guidance and support for reflection, students will be able to name three ways they have grown over the course of the year and what actions they took to create that growth. They should be encouraged to reflect on emotional and behavioral growth as well as academic.
This is what one of my 7th grade students wrote in his journal:
At the beginning of the year, I didn’t like to read but now I like it much better. I think what helped me like reading more is learning to spend time finding books that I actually liked. Also, our daily reading during lunch SOAR time helped. Before daily reading, I’d start a book one day and then not read it again for a week. By that time, I would forget what it was about and have to start over. This is the first year in a long time that I finished a whole book. It is motivating to finish a book. Every time I do I want to start and finish a new book!
- Read the class First Year Letters two times. The first time just to enjoy the story. Before the second reading tell your students that you want them to be on the lookout for ways Mrs. Hartwell and/or her students grew over the course of the year. (I have read aloud of First Year Letters posted on the Charlesbridge publishing website)
- Go over signs of growth noticed in the book and then have students share their ideas about how growth occurs. Possibly share some ways you have grown over the year and how you made it happen.
- Give students time to reflect and write about their own growth.
- Finally, have students write themselves a formal letter naming three areas of personal growth from this year and describing the work or actions that went into creating those changes. They can do it in first or third person, whichever is easier for them.
First person might start out like this:
Yay. I did such a good job in school this year. There are many ways I grew this year but there are three I am extra proud of.
If Mrs. Hartwell were to do this assignment in third person she might start out this way:
Whew! Your first year of teaching is behind you. Congratulations! You made it. I know that sometimes you felt like giving up, but you didn’t. Instead, you stuck with it, powered through mistakes along the way and learned how to be a better teacher. Here are three ways that I saw you grow over the course of the year:
- One final note: Be sure to write, and share, your letter with the students as well. You might be surprised at some of the learning and growth you encountered over the year!