Watch the Video
Robin Walker, fifth grade science teacher in California.
Hi, my name is Robin Walker, and I work for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. I teach fifth grade right now, have taught sixth grade and seventh and eighth grade science, and many years of preschool.
The activity that I want to share with you today is a quick write by your students to me, to the teacher. It’s between the two of us. It is geared for any student who can write on their own, write their own thoughts, so probably second grade on up through high school. The idea is to build relationships with your student, open up, encourage communication, give them a place to tell you their thoughts, tell you things, talk to you one-on-one. The activity that I use I call “Dear Ms. Walker. Did you know that…”, and then I just let the students fill in the blank.
I give them a small notebook. I don’t wanna give them a big spiral-bound notebook or loose-leaf paper, I don’t want it to look like an assignment or feel like they have a lot of space that they need to fill in, so I found the smaller notebooks work well and they can write whatever they want to me. I let them guide the direction they want to go, I don’t grade any of this, I don’t grade their spelling, I don’t grade their grammar, it’s not even mandatory. Some of those students who are reluctant to write, then draw me a picture or give me some song lyrics, if they’re older –whatever they are comfortable with.
So I use this weekly. You can use it daily, You can use it however you see fit, one time, if you would like. They put their thoughts down, I get all kinds of wonderful thoughts from them, things such as: “Ms. Walker, did you know that my dog had puppies last night?” or “Ms. Walker, did you know that we’re going to Mexico for Christmas ?” or “Ms. Walker, did you know that my brother is getting out of jail and he’s going to come to live with us?”
The important thing is that I write back. And it’s meant to be just a quick little write, I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading and writing, but what they have to say is important, so I just write something back. I make a comment on what they’ve said, I ask them more, I try to go deeper with the conversation, ask them deeper questions. It’s been wonderful. We have been writing back and forth to each other all year.
This is a good activity for substitute teachers as well. I have used it when I am subbing. I don’t do the notebook, which I give my students a small notebook, I don’t do the notebook, I just give them a piece of paper when I’m in this the substitute role. And I can ask questions like: “What are three classroom rules that’s important for the sub to know?”. Sometimes you don’t know protocol or you are not sure what information you need and you can ask the students, but they don’t always answer or maybe even be honest with you but I’ve found when they write, I get a lot more honesty when they write. You can even ask something you wish the sub knew. Lots of times students have a lot of subs, teachers been out for a long time and they’ve had a lot of subs. They have a lot that they would like to tell you about.
This has just been a really good activity, it gives the students a voice. It lets them know that you hear them, and also I’ve learned that, a lot of these students who are reluctant to speak up in class, once we’ve been writing back and forth to each other, they’ve become more comfortable speaking up in whole group conversations, or even coming up to me and asking me questions in person.
I hope you enjoy this activity. Thank you.