In the first end of year post, I wrote about having students remix their work in order to resee it and remember it. In the second post, I explored the idea of designing an end of year reflection that plunges students back into their work from the year and encourages them to critically think about it with an eye towards what happens next. In this post, we’ll play around with the idea of letter writing as a way to culminate the year.
Idea #3: Writing An End of Year Letter
There are a few different kinds of letters that I suggest would be useful in bringing the year to a meaningful close: teacher to student, student to self, and student to next year’s teacher.
Letters are great because they are personal. They are different from emails. They stretch time. They open spaces to be honest. The physicality of them makes the receiver want to keep them. Letters are like gifts. You look forward to opening them. Often we’ll read them, or part of them, more than once. Letters also push the writer to think carefully before writing because the audience is immediate. For all of these reasons, letter writing is a great way to end the year.
Write a letter to your students
The kind of end of year letter that probably comes first to mind is the letter from the teacher to the student. This may seem daunting at first, particularly if you have 150 students! Let’s look first at the kind of letter you can write if your student load is more manageable. If you have a class of 26, you can write individual letters to the students. They don’t have to be long, but make sure that you are specific to each student. Highlight a specific aspect of their work that you think was particularly strong. Reveal a way that they were in the class that contributed to the success of the whole. These letters are a time for celebrating great work and for pushing students to keep going in that direction. I would end the letter with exactly that kind of push. Help each of your students see what could possibly happen next for them. Finally, it would be nice to leave them with a quote that you think is particularly relevant. Maybe the whole class gets the quote in their letters. Maybe it is a quote that has become part of the ritual of the class over the course of the year so that when the students read the quote in their letters, it reminds them of the class.
If you have 150 students or more, I would still write a letter, but it would be one letter to the class as a whole. I would still make it personal by pointing about specific things that the students did that made the class meaningful, interesting, and fun. I would include a quote, and I would address the letter individually to each student, placing it in an envelop for each student. Envelops are key. The students have to be able to open the letters up. That is part of the specialness of it.
Have your students write letters to their future selves
This is a great idea. Has a bit of the time capsule element to it. In this case, have your students write letters to their future selves. Let them know that you will hold on to these letters until they graduate from high school. Make sure they include their address on the envelop that you provide for them just in case they leave the school. I know that this does not guarantee that the letter will make it to them, but it is a step in the right direction.
In terms of the letter, coach them on what they could write by asking a few questions:
- What would you want to say to your future self?
- What about this year would you want to remember?
- What are things that are important to you now?
- What are you proud of?
- What do you wish could change?
The foil of the future self really helps free the writer to say things they normally wouldn’t say. Once they have written the letters, have them seal them in an envelope, addressed to themselves, and hold on to them. Hand them back the day of graduation or shortly before or after and see what happens.
Have your students write a letter to next year’s teacher
What a wonderful opportunity – the chance to share a bit of oneself with next year’s teacher. For this form of letter, I would introduce it to the students by asking the question, “If you had a chance to write a letter to your teacher next year, what would you want to say?” This question would hopefully open up a pretty interesting conversation that would then prime the pump for the letters themselves. Tell the students that this is a chance to share a bit about yourself, about the work that you have done, and about what you would love to be able to do next year. Questions that they might want to address in the letter:
- What work have you done that you are particularly proud of? Why?
- What are some questions you have about next year?
- What do you really hope you get to do next year in class?
- What is something that you would like to get better at?
For younger students, this kind of letter is a great way to work on learning the form of a proper letter. For all students, this kind of letter provides an unusual opportunity to make initial contact with next year’s teacher in a meaningful way. All letters should be placed in envelopes and addressed to the teacher(s). Who knows, maybe the teacher(s) that receive(s) it will either respond back over the summer and/or in the way they design the following year.