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May 2, 2017

End the Year on a Positive Note

By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Positive Notes to Students

    As I wrap up my school year, I am thinking about my students, their struggles, and their successes. No matter what their abilities, I want each student to walk away with a positive feeling, so I write each of my students a short note — a couple of sentences that captures their unique essence as a person. It is different from other notes, because I write them on their desks using dry erase markers.  

    Each note is a positive comment that captures my appreciation for each student. During the last 10 weeks of school, I start recording my thoughts so that it isn’t a daunting task, adding a few more each day. The night before the last day of school, I get to work. It takes me about an hour to do this. When my sixth graders arrive on the last day, they are greeted with words that they carry with them into their future, and hopefully, give them a boost when things get tough. 

    Last year, my sixth graders cherished these notes so much that they guarded them all day, making sure their friends didn’t accidently rub them off. They even took pictures of the notes as a keepsake. 

    Letters to Future Students

    Call me crazy, but before I have finished wrapping up this school year, I am thinking ahead to next year. Like many of you, on the first few days of school, I go over classroom policies and procedures. Since this is my students’ first year in middle school, I also discuss tips for being successful. It is challenging for my incoming, 11-year-old students to absorb so much important information from so many teachers, each with their own rules and expectations. This is very different from having one teacher all day with one set of rules and expectations to follow. Understandably, it can be overwhelming. Often, reviewing behavior and expectations requires repeating for students to be successful.

    Next fall, I am trying a different, less overwhelming, more personal approach. Before the school year ends, my current students are going to write letters to my future sixth graders, letters that my incoming students will open on the first day of school. I am hoping it will provide a personal connection, one that engages them more. When my new students share their letters with their new classmates, we will create our first anchor chart: Tips for Success in Middle School. 

    I recently told my current students my idea. Immediately, excited chatter started taking over the class. They all had their own perspective on the most important advice that should be given. The authentic writing experience has them highly motivated during the time of year when many students struggle to stay focused.

    Before writing these helpful letters, brainstorm the most important tips students feel they need to share. Below are a few topics for discussion:

    • •      Fill in planners with assignments and check off work as it is completed.
    • •      Hand homework in on time.
    • •      Keep organized notebooks, file papers in notebooks BEFORE leaving class.
    • •      Show up to class on time and with class materials.
    • •      Manage time wisely — especially during class and study halls, so you don’t have a lot of homework.
    • •      If confused with the homework, seek help from a teacher.
    • •      If absent, contact teachers for back work. 
    • •      Hand in quality work, so you don’t have to do it over.
    • •      Clean out lockers once a week. 
    • •      Join a club or sport to make friends.
    • •      Be kind to others.

    Next, discuss the contents of the letter. Teachers can use the “Annotated Sample Letter” to guide the lesson, asking why the author thought it important to include the components listed below. Or, if you prefer a constructive approach, have students analyze the “Sample Letter” to identify the components listed below:

    • •      Include things you like about middle school.
    • •      Discuss a problem you encountered.
    • •      Share how it made you feel or tell a story about it.
    • •      Explain the solution to your problem.
    • •      Close by explaining why the skill is important.

    Next, review how to format friendly letters. Free resources for writing friendly letters can be found in my Scholastic blog: “Friendly Letters: Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving.” (November 2010). 

    I found stationery on clearance for $1, so my students will print their typed letters on colorful, fun stationery. However, many of you may not have this luxury. You might like The Big Book of Classroom Stationery (Grades 4-6), which is available as an eBook and can be download from Scholastic’s Teacher Store. Print copies of your favorite stationery, so students can handwrite the letter, making it more personal. If you are a member of Scholastic Printables there is a variety of printable stationery available to download and print. 

    I haven’t decided if I want to grade this or make it a fun end-of-year activity – stress free! However, if you want to make this a graded assignment, use the “Friendly to assess students’ work.

    The best part is that this activity sets up the lesson for the first day of school, so you can wrap on a good note and all prepared to start the next school year. 

    How do you close out your school year on a positive note? Please share below.

    Positive Notes to Students

    As I wrap up my school year, I am thinking about my students, their struggles, and their successes. No matter what their abilities, I want each student to walk away with a positive feeling, so I write each of my students a short note — a couple of sentences that captures their unique essence as a person. It is different from other notes, because I write them on their desks using dry erase markers.  

    Each note is a positive comment that captures my appreciation for each student. During the last 10 weeks of school, I start recording my thoughts so that it isn’t a daunting task, adding a few more each day. The night before the last day of school, I get to work. It takes me about an hour to do this. When my sixth graders arrive on the last day, they are greeted with words that they carry with them into their future, and hopefully, give them a boost when things get tough. 

    Last year, my sixth graders cherished these notes so much that they guarded them all day, making sure their friends didn’t accidently rub them off. They even took pictures of the notes as a keepsake. 

    Letters to Future Students

    Call me crazy, but before I have finished wrapping up this school year, I am thinking ahead to next year. Like many of you, on the first few days of school, I go over classroom policies and procedures. Since this is my students’ first year in middle school, I also discuss tips for being successful. It is challenging for my incoming, 11-year-old students to absorb so much important information from so many teachers, each with their own rules and expectations. This is very different from having one teacher all day with one set of rules and expectations to follow. Understandably, it can be overwhelming. Often, reviewing behavior and expectations requires repeating for students to be successful.

    Next fall, I am trying a different, less overwhelming, more personal approach. Before the school year ends, my current students are going to write letters to my future sixth graders, letters that my incoming students will open on the first day of school. I am hoping it will provide a personal connection, one that engages them more. When my new students share their letters with their new classmates, we will create our first anchor chart: Tips for Success in Middle School. 

    I recently told my current students my idea. Immediately, excited chatter started taking over the class. They all had their own perspective on the most important advice that should be given. The authentic writing experience has them highly motivated during the time of year when many students struggle to stay focused.

    Before writing these helpful letters, brainstorm the most important tips students feel they need to share. Below are a few topics for discussion:

    • •      Fill in planners with assignments and check off work as it is completed.
    • •      Hand homework in on time.
    • •      Keep organized notebooks, file papers in notebooks BEFORE leaving class.
    • •      Show up to class on time and with class materials.
    • •      Manage time wisely — especially during class and study halls, so you don’t have a lot of homework.
    • •      If confused with the homework, seek help from a teacher.
    • •      If absent, contact teachers for back work. 
    • •      Hand in quality work, so you don’t have to do it over.
    • •      Clean out lockers once a week. 
    • •      Join a club or sport to make friends.
    • •      Be kind to others.

    Next, discuss the contents of the letter. Teachers can use the “Annotated Sample Letter” to guide the lesson, asking why the author thought it important to include the components listed below. Or, if you prefer a constructive approach, have students analyze the “Sample Letter” to identify the components listed below:

    • •      Include things you like about middle school.
    • •      Discuss a problem you encountered.
    • •      Share how it made you feel or tell a story about it.
    • •      Explain the solution to your problem.
    • •      Close by explaining why the skill is important.

    Next, review how to format friendly letters. Free resources for writing friendly letters can be found in my Scholastic blog: “Friendly Letters: Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving.” (November 2010). 

    I found stationery on clearance for $1, so my students will print their typed letters on colorful, fun stationery. However, many of you may not have this luxury. You might like The Big Book of Classroom Stationery (Grades 4-6), which is available as an eBook and can be download from Scholastic’s Teacher Store. Print copies of your favorite stationery, so students can handwrite the letter, making it more personal. If you are a member of Scholastic Printables there is a variety of printable stationery available to download and print. 

    I haven’t decided if I want to grade this or make it a fun end-of-year activity – stress free! However, if you want to make this a graded assignment, use the “Friendly to assess students’ work.

    The best part is that this activity sets up the lesson for the first day of school, so you can wrap on a good note and all prepared to start the next school year. 

    How do you close out your school year on a positive note? Please share below.

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