Sunday, 11 January 2015

GMAIL: Home Writing Program - Year 1 Reflections

I absolutely love this program with my students. Over the past year and a bit, I have learnt so much about my students through this initiative and it literally makes my day when I get the sweetest emails from them.

For the first few weeks of the first year of the program, I documented my weekly reflections. These are my thoughts from October - December from 2013 as the home writing program began to unfold.

Week 1 Reflection
Well, it’s out in the world now, let’s see how it goes. The students seemed pretty excited that they didn’t have to write on paper for the homework each week. By providing an example of what was expected in the email really allowed students to get a visual of what was intended.
I am glad I emailed the parents prior to the assignment – it can be difficult at times understanding the perspective of the email being sent and I could find myself in tricky situations potentially if a student emails content of concern so it’s good to be completely open about it first and educate the parents instead of trying to backpedal later. I even got a response from one parent being really supportive of the idea and excited to see what comes of this.
The first night I had a few students email me with their letters. It is interesting to see the range of emails. Some students are sticking specifically to the options, others are writing about their own topics. It is a quick glance at who chooses to be creative or follow the form.  The range of work is quite wide from a sentence to a couple paragraphs. Hopefully, I can get all of my students writing at least a few paragraphs each week to me.

One thing that also happened today was that a student emailed me about an issue that took place last Friday (not as part of their homework). This was the first time I have received an email like this from a student. It is clear that this outlet can provide students with a comfortable environment that allows them to connect with a teacher without having to have difficult conversations face to face. While I still believe face to face interactions are important, it simply provides students with another avenue to communicate with me so that we can problems solve together.
One thing I learned today is that I should draft the email from the students as I receive them. This way I’m not writing to 20 students on Sunday night. It is a bit much to do it all in one go. Therefore, this week I will try drafting the emails as I receive them and still send them out on Monday morning. I’m going to let my students read their email from me first thing Monday morning once they get settled for the day.
Some of the most common areas of improvement for writing emails include :
  • Using capitals for  Ms.  and all names
  • Using a comma after the person's name  in greeting (Ms. Mac,)
  • Writing a salutation ex: Sincerely, or Many thanks, or Take Care
  • Adding detail to explain their thinking and expand paragraphs
  • Ensuring name is on a line of its own after the salutations
Ex:  Sincerely,
      Ms. Mac
  • Rereading emails before sending

I loved how some students also included pictures in their emails. It was a great start with a lot of potential still to come.
Week 2 Reflection
Week 2 of the email writing. I emphasized to my students they should aim to write at least 3 good paragraphs to me if possible when we were reviewing our homework for the week. Hopefully, this will help them continue to develop the length of their writing.
Monday, October 7, 2013– Today was the first day my students got to read their emails from me. They were all very eager to read their responses from me. By the time I got home at night, I already had a few emails from students. Many responded to the questions I had asked them but the biggest thing I noticed was that the length of the emails had grown to almost double for most students compared to the first email they had sent.
Another thing I noticed was that I received questions about class work. I had 2 boys in my class email me to ask to meet with me tomorrow to review some of the work they were unsure of. All I thought was wow! Already my students are using this assignment not only as a vehicle to fulfill their weekly homework but also using it as an educational tool to reach out and get help. For these two particular boys, they both need extra help and rarely participate or ask questions in class. For me, this was a major success this week. These emails are truly opening up the lines of communication with my students and making them feel more comfortable reaching out for support.
I was discussing the project with a colleague tonight sharing some of my successes. I was also mentioning how labour intensive it was right now as it required me to write at least 20 long well thought out and grammatically correct emails for students each week. But how can you argue with the results?  A little work could mean a lot of rewards and right now I am enjoying getting to know my students better and being able to help them personally, socially and academically.
Topics that have come up so far in the first 2 weeks:
  • personal issues – feeling alone, adapting to a new environment, playground issues
  • academic – not understanding a topic, asking for clarification to fully answer questions, lots of students asking how to improve writing, not liking a topic and why, making connections between school and home life
  • social - how to deal with friends
  • appreciation – thanking me for help, joining teams, advice
  • learner profile attitudes – balanced, risk taker

Week 3 Reflection
  • There are a few students still writing really small paragraphs. How can I get them to expand their thoughts? Do I push it? Ask more questions back?
  • Trying to get students to review work before sending  - how do you ensure this is happening?
  • Paragraphing area of growth for some -- need to do a small group lesson about paragraphing with these students
  • Some students are really expanding their writing.
  • I am seeing the effects of writers workshop in terms of descriptive writing carrying over to the emails as well.
  • I waited until the last minute to answer all emails this week– doable, but still time intensive and hard to write longer emails for each kid when doing them all at once

Week 4 Reflection
  • I’m seeing the boys writing more without complaints.
  • I’m noticing less ‘computer typing’ errors (punctuation, capital I, etc).

Week 5 Reflection
  • Writing this week is not mandatory due to 3 day week. It will be interesting to see who writes and who doesn’t when not being “told” to write.
  • The majority of the class wrote emails still, some longer some shorter this week but kids still wanted to write which was great to see /
  • When I told them they didn’t have to write an email this week,  some of them told me to expect an email from them including some of my ESL and reluctant writers.
  • I am happy to see kids are enjoying writing and receiving the feedback.

Week 6 Reflection
  • Noticing patterns in questions for clarification of assignments. This is good to know so I can clarify to class and help make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Students talking a lot about fears and concerns (books)
  • Students are providing feedback for things changing in the classroom (addition of music, dancing, etc)
  • I’m still struggling to get a few boys to write. What other strategies could I be using? Need to get some feedback from other teachers on ideas.

Week 7 Reflection
  • I have been receiving emails about our updated house merit system and their thoughts. It’s great to get this feedback, praise and suggestions from my students. It’s also really nice to know they feel comfortable telling me what they think about it.
  • Kids are wanting to dance more in class. This should become a regular part of our class.-       questions about math
  • A few kids didn’t do emails this week (5) – Could a summative due this week be the reason?
  • I sent emails to kids who did not submit emails to inquire the reasoning - some summative due, internet down, others forgot. This created a discussion about how we need to be accountable for our work. If students feel they can’t complete the task on time, they need to have that conversation at least the day before and happy to give them the weekend as an ‘extension’ or depending on the situation, allow the student to miss a week. This helps build responsibility.

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