Summer Options Beyond A Workbook: The Letter Writing That Started It All!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending an HWDSB Summer Institute course on The Outdoor Classroom. Liz Tselepakis and Lisa Hodge led this morning learning session, and I had a few different takeaways, but one was not one that I expected. It revolved around the words that Liz uttered many times: “Presume positive intentions.” 

This phrase is one that’s often used as part of The Norms of Collaboration, and while I certainly see the value in doing this, I will tell you that at times it can be hard to do. This is especially true when you’re someone like me: an educational troublemaker with many big — and at times, controversial — opinions. I think that I need someone like Liz to slow me down, and remind me, to stop and see things from a different perspective. I actually had the opportunity to do this today thanks to a message from a previous parent and some reflection time. 

This morning, a mom from our class last year, sent me some photographs of a letter correspondence between her son (going into SK) and her son’s friend (going into Grade 1). The correspondence started over a borrowed car. Last year, the mom saw many notes that the child wrote to each other and to us in the classroom, and she suggested that her son write a note. The kids enjoyed this note writing so much that they continued doing so. Now they’re coordinating playdates through note writing. (A special thank you to both parents, who agreed to let me publish this correspondence in this blog post. I’ve removed the names with the use of images.)

I can’t help but think about our Board’s Strategic Direction on having all children reading. This kind of note writing gives an authentic reason for children to communicate with each other through writing. Not only do they need to write on their own, but they are also able to read the note written by their friend, think about what it means (comprehension), and respond to it in another note. For parents watching their children  read and write, they can see if they need to reinforce some sight words, focus more of specific letter-sound combinations, explore punctuation choice, or look at how to expand on ideas. Maybe this note writing to friends will soon expand to relatives or parents. There are so many possibilities here! Best of all, with the snap of a photograph, parents can easily share these notes through email or text. The children may be writing on paper, but the correspondence is digital: possibly giving an opportunity to look more at citizenship (digital or otherwise), word choice, and the impact of the written word. There are honestly not enough heart emojis to highlight how much I love what these two children — and their parents — did!

How does this connect back to Liz’s words? This correspondence made me think about the richness in these kinds of writing opportunities versus workbook or worksheet packages that are often used during the summer months. I started to wonder then, why do people choose workbooks? If we’re presuming positive intentions, could the answer be that this is the option that individuals know best? Maybe it’s the only option that’s ever been presented before. I know that on some Communications of Learning, I suggested this kind of note writing as a next step. I can’t remember if this was true for these two students, but even if it wasn’t, parents have seen this option before as a Daily Blog Post extension idea. And that’s when I began to wonder, if we want to see change, what are we doing to inspire and/or support it? I’m hoping that the student letter writing in this post may inspire some more from other kids, but I’m also hoping that together, we can generate summer home learning options that go beyond workbooks and worksheets. I keep returning to this other comment of Liz’s during yesterday’s PD session.

I think that this “authentic and meaningful” learning can extend beyond the classroom and into the home. What about you?


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