On the Friday of the first week of school, I introduce a weekly writing assignment to the class: For the duration of the year, the students will compose a Reflection Letter to a family member each Friday, describing interesting things that occurred during the week. These letters are excellent practice for W.5.4: Producing clear and coherent writing with organization appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
I instruct them to include at least two things that happened during the school day, but my objective is for them to get in the habit of thinking back on week, and writing consistently. These letters go home in "Friday Folders" along with graded work and parent information (Finished Reflection Letters in Friday Folders). I put them at the front so parents are accustomed to seeing them. It's my hope that the parent will respond on the back, although I tell the kids to return the letters no matter what. I organize and save these letters throughout the year, then use the spiral binding machine to create books to hand out the last day of school.
It's important to not only make this a weekly expectation, but to keep the routine familiar throughout. Kids do great with routine, and when they can depend on this taking place each Friday, I like the way there is no complaining- they just sit down and do it (Writing Reflection Letters).
I pass out the writing paper (8x11 with design, not regular notebook paper) and write, REFLECTION LETTERS on the Smart Board. Using my plan book, I begin with Monday, and write down things we did in the different subject areas, and additional things that happened at school. Proceeding this way throughout the week creates a Smart Board covered with a bunch of choices for the kids to pick from. *Please read Routines and Procedures: Reflection Letters above this section.
Although I ask them to include at least two school related ideas, they are free to write about whatever they want from the week (Writing one of her final Reflection Letters). Sometimes they include more about their feelings. These are, after all, letters to parents or siblings, and I'm happy if the letter opens up any doors for discussion.
They bring these letters back on Monday morning and I file them away until the end of the school year. I've developed an organizational plan that works well, and aids me during my "Collating Party of One."
1) On Monday, alphabetize Friday Folders before removing letters so letters will already be alphabetized. (Sounds logical, but many kids had a different procedure in 4th....take nothing for granted.)
2) Use a paperclip and label that week's letters with the date of the letter, and the week of school (8/9/13 Week 1)
3) File by Quarters 1-4 in hanging file. Each folder easily holds a quarter's worth of letters (Four Quarters worth of Reflection Letters)
4) Collating Party of One: No getting around it- this is time consuming. Using a crate file, (The filing begins) I bite the bullet, and begin filing each reflection letter into each student's hanging file, with the subsequent week behind the week before (Filed and ready for binding).
5) A few days prior to this, I have the kids create colorful Front and Back covers. Before binding the books with the Book Binding machine, I put an empty "reflection letter page" at the back to write on the last day of school, and add the covers.
6) Binding the books. Again, a bit time consuming, but this I can sometimes designate to a parent volunteer as long as they feel comfortable with the binding machine. Books are finished!
7) On the last day of school, it's a great activity to have the kids write their final letter, (Reflection Letter books given out!) then look through their books to find favorite entries (Looking at their Reflection Letter Books). Volunteers read letters from past weeks (Reading past reflections on last day of school). This can go on as long as you want it to because they have a great time reviewing the year. It's a fun wrap up, and just what you may need to take up time during those final few hours.
Not all kids return letters, so it's important to be careful while filing.