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Using letter-writing to assess students' feelings about a course

By using traditional and authentic assessments, you can gather a great deal of information about what your students have learned. You may also wonder, however, how your students experienced your course. For instance, you may wonder:

  • Did they pick up on the main themes of the course?
  • Did they feel sufficiently challenged?
  • Did they feel that what they gained was worth all the hard work?
  • Did they feel a part of the community of inquiry that you were trying to nurture in your classroom?

An excellent way to find out is to have them each write a letter to the students who will take your course next year. In their letters, ask them to address these questions:

  • What should these new students expect in this course?
  • What will they learn from this course?
  • What are the best strategies for success in this course?

There is something about this assignment that draws brutal honesty out of students so these letters will give you a window into their feelings about your course (and maybe suggest some revisions that you will want to make). When you share them with your new students during the first week of the next school year, the letters should help your students gear up for the many exciting challenges that you have planned for them.

Here is a sample letter from an 8th-grade girl clueing the next year's group in on the U.S. History course that she just completed:

Dear 8th graders,

You are now in 8th-grade history class and hopefully you're ready. You do a lot of things in this class—some of which you'll like and others you might not. There are many things that I really enjoyed doing—many that I thought I wouldn't like at first. If you pay attention I know you can really learn a lot in this class and everything you will learn is valuable.

Now that I have finished this course quite successfully I can offer advice to you that will serve you quite well if you listen to it.
Firstly, when you are given an assignment don't assume it will be a drag. If you do that it will be a drag even if it could've been cool. Also, DO NOT leave all of your reading or notes until the last night. I guarantee you'll get ample time to do your homework—it's your job to use the time provided. And lastly, don't be a slacker. Your assignments in this class will not always be easy but you can do it. You owe it to yourself to do it well.

Good luck and be optimistic.