After receiving help from Washington University mentors on our wiki, we now have pen pals who write or type letters to us to share their goals and obstacles, and to encourage our students to work towards their dreams, too.
Our students were thrilled to learn about the interests and challenges of the college students. They shared and visited about their new pen pals.
Once the excitement rolled over us, we settled down to writing. So many times students write “friendly letters” to people and “thank you” letters to businesses or the Colville Tribes and Parent Education Committee for their help at our school. Many times assignments require letter writing. But none of those provide the critical thinking required to engage in a conversation with a real person.
After the initial reading, and the next re-reading to each other, our students read and re-read their letters again and again, looking for ideas to which they could respond with similar experiences or with questions for more information. What would their mentors want to know about them? How should they start? Again, they re-read the letters and began to respond to the correspondence, paragraph by paragraph, so that their letters back would continue the conversation with interesting and relevant experiences and questions.
On the technology side, after writing a draft, students typed and edited their letters, adding pictures using Photo Booth and Pages. In Pages students can easily mask photos in shapes and place them professionally in documents. Each pen pal letter became a source of pride, and a vehicle to learn design skills (see image at left).
But most importantly, pen pals promote careful and critical thinking required in discourse; pen pals prepare students for engaging not just a new friend, but also new ideas, and the dialogue of give and take to understand each other.
So, if you haven’t tried tried pen pal projects, my recommendation is try it. Do you have any suggestions or similar experiences?