The First Assignment of the Year

In their book 180 Days, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle explain an assignment they give to their grade nine students on the first day of class: a letter to themselves. “We ask students to share their hopes, their dreams, their goals, and their fears. We encourage them to ponder the questions they have as they enter high school, and we ask them to make predictions as well” (p. 25). The letter is returned to the students at the end of their senior year. 

Regardless of the grade you teach, the idea for this assignment is powerful. Day one: a letter to self. Students become actively engaged in authentic and meaningful writing immediately. The expectation is set: writing will be a part of your daily classroom work.

Good practice reminds us to spend time in discussion with our students to ensure they have generated some ideas before it comes time to write. For those students who need further support, consider prompting them to begin three paragraphs with starters such as: I hope…, I’m nervous about…, I predict….

And while the students are writing a letter to themselves, write one to your self as well…

Our Mission

In Book Love, Penny Kittle challenges us as teachers: “Every student needs to know the power of a reading life. Dickens simply won’t matter to most twenty-first-century teenagers unless they have developed a love of books first – a trust that even the most difficult ones can be worthwhile. We can and must develop that trust every year in school.” (2013, p. 23)

Despite the grade we teach, we can undertake the mission to hook our students on books and instill a love of reading. Share your favourites. Read to your class every day: no exceptions. Talk to your students about books. Let them see you reading. Reveal your excitement. Feign excitement if you have to. Just do what it takes to hook them on books!

I urge you to read Neil Gaiman’s speech: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming. The twelve or fifteen minutes it takes will confirm this all important mission that we undertake together as teachers.

“The Greatest Benefit to Mankind”

This summer, I visited both the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway and the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Surrounded by screens displaying pictures of past Nobel Prize winners and reading the brief descriptions of why they were chosen, I couldn’t help feel inspired. Over the last few years, I have found listening to the news especially disheartening. Yet these museums reminded me of the remarkable, positive impact that individuals can have on our world: something we don’t hear enough.

Alfred Nobel himself is quite an inspiration. By seventeen years old, he was fluent in five languages. In his lifetime he held 355 patents and established countless factories throughout the world. Nobel died in 1896. In his will, he explained his wish for his fortune to be used to honour those who demonstrate the greatest benefit to mankind in five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The annual honours were first awarded in 1901.

In 2017, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was the organization ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons). Part of the exhibit which featured this winner was directed at children. The exhibit made me realize that the Nobel Prizes would be an excellent topic of learning and discussion for our students with links to the curriculum in science, social studies, language arts, health and for those of us in faith-based schools, religion class.

Upon my return home I took a look at the Nobel Prize websiteThe organization clearly values teachers! In their words: “Without great teachers, no new Nobel Laureates. Therefore, teachers and students are especially important to us.” 

The website has lesson plans, slides and many videos available for teachers to use with their students. How might the awarding of this prize or these inspirational laureates make their way into your classroom? A few minutes of exploration on the website will likely spark an idea or two!

Today I’m giving the last word to the youngest Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014: