Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Gratitude Assignment

So I did this assignment for my ESL class in which they have to say how grateful they are for someone. Yeah. Gratitude. Thanksgiving. Pretty sappy, I know.

It started when I read a Guidepost's article that suggested that real writing often comes from the heart, and that writing to someone that you haven't really thanked can be, well, transformational. I liked the idea, but had little idea whether it would play to international students. Would they like speaking to people in this way? What if the person they chose didn't speak English?

The suggestion included reading the letter aloud to the person you haven't properly thanked. Predictably, my students chose to write to fathers, mothers, grandmothers, teachers, and friends. I asked them to write and speak in English, but if they chose, they would be able to also speak in their language so that we could send their "letters" in the correct language.

Lo and behold, they cried as they read them aloud, and I teared up more than once. I found that their writing was better, that they were more interested in the project, and that the students were enthusiastic (in general, we had a couple who couldn't get into the spirit of speaking so emotionally--and so I had them present the letters privately with me after class in a conference room). I'd recommend this activity to any educator looking to improve writing/speaking skills.

Oh, and I wrote to a teacher in my past to give them an example. Here it is, a letter for Mrs. Leslie. And although I haven't read it to her in person yet, I think just putting this letter out in the blogosphere has some amount of power. It changes me to put it out there in the universe. It makes me know how special she is to me. Now isn't that interesting? Transformational, indeed.

Dear Professor Leslie,

I never told you how thankful I am that you taught me in 11th grade United States History. I wanted to let you know how important your class was to me and how it helped me to become a better person.

I remember how proud I was when I got a 60% or more on one of your tests (note: 60% was an A on a Mrs. Leslie test!) I studied hard to do my best and I remember how you would tell us that the tests you gave were college level. I learned how to study hard and how to be proud of my efforts. 62% never looked so good.

I also remember how you taught us to write a five-page paper every week. At first I thought it was crazy hard, but when I saw how you read and critiqued my papers, I tried my best to really think about the topics and found I enjoyed letting my mind imagine history. I even kept my essay that you graded on American transcendentalism. Above any class that I took in high school, your class prepared me most for the difficult assignments I would encounter in college.

I also remember that your clsas was different from other classes. Other teachers seemed to care more about their popularity and making classes easy for us. They were praised for letting students leave early or giving students time to just talk. But you seemed most interested in preparing us for our future contexts, and I remember thinking several times while in the college classroom how grateful I was that I had your class. I would never have been prepared for my freshman year at the university, and I would never have been able to get the grades I received in college.

In fact, I think I owe a great part of my professional career to you. I am now a teacher who tries to prepare international students for college. I help them to do exactly what you did for me. I am so thankful for what you did. You will always be very special to me.

Thank you so much again. I am not the same person I would otherwise have been, and now I have the joy of motivating others to excel as well.

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