…that I don’t mean business.
This letter went out to several parents last night.
Dear Mr. and Ms. Parent;
I’m writing to let you know that [your child] had trouble participating in today’s class discussion about the film we watched in class on Monday and Tuesday.
Participation is a major component of a student’s grade in English class. While reading and writing are certainly important skills to demonstrate in English – and are skills that we will work with carefully and often over the course of the semester – I’m also interested in seeing how well students are able to express themselves verbally. I encourage – and expect – everyone in class to contribute to what I call “class conversations,” where students lead the discussion about the literature we’re investigating; they make statements or ask questions of themselves and their classmates that demonstrate to me that they are fully engaged in the intellectual and cognitive work I’m asking them to do.
Before we began to view The Last Samurai, I gave very clear instructions that students were to take careful notes while they watched the film. I expected them to write lines of dialogue that stood out for them, to sketch out what they thought were significant scenes, and to ask questions about things they didn’t understand. I told them that I expected this for the express purpose that they have those notes to refer back to when it came time for today’s class conversation. [your child]’s voice was notably absent from our conversation, and I am unable to discern how much of the film she really engaged with.
I plan on taking [your child] aside tomorrow to ask her what conditions I can help her create to get her more focused and participatory in class. I suspect that she doesn’t participate because she feels she has nothing of value to say, and I hope to make her understand that I don’t expect her – or any of my students – to have all the “right” answers. I do expect, however, that they show me, on no uncertain terms, that they are present and mindful and engaged in class. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” only if it’s followed by “but I think….”
Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns you might have. I’m invested in [your child]’s success in our class, and I’ll do everything I can to help her create the conditions she feels she needs to do well.