Learning to Write a Breakup Letter…

Alzar School | 04.11.14

Throughout the semester students receive peer and teacher feedback on their written work. As an instructor, I work hard to provide students with balanced, specific feedback through comments and consistent use of the same rubrics for writing assignments, annotations, and Harkness discussions. Through this consistency, students can – theoretically – track their growth in each skillset over the semester.

In my experience as a student in public high school, I would receive graded assignments from my teachers, go straight to looking at the letter grade, and then proceed to celebrate or mope – either way ignoring any productive feedback (the only hope for me to improve).  In efforts to combat this mentality, I created the Writing Progress Chart. This is a Google Excel sheet that students each have a copy of with names of writing assignments on the left column and then columns for score, reinforcing, and constructive feedback for each assignment (**See here for a sample) . After students receive feedback on assignments they then synthesize these notes and input them in their Writing Progress Charts (*Parents these should be in students’ shared “Refrigerator Folders” at this point and should update automatically with wifi access so you can track your students’ writing progress throughout the semester!) When they begin to write a new essay, they first start here as well – to review past feedback of what they need to continue working on – to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

One day, students took this metacognitive exercise a step further. They were tasked with picking just one element of constructive feedback and then writing a love or breakup letter. The idea was they would either write from the point of view of a positive element (such as specificity) and write a love letter proclaiming its importance to the essay OR they could pick a mistake (like repetition) and write a breakup letter to the essay explaining why they are not compatible. The goal? For students to synthesize feedback and also know WHY it is important to avoid or include these elements that are tugging at their grade. Plus, it was fun.

See below for a few entertaining examples:

Dear Citations,

Please take me back. I will do anything you want me to-I would even consider sacrificing like 5 minutes of sleep to have you again. You complete me, you show me that I’m not just making up random points with no factual basis. Without you I feel disorganized, incomplete,unfit for the scrutiny of other’s eyes. I swear that next time I will put in the extra work to make sure you don’t feel awkward around the rest of my friends.


Derek’s Essays.

Dear Alice,

I am sorry to be writing you this letter. So sorry. I really am sorry. Just so extremely sorry. But the repetition’s gotta stop. Didn’t reading those first few sentences bore you to death just then with sorry being constantly repeated? It is just too much. You really need to stop, its getting unhealthy. Did those moments in your querencia feel like hours? That’s great if it did but I do not need to know that 5 other times. Telling me that once will leave a much larger emphasis and it will make it stronger. Saying the same thing over and over again adds no effect, other then me falling asleep. I’m so happy for you that you found a connection with someone new. As you said about three times, you shared something with Dillard. I do not need to hear about that over and over again. I’m happy that you found someone new and had to tell the whole world about it. Obviously you were just too overjoyed to be leaving me that you just forgot about me and used repetition all wrong.


Your Querencia Speech