During their school years, students encounter difficulties of various types from both content-related and emotional aspects. Often, when asked directly about their learning difficulties, students struggle to express these difficulties explicitly and clearly; as a result, teachers find it a challenge to provide them with a suitable and satisfactory response. In order to help students express their scholastic difficulties, particularly cognitive and emotional ones, and foster their ability to chart out courses of action for coping with these difficulties, we have developed a tool we call “Corresponding with the Professor”. Specifically, this involves writing a letter to an imaginary Professor which contains a description of a difficulty (or difficulties) followed by writing a detailed letter of response from the Professor (to oneself actually) that offers suggestions and recommendations aimed at possible ways of coping with the difficulty (or difficulties). In developing this tool, we have relied on research literature related to writing a “letter to myself”. In this paper, we shall present the tool and its theoretical basis.
The “Corresponding with the Professor” Didactic Tool
The “Corresponding with the Professor” tool was designed to be implemented in a series of five consecutive stages:
Stage 1―Students write a letter to the Professor in which they describe one or more primary difficulties in the context of a discussed issue (for example, preparing homework, preparing for an exam, being tested, difficulty in a specific topic, etc.);
Stage 2―Students are asked to respond to a questionnaire and reflectively analyze the contribution that writing the letter to the Professor makes to their ability to identify their main difficulties and deal with these difficulties;
Stage 3―The letters and questionnaire responses are collected and read by the teacher in order to learn about students’ difficulties. The letters are later returned to the writers, while the feedback from the questionnaire remains with the teacher;
Stage 4―Students read the letters they had written to the Professor and compose a response on behalf of the Professor in which he advises them on how to deal with the difficulties described in the letter;
Stage 5―Students are asked to respond to a questionnaire and reflectively analyze the contribution that writing the letter of response on behalf of the Professor makes to their ability to identify difficulties and find ways of dealing with the described difficulties. In this context, students are also asked to compare the contributions of both letters they have written.
We find it important to point out that as students progress from assignment to assignment, their reflective ability develops further, and the advice they give themselves in the Professor’s letter of response becomes more practical, efficient and detailed. Furthermore, with time, students tend to attribute an even greater contribution of the letter-writing tool and its potential to a positive impact on their subsequent studies.
In light of the above positive feedback, we recommend that teachers in all disciplines apply this tool in their classrooms so as to learn, up close, about their students’ difficulties, hardships and expectations, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to enable their students to develop and hone skills which help them, academically as well as personally, now and in the future.
Teachers interested in participating in an international study which will focus on the contribution of the “Corresponding with the Professor” didactic tool in connection with various different disciplines, issues, student populations and cultural backgrounds, are invited to write us.