Keeping up with pen pals: Aspiring teachers track progress of students with letters

By Carolyn Cole/Staff Writer
published Jan. 3, 2008

The holidays came early for a Mustang Creek first-grade class when their pen pals, all aspiring educators, visited bringing gifts and cheer.

Tiffany Lowe’s students have written letters back and forth with a group of University of Central Oklahoma college students learning how to teach reading.

Their professor Cecilia Pittman, also a former Mustang teacher, assigned her budding educators to track their first-grade pen pal’s progress through the semester and write them back on the youth’s reading level. She said she’s worked with Lowe’s classes for several years, but this is the first time two groups of students have met.
“These are all elementary education majors, and they are all going into the field,” she said.

Through the year, college students and first-graders conversed about favorite colors and movies, Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving food. UCO senior Melissa Randell said the experience gave her a feel for the pace of Lowe’s classroom, which is valuable for an educator seeking to start her career next fall.

“We’ve learned how they have progressed, the things they like,” she said.

First-graders hugged and settled in to talk with their pen pals as they worked together to write letters to Santa. Minutes after their correspondence was perfected for Kris Kringle, first-grade faces were sticky with cupcake and frosting.

Then, pen pals gave their first-grade friends a book for a present and encouraged them to read along.
Lowe said her students seemed to look forward to their college letters and the party.

“They can’t visualize the age group of their pen pals when you say college, but they understand someone is reading their writing and writing back to them,” she said.

The pen pal project gives her students another chance to practice using and writing with new vocabulary, Lowe said.

“My kids are able to see how the college students make sentences with capital letters and punctuation and are able to form ideas,” she said. “The college kids keep all of the first-grade samples, and they use it for a portfolio ... it’s useful for them too especially as future educators.”

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