Watson Chronicle


Programs for P-12 Students

Pen Pal Project Links Watson Students and College Park Fifth Graders

Thursday, May 07, 2015

On April 9, 14 Watson College pre-service teachers arrived at College Park Elementary School carrying beautifully hand-decorated bags filled with goodies such as colored pencils, mini composition books and Skittles to share with their fifth grade pen pals. The event celebrated a semester-long literature circle/pen pal project coordinated by WCE faculty member Georgie Bramley in partnership with fifth grade teacher Allison Munford.

Both classes read the New York Times bestseller Wonder by R. J. Palacio, a children's novel published in 2012 that has captivated more than one million readers. Over the course of the semester the pre-service teachers and College Park fifth graders corresponded, sharing letters containing their thoughts about themes, characters and key events in the book.

At the April gathering, students discussed their overall impressions of the book, favorite characters and what they learned through sharing letters.

Penpal2Students in both classes said they enjoyed writing letters and loved receiving them. In addition to sharing ideas about the book, they enjoyed finding common interests. Christy Bryan and her pen pal Nikolas learned they both have pets and like baseball, and Munford said the entire class was excited to learn that April Hernandez serves in the military.

"It was a great program and the students really enjoyed it," Munford said. "It helped many quiet students to open up."

As the event drew to a close, Bramley gave each student a magnet with the words "Choose Kind," to commemorate an important theme in the book.

The words were a reference to an early scene in the novel when an English teacher named Mr. Browne introduced precepts to his class, explained that they are rules about really important things and asked students to remember an important precept: "When given the choice to choose between being right or being kind, choose kind."

Munford encouraged students to keep the magnets "because this is really good advice to take with you to middle school next year."

Bramley said she enjoyed partnering with Munford, a former student, on the project. Munford holds a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education '08 and a master's in Language and Literacy '14 from the Watson College. She was recently named College Park's Teacher of the Year.

The literature circle/pen pal program was initiated by WCE associate professor Brad Walker in the early 1990s as a way to engage pre-service teachers in conversations with elementary school students through the medium of writing. For a number of years Walker had EDN 348 students read Summer of the Monkeys and correspond with students at Ogden, Pine Valley and other area elementary schools about the book. Each semester the project ended with a joint trip to the zoo to visit monkeys, but the program was disbanded when budget cuts eliminated funding for both field trips and books.

Penpal3Walker, in partnership with Bramley and College Park Elementary School, re-designed the program and brought it back in fall 2014, with support from EEMLS department chair Kathy Fox. Last fall, Walker's students again read Summer of the Monkeys, and Bramley's students read Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen with students in Munford's class.

Participating students were enrolled in EDN 348, a Teaching Communications Arts methods class for Watson College seniors.