Writing Recommendation Letters for Students

NIS – The Teacher Recommendation

Students should give you this form, fully completed:

Recommendation Information Form

Students should ask you to sign this form:

Letter of recommendation agreement

How you can write effective college recommendations

Colleges need help in deciding if a student has the character and ability to function successfully at their institution. A strong teacher recommendation can bring a student to life for the admissions committee, and may be the decisive factor for students with weaker grades or test scores.

The role of the teacher recommendation

Teacher recommendations should be honest appraisals of a student’s academic performance and intellectual promise. Intended primarily to convey the teacher’s classroom experience with the student—to give colleges an idea of how the student is likely to perform academically, they serve a different function than the counselor recommendation, which is meant to provide a broader view of the student.
You should not feel pressured into writing an excessive number of recommendations. If you’re not comfortable furnishing a recommendation for a given student, it’s in both their and that student’s interest that you decline.

Helping with the Process

To effectively write recommendations using a personal approach, you need to have as much information as possible.  Ask the student for:
A completed student information form, on which the student describes past events or interactions and goals and interests. This sheet should help you to either recall specific characteristics of and anecdotes about the student or get a picture of the student before you knew them.
Assignment samples from the time the student was in your class.
A list of colleges to which the student will be applying, along with deadlines and any appropriate forms.

What I can provide:

A list of positive descriptive words (for example: perceptive, inventive, precise, intuitive, and imaginative) that might serve to jog your minds about what a certain student was like. The more specific you can be when characterizing the students and their work, the stronger the recommendation.
Samples of strong recommendation letters with an explanation of why they’re effective. For example:
Deborah’s high scores in biology have consistently placed her in the top 5 percent of the class. In addition, her science-fair project in marine biology demonstrated a high level of conceptual understanding of a number of complex varieties of plant and animal life. All of this fits well with Deborah’s plan to earn an undergraduate degree, then a master’s and Ph.D., so that she can teach college-level biology while performing research on sea urchins.
The above sample is an effective recommendation. It points out:
Superior academic achievement
Extracurricular activity involvement
Outstanding personal qualities
Participation in and dedication to a particular field
The teacher’s confidence in Deborah’s abilities

A do’s and don’ts List

DO use specific adjectives when writing about a student.
DO gather information from the student.
DON’T make your letter longer than one page.
DON’T use generic letters for recommendations.
DON’T agree to write a letter with one day’s notice. Require two weeks minimum notice.
DON’T report grades. These are on the student’s transcript.

Top things to cover in an IB recommendation:

1. Extended Essay- emphasize the independence of it and why the students choose their topic (especially if it relates to a prospective major). On occasion the IB has asked for advanced statistical processes in some subjects and students have had to be agents in their own learning; seeking out additional knowledge not taught in course material.

2. Language fluency- if your student is pursuing the Bilingual Diploma, speak about novels they have read in other languages.

3. Highlight your school’s IB program- provide information on how many students are in the diploma course versus regular high school curriculum. Give information about the process to get into IB at your school (the interview, an essay etc) and how the student excelled.

4. International focus of the curriculum – explain how has the student embraced an interest in the larger world through volunteer, service or outreach. Briefly discuss their CAS project and how the student will be a contributing member to civic engagement on campus.

5. Reflect on student surveys- develop student surveys that ask questions about their favorite IB project (IA, TOK paper, EE, etc) and what they have enjoyed the most about the IB. This can lead to really good information for the letter if the student is thoughtful in their reflections.

6. Theory of Knowledge- include aspects of the student’s theory of knowledge paper and how they demonstrated critical thinking across disciplines. Oftentimes universities do not see the student’s body of work (EE, TOK, CAS portfolio,-unless requested) outside of just the final score, so this is an excellent opportunity to showcase their work.

7. Learner Profile- throughout the recommendation, the learner profile should be used to reinforce that the student possesses qualities that will make them desirable once at university.

Some questions you might like to address in your reference:

What is class like when the student is not present?

How does the student collaborate with peers?

Can you explain an activity or assignment that stands out about this student?

How does the student handle feedback?

More resources:

Advice from CollegeBoard: http://professionals.collegeboard.com/guidance/applications/teacher-tips

Samples can be found here: http://www.eduers.com/reference/teacher.htm

And more can be found here: http://www.boxfreeconcepts.com/

Recommendation Letters for International Students CIS Monaco Nov 2010