Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Ya’ Never Know: Their Book is Not Yet Written

Ya’ Never Know: Their Book is Not Yet Written

By on October 8, 2018

So during the last 3 days of each school year, for the past 15 years, I do an assignment called The Courtesy Contract. Sometimes, students reach out to me years later to see what they had written during middle school and I get to search through these time capsule notebooks and find those names from long ago. Last week, I was contacted by a senior in high school who remembered this assignment and wanted to see his. He told me his name and the year I had him so I could easily go back in time and flip through the artifacts to find his.

What I found, but hadn’t remembered, was a document written by a sad young man, a middle schooler in a dark chapter of life, as so many are. It was heartbreaking. I remember this student as quiet to the point of concerning, and this assignment helped explain some of that isolation.

So I pulled the document from the massive 3-ring binder that housed those from his year, replaced it with a copy, and put the original in an envelope with a little note from me to the young man that he is now. My note hoped he had found happiness since 8th grade. It hoped that he found support for his sadness and that he now could see with a little hindsight who one feels in middle school does not need to define us.

With his permission, this was the response I received from his after he had picked up his envelope.

“…reading it last night I was surprised at all prideful and stubborn I was at that age. Some of the things I said were pretty extreme. Not really the goal setting letter I had in mind, but it does tell me how much I’ve improved and changed as a person. I never hated you as a teacher, but I remember hating all the activities in class that we did that forced me to communicate or present to my classmates. What I would give to have a class with assignments like that now! It just shows I’ve become the opposite of what I used to be, and I’m happy about that. At that age, I never wanted to remember middle school, so I’m really grateful you made us do this assignment because otherwise I would’ve done nothing of the sort willingly. It felt as if there was this 3 year gap in my life that I’d lost, but now I have an accurate grasp on how I felt. So yes, I have found happiness!”

I took this exchange to briefly commiserate with him as well. You see, I also hated middle school as a student. It’s ironic, I know, but I also know it’s no coincidence that I have devoted much of my professional career to these grade levels.  How he phrased it: “At that age, I never wanted to remember middle school…” really resonated with me. I focus on middle school because it’s a vital phase in our human development. I focus on middle school because I’m sure, in some level, it also forces me not to forget.

Along those lines, this student also recognized the power of reflection and of archiving ourselves. Sometimes we don’t think to do it ourselves, and we must rely on our schools to help us. Portfolios aren’t just for Open House, after all, they are meant to be looked at years down the line to remind us who we were as learners and as younger people. As he states,

“It would be cool if they could do more assignments like the contract though, because I would love to have more things to remember what I did and how I felt in middle school right now, even if I was completely opposed to remembering it at the time. Can you imagine if I didn’t take the contract seriously and didn’t write how I really felt? I didn’t take pictures, I didn’t keep a journal or vlog, and there’s so much more to middle school I want to remember more than just how I felt at the end of 8th grade year. I really appreciate you taking the time to make such a memorable name for a website [my classroom agenda, www.wolpertworld.com], and having your contact info there, as well as stating that you check your email every day. Without that and your continued upkeep of the contracts, I’d have nothing except two pictures in my 8th grade yearbook to remember middle school.”

I was so grateful for his response and his affirmation of the kinds of assignments I push students to do. You teach using different strategies with the awareness that it will help them in life, but with no expectation that they will link their skills to what happened during their time with you. I’m so grateful when past students reach out. It it fuel.

More importantly, however, it goes to prove something I tell middle school teachers all the time: these kids are all still Works in Progress (as we all are) and their books are not yet written.



PBL Secret Sauce #4: Tips for Collaboration

By on May 30, 2018

esearch has shown that collaboration is one of the most effective strategies in student achievement. But to be really successful, a classroom needs to use collaboration techniques beyond the time period alotted for a any one project. It has to

Digital Revision Stations

By on May 23, 2018

have been using revision stations for a few years now in one way or another. Revision stations are a way to structure learning that allows a student to rotate to different locations and/or activities that each serve a different purpose.  

PBL Secret Sauce #3: Aligning the Standards to Your PBL Unit

By on October 24, 2017

  Here’s my new screencast showing two ways I ensure that any unit I design or adapt is aligned to our required standards. In a nutshell: Plan around a particular standard and design with that standard(s) in mind from the

PBL Secret Sauce #2: Student-Generated Questions

PBL Secret Sauce #2: Student-Generated Questions

By on September 21, 2017

For Part II in my PBL video series, I thought I’d share how I integrate student-generated questions throughout the sequence of the unit.  In other words, the students generate the prompts that help propel them along the PBL journey. This

A Book Review From My Students: Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School

A Book Review From My Students: Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School

By on September 20, 2017

PBL is about meaningful learning, and sometimes that means keeping my antennae up to identify possible ways to bring that authenticity to my students. Sometimes, however, an opportunity falls into my lap. Such is the case with this book review

PBL Secret Sauce #1: The Entry Level Event

By on September 19, 2017

I know that when teachers learn about Project Based Learning, many times they walk away with the rationale, the research, and the overview of what a unit might look like.  But sometimes teachers still have questions about the day-to-day implementation.

Prepping for Open House Right From the Start: The Classroom as a Portfolio

Prepping for Open House Right From the Start: The Classroom as a Portfolio

By on September 9, 2017

So it’s the beginning of the year. You’ve probably spent a few out-of-contract days setting up your classroom to look ready for the masses. You’ve hung brightly colored bulletin boards and surrounded them with stapled up content-related borders. The same


By on August 16, 2017

My kid is now deep into his 11th year on this planet, and as such, will begin middle school tomorrow. Now, with my area of expertise, you’d expect me to find some relief in this fact; after all, up until

End-Of-Year Reflection: The Epic Poem Haiku

By on May 17, 2017

As we’re ending the school year, I know that the tween brains in my classroom are all silently deciding what information will be transferred to long-term memory and what will forever be taken out with the trash. To hopefully avoid

Abstract Concept to Concrete Awareness: 3DPrinting to Teach Growth Mindset

Abstract Concept to Concrete Awareness: 3DPrinting to Teach Growth Mindset

By on February 16, 2017

One of the things I like about 3d Printing in middle school is that it makes the abstract more concrete. Middle schoolers need that because of where their brain is at developmentally. They straddle the threshold from concrete thinking to

The Ultimate Screencasting Guide for Teachers and Students

The Ultimate Screencasting Guide for Teachers and Students

By on November 11, 2016

Lately, I’ve been getting really deep into Screencasting, in particular for my English Language Learners and special ed students. I know it’s been around, and we’ve all heard about it, but finding resources out there that make it concrete can

The Internet Research Game & 3D Printing: No Whammies!

The Internet Research Game & 3D Printing: No Whammies!

By on October 25, 2016

So in an attempt to broaden the use of the 3D printers in my room, beyond that of my Maker-themed ELA class, I thought I’d leverage the curiosity for the devices as an incentive for my additional classes. That way,

7 Steps to Help Students Succeed on Assessments

By on October 9, 2016

This year, I was given a class of LTELs (long-term English Language Learners) and recently exited SPED students with the goal of focusing my lesson implementation on engagement and more social-emotional learning. So we’re leading up to our first grade-level

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Using Pokemon Go in my 3D Printing/ELA Class

By on August 21, 2016

I’ve written before about the power of using pop culture in the classroom, and this fall will be no different in Room 1. Admittedly, I can’t say I’m a huge Pokemon fan. It’s one of the cartoons I limit in my

Lessons to Share: 3D Printing and Design to Learn Reading & Writing

By on June 17, 2016

So I just finished my first week with my Make Writing class.  This class, as I’ve written about in the past, is intended to help those long-term EL students who have become disengaged with school and with learning.  These kids

The Argh Wall! Celebrating Failure in the Classroom: A Lesson For Writing & Making

By on May 15, 2016

So, I’ve been writing lately about my new class that I’m developing for next year called Make Writing.  I’ve been writing curriculum for this class that leverages 3D printing in order to teach Literacy and Writing.  The class itself is

Past, Present, Future: Assessments and Technology

By on April 2, 2016

“Grading, in kids’ brains, parents’ brains, administrators’ brains, and even teachers’ brains, is a final snapshot after which there is no beyond.  But if we can start thinking about assessments as a means to drive feedback, NOW you’re on to something.”

Alternative Strategies for Assessing Learning: Larry Ferlazzo Classroom Q & A Podcast

By on March 30, 2016

“Whether they’re doing a portfolio or a performance task, they still want to see How do I stack up?” I had a lot of fun being interviewed for Larry Ferlazzo’s podcast about alternatives to grading and traditional assessments.  The follow-up

Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

By on March 10, 2016

Hey, middle school and high school teachers and parents!  Can you do me a favor? I am polling thousands of kids nationwide on what engages them the most in how they learn.  This is based on a survey of 500