Principal's Message


Message from Principal Gavron
My guess is that like me, your experience of learning to write well looks very different from your child’s.  When I was in middle school (ok, it was “junior high” in the ‘80s), my English class looked nothing like the engaging classes I see at Wayland Middle School today.  I can clearly recall my 7th grade English teacher sitting at his desk in the front of the room and assigning us book-work from Warner’s English textbook.  We would obediently copy sentences, underlining the subject once and the predicate twice as we silently worked to identify direct and indirect objects.  It was dreary. While I learned to sniff out a split infinitive, these practices did not to teach me how to find my voice as a writer, select impactful evidence to support my arguments, or learn from my classmates’ wisdom by debating ideas.  Fortunately, the National Council of Teachers of English weighed in, and as early as 1985 declared that, “repetitive grammar drills and exercises"— like diagramming sentences — are "a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing.”  The good news is that since then, there has been an enormous body of research about how children grow as readers and writers, and our WMS teachers regularly implement best practices.
We follow a process model at Wayland Middle School that asks students to try their hands in a variety of genres to grow their skills as writers.  As resident expert, ELA curriculum leader Carrie Dirmeikis writes, “We believe that the use of short, powerful mentor texts--coupled with criteria charts--makes the complex task of writing transparent and accessible to writers at all levels. This kind of explicit instruction through short, focus-lessons affords us the time and space for what we know (and what research shows) moves writers most: one-on-one conferring.” Unfortunately, despite highly efficient lesson planning, regular conferring with every student in a class of 23 can be a Herculean task. This is why I am so excited about the advent of our new Writing Center to supplement conferring in the classroom.
Staffed by three veteran teachers Meeghan Peirce (ELA), Cori O’Keefe (ELA), and Matt McCormack (Social Studies), The Writing Center offers students an opportunity to build on high quality ELA instruction and writing instruction in the content areas. Students are invited to bring writing work from any discipline to the Writing Center . Armed with a pass from study hall, students find their way to the back of the library where our cozy writing center is housed. Once there, a student completes a quick entrance ticket to identify the assignment and her own goals for growing the piece. After initiating the conversation, the writer has about ten minutes of truly personalized learning, as the teacher and student focus on building one new skill. At the conclusion of the conference, the student leaves with written notes identifying concrete steps she can try independently.
Last week, as I looked through the conferencing forms of literally hundreds of visits, I saw a huge a range of foci across ELA, Social Studies, and Science writing pieces which included:
  • Details to build context and mood
  • Pacing
  • Sentence structure
  • Practice writing main idea statements
  • Outlining a multi-pronged argument
  • Examining model leads and selecting the best type for the topic
  • Strengthening active verbs to convey emotions
  • Organizing detail to theme
  • Thoughtshots to weave in backstory of main character
  • Line breaks
  • Cutting to the bone - eliminating extraneous language
  • Metaphorical expansion
  • Commas vs. semicolons
  • Transitions between time periods
  • Moving from graphic organizer to paragraphing
  • Brainstorming reasons to support thesis
  • Editing (verb tense and paragraphing)
One Writing Center teacher talked to me about wanting the student to leave the conference with a tool that would transfer to pieces across disciplines. For example, he described teaching a student to read the piece aloud to herself. In reading it aloud with him, she could hear and identify places where her word choice and sentence structures sounded repetitive and benefitted from revision to strengthen her argument.
Last week, I also had a conversation with an 8th grade student who is a frequent flier to the Writing Center, having logged six visits already this year.  She is a strong proponent of the benefits of the Writing Center, explaining that, “my regular teacher does not always have the extra time to conference with me. I come to the Writing Center as often as I can to work on my fictional launchpad, my op-ed piece, and my social studies writing about justice. It is is really helpful to go part way through the writing to tweak it and make it better.” Some areas she has focused on through her conferences include:
  • Centering the mood of the description.
  • Working on specificity of language choices,
  • Zooming in on a key moment, and
  • Weaving in a personal experience to expand on the explanation of fairness.  
After a writing center visit, the teacher logs the visit and emails the teacher who assigned the original piece of writing to communicate the key points of the conference. This provides an opportunity for greater double teaming and follow-up by the classroom teacher on the teaching points of the conference.  
All ELA classes have visited the Writing Center, and teachers regularly stop into study halls to remind students about this valuable resource.  While 8th graders have made the most visits as writing demands have increased, in the younger grades word of mouth about the conferring value has spread; 6th and 7th graders too are taking advantage of this amazing resource.  If you would like to encourage your child to utilize this wonderful opportunity, but you can’t seem to get him there on his own, please don’t hesitate to contact your child’s classroom teacher who can give your student a pass and a little nudge to attend. Thank you for partnering with us.  Together we can grow one writer at a time, one skill at at a time.

Message from Principal Gavron
Dear Families,
Happy New Year! Today is the day Mr. Benzie and I have been waiting for all summer. It has been wonderful to rejoice in the bustle of middle-schoolers returning to our hallways. We welcomed taller 7th and 8th graders, heard some deeper voices, and relished in our newly acclimated 6th graders beginning to navigate the middle school hallways. Squeals and hugs marked the joy of reuniting with friends. We also said hello to 29 new students, who have just moved to Wayland from across the globe. It was a recipe for the perfect day to say Happy BERThday to BERT 2.0:
While our globe-like BERT image has served us well at WMS over the past 10 years, it was time for an update. Our amazing art teacher, Pete Curran, walked interested teams of students through a design process of identifying what BERT - Belonging, Empathy Respect And Trust - symbolized and how they might match imagery to that meaning. Cristina Brown and Sophie Simmons, who are now 8th graders, created BERT 2.0 having identified the need for a simpler, more “modern” logo that was easy to read, recognizable, and more “mature” for a middle school audience.
Their image, which was selected last year by staff and students, blends a playful typeface with the colors/shapes of an autumn tree, complete with Wayland colors. The girls determined that the tenets of BERT establish a foundation from which they, as young adults, will take root, grow and thrive. To further their concept, the students also verbalized a strong connection with our WMS house mentors: Thoreau, Carson and King, all of whom espouse caring for the world and its inhabitants. I am so grateful for their creative efforts. We have installed a large BERT display in our front lobby, and smaller ones in each wing as visual reminders for what is most important in our community. You student will also receive a nifty new BERT luggage tag for his or her chromebook later this week.
At WMS we are committed to working hard to make the tenets of BERT our shared reality in our learning community. I spoke with students today about the promise of BERT. While we have seen hate and intolerance on the rise in the world around us, it has no place in Wayland Middle School, where we pledge that:
At Wayland Middle School we welcome civil discourse, vigorous debate of ideas and aim to help students deeply explore multiple perspectives and viewpoints so that they become active, engaged citizens. Racist or religious epithets, homophobic remarks, and sexist put downs can't and won't be tolerated, for they undermine the safety we work so hard to establish. Safety is essential for all students to learn at their best.
We thank you for your partnership in the coming year ahead as we embark on this exciting journey together with your middle-schooler. It is an experience that is sure to be marked with highs and lows and opportunities to build resiliency as your child immerses himself or herself in academic and social opportunities that abound at WMS. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me or Mr. Benzie with questions or concerns throughout the year. We look forward to supporting you and your student.