Saturday, December 19, 2015

Am I an Innovator? 

Dear Readers,

I see and hear the word "innovator" on a regular basis lately in the academic/educational world. Many definitions, examples and names have been associated with innovation.  But, what is an innovator?

My latest professional read by George Couros has my wheels turning. It has caused me to stop and reflect. Am I an innovator?  I like to think that I am a risk-taker, with a growth mindset, who thinks outside the box. Does it make me an innovator or just creative? Regardless, these are some of my favorite practices inspired by others!

Friday Flowers with The 7 Habits

I have always loved the concept of handing out Friday Flowers. I first saw it in a colleague's 4th grade classroom a few years ago. She would hand them out, or have students hand them out, to another student and share a compliment about him/her. I took the idea and started handing out Friday Flowers to students I saw implementing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. It has been a huge success! The next step is having them hand them out to each other.

Lead Like a Pirate Admin Challenges

The concept, from Shelley Burgess and Beth Hauf, to drop anchors to teachers/staff in classrooms, caught my attention. I took the idea and starting dropping anchors of appreciate and notice to students and colleagues. One of them even said, "Oh, is this one of those anchors?" The smile on one student's face made my day!

Google Docs

I started using Google Docs in the classroom this year and have loved the ability to share and exchange documents with students. It has also allowed me to interact, using the comment feature, with the entire class or on an individual basis as often as they need or want me to. They can respond back to my feedback, ask questions, etc. Additionally, it has allowed the students to have peer conferences in an entirely new format! 

Professional Reading Circle

My principal hosts a monthly professional reading circle. She includes bookmarks with dates and chapters to be read. When forming student book clubs, I borrowed and revised her idea. I showed the students her bookmark and then put them in small groups. They were charged with the task of creating norms and determining the reading for each discussion date. They did a fantastic job! I went one step further and let them choose their second book, from a selection I had chosen based on their interests, just as my principal does. It has allowed my book clubs to be more student centered and driven.


Although I am unable to participate in this weekly chat, co-moderators Sean Giallard and Natalie Krayenvenger, have inspired me with their love of music. My students also love music, as do I, however selecting tunes to play during class took up too much time. I created a class playlist, that we add to, which provides them a "musical menu" to choose from. Consequently, I can choose a class DJ to be in charge. It has helped instill the love of music into Language & Literature!

Amazing Chats and Educators

I think about the chats that I regularly (or semi-regularly) participate in and the amazing connections and educators I have met around the world. (#tlap, #read4fun, #whatisschool, #leadupchat, #satchat, #satchatwc, #nt2t, #g2great, just to name a few) Thank you for always pushing my thinking, challenging me and supporting me. It is sincerely appreciated!

I wish you all a safe, relaxing and wonderful holiday season! 


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Developing Independent Learners

Dear Readers,

As many of you know, I am an avid reader. I spent my summer exploring the idea of how to foster the development of independent learners in my classroom. I gained many ideas and strategies from the following resources:
  • Teach Like a Pirate (Dave Burgess)
  • Ditch That Textbook (Matt Miller)
  • Pure Genius (Don Wettrick)
  • Learn Like a Pirate (Paul Solarz)
  • 50 Things You Can Do in a Google Classroom (Alice Keeler)
The two questions that have been at the forefront of my mind while planning are:
  • How do I create learning experiences?
  • How do I implement instruction that allows for students to be in control of their learning?
Book Clubs

I am currently using Book Clubs as my instructional model. I wanted the experience to be as student driven as possible. My first step, of course, was to determine the components to be taught based on our school curriculum. I then started reading. I had a few titles in mind that would fit the unit, but wanted more options. The more I read, the better I am able to fit students with books they will be engaged in.

Choosing Books

After reflecting on the unit and essential learning, I chose three titles that I felt would engage my particular group of students. To my pleasant surprise, they were ALL excited about their book choice! (Presently, they are engaged and enjoying the texts as they work through them.)

Forming Groups

I compromised. I did not allow students to choose the groups, however I based my decisions on who I felt they would feel comfortable engaging in meaningful conversations with. I also kept the groups to 3 students per group. Now, I have the flexibility to keep them in small groups or combine them with the other group reading their title for a group of 6. (I have done this during their first Check-In which worked well. They started with their "base group" and then joined together.)

Book Club Expectations

This was the area I wanted students to have ownership over. I provided them due dates for the books and an outline. Their task was to:
  • Create Group Norms 
  • Write in Check-In and formal Discussion Dates
  • Determine the Reading Log (what chapters would be read by when)
As a model, I shared a Bookmark from a Professional Reading Circle I am a participant of. They did a fantastic job working together!

They were then able to choose their meeting space in the classroom. The chart paper posters were hung in their meeting area.

The students are provided a list of leadership roles (such as the facilitator) and independently assign roles within the group. They can change and rotate from meeting to meeting. 

Group Meetings

While reading the resource pictured below, I came across a wonderful idea! The students will have both Check-Ins (5-10 minutes each) and full Discussions (15-20 minutes each).  It also provided an idea to "kick off" book clubs. I made a Ziploc Bag for each student with post-its and a sweet treat. They loved it!

Modeling and Coaching

I have chosen a separate book to read along with them. I model the skills and strategies in my own book that they practice with me, in groups and independently. 

Additionally, I keep a writer's notebook. My planning also includes writing in response to reading and keeping my notebook updated. Students have access to my notebook whenever they need a reminder or to use as a guide.


As we head into week two of book clubs, some reflections I have as their teacher:
  • It is such a joy hearing them say, "This book is really good." It excites me that I made those literary connections.
  • It is difficult, at times, to sit back and allow them to problem solve on their own when they are struggling. It has made me a much better coach in offering guiding questions and modeling strategies for them without doing the work for them or giving TOO much direction.
  • My patience level is extremely high as I release responsibility to my students. Sometimes I sense frustration that I have to help them work through in order to coach that development of independence. 
  • When I do the work alongside them, I am better able to anticipate difficulties they will have. It also allows me to instruct more effectively because of my personal experience.
I want to thank my 8th grade students for being risk-takers. I want to thank them for challenging me and asking questions that push my thinking. I want to thank them for being a wonderful group of students to work with every day.

I also want to thank the authors, colleagues and educators who have inspired me to think outside the box.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Student Researchers

Dear Readers,

I have been asked about my implementation of an extremely modified "Genius Hour". I decided to make it my blog topic this week! I hope you enjoy!

Getting Started

My journey started over the summer when I read Pure Genius by Don Wettrick. 

It opened my mind to the idea of giving students freedom to research their interests and what is important to them. I spent the summer engaging in chats and gathering as much information as possible about this innovative concept! A huge thank you to @JoyKirr and @JayBilly2 for their amazing help and resources. Their encouragement and support really inspired me to jump in and try it.

Student Interest Surveys

My first step was to distribute student interest surveys. In Colleen Cruz's book, The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, she has a section regarding pop culture interest surveys. I included questions pertaining to social media, music, movies, etc. in addition to the "traditional" questions usually asked about school, reading and writing. It allowed me to see the whole child, not just academically, but socially as well. Thank you Colleen for the idea!

Gathering Materials

My next step was gathering informational texts and resources on a variety of topics based on the student interest surveys I had distributed. I went to the local library and checked out books on any topic imaginable from sports to gaming to Star Wars to science to history. 

First Class

Joy Kirr gave me the idea to start with a read aloud. She recommended the following book. It was a fantastic, quick, 5 minute share that "jump started" students' thinking. 

I then gave the students an entire class period (40 minutes) to browse the materials and jot down notes. (They have notebooks and folders dedicated to this learning time.) The level of student engagement was incredible. They spent the entire 40 minutes engrossed in reading and writing. It was a memorable class. The power of choice.

Second Class

As we moved into the next class, I wanted the students to start gathering and sharing ideas. I still allowed them to browse resources, but this time we started formulating questions on chart paper. 

Afterwards, I did some reflecting as a teacher as I read over their questions. A few generalizations I realized were some of them were:
  • personal opinions and could not be researched
  • extremely broad
  • could be answered with a yes or no
  • could be revised and modified to be research based questions  

Just a few areas of interest were: Star Wars, oceans, astronomy, turf fields, NFL team selection process, foster care system, etc.

Third Class

The students watched a video and then submitted a proposal to me. (This is taken from the document I created, it is very modified, the original document had guiding questions and "hints".)
  • “The Time You Have in Jellybeans”. (Link:   
  • After watching the video, I want you to brainstorm some topics that you love and others that really bother you. You may complete this in the chart below. You need 3 ideas in each column.
  • Write down the question you would like to research! The sky's the limit.
Where are we now?

Due to modified schedules, vacation days, etc. we have had to take a mini-break from our research time. However, I am planning on re-implementing it in December.

Benefits of Implementing this Time

I am excited to revisit the questions students had submitted to me. The process has allowed me to build relationships and rapport with my students that otherwise may not have happened. It has allowed me to get to know them in a different way than purely academic. 

It has also provided me the opportunity to gather evidence of students' comfort level and background knowledge in formulating research questions that are meaningful to them and their lives. If we are creating risk-takers, problem-solvers, innovators and future world collaborators, they need to have the skills and strategies necessary to question, research, present and challenge ideas, problems and solutions. 

The best part? It does not feel like something "extra". It seamlessly complemented our first unit and will continue to for the remainder of the year.

I look forward to continuing the journey with them!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Letter of Appreciation to My Students

Dear Readers,

Early last week, someone shared some devastating news with me. It made me reflect on life and how anything can change in a moment's notice. I had been dropping anchors for approximately two weeks and received tremendously, positive feedback from my students. 

As a result, I wrote this letter to my 8th grade Language & Literature Class. I wanted to express my appreciation and respect for them, not only as my students, but as individuals who will grow up to be tomorrow's leaders, innovators, problem solvers, etc.

Sadly, just five days after writing this letter, the tragedy in Paris occurred.  It has made me once again realize how important communication with those around us is. Tell your students and/or staff how important they are, how much you appreciate them and what they bring to your life. We never know what tomorrow may bring so we must cherish today.


Letter to my Students 

Dear 8th Graders,

I wanted to take a moment to tell you that I appreciate each and every one of you.

  • You make me laugh.
  • You brighten my days.
  • You teach me something new almost every day.
  • You have wonderful ideas.
  • You all have your own unique gifts and talents that make you YOU.
  • You can grow up to be ANYTHING you want to be. Reach for the stars!

It is a joy being your teacher!

Ms. Gross
Full Red Gerber Daisy | Flickr

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making Memorable Moments in Middle School 

Dear Readers,

Ever since I read Dave Burgess' Teach Like  a Pirate, I have thought about how to create experiences for students. As I go through my daily routine that question is always at the front of my mind. Here are some (hopefully) memorable moments I have helped create for students. Enjoy!


As I stood and watched the students pile 1,000 socks into the corner of the library, the thought crossed my mind to jump into them, just like a pile of crunchy fall leaves.....they were calling me. I waited until they had a nice tall pile and did exactly that. I dove into the pile of socks and flailing my arms sent them flying everyone. The looks of the students' faces was priceless. I doubt they will forget that moment. (I did help them pick up the socks.)

Ghosts at Ms. Gross' Classroom Door

It was 10th period, the bell was about to ring and I hear knocking at my classroom door. The students who had stayed after with me just looked at me and I knew it was two of my 8th graders. I decided to play a little trick on them. I quietly went through the storage room that connects my room to the one next door and walked out so I was behind them in the hallway. Let's just say, when they turned around and saw me, absolute comedy! The look of surprise was priceless! 

Bubble Wrap Fun

Who doesn't love popping bubble wrap? Beth Hauf introduced me to the idea of using The Book of Awesome for read aloud. Who can read about the fun of popping bubble wrap and NOT be able to do it? My students (and I) enjoyed the selection....... and the bubble wrap.

LEAD like a Pirate

Shelly Burgess and Beth Hauf have helped me take my "compliment cards" to an entirely new level. I started taking their LEAD LAP challenges for administrators and it has become part of my day. I even carry a clipboard with templates in case I see something really outstanding! I started with the "A" challenge and dropped them to all my 8th grade language and literacy students. Then I took the idea to my homebase. One student exclaimed, "Thanks! Ms. Gross." when she saw what it was. Moving into week two I took on the "N" challenge. I dropped them to my 8th grade Language and Literature class while they were working on their journalism writing. It was an excellent and DIFFERENT way of giving feedback. One students excitedly said when she found one on her desk, "Is this one of those anchors?" In hearing about the "C" challenge I can happily say I do this every day. Thank you Shelly and Beth for encouraging me to "step up my game"!

These are just a few of the amazing moments I have had over the past few weeks. Thank you to my PLN for pushing me to think outside the box and try news things. Thank you to my students for making my job so enjoyable. 


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Have you ever experienced your class as a student?

Dear Readers,

After reading books like Pure Genius, Master the Media, Teach Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, Ditch that Textbook and Google Classroom, I have decided to allow students to co-teach and/or independently instruct the class. I experienced my first day as a student in Ms. Gross' 8th grade Language and Literacy Class.

The lesson for the day was differentiating between Storytelling vs. Newscast Writing. Two of my students had taken on the challenge of teaching the class. I took a seat towards the back of the room to maximize my view of the entire class. 

Some of my observations:
  • The student to the left of me was pulling up pictures on Google despite the direction to not engage with it yet. Not a huge distraction, just pulled up 1 picture and let it sit there. (It caused me to divert my attention away from the learning.)
  • The student to the right of me was tapping his pen. It seemed as though he was listening and did not realize he was doing it. (However, it caught my attention and I turned to watch for a few moments.)
  • Two students directly across my line of vision were frantically raising their hands and trying to get the teachers' attention. (In watching them, I missed the instruction and what the teachers were saying.)
  • I got up to reference an anchor chart and started to engage in conversation with some students. The teachers came up to me and very respectfully said, "Ms. Gross, you need to have a seat." I sat on a desk in the back of the room and was promptly told, "Ms. Gross! You need to sit in a chair!" Laughing, I fell back into my chair. (Unfortunately, I was the distraction.)
  • It was a very relaxed atmosphere. I felt very comfortable. (My hope is this is how my students feel as well.)
Some of my reflections:
  • It was difficult to follow the instruction when so much was happening around me. Is this what my students experience daily? How can I help create a learning environment where every student is successful?
  • I wanted to talk with other students. It was difficult not to. How can I continue to empower students to lead instruction and participate in conversations?
  • It was difficult to focus when the teachers stayed in the front of the room. I need to keep my practice of "wandering" the room.
My Biggest Take-Away:
  • My students and I have created an amazing climate and culture in our classroom. One where students are willing to take risks and be leaders, while being themselves.
Thank you to my 8th graders who I have known since they were 4th graders. I have learned so much from you over the years, especially the last 2 looping as a Language & Literature class. You inspire me, you support me in my instructional decisions, you collaborate with me and you brighten my days.

I hope you, my readers, feel the same way about your students, staff, etc.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why I Became a Literacy Teacher

Why I Became a Literacy Teacher

Dear Readers,

I have been wanting to start a blog for quite a while. Amazing people in my PLN have asked me when I am going to start blogging about all the books that I read. I finally took a moment tonight to investigate Google Blogger and realized it might be easier than I thought. In order to understand my love of literacy and teaching, you need to hear the start of my academic career in elementary school. Currently, in 6th grade Language & Literature, we are writing personal narratives. I always write with my students and use the same story. I use it as a tool to make connections and build rapport.

As a kindergartner, many years ago, I went to school for approximately 2.5 hours. It was a time to learn social skills and engage with my peers. I was a shy child and spent most of my time surrounded by my family, particularly my grandparents. Much to my chagrin, upon entering 1st grade, I realized I would no longer be spending most of my day with those that I loved.

On my way to the bus stop, on the second day of 1st grade, I intentionally missed the bus. I remember I walked home and was surprised when my mother put me in the car and drove me to school. I entered the main office to find the principal, school nurse and my 1st grade teacher. Insisting that my mother leave, the staff attempted to get me into the classroom by carrying me. I wanted no part of it. As they brought me through the doorway, I wedged my little fingers between the door and wall, in that 1-2 inch space, and held on tight. Needless to say, I was not a student who was easily forgotten.

Years later, that same 1st grader teacher awarded me a scholarship. It was given to a high school senior wishing to go into teaching as a career. She told that story at the awards dinner. As embarrassed as I was at the time, I can imagine now that I am an adult and teacher myself, she was proud of me for who I had became.

I was that student who always carried a book. I was that student who kept to herself and exercised her independence. I was that student who did not always want to follow the rules of school such as being told what to read and what to write. I was often bored and disengaged in school. 

My hope as a literacy teacher is to open up a world of reading and writing to all students. My hope is to create a learning environment that meets the needs of all students. My hope is to engage students in their learning. My hope is to build their confidence and help them reach for the stars and dream of anything they can imagine.

To all you teachers who may deal with difficult students, thank you for being patient with us. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for encouraging us to pursue our dreams.