Hi again – 4 years later.

It’s been a minute. Looking at my last post – published in 2017 – I wonder where the years have gone. You may be wondering where I went, or at least I’d like to think you did! It feels like I’ve lived many lives since then.

Let me give you the CliffsNotes version. I left the classroom in 2015 and moved from Nashville to Washington DC, where I was working as a Consultant at a Management Consulting firm. Six years slipped by doing work in human capital analytics – from public health to COVID-19 legislative analysis. I loved it, learned a ton, and left burned out. Now (as of the pandemic), I’m at an equity tech startup – working on reinventing pay equity analysis and fairness at work.

When I stepped away from Middle School writer – albeit unintentionally, as months and years slipped by – I turned to my own writing. I’ve spent the last several years researching and writing about individual stories of service and sacrifice lost to time. I’ve been deep into WWII and the bomber boys who fought Hitler in the skies over Fortress Europe.

Since I left the classroom, I’ve been focused on what I used to preach there – becoming a better writer – by writing relentlessly and reading constantly. I’ve loved every minute.

Recently, I feel that pull back towards teaching – and who I was in the classroom. So here I am. And I’m excited to be back.

I have lots in the works for Middle School Writer – here and on TPT – thanks to new inspiration from all the places these last years have taken me.

Today, I’m beyond excited to share the first of those big updates: the launch of Storey & Co. Journals!

Storey & Co. Journals feels like the child of Middle School Writer + the writing I’ve done myself. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a small business focused on unique journals and notebooks that celebrate life’s milestones, talents, & treasures – and give writers a place to do just that.

The name is more than kitsch. In April, I celebrated one of life’s sweetest milestones, getting engaged to my longtime BF Joseph Storey. And since, the idea for Storey & Co. has been ruminating.

We’re slowly but surely building the business. It began with a B-24 Liberator aircraft journal, inspired by my writing and research about WWII. From there, it grew, and continues to today.

I hope you’ll check out Storey & Co. Journals. We have an Amazon storefront that makes order + delivery a breeze. I’m adding new journals every day – for the writers and teachers out there who need a place to put pen to paper.

Many teacher-inspired journals are on the way! Oh, and if there’s a journal you’ve always been on the hunt for, let me know. Our dream team of designers and get it done folks will make it happen.

It’s good to be back. Thanks for sticking by all these years.

-Mara

5 Easy Ways to Kick off the Year with your Best Foot Forward

Pencil.pngAs you’re prepping to head back to school, here’s a few tips to make your life easier and set you up for a successful school year! These five tips should help you prepare your classroom before your students arrive and start the year with high student engagement.

  1. Beautify your classroom walls with a purpose Search.png
    • Motivational posters are a great start, but the walls of your classroom are also valuable real estate to reinforce the most critical content for students — using anchor charts allows you to reference core concepts constantly and train students to independently seek answers when they are stuck.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Bundle of 15 Anchor Charts for Middle School ELA 
      • This includes anchor charts you can print as posters (or handouts for students) about the rhetorical triangle, author’s craft, writing process, being specific in writing, parts of speech, comma rules, figurative language, and many more!
  2. Change up your regular routine for getting to know your studentsGame-Controller.png
    • Instead of handing your students that age-old questionnaire asking about their favorite experiences from the summer and academic strengths, why not turn this activity on its head to get the information you need from students in an interactive, engaging way?
      • Try using a game like Scoot or small groups to get students up and moving to reinforce your classroom management skills and expectations of students in the first days of school.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Scoot Get to Know Your Students Game 
      • Use a game of “scoot” (students answer a question taped to each desk on a  bingo-like board as they silently move around the room). This resource includes the questions, game board, directions, and more!
  3. Invest your students in real-life outcomes related to readingBookmarks.png
    • As a language arts teacher, it’s critical to engage your students in reading from day 1; I’ve found that students who aren’t typically interested in reading respond well to real-life data/outcomes about reading — things like how much more money “good” readers make in a lifetime.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Why Read? Back to School Reading Investment Lesson
      • I use this PowerPoint as one of my first lessons after going back to school. It’s a non-traditional way to engage students in a meaningful conversation about their future goals and how there’s a clear link to reading for almost all measures of success.
  4. Don’t waste time on grammar concepts your students knowMagic-Wand.png
    • Instead of starting the year by re-teaching basic concepts like nouns and pronouns, intentionally figure out what your students do and don’t know so you can remediate appropriately.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Grammar Skills Formative Assessment 
      • I use this 55-question “test” as a formative assessment at the beginning of the year. It includes over 10 critical grammar concepts and materials for students to self-grade and identify skills they need to work on. Use this to customize and differentiate instruction, while also empowering students to take ownership of their learning.
  5. Shake up (or solidify) your beginning of class routineCheckmark.png
    • Setting up a consistent routine for the first few minutes of class has consistently been the most important aspect of my classroom management — if my kids come in calm and know exactly what I expect them to do at the beginning of class, the rest of the period goes smoothly. I do this with a daily routine based on the day of the week that cycles through bell ringers, journaling, and Greek/Latin morphemes.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: TNReady RI + RL On the Road Bell Ringers 
      • If you are a teacher in Tennessee, you understand the importance of integrating TNReady-aligned questions from the beginning of the year. I love these bell ringers because students have a workbook they use throughout the semester (or year) to record their question answers + explanation of why the answer is correct. The “on the road” theme is a fun way to start exposing students to TNReady content.

Final Push to Finals: Test Taking Strategies

PencilYou spent the whole semester teaching content. From commas to compositions, your students have the skills, but do they have the skills to successfully navigate your final exam?

I’ve found it difficult to balance the need to teach students content with the need to teach students how to demonstrate they know the content. Assessment is a reality of life; from state tests to college entrance exams, students will face tests throughout their lives. All this to say, teaching students explicitly how to successful navigate a test is critical to their success.

Top 5 Test-Taking Skills to Teach Before Finals

  1. slide1Preview the Test: Spend a couple minute previewing the test before starting to get a sense of the question types, length, and difficulty
  2. Annotate Passages: Write a gist of the main idea next for each paragraph or the entire passage depending on the length and task associated with the passage
  3. Circle Key Terms in the Question: Teach students to circle key words that help students identify what they are/aren’t looking for; this helps avoid selecting distractors that are unrelated to the question
  4. Eliminate Distractors Before Selecting an Answer: Teach students to eliminate answers before selecting the correct one. It’s also important to teach students the different types of distractors.
  5. Budget Time: Do you have students who perpetually run out of time on tests? Teaching them to budget time is a skill that has to be built. Help students build the habit of skipping and coming back to tough questions.

Learning test-taking skills require lessons of their own. Students need strategies, resources to reference, and practice. Remember, this is not a natural skill. It takes time, explicit instruction, and lots of practice. The Test Taking Strategies Anchor Chart in my TPT store is a great place to start in teaching your students test-taking skills.