Margin Notes

Book Talks Lightning Round


Katie Prescott invited us into her Grade 11 ELA classes at Fredericton High School to recommend some of our favorite titles (which is something we love to do).  We decided to turn our book talks into a lightning round in order to share as many titles as we could fit into each class period.  We brought 30 titles and took turns presenting 1-2 minute informal book recommendations.

This was a fun way for us to give lots of book recommendations and modeled for students how (more…)

Mind The Gap


Last week, during a professional learning session with a group of middle school teachers, we provided copies of the inspiring resource Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp.  As we read the section “Teacher as a Reading Role Model,” one question that made us stop and think was, “What are your own book gaps?  What do you not read?” We circled around that question for quite a while, pondering how our own reading preferences may inadvertently cause us to be gate-keepers when building classroom libraries, recommending books, and presenting book talks.  We realized we all have preferences and gaps and if we don’t recognize and address them, we are unintentionally narrowing the impact we have on readers and by missing opportunities of getting the right book into the hands of a student because we are missing entire genres.

Pernille Ripp believes, and we agree, that if we don’t acknowledge our own book gaps, we become more of a genre lover than a book lover.  This is okay in our own reading lives but not as a teacher of readers.


As a team, we identified our own reading gaps and tried to address them:

Jill: I naturally gravitate toward realistic fiction and historical fiction. I love to read books, both (more…)

Making Learning Visible


We have been working on a collaboration with our colleagues Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson at Leo Hayes High School.  Inspired by Making Thinking Visible and Visible Learners, we have embarked on a bit of a professional inquiry guided by these key questions:

  • How can we create the conditions for students’ learning to be visible?
  • How can we/they document this learning?
  • What can we learn about teaching and learning from this documentation?
  • How can we make our own learning from this project visible to others?

Michelle and Shelley teach multiple grades but they both have Grade 11 English (more…)

Mentor Text Flip


In my earlier days as an educator, my writing instruction was driven by the form. I assigned writing that fell into very specific categories and, if I am totally honest, this was almost exclusively the kind of writing only found in school. That meant that, since the writing didn’t exist in the real world, the only samples, if any, I had to offer were written by previous students.

Fast-forward and my process has completely flipped. (more…)

Picture Books in Grades 6-12


Although we often think of picture books for younger readers, there are unlimited opportunities to incorporate them into Grades 6-12 classrooms also.  Because they are short, they make excellent mentor texts to use in mini-lessons or to demonstrate writing techniques since you can read them more than once in a short amount of time.  They can be used to develop background knowledge about a concept or topic or for quick writes and writer’s notebook responses.  Picture books can invite dialogue about tough topics and complex ideas. Most importantly, though, they bring students together into a shared experience that invites everyone in the reading community to celebrate beautiful words and images.

It can take time and money to develop an extensive library of picture books, so my advice is to start with one or two titles that you can use in several ways.  Here are four of my recent favorites and some suggestions for using them in your classroom:

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead

  • Practice describing the author’s style and selecting evidence or examples from the text.
  • Practice describing the illustrator’s style and selecting evidence or examples from the text.
  • Focus on figurative language by inviting students to choose their favorite example, respond to it in their writer’s notebook, and then use it as a model for their own writing.


Spinning by Tillie Walden


I do not often read graphic novels, but after reading Spinning by Tillie Walden, I was left wondering why not.

This graphic memoir spans almost a decade of Tillie Walden’s life over almost 400 pages, which may sound and look like a lot to students, but her story is so engaging that it is impossible to stop once you start. Words and images combine to transport you to the world of competitive figure skating, which truthfully, sounds quite terrifying (the skating moms alone would have made me run). Walden shares stories of testing, coaches, teammates, performance anxiety and the ways all of this affected both her skating and her understanding of herself.

But, as all good coming of age stories do, Walden’s story touches on many other topics. Woven in against the backdrop of the rink, are Walden’s experiences with bullying, family dynamics, (more…)

House Arrest by K.A. Holt


In this wonderful novel, we meet Timothy, a young man who is currently on one year house arrest for stealing a credit card.  Part of his probation requirements is that he has to write in a journal (which is the book) to show his remorse to the courts.   Timothy begrudgingly writes and starts to open up and tell his story causing the reader to quickly realize there is more to him than being a young offender.  As his story unfolds, we discover he stole the card to pay for his baby brother’s medication.  House Arrest takes the reader on an emotional journey as we experience what it is like for the working poor to try to survive and we are reminded how important it is to care and trust one another.

Timothy experiences what many of our students live out daily-having adult responsibilities and worries while they are still a child.  As teachers, it is important for us to remember that there are kids like Timothy sitting right in front of us.  Students will find his story fascinating (more…)