Margin Notes



What I was Reading:

curiousThe curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon has many craft moves for writers to try. The narration and the way the novel is written is so unique and serves as a great mentor text for personal or instructional writing. The story is told from the perspective of Christopher, a neuro-diverse narrator who finds himself in the middle of a mystery he is determined to solve. While he brings the reader along on his quest, he spends a lot of time describing his unique feelings, beliefs, and quirks to us. In one section, he explains how he determines whether or not he will have a good day, while using a variety of techniques.


What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • He writes his labels for his days in bolded type, so when he references them again it’s easier for the reader to remember his definition.
  • He integrates his definitions into a paragraph in an organized way.
  • He writes dialogue without using any quotation marks.
  • He uses longer sentences with minimal commas so that his writing sounds like how the narrator would speak.
  • He creates a comparison between his own superstitions and others’/his own father’s superstitions.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about what constitutes a Good Day, Black Day, etc. in your own life and write about it, using this text and Haddon’s labels as inspiration.
  • Use the technique of bolding labels in your own writing.
  • Describe superstitions you have encountered in your own life and consider why you believe in them (or why you do not).

Guest writer Kristin Estabrooks is a Mount Allison University graduate, and is currently a student teacher studying for her Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is an avid reader who is now learning to read like a teacher of writing, and is looking forward to passing what she has learned on to her students.

Resource Round-Up


Every Monday we’re sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students.

Teach This Poem features one poem each week, accompanied by related resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. You can subscribe to the weekly Teach This Poem email.

Moving Writers is one of our go-to sources for ideas. They are currently featuring many lesson ideas and mentor texts for teaching literacy remotely.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery offers a number of ways to stay connected with their programmes and resources. These options are categorized on their website by Read, Listen, Watch, and Create.

This post from the School Library Journal blog offers podcast playlists for students of all ages.

Writer’s Digest has curated a list of 100 poetic forms ranging from abstract to zappai.




25695640._UY630_SR1200,630_For some time now, the iconic movie, A beautiful Mind has been the standard portrayal of schizophrenia, but Julia Walton’s Word’s on Bathroom Walls is the new benchmark, conveying insight into what it’s like to live with such a disruptive mental disorder. Walton’s compelling protagonist, sixteen-year-old Adam Petrazelli, is coping with this extraordinary life challenge.  

To further enhance the awkward social position this puts Adam in, Walton mirrors this in the structure of her book by having Adam meet with his counsellor every week, but refuses to talk to him; so each session is an hour of uncomfortable one-sided conversation. Each chapter begins with the psychiatrist notes – succinct medical information about Adam’s diagnosis and meds – followed by a dated journal from Adam’s perspective to his psychiatrist, sharing his daily struggles and answering the questions he’s been asked the previous session. This is crucial to the success of the story as the reader anguishes with Adam at his social blunders specific to the challenges that accompany a mental disorder like schizophrenia when the medications stop working.  

From his inability to distinguish between reality and hallucinations, to his worries about dealing with a new stepfather, hiding his schizophrenia from his peers, and navigating a newfound romantic relationship, Adam is a sympathetic character and you will find yourself rooting for and sympathizing with when things don’t go as planned. This book is a must read for all those who want to understand what causes someone to behave a certain way and want to gain a unique and empathetic point of view about mental illness in 2020. 


Resource Round-Up


Every Monday we’re sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students.

If you are interested in history and architecture, take part in the virtual York Street Heritage Quest. You can also, go to York Street and view the architecture as it is now in person.

Parlay is library of ready-made discussion prompts that encourage higher-order thinking and connect learning to the events and ideas shaping our world. This is free to teachers until the end of this academic year. It can be done as online round table discussions or in class Socratic Seminar style discussions.

As the largest not-for-profit exclusively for young people and social change, Do Something’s millions of members represent every US area code and 131 countries.

The Encyclopedia of Gear, created by Outside Magazine, is described as “187 amazing stories about everything we use.”

This School Library Journal feature by Mahnaz Dar provides links to 19 webcomics for middle-grade and young adult audiences.

Atomic (Reading) Habits Part 3


This is the third post in a series of reflections on what Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear tells us about creating Atomic Habitsenvironments where students develop lifelong reading habits. You can read the previous posts here and here.

According to Clear there are four laws of behavior change. The first three laws—make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy—increase the odds that we will perform a behavior. The fourth law—make it satisfying—increases the odds that we will perform that habit again and again:

“We are more likely to increase a behavior when the experience is satisfying. This is entirely logical. Feelings of pleasure—even minor ones like washing your hands with soap that smells nice and lathers well—are signals that tell the brain: ‘This feels good. Do this again, next time.’ Pleasure teaches your brain that a behavior is worth remembering and repeating.”

“…The Cardinal Rule of Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided. You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.”

“The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful—even if it’s in a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off and that the work was worth the effort.”

“…the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you. The more the habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through.”

“The most effective form of motivation is progress. When we get a signal that we are moving forward, we become more motivated to continue down that path.”

In our efforts to support students in developing lifelong reading habits, we have to ask ourselves how we can create the conditions for students to find intrinsic motivation to continue growing as readers?

Here’s what we know doesn’t work when it comes to motivating students to read: extrinsic rewards and accountability measures such as reading logs.

In No More Reading for Junk Barbara A. Marinak and Linda B. Gambrell highlight the perils of offering extrinsic rewards in an effort to motivate students to read:

The work that is perhaps the most informative on this issue is a study by Deci and his colleagues that suggests that if you reward a student who enjoys reading with an extrinsic reward (such as points, food, or money), the students may choose to read less frequently once the incentive is discontinued (Deci et al. 1991). The concern then is that extrinsic rewards may have a detrimental effect on the intrinsic motivation to read, particularly for those students who are already intrinsically motivated to read.

Interesting evidence also suggests that individuals are motivated by the reward itself (Deci 1975). For example, if we are paid to do a task such as reading, it may result in a decrease in our desire to read; however, being paid may be very effective in motivating an individual to make money. In other words, we tend to view the “reward” as desirable and valuable. Therefore, if we want to develop the intrinsic desire to read, books and extra time to read are probably the most effective rewards.

…research indicates that classroom environments that provide access to a variety of reading materials, reading activities that are relevant, and opportunities for student choice are more likely to nurture reading engagement and achievement (Anderman and Midgley 1992; Gambrell 2011; Guthrie, Wigfield, and VonSecker 2000).

Marinak and Gambrell refer to the classroom practices that nurture and sustain the development of motivation to read as the ARC of motivation:

  • afford access to a wide variety of print,
  • invite children into relevant reading experiences, and
  • afford as much choice as possible.

In “Can Reading Logs Ruin Reading for Kids,” journalist Erica Reicher acknowledges that reading logs are often used with the best of intentions—to encourage students to read: “The goal of these logs is to promote the habit of recreational reading, or at least to create the appearance of it. The basic idea seems to be this: If kids who read regularly gain significant benefits, then it should be mandated that all students read regularly so they, too, can enjoy those benefits.” Unfortunately, as the research on the negative impact of extrinsic rewards and punishments on motivation reveals, this strategy often has the opposite effect: “This research would suggest that reading logs have a similar effect on children’s reading habits, especially their desire to read for fun, making reading less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Imagine telling your child that she must draw pictures for at least 20 minutes daily—and also record how much time she spent drawing and how many different colors she used.”

According to Pernille Ripp, “We’re constantly asking kids to do something with their reading, and then wondering why they’re choosing to leave us and never picking up another book. They can’t wait to get out of school so that they don’t have to read.”

Teri S. Lesesne, author of Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We Want Them to Be, reminds us that motivating students to read is only a job half-done: “Once we connect students to books, we cannot abandon them. We need to provide them with some guidance to help them continue to develop as readers.” Lesesne suggests using reading ladders as a strategy for scaffolding students toward more challenging, independent reading:

Simply, a reading ladder is a series or set of books that are related in some way (e.g., thematically) and that demonstrate a slow, gradual development from simple to more complex. Ideally, the first rung of the reading ladder is a book that already has found a connection to the student. The second rung is a book that is almost identical to the first, thereby making it likely that the student will read it. At each successive rung, the books will be reminiscent of the ones that preceded them but are increasingly complex. Sometimes the books move from genre to genre; occasionally, the books remain within a genre. There are no hard-and-fast rules here. The intent is to move readers from their comfort zone to books that represent more diversity.

The reality, though, is that the only way to be this kind of book matchmaker for students, motivating them to incrementally challenge themselves to read texts of more complexity, is to know the readers in our classes and to have a wide familiarity with titles to recommend to them.

It’s important to note, however, that not all reading has to be hard for students. If we are motivated by things that bring us pleasure, it stands to reason that if reading is not a satisfying experience, it will not become habitual. That’s not to say reading must be easy, but it must bring a feeling of accomplishment to readers. As Kylene Beers has said on many occasions:


Resource Round-Up


Every Monday we’re sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students.

A new serialized story of hope during the coronavirus pandemic, set in the moment we are all living through together, Human Touch is being written by Mitch Albom in the present, one week at a time.

Hey, Kiddo author, Jarrett J. Krosoczka is posting Draw Every Day with JJK videos which are also available on youtube.

Poem-a-Day is a daily poetry series publishing new work by contemporary poets curated by

The Global Oneness Project explores cultural, environmental, and social issues and offers a library of multimedia stories including of award-winning films, photo essays, and articles.

This Cult of Pedagogy post describes using one-pagers as an option for students to respond to their reading.

Atomic (Reading) Habits Part 2


This is the second post in a series reflecting on Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear and the insight it offers for our Atomic Habitsquest to create environments that foster lifelong reading habits. You can read the first post here.

In Atomic Habits, Clear presents two habit-related rules that educators can leverage when planning for their reading workshops: The Two-Minute Rule and The Goldilocks Rule.

The Two-Minute Rule

According to the Two-Minute Rule, when you start a habit it should take fewer than two minutes to do. The easier your habit is to start, the higher the likelihood that you will take the step:

“This is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a ‘gateway habit’ that naturally leads you down a more productive path.”

“You can usually figure out the gateway habits that will lead to your desired outcome by mapping out your goals on a scale from ‘very easy’ to ‘very hard.’ For instance, running a marathon is very hard. Running a 5K is hard. Walking ten thousand steps is moderately difficult. Walking 10 minutes is easy. And putting on your running shoes is very easy. Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes.”

“Make it easy to start and the rest will follow.”

We know that students become better readers through a high volume of engaged reading. In their article “Raise Reading Volume Through Access, Choice, Discussion, and Book Talks,” Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey describe what is referred to as the “Matthew Effect”: “There is strong evidence that students who read early and more often in turn become more proficient readers and thereby read more often, hence the reference to Matthew 25:26 and the maxim ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.’” So, in light of the Two-Minute Rule, what are the gateway habits that lead to lifelong reading habits? What are the conditions we can create that will make it easy for students to get into engaged reading as quickly as possible in reading workshop so “the rest will follow”?

Access to texts students want to read and that serve as “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” (Sims Bishop, 1990)

 In No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell make it clear that “if we want students to be motivated readers, we must create a classroom context that is text-rich and celebrates the joy and value of reading.” Students need easy access to an engaging, inclusive, and representative classroom library as well as a variety of print and non-print texts.

Daily time dedicated to independent reading

 NCTE’s Statement on Independent Reading (2019) makes a clear connection between volume of reading and student achievement: “Independent reading leads to an increased volume of reading. The more one reads, the better one reads. The more one reads, the more knowledge of words and language one acquires. The more one reads, the more fluent one becomes as a reader. The more one reads, the easier it becomes to sustain the mental effort necessary to comprehend complex texts. The more one reads, the more one learns about the people and happenings of our world. This increased volume of reading is essential” (Allington, 2014).

 Choice in what they read

 When a group of teachers co-authored The Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading to describe how their classrooms were transformed by a commitment to self-selected independent reading, they shared five (plus one bonus) benefits they experienced:

  • choice empowers students,
  • valuing student choices values the student,
  • choice leads to real and meaningful conversations,
  • choice helps establish and deepen relationships,
  • choice leads to independence, and
  • choice changes the reading life of the teacher.

Opportunities to be social about their reading

 Gay Ivey makes the connection between engaged reading and social interaction in The Social Side of Engaged Reading for Young Adolescents. Engaged readers are “motivated to read, strategic in their approaches to comprehending what they read, knowledgeable in their construction of meaning from text, and socially interactive when reading (Guthrie et al.).” Ivey continues, “it is this last part, the social dimension, that we found in our own work to be more substantial than previous research has led us to believe, particularly for young adolescent readers…Reading for these students was far from a solo act. They talked in and out of school, to friends, to peers outside of their social groups, teachers, and family members. They talked during ‘silent’ reading times, at lunch, in math class, on the bus, and via text message and Facebook. In fact, they talked so much that students began to consider it normal, everyday conversation.”

A teacher who reads

 In Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Pernille Ripp encourages teachers to reflect on who they are as readers and share their reading identity with their students: “When we decide to bring our own identity as readers into our learning communities, conversations about what it means to be a reader occur naturally if we allow them to. These become examples for our students of what adult reading role models look like and should inspire further conversations as their own reading lives take shape.”

The Goldilocks Rule

 The Goldilocks Rule states that “humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

“The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty.”

“Once a habit has been established, however, it’s important to continue to advance in small ways. These little improvements and new challenges keep you engaged. And if you hit the Goldilocks Zone just right, you can achieve a flow state.”

“Improvement requires a delicate balance. You need to regularly search for challenges that push you to your edge while continuing to make enough progress to stay motivated.”

So, the question is, how we do motivate our students to develop and sustain lifelong reading habits?

In No More Reading for Junk, Marinak and Gambrell explain the relationship between reading motivation and achievement: “We believe that motivation is central to reading development, and if students are not motivated to read, they will never reach their full literacy potential. It is simply not enough to teach our students to read; we want them to leave our classrooms with the intrinsic motivation to read for pleasure and for information and to read widely and deeply across a wide array of genres.”

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm and Michael W. Smith wrote The Power of Pleasure Reading: What We can Learn from the Secret Reading Lives of Teens to share the findings from their study of teen readers. They found that participants reported experiencing “the pleasure of work” or accomplishment as a result of their reading. Wilhelm and Smith report that “when given choice, kids tend to read what they need. Our informants gravitated toward books that challenged them both to be better readers and to be better or more whole people, books that assisted them to outgrow themselves, that helped them consider new perspectives and see new possibilities in themselves and the world, and helped them to do functional work, and to socialize and to identify themselves.” In other words, when given the freedom to choose their own reading materials, students challenged themselves as readers.

Gay Ivey and Peter H. Johnston share similar findings in their article Engagement with Young Adult Literature: Outcomes and Processes. Students who were given time for self-selected independent reading reported increased agency: “Students had a substantially stronger sense that they could have an effect on things: their reading, social relationships, emotions, and life narratives.”

More reading increases students’ skills and confidence, leading to more reading.

Resource Round-Up


Every Monday we’re sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students.

Watch Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s literacy conversations on Penny Kittle’s YouTube Channel.

Jason Reynolds posted a daily poem on his blog during April to celebrate poetry month.

Read this CBC Books article with details about Michelle Obama’s weekly read-aloud series for children in isolation.

Usable Knowledge from the Harvard Graduate School of Education has posted Banishing Boredom, a new series of activities, prompts, and thinking routines to help create a learning-rich environment at home.

The National Arts Centre is posting a schedule of #CanadaPerforms FaceBook livestream performances.