Margin Notes



In their newly released professional resource, How to Become a Better Writing Teacher, authors Matt Glover and Carl Anderson generously provide a wealth of insights, sharing 50 actionable strategies to elevate both engagement and achievement among student writers. Drawing from their collective 70 years of teaching experience, this resource is one that teachers across all levels of experience will benefit from. Much like their previous contributions, the core principle driving this guide is the unwavering conviction that, with proper support and instruction, every student can achieve as a writer. As such, the actions shared will equip and empower teachers to grow the writing of all students.

One action, of the 50,  is a valuable tool for teachers meeting with students who are hesitant as to what to discuss during writing conferences. This approach bridges the ongoing conversations in our district regarding the crucial role of vocabulary and background knowledge in comprehension achievement. It emphasizes the need for students to acquire the necessary vocabulary not only for comprehending texts but also for understanding and effectively engaging with writing instruction.

Action: Supporting Students’ Use of Writing Vocabulary

Teachers are encouraged to use the following conversational moves to “…help students develop the writing vocabulary they need to talk in conferences…”:

  • Bring a chart to your conferences that lists what you’ve taught in recent minilessons, and have students look at it to help them think about what to say to you (Laman 2013). [Adding to this point, a co-constructed class anchor chart, or, for a craft unit, a whole class text study chart (found in the amazing online resource contents that comes with this resource) could also be used to scaffold the use of precise language in conferences.]
  • List several things the student might be doing. You could say, “Hmm…are you trying to add dialogue, or character thinking, or character actions to this part of your story?’
  • Take a tour of the student’s writing, and describe what you see them doing: “I see that you’ve got a subheading for this chapter…and you’re describing what penguins look like by writing descriptive facts and what penguins do by writing action facts…Do you want to talk about one of these things today?” Hearing you connect writing language to their writing helps students understand these terms, and soon they’ll be able to use them on their own. (Anderson, Carl, and Glover, Matt. How to Become a Better Writing Teacher. Heinemann, 2023.)

If you’re looking for a scaffold to support precise vocabulary in  writing conferences, try this tomorrow!








In our ever-evolving digital landscape, navigating the nuances of media representation and diversity are integral to nurturing informed and empathetic students.  One resource that supports this endeavor is the “That’s Not Me” portal by MediaSmarts. This comprehensive resource is specifically designed for educators seeking engaging and relevant content to incorporate into their literacy curriculum.


This resource includes a Professional Development section for teachers, as well as the following:

  • “That’s Not Me” Tutorial: Empowers students to challenge media portrayals and advocate for positive representations.
  • Background Articles: Offers information on the media portrayals of Indigenous People, Visible Minorities, 2SLGBTQ+ Representation, Persons with Disabilities, and Racial and Cultural Diversity.
  • Lesson Plans: Engages students thoughtful lessons dissecting bias in news and exploring diversity in media ownership.
  • Diversity in Media Toolbox: A comprehensive suite featuring professional development tutorials, interactive student modules, lesson plans, and articles addressing bias and hate in media.

As with every resource, you will want to adapt lessons based on curriculum outcomes/skill descriptors and the needs and interests of your students, but this resource will provide you with great ideas and relevant and timely texts.



“Because to be funny is to be admired. And to be funnier than someone else is to win. The stakes keep going up. Be funny. Be funnier. And by all means, don’t be the person who complains about the joke. Because boy culture says that everything is funny.”

Fans of Dashka Slater’s award-winning book, The 57 Bus, will be equally captivated by her newest release that follows the true story of a high school student’s Instagram account and the overwhelming impact that was felt when the content was shared among the students, the school, and the entire community of Albany, California. Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed, is a timely and relevant story that serves as a reminder and a warning of what price will be paid when funny content leads to edgy content that leads to racist content, all for the sake of some laughs and likes for some, and heartbreak and trauma for others. Through the telling of this story, we see what price was paid by the student that created the account, those who followed the account, those who knew about the account, those who found out about the account, and of course, the victims targeted on the account.

The adults who tried to intervene were ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of the revelation of the account and the emotions of the students, staff and community. Rash decisions were made and an attempt at restorative justice turned violent. This is one reason why I highly recommend this book to educators and parents in addition to high school students, as although it doesn’t model what to do in situations such as this, it certainly details for the adults what not to do. And even high school students, who hold the understanding of the power of social media, need reminders of  the consequences of the content of their accounts, and the lasting impact it can yield.

What makes Slater’s writing and story-telling unique is her ability to elicit compassion and understanding not just for the victims who were targeted on the account, but also for those who followed, commented, and even created the account, reminding us that we are all better than our worse decisions. This book left me with more questions than answers, and kept me thinking long after the last page was read. Along with this is her unique take on the story is her writing craft, which includes poetic prose alongside hard-hitting factual narrative. Here is an example of one chapter:


Does it matter if you thought no one besides your friend would see it?

Does it matter if it was supposed to be a joke?

Does it matter if you laughed?

Does it matter if you never commented?

Does it matter if you never saw a post?

Does it matter if you knew it was wrong but you said nothing?

Does it matter if you said something but no one listened?

Does it matter if they bullied you?

Does it matter that they’re still your friends?

Does it matter that you’re a teenager?

Does it matter if you’re sorry?


Excerpt from Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed by Daska Slater 





“The Ivies” by Alexa Donne is a YA novel that follows five high-achieving students at Caflin Academy as they compete for admission into the most sought-after colleges. Told from the perspective of Olivia, a scholarship student, the story drops readers immediately into a web of both thrilling and unsettling manipulation, sabotage, and deceit orchestrated by her and the other four members of “The Ivies”:  Emma, Margo, Sierra, Avery.

Avery (the self-appointed leader) had dictated that the girls that they each pick a different Ivy college to apply to, both to increase their chance of admission and to avoid internal competition inside the group. Avery had claimed Harvard as her own however both Olivia and Emma applied in secret. Harvard rejects Avery but Olivia and Emma are accepted. Olivia stays quiet about her own acceptance, but Emma admits hers, and there is huge drama between Avery and Emma. The next day Emma is dead.

After Emma’s murder, Olivia starts to question everything she knows about her friends and the cutthroat world of elite college admissions. As she delves deeper into the investigation, she realizes that her friends may be willing to do whatever it takes – including murder – to get ahead. Although Olivia receives ominous threats, she refuses to leave the investigation alone, and as a reader, you are thankful she keeps digging!

This story explores themes of ambition, competition, race, and privilege, and raises questions about the toxic culture of elite schools and the pressures that students face to succeed. It is a suspenseful and twisty thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. Fans of Karen McManus will surely enjoy this title.



As the school year draws to a close, it’s time for literacy teachers to take a well-deserved break and enjoy the summer months. The literacy team want to extend our heartfelt appreciation for your dedication and hard work throughout the year. You have tirelessly nurtured a love for reading and writing in your students, sparking their imagination, and empowering them with essential literacy skills. As you embark on this well-deserved break, remember the profound impact you have made in the lives of your students. Take this time to celebrate yourself and all that you and your students have achieved. You are true champions of literacy, and we look forward to witnessing your continued success in the coming year. Enjoy your summer, and we’ll see you refreshed and ready to embark on another amazing literacy journey!

Jane, Jill, Christie, Melissa, and Sonja

Farris, G. Summer Reads. Cup of Jo.



As another school year comes to an end, it creates time for teachers to pause, take a deep breath, and engage in a process of self-reflection. The end of the school year is an opportune moment to look back, celebrate accomplishments, learn from experiences, and envision a brighter future. Reflecting on the past year can provide valuable insights, renew enthusiasm, and pave the way for personal and professional growth. You may do this by:

  • Celebrating successes
  • Reviewing personal and professional learning
  • Seeking feedback from collegues and students (see Pernille Ripp’s Blog Post here)
  • Committing to self-care
  • Setting new goals

In May, the NYT’s Learning Network published 10 Ideas for Reflecting at the End of the School Year which includes prompts for teachers and students such as:

  • What do you want to remember about this school year? Why?
  • What surprised you?
  • What challenged you?
  • What successes are you most proud of?
  • What did you learn, whether in or out of school?
  • How have you grown?
  • How could you build on that growth next year?
  • When did you leave your comfort zone this year? How did you stretch yourself? What happened when you did?
  • What did you struggle with, or even fail at, this year? What was hard about it?

Our literacy team also suggests considering the following:

  • What professional learning this year engaged or motivated you?
  • What classroom routines and conditions most supported student learning?
  • When did you feel the most prepared and engaged this year as a teacher?
  • What did you do this year to ensure that all students felt seen and heard and valued? What more would you like to do to support this?
  • What was one breakthrough moment you had this year with a student? Can you use this in the future?
  • How were you successful with engaging students? Can you build on this next year?
  • What was the highlight of your year, and how can you create the conditions to include similar moments?
  • What is something you would like to try next year? What learning do you need?
  • What barriers held you back from being the teacher you hoped to be this year? Is there anything in your control that could help you overcome the barrier?

It can be difficult to give ourselves the time and space for reflection that we know is essential for students. We hope the ideas here will inspire you to take the time to celebrate your accomplishments, learn from your experiences, and set new goals that will benefit you and your students.



Former professional hockey player Akim Aliu tells his life-story in the graphic memoir Dreamer, co-authored with Greg Anderson Elysee and illustrated by Karen De La Vega. Aliu, who was born in Nigeria and spent his early years in Ukraine, moved to Toronto in 1997, and discovered the game of hockey. Although the game was too expensive for his immigrant parents, and, as his brother liked to remind him, “black people don’t even play hockey” his obsession with the game only grew.

Wearing a pair of $9 hockey skates purchased at at yard sale, Akim hit the ice for the first time. Like, literally hit it. He was 10 years old at the time, which, in the opinion of many, is much too old to ever dream of playing competitive hockey, let alone even dream about playing in the NHL. But Akim knew deep down that this was his game. In the book he states that finding hockey made moving to Canada make sense and felt that hockey was the thing that would “make [him] make sense”. Fast forward three years and the hockey prodigy was playing for the prestigious Toronto Marlboros Hockey Club, and then the OHL, and then the Chicago Blackhawks made Akim their second pick in the second round of the National Hockey League Draft.

Before reading this memoir, I knew nothing about Akim Aliu, but I was already rooting for the young hockey player on the front cover. I was expecting an, “overcome the obstacles” and “keep dreaming” story, but what I read was something much more important.  The overt racism, the hazing, the abuse this young hockey player endured was shocking, but Aliu’s courage to stand against it is something that may very well change the future of hockey. His current organization makes me believe this even more.

Overall, Dreamer is a raw and powerful memoir that offers a firsthand account of the experiences of a Black hockey player in a predominantly White sport. Aliu’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a call to action for those who want to make sports a more inclusive and welcoming space for all athletes – which I hope is everyone.



Heartbreaking, honest, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, this graphic memoir shares Tyler Feder’s story of losing her mom to cancer and just wanting the world around her “to get it”. Written 10 years after her mother’s death, Feder begins with the shocking diagnosis of late-stage cancer, takes us through the horrors of cancer treatment, and “the worst day”. And then the aftermath of the arrangements, “the new normal”, and living life without her mother.

The graphics in this memoir, such as “things that died with my mom” and “the little things that get me the most” provide an intimate understanding of the journey of grief and loss, and make you appreciate the author for sharing what many people are unable to share.

This story is a friend for anyone experiencing the loss of someone they love, and a guide for anyone who knows someone who is.




What I Was Reading:

Cast Away: Poems For our Time by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a collection of poems about trash that will inspire any reader to take more care regarding the things we leave behind. Recommended for ages 10+, the poems are accessible, relevant, and relatable. Here is one of the poems in the collection:


Trash Talk 326

Did anyone ever say you were their girlfriend
or boyfriend and you barely even knew them?

Did they tell your friends they had insight
and could guess what you might do next?

Did they say you called them when you
didn’t even know their number?

What did you do about people like this?
Did you argue, tell them off?

Or walk calmly past them in the hallway
as if they were a locker or a clock?


What Moves I Noticed the Writer Making:

  • The poet speaks directly to the reader (you), which creates a sense of intimacy between poet and reader
  • The poet tells a story by asking a series of questions
  • The poet never tells the reader how she feels about the situation. Her feelings are inferred through the questions she chooses to ask
  • The first three stanzas set up the problem and the last two stanzas is where she is asking how others have handled the situation

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the format of the poem (asking questions of the reader) to tell your own story of an event/situation
  • Write the story of what you think happened between the poet and this person
  • Write back to the poet, answering the questions as they pertain to you
  • Write a letter of advice to the poet on what to do if she is ever in this situation again



I’ve been a long-time fan of author Mindy McGinnis, and her most recent publications, The Initial Insult and The Last Laugh left me an even bigger fan. This YA thriller duology features fast paced, plot driven page-turners that many readers will devour in a single read. Allusions to many Edgar Allan Poe stories are found in both titles, adding another layer of allure for many readers.

The Initial Insult

Tress Montor wants answers and she’ll stop at nothing to get them, including killing her (ex) best friend Felicity Turnodo. When the girls were in grade 4, Tress’ parents were driving Felicity home late one night…and were never seen again. Felicity was found wet and unconscious and alone on the riverbank and claims to have no memory of what happens. Tress has a plan to “help” Felicity re member. It’s Halloween and the teens of Amontillado are celebrating in an old, abandoned house. Tress lures Felicity to the basement, ties her up, and brick by brick begins to build a wall that will be the last thing Felicity sees if she can’t give Tress the answers she is so desperately searching for. Add to all of this the fact that there is a black Panther on the prowl, making the situation more tense and dire.

Told in alternating viewpoints, we learn both the girls’ histories and their current realities, all while wondering, is Tress actually capable of killing her former best friend?


The Last Laugh

The story continues in The Last Laugh immediately following the final event in The Initial Insult. There is a search party organized to find Felicity, which Tress joins (even though she obviously knows where Felicity is). But Tress is barely hanging on. Her injury from the tiger is infected and she fears she is losing both her arm and her mind. She also knows there is no way she can tell a doctor what happened. Her best friends charm that she shared with Felicity suddenly seams to have it’s own heart beat and Tress is finding it more and more difficult to tell what is real. Her 18th birthday is approaching, and another twist comes into play. Tress’ cousin Ribbit simply cannot have her be alive for the occasion. As some secrets get revealed, many more are just coming into play. Prepare for some major twists and turns in the plot. Where The Initial Insult had readers wondering if there is any way Felicity could make it out alive, in The Last Laugh it is Tress’ life on the line.


Mindy McGinnis does not hold back for her audience of YA readers. There are dark and twisted plot lines, family secrets, and lives are lost. Readers who enjoy a good thriller are going to love this duology.