Margin Notes

Welcome to Margin Notes 2020-21!


Welcome to another year of Margin Notes! We are very excited to introduce our newest members of the team Tracy Davis, Colleen Dyer-Wiley, Signe Williams, and Sonja Wright.  

When we created Margin Notes in 2018, our target audience was teachers of Grades 6 to 12. This year, thanks to the expertise of the new members of our blogging team, we’re going to expand our content with a K-12 focus. 

We look forward to connecting, learning, and growing with you this year! 

Rebound by Kwame Alexander


After reading Kwame Alexander’s award-winning novel, The Crossover, students invariably ask the same question, “Do you have any other books like this one?” and with the release of Rebound comes a book that will thrill these readers.

Set in 1988, Rebound is the prequel to The Crossover and tells the story of Chuck “Da Man” Bell’s summer when he is 12 years old and struggling to live with grief after his father’s sudden death; the summer he is sent to live with his grandparents; when he faces the consequences of bad decisions; discovers his passion and talent for basketball; and, supported by his family, is finally able to “find his smile.”

Rebound is written in verse that mirrors that of The Crossover, and with the author’s command of this form, and his creative and precise use of space and placement, readers experience the full power and intensity of a single word or line as they journey through the story (insert photo). The addition of graphic pages illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile serve to further captivate the reader and reveal the dreams that Chuck is too fearful to share with even those closest to him.

Fans of Kwame Alexander will be delighted to be reunited with characters from The Crossover, and the new characters introduced are just as spirited, loving, and funny as we have come to expect. But you certainly do not need to have read The Crossover to read Rebound; this book as a stand-alone is just as powerful.

I would recommend this book as an addition to both middle and high school classroom libraries…with one warning. Start thinking about what you are going to suggest to students as their next read because we all know what question they will ask when they finish.

Student Self-Assessment, Mentor Texts, and Single Point Rubrics


After meeting with Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson yesterday to continue our conversation regarding making learning visible, we have an idea that comes from Michelle’s classroom that we want to share with you.

Writing teachers are always looking for ways to foster students’ motivation and capacity to self-assess. As Sandra Herbst explains, “Self-assessment teaches students how to self-monitor, especially when it is informed by clear criteria and samples or models. Students who self-monitor are developing and practicing the skills needed to be life-long, independent learners.” (more…)

Lightning Round Book Talks- Student Edition


After we blogged about our lightning round book talks, our friend and colleague, Sara Bamford, contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in visiting her Grade 10 classes but with the tables turned and the students presenting the book talks.

Of course, we were all in.  The plan was for the students to present short, informal book talks on their current or recent reads and for us to identify who “sold” their books best. Sara and her students co-constructed the criteria they wanted us to use to determine a winner and she created an anchor chart “cheat sheet” of information readers could include:

When we arrived, Sara had organized the class into small groups.  (more…)



One of our team goals is to share our literacy lives with others and create opportunities for our colleagues to do the same.  This summer, we are committing to sharing our reading on Twitter using the hashtag #ASDWSummerReads and we are inviting you to join us!

To start us off, we are sharing our summer “To Be Read” stacks:

Kelly’s TBR Summer Stack

Melissa’s TBR Summer Stack

Jill’s TBR Summer Stack

A special note to our ASDW friends-every time you tweet using #ASDWSummerReads, we will put your name in a draw for books you can share with your students in the new school year.  Happy summer reading!

Book Relay Celebration


Yesterday we met with a wonderful group of middle-level reading enthusiasts to wrap up our year-long book relay.  Teachers first met in their relay teams to discuss the titles they had read throughout the year. A few minutes later, we asked teachers to vote on what title impacted them the most as readers. We gave each person six sticky dots to vote on their favourite title ( 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd).  Here are the winners:

1st place was Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee is a story of three children displaced from their homes (Nazi Germany 1939, Cuba 1994, and Syria 2015) told simultaneously with one of the most beautiful endings we have ever read.

  • Although this book was the one that teachers chose to have impacted them the most as readers, many agreed that it took them time to warm up to the characters because of the layout of the book.  It cycles through each character telling a bit of their story for a few pages then moves onto the next which can cause some confusion and it takes a bit longer to get lost in the narrative as it changes characters and time periods quickly.  One teacher shared that when book talking this title to her students, she made a comparison to a title they had previously enjoyed as a read-aloud involving alternating chapters told by two characters and that Refugee just added a third.  We chatted about strategies to share with students involving novels with multiple characters such as checking back in with the character description on the jacket cover, writing down notes, etc.
  • Another aspect that we loved was that this novel builds empathy because people are still living in these horrible situations right now around the world, facing discrimination and hate.  Teachers agreed this would also be a great book to use in a Social Studies class.  One thing that also struck us was the high level of engagement we noticed when our students were reading it.  One teacher shared that when she was done reading it, she had five students who read it after her.  They loved it so much that when she went to chat with one of them about it, she was “shushed” because a nearby student still reading it hadn’t got to that part yet.  As writers, we all agreed that the craft displayed by the author with the ending was spectacular.

2nd place was The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

A poignant middle-grade novel of friendship and forgiveness; love and loss; wonder and adventure; and ultimately, of hope.

  • What really stood out in the discussion about this book was the love of the characters.  And not just the main character-all of them!  One teacher is using it as a read aloud to end the year with and the students are loving it.  All the teachers agreed that once they started reading it, they could not put it down until it was finished!  A big motivation to keep reading this book was that you don’t know the secret the main character is keeping inside until towards the end.






3rd place was Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

A realistic story about a girl named Finley who is wandering through the swampy mess of family, depression, and divorce countered with a parallel fantasy story.

  • A lot of teachers shared how they weren’t initially embracing the fantasy sections of the book until about a third of the way through when they realized these interwoven stories gave great insight to what the main character, Finley, was feeling.  We talked about Finley’s determination to keep her depression and anxiety hidden because she couldn’t name what she had and how this novel takes topics that can be scary to middle school kids like mental illness and cancer and makes them safe to talk about.  It really showed the power of writing and family to heal.




Although these were the three winners, we all agreed that every title was one they wanted in their classroom library.  Teachers really appreciated having the opportunity to fill their own book gaps through the relay and are looking forward to next year!

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater


Sasha, who identifies as agender, and Richard, a boy with a record, are two teenagers who both live in Oakland, California but the lives they are living couldn’t be more different. Yet, each afternoon, their paths cross for 8 minutes on The 57 Bus. On one of these afternoons, Richard, on impulse and egged on by peers, puts a lighter to Sasha’s skirt. Sasha is left severely burned and Richard is left charged with two hate crimes and the possibility of life-imprisonment.

But there is so much more to the story than just these details.

In four parts (Sasha, Richard, The Fire, and Justice), journalist and author Dashka Slater reveals how the truth is much more complicated than what can be learned through media headlines. Her use of fragments from witnesses, first responders, counsellors, friends, and even excerpts of text messages work together to show just how complicated that truth can be if you care enough to look at the actual people involved.


Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet


I have been meaning to read Cloud and Wallfish ever since I heard Jill book talk it to middle school classes.  So, when I opened up my book relay package and saw my next read was this one, I couldn’t wait to dive in and I was not disappointed!

This may be a book written for 8-14-year-olds, but wow, did it ever pull me into the story, and truth be told, I am not a big fan of historical fiction. Or maybe I am and just didn’t know it because I was fascinated by the setting: Berlin in 1998.

We meet our main character, Noah, when he is still living a pretty typical life for an 11-year-old in the US. He goes to school, plays soccer, and looks forward to his friends’ birthday parties. He does have the “Incredible Stutter” but still… a pretty typical life. However, that life comes to an abrupt end on a random afternoon in 1989 when Noah’s parents pick him up in a car he has never seen before, begin to discard anything that could reveal his identity, and are acting in a way that is so bizarre it’s almost scary. (more…)

Dr. Mary Howard


Recently, Fredericton teachers were treated to a PL session facilitated by Dr. Mary Howard, author of RTI From All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know, Moving Forward with RTI: Reading and Writing Activities for Every Instructional Setting and Tier, Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy
Work that Matters,
co-author of Literacy Lenses, and co-host of the weekly #G2Great twitter chat. If you are not already following Mary on Twitter, you can find her at @DrMaryHoward.

Mary’s session focused on the crossroads we are at in regards to Response to Intervention. As she explains, “We can either use response to intervention as an opportunity to rebuild a positive climate or allow it to dissolve into something that takes us even farther from the reason most of us became teachers.”

Opening up the session, Mary warned her audience that after 40+ years of teaching, she no longer has a filter, and this was very much appreciated by the teachers in attendance because she was able to voice what so many teachers have been thinking. (more…)

Anticipation Guides


What it is: a pre-reading strategy used to activate prior knowledge and spark interest about key concepts in a reading or unit of study. Teachers create these statements and provide them to students prior to a reading or unit of study. These statements are then revisited after the learning has occurred to document any changes in thinking. As such, it serves as both a pre and post-assessment. More so, it can be used to guide class/group/partner discussion about key concepts.  Here is a one I used with a group of students who were reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

As with most topics, we generally have pre-conceived ideas and beliefs, even if these are largely unconscious. Use the anticipatory guide below to help you uncover your beliefs about these topics, and also to investigate whether these change as a result of your reading.



Before Reading   After Reading
There are times when you should tell your sister’s/brother’s/friend’s secrets to an adult.
If you do not consume alcohol as a teenager, you will not be accepted by teenagers who do.
You can be happy and sad at the same time.
The “cool” kids at school are the happiest.
There are certain things that are “off –limits” to talk about with your friends.
Good readers are good writers.
Being a wallflower means you are not participating in life.
Learning how to make friends is more difficult in high school than in middle school.
Adults forget what the intensity of a crush is like for a teenager.
If adults really knew what happened at teenage parties they would be shocked.

Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom by Hattie et al lists the following three steps for creating anticipation guides:

  1. Identify the major concepts. What are the main ideas in the passage or unit of study?
  2. Consider your students’ prior knowledge. What misconceptions are they most likely to hold?
  3. Write five to ten statements pertaining to the unit. Don’t make them all factual – be sure to create open-ended statements as well. Look again at your major concepts to make sure you are creating statements that relate to larger concepts rather than isolated facts. For example, for a reading about drama in literature, the titles of various plays would not be useful.

If you try anticipation guides with your students, we’d love to hear how it went!