Margin Notes

THE QUICKWRITE HANDBOOK BY LINDA RIEF

Jan
27

Linda Rief has been an educator and mentor-teacher for a very long time. She taught Grade 8 ELA in Maine up until her retirement a couple of years ago. Writing, and the art of teaching writing, are her passions.

Her latest book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students Thinking and Writing is simply a beautiful book. The text is divided into four sections: Seeing Inward, Leaning Outward, Beyond Self and Looking Back. In each section there are a myriad of text forms to use as mentors: poetry, cartoons, excerpts from YA novels, essays and short stories written by her former students, as well as examples from Linda’s own writer’s notebook. If you are looking for quickwrite ideas, this book has you covered. Each mentor text has an accompanying lesson idea.

If you are intrigued by the idea of quickwrites, but are unsure how to begin, the introduction of the book will answer all your questions. It gives a great summary of what a quickwrite is, the benefits of using them with your writing community, as well as ideas for teaching with quickwrites.

You can learn more about this book here.

 

THE PASSING PLAYBOOK BY ISAAC FITZSIMONS 

Jan
25

This book is everything. The cover quote from Kacen Callender calls the novel “a simultaneous warm hug and a lightning strike of courage” and I couldn’t agree more. I was so invested in the lives of the main characters, Spencer and Justice, that I read the entire book in one sitting. To be transparent, I love a good romance; whether the romance is the main plotline or a subtle background story, I am hooked. And there is so much love in this book. There is love between friends, parents, siblings, support systems, coaches and, of course, romantic love.  

The synopsis of the book highlights the conflict Spencer confronts playing as a transgender athlete on the boys’ team. For his own safety, Spencer transfers to a new school where he believes it is safe to be queer but is hesitant to be out as trans. This repeated message is an important reality that safety comes first, with no one pressuring Spencer to risk that by coming out as transgender. This emphasizes the fact that maintaining your own safety does not mean you are living a lie. 

Although these events do take place in the story, it is not what makes up the bulk of the narrative. 

The Passing Playbook takes the reader to a new school with Spencer where he experiences acceptance by his peers, teachers and coach; support in a GSA and success playing soccer. It also parallels this experience with that of Justice, Spencer’s crush and teammate, who has the same acceptance at school, but is not open at home. Their relationship is the sweet and romantic love that was a delight to read. 

Alongside the budding romance, this book deals with trans rights at school and in sports. It gives a positive example of what an accepting team can look like without a grand coming out, but also what the support of a team looks like when faced with adversity. Spencer fits in easily as a queer player and that comradery never waivers as the eventual conflict of playing as a trans athlete is realized.  

Another important storyline is the juxtaposition of parenting between the families of Spencer and Justice. On one side the reader sees parents who are desperate to do the right thing, attend support groups and bond with their child. On the other side are parents who are homophobic leaving a child who is scared. Spencer’s story has a happy ending. While the book ends with Justice being safe and loved, I can’t say his ending is a happy one. Fitzsimons does an excellent job highlighting the positives and showing strong Allyship without ignoring the hard realities being faced in the LBGTQ2AS+ community.  

Although left with a heart-warming feeling, this book does not shy away from hard topics. Readers will see characters faced with homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, misgendering and references to school violence. This is Isaac Fitzsimons’ first novel. He captures the characters so realistically with a pace that feels natural and I can’t wait to read more from this author. 

 

“I think that the more people who are out and visible, the safer it is for everyone. BUT, and this is a big but, you need to make sure that you’re safe first. Physically safe, yes but also emotionally and psychologically.” 

“Whether you come out tomorrow or in five years, or thirty years, I guarantee that the fight will still be going on in some form or another. And I promise that when you join us, we’ll welcome you with open arms.” 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: TWO-PAGE SPREAD

Jan
20

In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s new resource, 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they discuss using two-page spreads as a way to generate student thinking and prepare for discussions about their reading. They begin by giving students no more direction than to ask that students use the two pages to bring evidence of what they were thinking as they were reading. They then used student models to show different ways readers might show their thinking. 

Here are some examples: 

Students used lists and categories.

Students used sticky-notes in their books and transferred them to the two-pager. 

Students organized their thinking with different colors of sticky-notes. 

Students wrote notes and highlighted the main points. 

Students took the guiding questions and created their own charts of character, quotes and craft. Making thinking visible is an essential part of any classroom. I love that these authors discuss how this same thinking model can be used in other content areas, such as this one on anatomy.  

Some students may require support with such an open-ended activity and this resource provides other options that are more guided, while maintaining the goal of student-generated talk. Here are some guiding questions that might help students get started on their two-page spread: 

  • Find a gossipy moment in the book. 
  • Identify the turns in the book. 
  • Discuss a critical decision made in the chapter or book. 
  • Capture a shift in your thinking. 
  • Discuss a minor character of major importance. 
  • Pick a passage and read it the way the author intended it to be read. 
  • Identify and discuss the most important word in the passage, chapter, or book. 
  • Annotate poetry 

You can find more student spreads under “Book Love workshop handouts” on http://pennykittle.net  

Kittle, Penny, and Kelly Gallagher. 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency. Heinemann, 2021.

ALONE BY CHRISTOPHE CHABOUTE

Jan
18

Christophe Chabouté is a renowned author in France, known for his detailed black and white illustrations and storytelling style. Originally published in French, most of his books have now been translated into English.

His graphic novel Alone is one of my all time favourite books. It tells the story of a man who was born on an rocky island with a lighthouse and has never left its confines. He has spent most of his life alone. All he has to entertain himself is a goldfish, a dictionary and his imagination. As the tale unfolds, he receives a gift that opens up his world in unexpected ways.

Told through mostly illustrations. this book is one that will linger in your thoughts long after you finish reading it. I just “happened” upon this book by accident and decided to order it based completely on the cover art. I am so glad I did!

Add this to your TBR list! It would also make a great addition to your classroom library.

CRAFT STUDIO: YOU’D BE HOME NOW

Jan
13

What I was reading:

Kathleen Glasgow’s You’d Be Home Now is a beautiful story told through the eyes of Emory Ward, whose brother is addicted to drugs. The story explores a variety of topics connected to youth today, specifically addiction and identity. Interspersed throughout the story is Instagram posts called Mis_Educated. These posts become another character of the story. Here are some examples:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

  • through these posts, the reader also gets the chance to hear from other students in the town of Mill Haven (in the comment section) about what’s really happening and how they feel about their lives and all the messiness that comes with being a teenager.
  • These posts broaden the story from that of just the main characters
  • Posts are written as poems
  • How the hashtags used set a tone, for example #nightmare in one post and #itgetsbetter in another post
  • How the comments are not always connected to the post or to other comments, but reveal a great deal about the youth culture in Mill Haven

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read these posts as a writer and notice the craft moves inside each post
  • Read these posts as a reader. Write about your thoughts on what you are reading.
  • Write an Instagram post that would fit with the novel you are currently reading. Add in the hashtags and comments
  • Choose one Instagram post/poem and follow the format of the writing
  • Find a poem and write the comment section to depict the youth culture in your life
  • These posts discuss notable people in Mill Haven. Write about the notable people in your city/town/community.

GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS All THE YOUNG MEN: A MEMOIR OF LOVE, AIDS, AND CHOSEN FAMILY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH BY RUTH COKER BURKS WITH KEVIN CARR O’LEARY

Jan
11

I get a lot of book recommendations, all of which I write down and tuck away in my many hiding spots. The list gets longer, and the stack of books on the nightstand gets taller. I slowly work my way through books that are “for me”, books “for my students”, and professional development books for work. I tend to try to go through them in the order I buy them, because that’s just how my brain works.

This book, however, did not work its way to the top of the pile easily – it landed in my hands with a thud. From the front cover, I knew this book was going to be an emotional teardown. I knew it would rip me apart at the seams, but I was not expecting it to stitched me back together again with new knowledge, new insight, and new respect for allies and their efforts.

One of my most trusted friends dropped this book in my hand with a warning that sounded something along the lines of “I promise you’ll cry, but I also promise you’ll laugh,” and boy, was she right. Ruth Coker Burks’ memoir is a time-traveling machine, hauling its audience back into the 1980’s when the AIDS crisis was still known as GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Burk offers a new perspective as she was the main caretaker for the men whose families had given up on them. Not to mention, she was also a single mom with a young daughter. Ruth found herself in a position where she was one of the only allies for the gay community during a time of crisis, and she knew it was her calling as soon as she watched her first patient die.

Although she had no formal medical training, All the Young Men follows Burks into hospitals where she acts as the parent, friend, and partner that many gay men needed. She remembers the parents of young men she called, refusing to be by their child’s deathbed because of their sexuality. She recalls burying dozens of friends and acquaintances on her own property, turning her plot of land into a graveyard for the men who were shunned by their religion, their society and even worse, their own families.

I was hesitant going into this memoir, worried it would be another story of an ally (someone who doesn’t fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella) who saved the day – this trope is ubiquitous, exhausting, and unhelpful. However, this book does the exact opposite. Burks shows the importance of allyship and what true, real support looks like. Allyship looks like having difficult conversations with people you love, reaching out for help when it’s needed, and taking time to understand the systemic issues that inhibit people from getting the care, support, and love they need to flourish.

The highlight of this book is Burk’s best friend, Billy, a no-nonsense drag queen (before it was cool!) and the true star of the show. Ruth & Billy’s friendship is pure gold, and reading their story unfold is nothing short of beautiful.

This book is exactly what I needed – a historical memoir that sets the stage for just how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, and just how much is still needing to be done. It tells its audience the true power of change, love, and fighting for those who cannot.

Laura Noble is an English teacher at Leo Hayes High School. She is an avid reader of true crime, feminist literature, and realistic fiction.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: LIVE CURIOUSLY THROUGH BOOKS

Dec
23

In her new book Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice, Stephanie Affinito shares a variety of ways for teachers to cultivate their personal literacy lives and in doing so be the model our students need to cultivate their own literacy identities.  Affinito provides multiple ways to build both our reading and writing habits and communities, but more than this, and what I love most, is she connects what we can do for ourselves with how we can make it real for our students.

One of my favorite ideas is entitled, Live Curiously Through Books, found on page 53.  When reading a book have you ever found yourself curious about the setting? Or if historical fiction, the events leading up to the specific time in the text.  What about the characters?  Do you want to know more about their backstory? Stephanie shares the following examples of how to live curiously through books:

  • Find the setting of the book you are reading on Google Maps. Explore the area to get a firsthand idea of what the setting might actually look like—and add the location to your bucket list of places to visit.
  • Search for images to help you visualize objects and items from the book. My favorite find? Seeing the same brilliant blue from the lapis lazuli stone that Beverly Tipinksky saw on the cover of a book in Beverly, Right Now by Kate DiCamillo.
  • Look up vocabulary in a digital dictionary to broaden your language and vocabulary. Did you know that sunder means “to break apart or separate”? I do now.
  • Explore new concepts and ideas. Watch videos, read online articles, and learn from supplemental resources. YouTube, Great Big Story, and The Kid Should See this are great places to start.

As Affinito shares, “Living your way through books curiously invites you to experience them firsthand, actively learning about the world without ever leaving your home. So, grab a device and give it a try the next time you read a book-and see where it takes you. Then, share the experience with your students.”

(Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives. P. 53 Heinemann, 2021)

So how can we make this real for our students? Stephanie suggests creating bookmarks using a QR code generator to provide deeper connections for students.

A twist on this could be having the students create bookmarks for their favorite books and then share with peers after you provide a model for your students.  What a great strategy to promote curiosity and book buzz in your classroom!

To learn more about Stephanie Affinito’s book, Leading Literate Lives check out this postcast at  Heinemann.com.

RIVALS BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Dec
21

“Everyone thinks it must be totally awesome to be so good at something, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the greatest feeling in the world. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s too much. Too much attention, too much pressure, too many expectations. I mean, look what happened with the cheating thing – I don’t even love basketball that much, but even so, I did, like, this really dumb thing because I thought I had to. I literally thought it was the only choice, that if I couldn’t play basketball then everything would be ruined. I mean, I like basketball, I really do. Maybe I even love it. But sometimes it felt like I had to LIVE it. And I didn’t want that.”

Tommy Greenwald’s newest release, Rivals, takes us back to the town of Walthorne, but this time readers are embedded in the across-town rivalry between the north and the south middle schools. Based on the real-life experience of watching his son play basketball, Greenwald’s story serves as a warning of what happens when sports become something they were never meant to be for a kid: their job.

Once again using different formats students loved in Game Changer: social media posts, interview transcripts, newspaper articles, and flashbacks, this story is both powerful and relevant. Two young basketball players used to meet up on Saturday mornings and love every second they were on the court. Fast forward a few years, and we have Austin Chambers, from the north, who is so busy trying to live up to his parents’ expectations of him to be the best player, he impulsively jeopardizes the safety of a teammate. The other young player, Carter Haswell, from the south, is trying to perform under the pressure that his athletic ability is his ticket out of financial hardship, and makes a risky decision that could cost him more than just his place on the team.

Interspersed throughout the story we hear the voices of many young students caught up in the “win at all costs” mentality that is pervasive in youth sport culture and shows us who really loses out: the kids. While I recommend this title for many readers – sports fans, realistic fiction fans, readers who like a page turner they can’t put down, readers who recognize the impact of social media – I also recommend it to their parents. The message of this author is one we can all learn from.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: READING AND/OR WRITING TIMELINES

Dec
16

The students who enter our classrooms each day have histories we desperately want to know.  These past experiences tell the stories of how they arrived at our door, who influenced them along the way and how we can support them as a learner. It can be informational overload when we try to navigate all these new-to-us learners. In her resource Leading Literate Lives, Stephanie Affinito talks about creating reading and or writing timelines to provide insight into who we are today as readers and writers.

Stephanie recommends doing this practice yourself to learn about your own writing identity. The same practice can be used for students.

  1. Start by drawing a timeline on your page. The image below shows the timeline drawn as a roadmap.
  2. Create some prompts that address some specific times in your students’ lives and ask them to record positive memories above the timeline and negative memories below the timeline.
  3. Stephanie provides great prompts for you, the teacher, to reflect on your own life. Several of these could apply to students as well. For example, on page 6 she says:
    1. Think back to the earliest memory you have of reading and/or writing. What was it? How old were you? How did it make you feel toward reading/writing?
    2. Reflect on your experiences with reading/writing at home. What were they like? Who supported you? How did you feel?
    3. Think of your experiences in elementary school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    4. Think of your experiences in middle school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    5. What recent experiences have you had with reading/writing? How does your reading/writing life feel?

Add your memories to your timeline.

Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. Heinemann, 2021.

GAME CHANGER BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Dec
14

After reading Tommy Greenwald’s latest book, The Rivals, we had to return to recommend the first companion novel, Game Changer.

You may recognize the title from a craft studio you can find here. The craft studio post highlights the modern storytelling that allows readers to piece together the story from dialogue, texts, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, a social media page and inner thoughts. The modern format and compelling narrative will appeal to all young readers navigating the world of social media, secrets, and friendships.

What do you do when team loyalty means going against your own values? With so many different stories, whose will be heard? And who is telling the truth?

This fast-paced storyline is engaging as readers follow the mystery of 13-year-old Teddy Youngblood fighting for his life in a coma after a football practice at Walthorne high school. It quickly becomes apparent that the accounts of what happened to Teddy are not lining up and there are people who are working hard to keep the truth a secret and silence those who know.

Game Changers is an important read for any sports fan as it addresses the dangers of hazing rituals and the responsibility that parents, coaches, and teammates have in keeping the players safe.

Not only a recommended book for athletes, but this book also appeals to any suspense-lover as the different perspectives and text forms give subtle clues to the facts surrounding this injury. When enough people start talking and asking questions, the truth always comes out. The is an important book to have on a classroom shelf.

Stay tuned for our recommendation of The Rivals!