Margin Notes

July Reading #ASDWReads


Vacation means extra reading time. Here’s a summary of the audiobooks, e-books, and paper books I enjoyed in July:

July 1July 3July 2July 4JUly 5July 6July 7July-9.jpegJuly-8.jpegJul-11.jpegJuly-10.jpeg


Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


This is my final installment in this series of #CyberPD reflections on Welcome to Writing Workshop by Stacey Shubitz and Lynne R. Dorfman. I’ve enjoyed exploring this resource Welcome to Writing Workshopand would recommend it to teachers at any grade level who are interested in launching writing workshop or who are looking for ways to enhance an already established workshop practice. The final three chapters focus on small group instruction, share sessions, and strategic grammar, conventions, and spelling instruction. Again, the focus is on using the components of writing workshop to create a community of writers within the classroom, foster strong independent writing identities, and offer differentiated and responsive support to student writers.

Here are some of the ideas I captured in my notebook while reading:

  • “Small, flexible groups help teachers differentiate instruction. When teachers examine their conference notes, their anecdotal observations of daily progress, and information students provide for anchor charts during instruction or after whole-group discussions, they can decide which students might benefit from a small-group gathering.”
  • “There are myriad reasons to form small groups based on interest. Often these interest groups are started, organized, and run by the students without much help from the teacher. Sometimes the teacher gathers information in conferences that lead to the formation of small groups of specific students to study a craft move, an author, a sentence pattern or sentence patterns, or a part of speech.”
  • “Small groups are an excellent place to deliver highly individualized instructions while maximizing your instructional time. Although you’ll probably find yourself using small-group time to reteach minilessons, you will increase the effectiveness of your small-group instruction if you plan courses of study for your students to help them grow in specific writing skills. Remember to provide students with time for independent practice between course-of-study meetings so they will have ample time to try out the things you are teaching.”
  • “Our goal is to build and maintain a community of writers. Providing the time for students to reflect and to share writing pieces with classmates will help them build trust and respect. When students share their writing and thinking about their writing, they are sharing ideas that may move other writers in the community forward. In this safe community, students feel safe to try out new strategies, forms, and genres, as well as share their personal insights.”
  • “Clearly communicating the intended message is the goal of every writer. We must guide students to understand how our language works. Instead of making grammar and mechanics a chore, we must engage them in learning about grammar and conventions by teaching them how to love words.”
  • “When we grew up, we were taught to edit once we finished a piece of writing. As we’ve grown as teachers and writers, we’ve learned that isn’t what real writers do. Rather, ‘[E]diting shouldn’t be something editors save for the day before publication. Remind your students that writers are constantly editing. Yes, they’re polishing their writing by proofreading it before taking it to publication, but editing is a daily task’ (Shubitz 2017).”

As #CyberPD comes to a close for another year, I’m looking forward to joining the Twitter chat on July 23 at 8:30 EST/ 9:30 AST to connect with other educators about Welcome to Writing Workshop.

Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


As I continued reading Welcome to Writing Workshop for #CyberPD Week 2, I celebrated how the authors, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, make it explicit that the focus of establishing writing workshop is in the service of responsiveness to each student’s needsWelcome to Writing Workshop in order to foster independence. Although writing workshop provides a structure or framework for writing instruction, it is far from limiting or confining. Writing workshop, at the core, is designed to put student writers at the center, encouraging them to and providing the support they require to make their own decisions as writers. The ultimate goal is to create a space for students to live a writerly life.

Here are some of my favorite lines that I captured in my notebook while I read:

  • “The whole group setting is where teachers can set a positive tone by gathering the writing community for instruction. Here, we move students to independence by offering instruction through demonstration and guided practice. We share a mentor text, we present a piece of high-quality literature as an exemplar, and we model with our own writing. Our goal is to move students to independent practice as soon as possible so that the students are in charge, making decisions and self-regulating most of their work in writing workshop.”
  • “…in other words, being a responsive teacher is a great way to find things to teach during the whole class instructional time.”
  • “Dorfman and Capelli (2017) say that mentor texts help students move beyond their comfort zones—to take risks and stretch outside their ‘writing box’—and inspire student writers to reinvent themselves as writers, growing and changing in skill set, sophistication, and, we would add, in imagination.”
  • “If we want our writers to be successful, we need to give them the time to practice by actually writing. A regularly scheduled writing workshop—with time for sustained writing—gives students a chance to build their writing muscles. They can start to think about what they would like to write that day. They can talk about it with others before they write. They can plan “next steps” in their head. We cannot skimp on independent time because kids need uninterrupted periods of time to hone their writing craft to develop the stamina and endurance they need to be strong writers.”
  • “Independent writing time is a time when you want your students to live a writerly life. This time might help them envision other projects they might want to work on. Real-life writers are always engaged in multiple projects. Therefore, we think it’s important to provide your students with opportunities to have an ongoing project as their backup work. For some kids, it’s using their writer’s notebook as a playground. For other kids, it’s working in another genre.”
  • “…the one-on-one conference you hold with your students is time well-spent. Not only will you get to know your students better as writers, (and as people, too), but they will get to know you as a writer. Conferences are a way to build student confidence and resolve some anxieties. Writing is hard work, and some students will need a conference to cheer them on to do the necessary work to grow as a writer.”
  • “The true purpose of any conference is to move the writer, not the piece of writing, forward. It is here we can help every student find his writing identity so he believes he can write. We provide support and offer specific feedback. The relationships you forge during one-on-one conference time will help you find pathways to student learning and growth for every student in your classroom.”

Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


I am a week behind with my first #CyberPD post, so here I am reflecting on Week 1 in Welcome to Writing WorkshopWeek 2…

In the first 3 chapters of Welcome to Writing Workshop, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman introduce readers to the structure of writing workshop and the conditions that make it successful for all writers, including the teacher. These chapters focused on the community- and identity-building aspects of writing workshop. Here are some of the quotes I captured in my notebook while I was reading:

  • “It’s our belief that every student can write—even the ones who have stopped believing in themselves as writers. All students have stories to tell. All students have opinions. We take what children come to us with and help them shape what’s inside of them into writing on the page.”
  • The structure for writing workshop is simple: it is student-centered and based on the belief that students become successful writers when they write frequently for extended periods of time, and on topics of their choice.”
  • “The focus in writing workshop is entirely on the writer. We help writers develop the skills, strategies, and craft that will sustain them across multiple pieces of writing in various genres.”
  • “Establishing a writing workshop begins with the work we do to help our students feel safe and secure. We create a social environment where students can share their struggles with others and benefit from listening in to acquire the problem-solving methods of their peers.”
  • “Building a writing community starts in September, but sustaining a writing community is a year-long effort. It starts with the teacher and important, achievable goals: to build and sustain a classroom writing community that fosters trust among students and to clearly establish shared values about good writing, the work that writers do, and respect for others’ work.”
  • “A teacher participates as a member of the writing community by writing, often modeling during minilessons, writing in her writer’s notebook and referring to it often, and sharing examples of the kinds of writing she does outside the classroom. When you share parts of a letter you are going to send a friend, a card you created for a birthday, or a post on your blog, you are lifting the level of writing workshop by becoming another writer within the community.”




poet xTrust me – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo needs to be on your reading list. It needs to be on your bookshelves. It needs to be in the hands of young people.

This novel is the story of Xiomara – a tenth grade student who finds herself questioning her budding sexuality, her moral obligations, and her upbringing. Xio is looking for a passion to call her own, and as a first generation Dominican-American, Xio is continually seen by the colour of her skin and the way her body looks. Maturing faster than the other girls, Xio has been the victim of cat-calling and sexist comments since elementary school.

Unable to cope with the frustration that builds up, Xio feels that fist-fighting and anger are her only means of communication. This is, of course, until she finds a writing mentor and a group of peers that notice her drive and passion for slam poetry. Xio is able to realize that she’s not someone to be simply looked at – she’s someone whose voice is meant to be heard.

Realistic and imperfect characters round out the novel. Xio’s twin brother is a genius with a secret. Her father has a tainted past. Her mother is a religious devotee unwilling to budge from her beliefs and believes Xio is destined to be an unwed mother who will ruin their family’s lives.

With the exception of a few pages, the entire novel is written in verse through Xio’s poetry. Acevedo writes Xio’s story in a complex manner that begs to be read again and again. The Poet X is heartbreaking but brilliant, raw but elegant, harsh yet hopeful. I would encourage any high school student to pick up this book. Its timely narrative is a catalyst for other young women to understand the importance of self-expression and self-care.

Laura Noble is a high school English teacher at Leo Hayes High in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Laura is currently completing her Master’s in Education and is an avid reader of young adult fiction, true-crime, and feminist literature.



DryScience fiction is always at its best when it reflects our societal or cultural anxieties. Great sci-fi leaves readers pondering the what-ifs of our own world and, more importantly, how we may respond to such events. This is the reason that this genre has always appealed to me, and Dry, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is no exception. This novel focuses on how society would respond to a major drought brought on by the effects of climate change. Spoiler: It is absolutely terrifying.

Set in southern California in the midst of a major draught referred to as The Tap-Out, Dry centers around Alyssa, a 16-year-old, and her family as they navigate their way through an unravelling society. Things go from bad to catastrophic as Alyssa’s parents go missing while trying to acquire water from government operated desalination machines. Now Alyssa is faced with decisions that could mean the difference between life and death for her friends and remaining loved ones.

Like all good science fiction, Dry will make readers begin to view the world differently. I found myself questioning what I would do in an event such as The Tap-Out and that idea alone can open up some undeniably great classroom discussions or writing prompts if the book was used as a read aloud. It should be noted that parts of Dry could be upsetting to some students. The novel doesn’t shy away from how animalistic humans could indeed get in such dire circumstances. With that said, I guarantee that this novel will leave you on the edge of your seat and unable to put the book down. The novel would be fantastic as a read aloud, as the story starts from the get-go and never really lets up. High school students will find a lot to connect with but even grade 8s who see stories of climate change on the news all the time will take something away from Dry. I would be hesitant to read this aloud to classes younger than 8th grade though, simply due to the intensity of some scenes and the mild language.

Overall, I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you have a bottle of water close by as you read it. You’ll thank me later…

Devin McLaughlin is a middle school teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School and teaches grade 7 and 8 Language Arts and Social Studies.



Shoe DogAs I was reading this book for Margin Notes, a student in my grade 8 class was sharing the book with me, as he couldn’t wait for me to finish it to begin his reading. I found a note he had scribbled on a post-it and left within the pages. It said: “This feels like my grandfather is telling me a story.” I think this sums up Shoe Dog very succinctly and clearly. This book chronicles Phil Knight’s adventures, successes and near catastrophic decisions as he chases his “crazy” dream of creating and selling shoes. And it really does read as if someone close to you is telling you a story.

This isn’t just a book for the sports enthusiasts in your classroom. Yes, this is the story of a runner who sees value in creating shoes that improve speed and endurance. But this is also the story of an entrepreneur. The book is replete with business jargon with discussions of equity, loans, and the fight for the title of sole distributer, but it is also a story of relationships and how we treat people “on our team”.

I am excited about having this “window” book that explores the initial resistance of banks/society to take running shoes seriously, but who are forced to, because Phil Knight’s ability to “dream crazy” is something nobody can contend with.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 8 Language Arts at Nashwaaksis Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.



Two years, ago I was planning a workshop for teachers on using an inquiry approach toward genre studies in writers workshop. I wanted the participating teachers to explore mentor texts through the lens of the question “How is this written?” Unfortunately, we only had 90 minutes together, so our reading time would be limited. My solution was to use flash fiction. Because, by definition, the pieces would be short, we would be able to read and discuss several of them in the time available. When I started looking for examples, I discovered they were everywhere, including on the cups and bags at Chipotle.

I recently discovered that flash fiction has a cousin, flash nonfiction (aka the flash essay). Spry Literary Journal offers this definition: “Flash nonfiction, just like flash fiction, is a story shrunk into miniature form. It’s a single story, a moment, or a scene shaped and compressed into a small capsule.”

Using flash nonfiction as mentor texts is a way of supporting writers in examining craft in a larger variety of examples than they might typically be able to when reading only longform essays. This can also be helpful during mini-lessons because students can see the craft move in the context of the whole text and not simply an excerpt.

Invite students to write their own flash essays as a fresh alternative to the traditional memoir or personal essay. You might challenge them to revise a longer piece down to its essence or ask them to create a flash essay that will eventually be developed into a longer, more detailed text.

There are many possibilities for incorporating flash nonfiction into the readers and writers workshop. Here are some sites/resources to get you started:

Brevity Magazine

The Writers Alliance of Gainesville

Hippocampus Magazine

The Artifice

Teachers & Writers Magazine



HeroineI am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.

Mickey Catalan is famous in her hometown for being the star catcher on a softball team that is supposed to make history this year. But just before the season starts, Mickey is in a car accident that leaves her with three screws in her hip, intense pain, and a prescription for OxyContin. And so begins a story all too familiar due to the current opioid crisis.

Before the accident, Mickey thought she knew what pain was. Her father had an affair and now has a new wife and baby. She rarely felt comfortable with people and always struggled to find the right thing to say. But this pain is so intense that she starts to take more OxyContin than she should, and then more, and then more…because what she comes to realize is not only do the pills alleviate her pain, they make her feel good. And with them she can train harder and recover faster and get back to where she needs to be – crouched behind home plate.

The fact is though, OxyContin is expensive. And hard to find. And nobody wants to share their “stash”. But there is something less expensive, that is easy to find, and that many are willing to share. Heroine. As a reader, you wonder if there is any way to stop this downward spiral that so many find themselves trapped in.

This book is a gut-wrenching account of how addiction slowly builds and how, once it exists, feeding that addiction will cost a person everything.



What I Was Reading:5658a7b4-underrated-social-card.jpg

In Underrated, his most recent essay published on The Players’ Tribune, Stephen Curry introduces a new venture he is calling The Underrated Tour, “a camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for a chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”

Stephen Curry opens this essay with a memory of being 13 and playing poorly at a tournament. At the hotel later, as he was questioning whether he was good enough or if basketball might be over for him, his mom “gave me what I’d call probably the most important talks of my life.” His mother’s words became a mantra for him: This is no one’s story to write but mine. It’s no one’s story but mine. He goes on to share experiences when he has drawn on his mother’s words of advice, including the time he thought Virginia Tech was interested in him, only to discover they were meeting with him as a courtesy to his father.

I’ve used other examples of Stephen Curry’s writing with students, including The Noise. I enjoy the way he infuses his writing with energy and voice. He incorporates punctuation and text features—italics, capitals, commas, dashes, ellipses, italics—to create pauses and add emphasis. What results is writing that reads as though Steph Curry is speaking directly to us.

The section that stands out most to me is Curry’s description of playing basketball at Davidson College:

I remember how……humble our whole experience was at Davidson.

Which, first of all, is funny—because it’s really nice now. Like, for real: if you’re reading this, go to Davidson. It’s an amazing school with an amazing hoops program. But back when I got there, what I mostly remember is just how loud and clear we all got the message that, you know—we were not playing Big-Time College Hoops. Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes. Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete. We were “cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper” athletes. We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

The progression of the last four sentences creates an image of what it meant to be a student athlete at Davidson. This combination of sentences makes the point in four different ways, each one layering on to the next:

  1. “Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes.” I can hear the emphasis on STUDENT in this sentence.
  2. “Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete.” The way Curry uses font size as an adjective here creates a visual image and paints a picture how much more emphasis was placed on being a student than on being an athlete.
  3. “We were ‘cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper’ athletes.” Curry turns a quote, presumably from a professor, into an adjective to replace the word student. Again, the effect is to show that academics took priority over athletics.
  4. “We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.” Here, the emphasis shifts from describing student to telling us about the state of athletics. What kind of athletes were they? The kind who didn’t even have their own practice court.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves, and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use a four-sentence progression like Curry’s to demonstrate the relationship between two words commonly paired (school vacation, long weekend, loyal fan, etc).
  • Describe how words might be written in font sizes or styles to signify their meaning.
  • Use a quotation as an adjective to create a specific image for your reader.
  • End a paragraph with a simple concrete detail that underscores your point and requires no explanation for the reader.