Margin Notes

30 DAY WRITING HABIT 2020

Feb
27

Here at Margin Notes we are loving the importance teachers are placing on sharing their reading and writing identities with their students and the many ways in which they are doing so.

The 30 Day Writing Habit created by Jill Davidson provided another opportunity for teachers to jump-start their writing for 2020 and share their writing experiences with their students . Beginning on January 6th, approximately 70 teachers in ASD-W received 30 consecutive days of writing inspiration and were invited to share their writing using the hashtag #ASDWWrites. For teachers already using a writer’s notebook this helped in developing a more consistent writing habit, and for teachers wanting to experience the process of writing and sharing it with their students for the first time, this created the opportunity to do just that.

Here is a sample of  writing inspiration from day 17:30 Day writing habit

After completing the 30 Days of Writing, teachers were able to share their feedback on the experience. Here is some of what the teachers shared:

“Writing is hard and is a journey that you need to commit to if you want to see improvement. I like feeling how my students may feel in the writing classroom.”

“It’s tough, hard, vulnerable, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, frustrating, beautiful, insightful, and creative – all on one page sometimes! I cannot expect it to come easy or be easy for my students. But it also cannot be something that we all avoid – it brings much more to us as writers and is worth the temporary agony.”

“The thing that stuck out the most was the importance of building writing stamina. Even though I was engaged in the topics, the amount of time I spent writing grew with each day I wrote. I also learned that I needed to take breaks after writing, especially if I wrote for long time.”

For further reading on the importance of writing when you are a teacher of writing, we suggest the following:

Sharing Our Vulnerabilities as Writers: Writing and Revising Even When You Don’t Want To by Jeff Anderson

On Joy, Teaching, and the Deep Satisfaction of Writing by Penny Kittle

Teacher to Teacher: On Being a Writer and Establishing a Writing Identity by Lynne R. Dorfman

 

 

GUEST WRITER BRANDON LEBLANC RECOMMENDS DEAR MARTIN BY NIC STONE

Feb
25

It is only appropriate I share Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in  February, Black History Month inDear Martin both Canada and the United States, let alone during the current political climate.

Justyce McAllister is a young African-American who excels in academics and aspires to attend Yale after graduation. He participates in a debate club with a small group of friends, notably Jared, a white student with skewed views on race relations, and Sarah-Jane (SJ) Friedman, a confident speaker unafraid to challenge Jared in the club meetings. The story follows Justyce, his friend Manny, SJ, and Jared’s crew through a series of social situations and events in which discrimination rears itself, leading to tense, even violent incidents. From Justyce’s wrongful arrest, through a tasteless costume party in which a member of the group dresses as a Klansman, to a street confrontation, the reader is taken on a jarring and unsettling journey through the day-to-day life of a young black man trying to move beyond societal stereotypes without losing touch with his community.

Throughout the story, Justyce writes letters in his journal to Dr. King, presented in more of a conversational tone and handwritten-style font, where he is free to rhetorically ask Martin why he still has to endure racism decades later. From his friends’ aloof attitudes to his mother’s disapproval of his romantic interest in SJ, Justyce feels he has no one to whom he can turn.

The author presents a remarkable writing style. Typical of modern YA fiction, the perspective is present tense, a technique conducive to readers wishing to immerse themselves in the moment. Dialogue is often presented without tags, as though in a play—character name: spoken line. The debate sequences flow organically as a result. Stone’s style of writing should appeal to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike.

Adolescents today have a general knowledge of Civil Rights, who the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and how equal rights are not yet guaranteed. While many of our cultural icons are African-American/Canadian, there remains a lack of true understanding of the daily hurdles young black people face.

This story succeeds for precisely this reason. Young adult readers will invest in a narrative that relates to them. Stone masterfully conveys the complexities of race relations in a way young people from all cultures can understand. Most notably, the young characters reveal through talk what text books and lectures cannot. There is a lot of heart in this story; be advised you may find yours broken when it reaches its climax. As it should, before true understanding can be found.

Brandon LeBlanc is an English, French, and Social Studies teacher at Stanley Consolidated School.

CRAFT STUDIO: “AN OPEN LETTER TO THOSE WHO WANT TO LIBERATE ME FROM WEARING MY HIJAB” BY AMIRA B. KUNBARGI

Feb
20

What I Was Reading:

“An Open Letter To Those Who Want To Liberate Me From Wearing My Hijab” by Amira B. Kunbargi is a bold, honest, and witty letter to people who make false and harmful assumptions about women and girls who choose to wear Hijab. There are many beautifully written parts in this letter. Here is one section that stands out with moves writers may want to try:

I don’t need your life jacket. I am not drowning in dogmatism or ideological idiocy. Nor am I prisoner to a patriarchal rampart. I am not brainwashed, backward, or bound. You don’t need to rescue me so stop trying to save me.

I don’t need saving. What I need is respect.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • She begins claiming authority and control over her identity.
  • She uses words that others may have used to define her and strips them of their power.
  • She uses short, simple sentences, each with its own claim.
  • She shows her mature understanding of the world by using complex words within her short sentences.
  • She repeatedly uses the word “I”, which centers her as the one reclaiming the power others have tried to take away.
  • She ends with a clear statement of what she desires, what she needs.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using a similar format, confront a stereotype or a label others have used to define you.
  • Be bold and specific with your word choice – using words in your writing that others have used to define you.
  • Address the possible political or cultural ideas of thought that have lead to you being labeled or stereotyped.
  • End with a demand of what you need from people around you in order to feel safe and valued.

GUEST WRITER DEVIN MCLAUGHLIN RECOMMENDS MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU BY BARBARA DEE

Feb
18

maybe he just likes you.jpgWith Maybe He Just Likes You, Barbara Dee explores sexual harassment and unwanted attention from peers in the middle school environment. The result is a gut punch of a story that will leave the you, the reader, frustrated but also uplifted at times. Overall, it is an emotional roller coaster and one middle school students will connect with in many ways.

Everything starts to unravel for Mila, a seventh-grade girl, when a boy in her school gives her an unwanted hug on the school grounds. As word spreads, things escalate and at recess one day, one of the boys, Callum, tells Mila it’s his birthday and requests a “birthday hug.” Thinking he must just be friendly, Mila agrees to hug Callum too, but the hug goes on for too long and leaves her feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. Mila goes to her friends, but they seem to question her actions and not those of the boys. She attempts to go to some of the adults in her life, but the results leave her feeling confused, angry, scared, and alone. This is the moment where the author’s use of first-person narration really enhances the subject matter. As the boys continue to harass Mila, we follow her thoughts as she navigates through the situations. We feel for her as she questions whether she is overreacting as well as when she feels helpless and victimized. It is honestly heartbreaking.

Dee has done a fantastic job making the reactions of the characters, and therefore the situation itself, incredibly believable for a middle school setting. Issues like consent, guilt, personal space, and the differences between flirting and harassment are issues central in today’s society and this novel. When used as a read aloud, this story will open a class up to some fascinating and very important discussions. I honestly can’t think of a single reason not to have Maybe He Just Likes You in your classroom. The book’s short yet significant chapters make it a quick read that should interest even the most reluctant of readers in your classroom.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ROXANNE MORNEAULT RECOMMENDS FROM YOU TO ME BY K.A. HOLT

Feb
11

from you to meFrom You To Me by K.A. Holt is an emotional story of eighth grade Amelia who mistakenly receives a letter written by her deceased older sister as a sort of to-do-list before Clara (her sister) finishes middle school. The book takes you through Amelia’s attempts to cross off each item on her sister’s list as a way to pay tribute to her late sister and perhaps put some closure on her own grief.

Amelia is overcome with grief and allows her sister’s death to take over her life. She encounters many challenges that help her to grow emotionally and heal from the tragedy in her life. Amelia finds herself taking risks and challenges that the “old her” would not have taken.

This novel includes topics around growing up as a teenager and feelings of being isolated and not fitting in. This book would be great for a young reader who is not ready for a mature read but will relate to the emotional turmoil of being a teen.

Roxanne Morneault teaches Language Arts to grade 7 and 8 students at Sunbury West School in Fredericton Junction, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ERMA APPLEBY RECOMMENDS THE HANDMAID’S TALE (GRAPHIC NOVEL) BY MARGARET ATWOOD

Feb
04

The Handmaid's TaleThirty-three years ago, Margaret Atwood introduced readers to the dystopian world of Gilead. Now, with the artwork of Renee Nault, this tale comes alive once again in The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel.

This story outlines the life of Offred, a handmaid in the new republic of Gilead, where declining fertility rates have forced the government to establish a society of suppression. As Offred struggles to adjust to her new role, she is plagued by memories of her past life and family. The restrictive rules of Gilead create biblically inspired handmaids to serve in each officer ranking’s home. The sole purpose of the handmaid is to conceive a child.

Initially written in the 80s as a satire, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel offers a viewpoint that is still relevant in modern society. The art of Nault adds a whole new dimension to this piece of literature. Striking a remarkable balance between detail and depiction, Nault’s illustrations depict scenes with clarity: the Red Centre, a night out at Jezebel’s, scrabble with the Commander, and the salvaging.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is 240 pages of full color illustrations that incorporate the major plot events of the original novel. Throughout the novel, Nault balances the pages with bold illustrations in both small panels and full page scenes that depict events significant to the story’s plot.

This is a wonderful genre of reading for students, which is inclusive of all reading abilities. While the illustrations are very detailed, they may not be suitable for all audiences. For example, some readers may find scenes such as the Wall disturbing. Overall, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is an effective choice for sharing powerful literature with students.

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick. She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.

Opinionated Students

Jan
30

We would like to share an idea we have used with a teacher in grade 8 to get the students thinking about writing persuasively.

Our goal is for the students to be able to choose a topic they feel passionate about so they can write with an opinion, see both sides of an argument, to have a purpose for their writing, and to identify the audience they are writing for. In the past, we felt like we had taught this kind of writing like a formula and it ended up being painful for both the students and the teacher. The students had little real interest in their topic and we were bored of teaching it as it always seemed to drag on forever. The writing it produced was generally appropriate against our writing standards but if we were really honest, it just ended up being a compliance writing piece and not truly authentic for the majority of students.

We looked at two main books for inspiration, Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This” and Linda Rief’s “Read Write Teach”. After reading their work, we realized in the past we hadn’t spent enough time building students’ capacity in being able to have an opinion and back it up with evidence. This had resulted in dry topics like, “Why cats are better than dogs”, “Why we shouldn’t have a dress code”, and “Why the Montreal Canadiens are the best hockey team”.

We decided to spend more time on the prep work to get them thinking, talking, and writing while building their background knowledge so that hopefully when it is time to choose what they are going to write about, they will be ready. We are also hoping to create some urgency and energy around the writing piece so it doesn’t drag on for weeks once they start it.

We started with a simple and fun game of “Would You Rather” to get them to practice having an opinion and be able to say why. We read the questions aloud, the students turned and talked, then we came back together as a group and shared a few. While the students were turning and talking, we listened in and facilitated where necessary. The two big things we noticed-some students still wanted to say, ” I don’t know” and we had to do a couple of whole class reminders to state their why. We really wanted to focus on these two skills as they are essential and easily transferable to this kind of writing.

Here are some sample questions we got off the internet: would you rather…be covered in scales or fur? Be able to fly or talk to animals? Find a suitcase with $5 000 000 in it or true love? Give up bathing or the internet for one month?

With about ten minutes left, we had them choose one or two questions to write about in their Writers Notebook which was easier for them to do after they had practiced first by talking and listening to their classmates. We noticed this was an essential step that we had often skipped or glossed over and we were happy to rectify the situation!

GUEST WRITER ANGELA LARDNER RECOMMENDS TONIGHT THE STREETS ARE OURS BY LEILA SALES

Jan
28

Tonight the streets are oursArden Huntley seems to have it all: family, a best friend, a gorgeous actor of a boyfriend, and good marks. But things change, and people change.

Arden has always taken care of the people in her life; she is loyal to a fault. Now she feels her loyalty is being taken for granted when her mother leaves, her best friend lets her take the fall for drugs found in their locker, and her boyfriend cancels on plans for their 1-year anniversary celebration. This is when Arden stumbles upon a blog called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” and becomes fascinated by the New York author Peter. She feels connected to him and starts to live vicariously through his blog posts.

Setting out on a road trip to find and meet Peter, Arden, and her best friend Lindsey, have a crazy night. This includes Arden discovering that Peter is not who she thought he was; he is not who he portrays in his blog. But this night also propels Arden on a journey of self-discovery, which leads her to reconnect with her mom and repair her relationship with Lindsey.

This story begins with, “Like all stories, the one you are about to read is a love story. If it wasn’t what would be the point?”. Readers looking for a book that includes a unique perspective on this theme will surely enjoy Tonight the Streets Are Ours.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.

CRAFT STUDIO: ALL OF ME BY CHRIS BARON

Jan
23

As teachers, most of us have probably read our students’ writing accounts of events in their lives, such as “What I did this summer…”, “Over Christmas I…”, “On my trip to…”, “When we were in Florida…”, “At Cadet Camp…” etc. How often have these writing pieces been dry? Taken over with monotonous details? Lacking creativity in the writing?

All of Me Photo.jpgWhat I Was Reading:
As I was reading Chris Baron’s debut middle school novel in verse, All of Me, I was mesmerized by how beautifully and succinctly the main character, Ari, describes the night of his cousin’s bat mitzvah. All of Me follows Ari, a young boy who struggles with being overweight and being a victim of bullying, on his journey to self-discovery and finding a sense of belonging.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• The details of the event are brief and pinpointed to specific memories of his experience
• The sentences vary in length: some verses are an entire sentence on their own while some are made up of a series of short sentences
• The punctuation is grammatically correct even though the structure is unconventional
• The commas allow for pause and flow
• The feeling of being loved is expressed through describing the actions of the family, without directly stating the feeling
• Dialogue is written in italics to set it apart as what was spoken aloud
• The sensory details coming together – sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell – allow readers to experience the event for themselves

Possibilities for Writers:
• Choose an event in your life to write about. Start with writing down the brief details you remember
• Think about each of the five senses and write down any additional details that some to mind from the experience – Be brief!
• Consider which parts of the experience you most strongly remember – What did you feel?
• Attempt to describe the details of what influenced those feelings
• Use commas to create pause and to separate the details
• Use a colon to introduce a list (of food, of games, of people, etc.)
• Imagine a fictional event and follow the same steps, creating a character’s memory of the experience

GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS FRANKLY IN LOVE BY DAVID YOON

Jan
21

Frankly in Love

In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li, a Californian Korean-American, narrates his journey through his final year of high school, desperate for his first “Summer of Love”. But he will have to find the girl first. Early on, Frank and the white and wealthy Brit Means hit it off, so all should be golden, right? Not exactly. As the son of Korean parents, having a romantic relationship with a partner who is not Korean (the world’s most ethnically homogeneous culture and racial identity, we are informed) is rarely welcomed by mom or dad. Frank’s older sister Hanna and her African American boyfriend have already vanished to the other side of the country and are no longer spoken of in the Li household – Frank knows what is at stake.

Race and racism are key to this unique coming-of-age story. Frank refers to himself and his fellow first-generation Korean American friends as the “Limbos”; who, ever since being born, have all been regularly thrown together at family gatherings. The parents drink and share stories in their mother tongue, whilst their children, who only truly speak the language of the only home they have ever known, try to enjoy each other’s company without ever having had anything in common outside of a shared culture. Yet it is through his fellow “Limbo”, Joy, herself dating a Chinese American boy, that a clever, covert plan is concocted: if they pretend to date each other, they will be awarded the time and freedom they need to date their real partners. The excitement that ensues as this plan is put into place gives the novel some real pace and takes the story in a direction that comes as a surprise.

One question that, as an immigrant myself, I love to ask students who were born in other parts of the world is, “Where is home to you?” Frankly in Love brings to light this issue by helping the reader understand that, even if you have never set foot on the land that your parents were born and raised upon, the power with which this place casts over you and your family complicates the notion of what home is. As Frank complains, he “just wants to be carefree, like in those teen movies where all the kids (meaning all the white kids) get to… act out their love dramas… on moonlit lawns to gaze up at the stars and wonder about the universe and fate… not B.S like the racism of their parents.”

The story tackles race and racism in a very interesting way. There are lots of current Y.A novels currently tackling these complex issues at the moment. But rather than focusing on the devastating effects of racist violence or xenophobic political climates, real or dystopian, Frankly in Love, looks at the tough question of what a young, liberal teenager does when the most racist people he knows are the two people whom he loves so much. Frank’s mom and dad, without any pause or irony, will openly state that “ninety-eight percent” of black people are criminals, without any of the knowing irony that they as immigrants themselves could be the targets of racism. And, also, they know that Frank’s best friend is African American.

I lived in Korea for seven years, and more than the U.K, I miss it as home. In Frank’s parents, David Yoon has created two adults who, despite their flaws, I feel quite sure I have met a thousand times over back in Seoul. The passages written exclusively in Korean were of personal interest as I wanted to see if I could still read the language, but, like Frank, I had great difficulty following these parts that include the discussion of the complex issues regarding race. It is these issues that eventually threaten to tear the families apart.

Though Frank’s voice may not be for everyone – this is an academically gifted student applying to schools in the Ivy League whose view on certain situations, the cutesiness to his inner voice, and his dialogue with like-minded friends can grate at times – this is a wonderful addition to my high school classroom library. Students in Grade 12, may make a particular connection with Frank and his friends as they move towards the exciting precipice of the end of high school. I have already recommended it to a Canadian student of Korean descent in grade 11, who came to me the next day and just gave a very firm nod. In Frank, David Yoon has crafted a nuanced character who, as the child of immigrant parents who have given up everything for their children, quite literally carries the full weight of their expectations on his shoulders. I know there are many students, regardless of where their parents are from, who can identify with that.

Ben Dowling teaches ELA9 at Fredericton High School. He has just gotten a lovely new armchair and Frankly in Love is the first of many that he hopes he shall consume in it.