Margin Notes

For Every One: A poem. A nod. A Nothing to Lose. by Jason Reynolds


Jason Reynolds has written the anthem for all dreamers. But although he is a dreamer, he doesn’t claim to know how to make them happen. In fact, he starts out stating just that. Reynolds thought he would have made it by 16. At 18 he thought he would have made it by 25. And now he says he is making it up as he goes.

What he does know is how it feels to be a dreamer. He knows the battle of two voices, the one telling you to give up and the one that demands you keep going. He knows the fear, the doubt, the struggle.

Written for “the courageous” Reynolds explains dreams come in all forms, can be realized at any age, and “…don’t have timelines, deadlines, and aren’t always in straight lines. But the dream? The dream is what makes the dreamer special.”

The title of this book is For Everyone, and it indeed is for anyone. Anyone who has had a dream. Anyone who has doubted it. And definitely for every kid. This is why this book is a must for the classroom library or a class read aloud. I can’t imagine a better way to inspire both the dreamers in our classrooms and those who don’t even know dreams are possible than to put this book in their hands.

Increasing the Volume of Reading in the ELA Classroom PL


Recently, we met with an inspiring group of high school teachers to learn together about ways to increase the volume of reading in ELA classrooms.  We started the day in one of our favourite ways with a read aloud from a picture book and a quick write.  To make our learning visible, we then responded to the Compass Points questions and discussed/read some current research regarding the importance of reading in the high school classroom.

Next, we delved into some professional reading on increasing the volume of reading and reflected on our own reading identities and practices.  We explored the resource, “Teaching Reading With YA Literature” by Jennifer Buehler and pushed our thinking around three main ideas: Classrooms That Cultivate A Reading Community, Teachers As Expert Match Makers and, Reading Tasks That Foster Complexity, Agency and Autonomy. Following that, we looked deeper into conferring with individuals and groups through discussions and watching videos.  We also looked into the classroom conditions that were necessary to support reading and talking about reading with students.  We ended with reading like a writer by co-constructing criteria after delving into real-world mentor texts then coming back to our compass points activity to show the learning that had occurred throughout the day.  We celebrated our learning by giving each teacher a stack of brand new novels to share with their students and to add to their classroom libraries.


Conferring During Reader’s Workshop PL


Earlier this semester, we met with a group of wonderful middle school teachers who were interested in building their capacity for conferring with students during their reading workshop time.  To get the day started, we practiced some informal reader-to- reader conversations focusing on the question, “How’s your reading going?” as a way to model how simple it can be to start the conferring process. This led into our opening activity, a Compass Point (a routine best used for decision making and planning), where we discussed our current stance on conferring, what we were excited and worried about, along with what we needed to know more about, to set the stage for the day.  We came back to these initial thoughts later in the day to see how our thinking and ideas had changed through our learning.


Compass Points Activity


Often when we ask students to make decisions and plans, we first ask them to brainstorm or create lists, such as a pros/cons. Recently, we have been using an activity we borrowed from Project Zero during PL sessions with teachers that we think would work really well with students – Compass Points. The Compass Points activity asks a learner, or group of learners to identify what excites them about a proposal, what worries them, what more they need to know, and finally to name their current stance or suggestions.


The Talking-Writing Connection


A few weeks ago we hosted a supper meeting for a group of teachers who had been provided with a copy of Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom. The premise of the book is that, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design” and that we (teachers) need to know the effect of what we are doing in our classrooms in regards to student achievement. For example, the effect size for class size is 0.21 and the effect size for metacognitive strategies is 0.69. Hattie states that teachers should consider classroom work with an effect size of 0.40 and above when designing learning for students. Teaching is hard work. And if the hard work isn’t leading to an increase in student achievement, then we need to ask ourselves why we are doing it.

During our meeting, one point of discussion was the link between talk and writing. As explained by Hattie et al, as students improve their ability to have effective academic talk with their peers, their writing becomes more sophisticated. The researchers write, “After all, if students don’t get to verbally explain, pose questions, and narrate routinely, it’s going to be much more difficult for them to do so in writing.” The effect size of (more…)

The Rule of Three (because three becomes a thing)


I have written about Katie Wood Ray’s advice to “read like teachers of writing” and my habit of recording examples of writer’s craft I find in my reading that I want to use as mentors in writing workshops with students and teachers.  I believe this lens also means that we read the world as though it is one big source of mentor texts.  I am always on the look-out for forms of writing or organizing structures that students could try out and when I find a group of at least three similar texts, I think that is the magic number for an inquiry.  Three makes it a “thing.” Three (or more) similar texts allow students to answer the question, “What do you notice about the way these texts are written?” and find commonalities across the samples.  Groupings of texts widen the opportunities for writers to look at the text and ask themselves what elements they might like to incorporate into their own writing.


Winner!! Winner!!


Congratulations to Lusinda Frost and Angie Debertin for winning a copy of Beyond Literary Analysis by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell just for leaving a comment on our blog post!  We really enjoyed reading your thoughts and thank-you for your interest.

Angie, your copy is in the school mail and Lusinda, yours will be hand delivered to your desk:)

Conversations about Artifacts of Learning- Padlet Curation


This is a summary of our second conversation about artifacts of student learning as part of our Visible Learning project with our colleagues Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson and their grade 11 students at Leo Hayes High School.  You can read a description of the project here: Making Learning Visible.

Once again, we followed a protocol based on the Project Zero “See-Think-Wonder” thinking routine to structure our conversations and capture our thinking and reflections.  We recorded the conversation and below are summaries of our observations, wonderings, and reflections. (more…)

Book Spine Poetry


If you’re looking for a fun way to get students creating poetry and at the same time getting new titles into their hands, try using book spine poetry. This is such an easy activity that makes us all poets. Just scan your bookshelf for interesting titles-each title will make up a line of your poem, arrange the titles so that they run together as a poem, stack them in a pile and take a picture!

Here is a link to some 2017 book spine poetry winning poems (with the youngest category being 5 to 8 year-olds!).

Some real-world mentor texts of book spine poetry happened in 2015 when the Toronto Library and the Kansas City Library used spine book poetry to trash talk when their baseball teams were both vying for a spot in the World Series.  Take a look!

We recruited some of our colleagues from around the office and we wrote a few together this afternoon:




Derrick Grant-Subject Coordinator for Math (obviously…)

Gina Dunnett-Director of Schools for the Oromocto Ed Centre

Posting these on class Twitter and Instagram accounts are a great way to share the book spine poetry created in your classroom.  If you try it, we would love to see some examples of your students’ poems!

Reading Role Models


When I was teaching high school, I began protecting the equivalent of one class per week for independent reading time.  The message at that time was that teachers needed to be reading role models and should show students they are readers by engaging in their own reading while students were reading.

Fast forward a decade.  When I visit classrooms and talk with teachers, I am thrilled to see how this thinking has evolved.  Here in New Brunswick, our Provincial Reading Achievement Standards ask teachers to devote 20% of reading time to independent self-selected reading and most teachers find 10-20 minutes daily to be more effective and engaging than a full class period once a week. For many students, going days without reading disrupts their reading to the point where they become disengaged. As well as allowing students to remain engaged with their books, this pocket of daily time has become an extremely valuable component of reading instruction when we use it to:

  • confer with readers individually and in small groups
  • have reader-to-reader conversations that build relationships around books and reading experiences
  • support students’ individual growth as readers by offering just-at-the-right-time instruction
  • make and receive book recommendations
  • observe students’ engagement levels and reading behaviours for patterns and trends