Margin Notes



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



“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.



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.



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!



Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski decided to end each chapter in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle with a tl;dr list instead of a summary. They explain:

Tl;dr is the internet abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read.” If you write a five-hundred-word post on Facebook or a multiparagraph comment on Instagram, someone might reply, ‘tl;dr.’ Our tl;dr lists contain the ideas you can share with your best friend when she calls you in tears, the facts you can use to dispel myths when they come up in conversation, and the thoughts we hope come to you when your racing mind keeps you awake at night. (p. xvi)

Here are the tl;dr lists for Chapter 2 “#Persist,” Chapter 4 “The Game is Rigged,” and Chapter 8 “Joyfully Ever After.”

Since all of our provincial Reading and Viewing Achievement Standards from grades 6-12 contain some variation of “distinguish between main ideas and supporting details; concisely summarize key information,” the tl;dr list is a unique way for students to practice these skills. After reading, viewing, or listening to a text, invite students to create a tl;dr list that captures what it is about.



In Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it’s off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood), Harvard Law School lecturers Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define feedback in this way:

Feedback includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people—how we learn from life…so feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped. Feedback can be formal or informal, direct or implicit; it can be blunt or baroque, totally obvious or so subtle that you’re not sure what it is. (p. 4)

Although it is directed toward the feedback receiver, Thanks for the Feedback offers a wealth of information for educators to consider when creating the conditions for feedback to be both given and received effectively. Because they define feedback so broadly, and because we are all givers and receivers of feedback in various contexts, Stone and Heen, have written a resource that will help every reader improve their communication.

According to Stone and Heen, there are three kinds of feedback:

  1. Appreciation “is fundamentally about relationship and human connection. At a literal level it says, ‘Thanks.’ But appreciation also conveys, ‘I see you,’ ‘I know how hard you’ve been working,’ and ‘You matter to me.’” (p. 31)
  2. Coaching “is “aimed at trying to help someone learn, grow or change.” (p. 32)
  3. Evaluation “tells you where you stand. It’s an assessment, ranking, or rating…Evaluations are always in some respect comparisons, implicitly or explicitly, against others or against a particular set of standards.” (p. 33)

It is important for both the giver and receiver to be aware of three potential triggers that can block feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers “are set off by the substance of the feedback itself—it’s somehow off, unhelpful, or simply untrue.” (p.16)
  2. Relationship Triggers “are tripped by the particular person who is giving us the gift of feedback. All feedback is colored by the relationship between giver and receiver, and we can have reactions based on what we believe about the giver…or how we feel treated by the giver.” (p.16)
  3. Identity Triggers “are all about us. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, something about it has caused our identity—our sense of who we are—to come undone.” (p.16)

Recognizing our feedback triggers helps us manage our reactions to feedback and approach it with a stance of curiosity. Knowing our tendencies to react to certain feedback in certain ways allows us to engage in feedback conversations as learners, even when we don’t agree with the feedback.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from Thanks for the Feedback for educators to consider when creating optimal conditions for giving and receiving feedback in the classroom:

  • It’s essential to align the type of feedback with its purpose and for both the giver and receiver to be aligned on the purpose for feedback.
  • Before we can determine whether feedback is right or wrong, we have to understand it.
  • Strong reactions to feedback often result in “extreme interpretations” of feedback (for example, a suggestion to change one thing is heard as “change everything”).
  • Identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and when feedback contradicts or challenges our identity, it can cause our identity to unravel.
  • Even if feedback is accurate, timely, and communicated well, if it involves too many ideas or suggestions for change, it’s unlikely to be received.
  • Feedback isn’t only about the quality of its content; the quality of the relationship between giver and receiver is just, if not more, important.

Thanks for the Feedback is not specifically for educators, but many of the ideas are very applicable to feedback in the classroom context. I found the information fascinating because it sheds light on strategies to make any interaction—professional or personal, formal or informal, planned or impromptu—more effective.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PHILOQUESTS Adventures in our minds


Philoquests: Adventures in our minds is the creation of the Institute of Philosophy, Citizenship and Youth (L’Université de Montréal). This amazingly unique website has over 100 reflections for teenagers about creativity, solitude, help, worry, hope, change, and resilience. Created at the beginning of the pandemic, it was developed for teens to use at home while in lockdown. I can, however, envision lots of ways for them to be used in the classroom. 

Here is an introduction to the website:

Here is one example of a reflection for the topic of change: Philosophical Picnic (you could replace “family” with “classmates”.)

A change for the better?

ObjectiveTo feed your philosophical reflections on change with your family’s help during lunch!

Duration: 30 to 75 minutes


  • Sheets of paper and pen
  • Coloured pencils and markers
  • Your family


It’s time to eat! Gather your family around the table for an appetizing dialogue about change. Explore the following questions, finding inspiration in the thinking prompts as necessary. Together, think of reasons to explain your positions and try to build an answer by combining your ideas! But don’t worry if the urge to keep talking doesn’t subside… philosophical picnics are an insatiable quest!

  •  Question 1: Does everything change?
    • Thinking prompts: The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously wrote, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” But how can that be? Aren’t change and sameness in conflict? With your family, try to figure out whether you think that everything changes or not. Since change is such a big concept, it may be helpful to work in categories: living things, objects, ideas, etc. What brings about change in each of these categories? Alternatively, what causes them to stay the same? Wonder together if you think change is important. Are there several types of change or different reasons to change? When we talk about changing our socks, is it the same as talking about changing our minds? Have a look at the definition you came up with in your first Idea Stretching mission, and see how it compares to what you are discussing with your family. Does the concept’s meaning change (oh my!) depending on the context? Why or why not?
  • Question 2: Is change hard?
    • Thinking prompts: As humans, we seem to be faced with changes constantly—even when it’s not what we want! Whether it’s as simple as changing out of pyjamas on a cold day or as major as changing schools, the experience of changing can be tough. But why? To inspire your thinking, you can read the comic below. Together, brainstorm why you think people might resist or fear change. Are they uncomfortable or insecure perhaps? How might they react negatively to change? Then, consider the opposite viewpoint: Can change be easy, even peaceful? Share some examples from your own lives when change felt hard and when it felt easy, and try to determine some criteria to understand the different experiences. What changes are necessary to a good life… and might there be changes that no one should ever have to experience? How might humans deal with change better?
  • Question 3: Can anyone change the world?
    • Thinking prompts: Have you ever heard the word “changemaker?” It’s a term used to describe people who want to make the world better so they actively create change for the greater good. But can anybody really have that power? Can one person make a difference? As a family, exchange ideas about what it might mean to be a changemaker… and if you have what it takes. Should everyone do their part to improve the world? Hmm… maybe it depends on how each person defines improvement! Perhaps if everyone tried to change things, it would cause more mess than progress. Could there be a dark side to wanting to change the world? Together, think of some of the good and bad consequences. Finally, try to finish the sentence: If change didn’t exist, then _________.

I’m sure you can envision ways of using these questions to spark discussion. They would also make great quickwrite prompts!

You can check out Philoquests: Adventures in your mind here.