Margin Notes



Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a beautifully written middle level novel about two sisters who learn that speaking their truth may be what allows them to start healing from a childhood shattered by abuse and neglect. The story begins with Della (10) and Suki (16) being placed in foster care after an attempted sexual assault on Della by their mother’s ex-boyfriend, the one they were left living with when their mother was incarcerated. Fortunately for the girls, they are placed with Francine, who becomes the ally the girls so desperately need – even if they don’t realize they do.

This novel shines light on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the lengths siblings will go to protect one another. Although Fighting Words is not always easy to read, it is an important read. The characters and the story created by Brubaker will surely open up important conversations about topics often shied away from, and in doing so, will help with the stigma around sexual abuse while offering hope to survivors. Although this title is not a memoir, the author is one of these survivors.

My greatest hope after reading this novel is that it finds its way into the hands of the students who need it most.


As the YA cannon increasingly expands its scope to include representation of young LGBTQIA2S+ readers, What If It’s Us, written as a collaboration between Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) and Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) does a wonderful job of focusing on the excitement and tension of young love, but through the experience of two teenage boys, rather than the heteronormative experiences that have long filled the shelves of young romance.
As many fans of hit Canadian Comedy Schitt’s Creek will know, one of the key factors that makes that comedy so refreshing is how gay/queer characters live their lives and loves without facing the barrier of homophobia and discrimination – while such themes are incredibly important for readers outside of that community to self-educate (Dashka Slater’s 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives) LGBTQIA2S+ students who I have taught have often said to me that they wish they could see their own lives reflected as both positive and as normal as those of the boy and girl firing Snaps back and forth in the front row.
Arthur: white, wealthy and in a position of considerable privilege has a chance encounter with Ben, who comes from a working-class Puerto Rican background and what follows for a good chunk of the narrative is the cat-and-mouse game that ensues as they try to chase each other down. But once they do, a more complex tale emerges as these two young men, try to navigate the challenges of relationship that has a ‘use by’ date stamped on it.
In addition to the pitfalls of young love, Arthur and Ben, though both hailing from equally loving and accepting families, they do differ in their socioeconomic circumstances and in their ethnic backgrounds. The conflicts that arise from these differences, including microaggressions that many identifying students will recognize and empathize with – including many from the otherwise deeply empathetic Arthur.
The story alternates between both Arthur and Ben’s perspective which works very well – the young reader who has experiences with those tricky first relationships will identify with Ben’s trials as he tries to pacify, patiently and gently, the previously boyfriend-less, Arthur’s jealousies and paranoia, of which many young teens will identify their own fears mirrored back to them.
A real must for every high school ELA shelf.
Benjamin Dowling is a G9/10 ELA teacher at Fredericton High School.



In a democratic society, one of the most important things we can teach our students is the ability to spot fake news and think critically about the media they are consuming.

Below, I’ve compiled some excellent resources for teaching and learning about fake news.

Tips for Spotting Fake News: is the gold-standard (and it’s Canadian). On this site, you will find lesson plans and tons of resources.

This is a great infographic I found for evaluating a news article. (click the picture to go to the website)

Websites and videos that can act as practice material for spotting fake news and websites:

Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

Spaghetti Harvest in Ticino

Introducing the Screen Cleaner App

And a card game for teaching media literacy!




Kenneth Koch was a professor of English at Columbia University and a celebrated poet. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and other published writings. His book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, was originally published in 1970. This book, which is co-authored by the students of P.S. 61 in New York City, documents his journey teaching students to write poetry.

I really enjoyed reading this book and, despite the fact that this book is 51 years old, it is charming and sweet. It would be a great mentor text to use with students. There are so many poems in this book!

His ideas for teaching students poetry certainly hold up in the present day. In fact, Anne Elliot and Mary Lynch, authors of Cultivating Readers, use his “I used to…Now I…” formula for an activity on p. 117 of their book.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great, quick lessons that would be easy to replicate in today’s classroom. I would recommend this book if you are a teacher who is always looking for new ways to incorporate poetry. I can guarantee that you’ll be inspired!

Find out more about the book here.




We’re celebrating Poetry Month by sharing poetry ideas for April and all year long. Here are a few favorite sources of inspiration for High School classrooms:

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Let us know what your go-to poetry resources are by dropping them into the comments below.



This month, we’ll be sharing ideas for celebrating poetry during April, and all year long! Follow along as we share resources, classroom ideas, and reviews. What better way to launch this celebration than by sharing some of our favorite poems about poetry and writing? 

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins 

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry) by Dante di Stefano 

Some Like Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska 

Digging by Seamus Heaney 

The 1st Poem in the Imaginary Book by Sarah Kay 

For the Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy 

How To Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam 

Unfolding Bud by Naoshi Koriyama 

Johnnie’s Poem by Alden Nowlan 

Poetry by Pablo Neruda 

If you have other titles to share, please drop them in the comments. Happy Poetry Month! 



What child doesn’t lose it when they hear the word “butt”? Jonathan Stutzman is sure to capture any student’s attention with his triumphant celebration of the tushee. 

Although the subject matter of this book is comical, children will learn more about their “hind-end” than they realize!  Who knew these powerful muscles had such purpose or that, as Jonathan would suggest, “The gluteus really is the maximus!

This over the top hilarious book is sure to bring a smile to anyone that reads it and evoke much followup conversation.



I Read Canadian Day is “a national day of celebration of Canadian books for young people. This is a day dedicated to ‘reading Canadian’ and will empower families, schools, libraries and organizations to host local activities and events within the week.” source


The ASD-W Literacy Team would like to encourage all ELA Teachers K-12 to promote I Read Canadian in their schools. What a great way to celebrate the richness and diversity that Canadian Literature has to offer.

Teachers can sign up their school and find a Tool Kit for Educators here.  As you will find, the tool kit is chock-full of activities, book lists and advice on how to book author’s visits. Additionally, there is a Tool Kit for Librarians. Please share this information with school librarians!

Happy reading (Canadian)!




When we use graphic novels to teach and connect with our students, we’re using several art forms – colour choice and representation, the written word, drawing, symbolism, and collaboration. Graphic novels facilitate conversations about character growth and development that some students may not understand through just the written word. Here, we can interact with our characters and literally see them transform on the page itself. Almost American Girl is the perfect graphic novel to show how all of these elements can be beautifully stitched together to show a story about immigration, love, and growing up.

Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s illustrated memoir that depicts her immigration story from Korea to Alabama as a teenager in the 90’s. Robin is taken away from everything that was important to her – the culture, the food, her friends, and her comic books. With a headstrong mother who is doing what she believes is best for her daughter, we watch Robin struggle with learning English, making friends, and growing up.

Ha’s illustrations and use of language is creative, sentimental, and heartbreaking. We watch her character unfold as she gains English skills and new friends. We see how immigrating to a new country and not knowing the language can cause harm and how a school experience can be ruined by an undertow of racist comments and belittling classmates.

Ha finds ways to connect with others in her community, but soon after she is told that her new stepfather is mistreating her mother, so they move yet again. Part of the appeal of Almost American Girl is the relationship of Ha and her mother. Their relationship is strained like many parents and teens, so while this graphic novel may be a mirror for immigrant students, it may also touch a soft spot with students who are finding that their relationship with their parents can often be rocky.

This book would serve so many young audiences, but I recommend it to every teacher who has/will teach a student that has moved to their school from a different country. Learning about the experience of immigrants is an important aspect of learning about language and culture, and this book does this beautifully. You will root for the characters and wish them well, feeling like Robin Ha is your best friend by the end of the book.



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



As a followup to Tuesday’s post on 10 beliefs about readers and reading, we wanted to share the beliefs about writers and writing that guide our work. Here are our beliefs:

1. Students’ writing development is directly related to their volume of writing.

“Building writing stamina, the volume we write, and our commitment to developing our craft is essential. Students need to understand that writing begets writing: the more you write, the better writer you will be” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

“They need time to generate ideas, focus their attention on a topic, be engrossed in drafting a piece, play with words and craft, and get caught up in text creation” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

2. Engaged writers make decisions about topic, audience, purpose, form, and mode.

“Too often, in trying to help students, teachers do too much of the thinking. Students come to rely on formula and standardization—and when formula and standardization take hold, the energy and intellectual rigor that comes from creation gets lost. Students become disengaged” (Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, “The Curse of Helicopter Teaching”).

“Writers have varied experiences. They employ different strategies when composing in different situations, for different purposes and audiences, and when using different technologies and tools. Writers also make ethical choices, and writers always have more to learn” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

3. Honouring and developing students’ writing identities is essential.

“Because writing is linked to identity, writers represent different ideologies, values, and identities. Thus, writers’ cultures and languages influence their writing. Recognizing that students are language users with multiple literacies will help the writing instructor engage students in writing. Writers also bring their past writing and reading practices with them whenever they write or read. In short, everything they have experienced, who they are, where they have been, and what they have done impact their writing practices, literacies, and language attitudes” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

4. Our role is to teach the writer and not the writing.

“Too often we teach Writing Skills and the Writing Process rather than helping students find something worth communicating. How can you write to make a difference if you have nothing to say? How can you be ‘fearless’ if you lack the courage of any conviction? Why learn to write well if you have no desire to achieve any effect? Writing is ‘thinking on the paper,’ as the National Commission on Writing put it” (Grant Wiggins, “Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter”).

5. Writing is a tool for thinking.

“When writers actually write, they think of things they did not have in mind before they begin writing. The act of writing generates ideas; writing can be an act of discovery. This is different from the way we often think of writers—as the solitary author who works diligently to get ideas fixed in his or her head before writing them down. The notion that writing is a medium for thought is important in several ways and suggests a number of important uses for writing: to solve problems, to identify issues, to construct questions, to reconsider something one had already figures out, to try out a half-baked idea” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

6. Writers require a caring community.

“As writing teachers, we consider it our duty, responsibility, and obligation to create safe writing spaces: places where our students can tap into their lives and know that their ideas and experiences have value; an atmosphere in which they are willing to put themselves on paper and, above all, know that their story will be received with the love, care, and respect it deserves. This requires a caring community” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

7. The process of writing must be valued as much as the product.

“First, to say that writing is a process is decidedly not to say that it should—or can—be turned into a formulaic set of steps or reduced to a set of traits. Experienced writers shift between different operations according to their audience, the purpose of the writing task, the genre, and circumstances, such as deadlines and consideration of length, style, and format. Second, writers do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for all. They develop and refine writing skills throughout their writing lives, as they take up new tasks in new genres for new audiences. They grow continually, across personal and professional contexts, using numerous writing spaces and technologies” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

8. Writing requires talking and reading.

“…writing exists in an environment of talk…Writers often talk in order to rehears the language and content that will go into what they write, and conversation often provides an impetus or occasion for writing. Writers sometimes confer with teachers and other writers about what to do next, how to improve their drafts, or how to clarify their ideas and purposes.”

“Writing and reading are related. People who engage in considerable reading often find writing an easier task, though the primary way a writer improves is through writing. Still, it’s self-evident that to write a particular kind of text, it helps if the writer has read that kind of text, if only because the writer has a mental model of the genre.” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

9. Teachers are writing role models.

“You are the writing teacher in your classroom. You are directly responsible for creating the writing culture and climate. We believe your students deserve a writing teacher who is knowledgeable about the craft, process, and challenges of writing. Your students are entitled to a writing teacher who provides insightful feedback, tips, and suggestions. They are also worthy of a writing teacher who incites enthusiasm and passion for writing. We cannot say it any other way. You have to be a writer, even if it’s in your own way!” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

10. Authentic writing instruction and assessment reflect real-world writing.

“For assessment to be authentic, it must include tasks that are a good reflection of the real-world activities of interest. This term arose from the realization that widely employed assessment tools generally have been poor reflections of what literate people actually do when they read, write, and speak. The logic of authentic assessment suggests, for example, that merely identifying grammatical elements or proofreading for potential flaws does not yield an acceptable measure of writing ability. Writing assessment tasks should reflect the audiences and purposes expected in life outside of school, with the real challenges those conditions impose” (ILA & NCTE, Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing).

“Think of the many genres you know that, really, have no life outside the walls of schools: ‘five-paragraph essays,’ ‘book reports,’ ‘short answers,’ even ‘summaries’ as freestanding texts. Many of these began in ways that are related to writing outside of school. But they grow apart from their origins, becoming “school genres,” of a breed that lives nowhere outside captivity. Students can tell, and in turn they often divest themselves from writing” (Anne Elrod Whitney, “Keeping It Real: Valuing Authenticity in the Writing Classroom”).