Margin Notes



Thanks to a few Twitter friends, I was introduced to the fantastic resource writer/designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard, and Kristin L. Arola.

The authors define multimodal as “a mashup of multiple and mode” (3). A mode is how we communicate our ideas and a text is multimodal when it combines different ways of communicating. They take the approach that “a text does not have to include bright colors or interesting videos to be multimodal (although it can). Even a research paper, which is mostly words, is a multimodal text” (4).

writer/designer focuses on five modes of communication:

  1. Linguistic- the use of language including written and spoken words
  2. Visual- images and other characteristics that readers see
  3. Aural- sound such as sound effects, volume, and tone of voice
  4. Spatial- the physical arrangement of text elements
  5. Gestural- the way movement contributes to meaning (this can also be interpreted in static images)

Each mode in a multimodal text plays a part in the overall impact and message, but the full communication of a multimodal text relies on the way the modes work together. As a result, the term text is used in this context to “refer to a piece of communication as a whole. A text can be anything from a lolcat to a concert tee shirt to a dictionary to a performance” (3).

Every writer who sets out to create a text chooses modes of communicating. Designing, like writing, is a process with essentially the same fundamental goals:

  • To think critically about the kinds of communication that are needed in any given situation
  • To choose sources and assets that will help create an effective text
  • To work within and fulfill your audience’s needs and goals
  • To improve communication through the finished text
  • To create change or encourage positive action through a text (6).

One of my favorite aspects of writer/designer is the concept that the process of writing and designing are recursive, not linear. Throughout this process of designing and redesigning (writing and revising), the author uses models and their existing knowledge of text. The use of models and the invitation to reflect through Touchpoint Activities and Case Studies makes this resource incredibly user-friendly for both a reader who is new to multimodal texts and one who is looking to enhance their current practice.



In a time when people are more and more physically disconnected due to a global pandemic and only connected by the reassuring hum of the home wi-fi router, we are longing for connection. Unable to easily meet face to face, we seek out stories via television series, movies, novels, newspapers and podcasts to hear the stories of the lives of others. To connect. Stories ground us in our common humanity.

Recognizing this desire for connection and harnessing the power tools of a good story to strengthen non-fiction writing is the topic of Story Matters Teaching Teens to Use the Tools of Narrative to Argue and Inform by Liz Prather.

Prather, a teacher and a much-published freelance writer and blogger, demonstrates how to teach writing from a writer’s perspective. She shares how the most effective pieces of non-fiction are full of techniques gleaned from narrative writing to increase the reader’s ability to connect with, and thus comprehend, the topic at hand.

Starting with the assumption that not everyone will make the link between narrative tools and their use in nonfiction, the first chapter of Story Matters, amusingly entitled

“Narrative as Home Base, Ground Zero, Mother Ship,” explores both an expert mentor text and a student text using narrative skills in essays. This chapter is truly a fascinating demonstration of ways to rapidly improve non-fiction writing and provides a solid foundation for the rest of the book.

The remaining chapters explore lessons on developing writing ideas, characters, tension, structure, details, and language. The author gives permission to read and explore any chapter in any order as well as an invitation to keep showing up, practicing the skills and trying to get better. A person could learn a lot from even reading one chapter of this book.

Story Matters offers many clever, authentic and absorbing lesson ideas for budding writers than most books of this genre.  In one idea generating activity Prather has her students create a timeline called “Your Life at a Glance.” Students record important personal life events for each year of their life and then research and record world, national, cultural and local events that occurred during these same years.  Students discover areas of interest for writing fodder and develop a greater knowledge of what is happening around them, becoming more grounded in the bigger world that they inhabit.

 Prather provides her students ample opportunity to explore craft moves and to discuss why the writer used the language they did or to bring attention to what the writer left out. “I want students to see every piece of writing as an artifact of someone’s decision-making.” She notes that only 20 percent of the research gathered for an information piece is used, statistically speaking. Students are welcomed to consider how important writing decisions are made, guided by the understanding that the goal is discovery, and that writing is full of possible right combinations. They are encouraged to play “even if it doesn’t end up in the final piece of writing.” This sense of autonomy when writing is essential for authentic voice and engagement.

In another exercise, Prather cuts up essays into sections and has the students play around with how the essays could be put back together with the discussion focus being “What delivers the author’s main point most effectively and why?” This is another effective way to have students reflect on possibilities for organizing structures that they can replicate in their own craft. Prather’s writing is full of a vast number of such activity examples.

“When we sail in with hamburgers, keyholes, and hourglasses, we cut students out of all the decisions, the measuring and cutting, that makes writing meaningful ……….no one knows where to start, and writing is frustration. There are no shortcuts. Students simply need to practice this decision making over and over to get a feel for the complementary zigzag moves writers make to structure a text.”

 Story Matters is an exploration of craft, of thinking about writing, of creating a bridge between the writer and the world and between the writer and her writing. It engagingly demonstrates how far educators have come in the exploration of teaching the writing craft.


Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.





Lester L. Laminack and Reba M. Wadsworth offer a practical, easy-to-follow manual on how reading can support writing and vice versa in Writers ARE Readers, Flipping Reading Instruction into Writing Opportunities. This focus, the authors write, “deepens our understanding of what we expect of readers, what we teach readers to do, how a reader’s insights can be the pathway into a more thorough understanding of writing, and how we as teachers can flip those insights to lead students into a more robust understanding of what it means to be literate.”

The authors contend and then demonstrate that the basic notion of “flipping” is a simple one. First a text is examined as a reader making sense of what is being read’ and then it is examined to determine what techniques or moves the author used to help the reader, modelling clearly and exploring the explicit connection between student as both a reader and a writer.

The book is organized into three sections covering text structure (ex. description, sequence and problem and solution), weaving meaning (ex. inferring, summarizing, synthesizing) and story elements (ex. character, setting, plot). Each subsection is organized in exactly the same format: definition of the teaching focus, scripted lessons for read alouds, scripted lessons for shared writing, and a list of additional texts that could be used to further supplement the learning.

This is a valuable resource for lesson planning. Easily skimmed to find specific lessons, short, succinct and filled with charming student exemplars, this is a worthy go-to book for any K-6 literacy teacher. “Leading the student to understand what he did as a reader can become a lens that brings into focus what the writer had to do before a reader ever saw the page,” write the authors.  Using well-known books, likely already in your library, the authors explore new ways to make connections between reading and writing that your students will be excited about and understand.


Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.




It’s All About the Books is the dream “how-to” book for organizing a school’s world of books in a way that gets the right book in the right place at the right time….in the hands of a student ready to learn!

Authors Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan have been coworkers for 24 years, with the last fifteen years spent developing systems that will create bookrooms and classroom libraries that encourage student choice and support teaching goals for both ELA and content area teachers. It had never occurred to me that there would be professionals tasked with this job, but it makes perfect sense that there are experts in this precise and essential field. Luckily, they share their expertise in an accessible manner for educators everywhere.

Anyone who has had any responsibility for managing bookrooms or a classroom library will love how this book brings to mind practically EVERY question that could ever be asked or considered when designing book collections in an effective way: How do we make purchasing decisions when we frequently don’t know what we already have? How many schools have you been in that have a clear and up to date inventory of their book collection? How do we organize the book bins in our classrooms? Could students be organizing bins based on thematic patterns they are noticing? Could we improve reading instructions by improving our organizational strategies?

The answers to all these questions are found in this clearly-organized book. Carefully curating a collection demands a great deal of effort and time, and the expertise shared by two professionals with a combined background of 30 years in doing this work takes the guess work from the reader offering a clear how-to.

Teacher Takeaways:

  • Every move in this book is intentional and the intention is to get the right book in the right hands to keep students engaged as learners.
  • It gives an answer to all the questions you might consider, and many that you probably haven’t, when designing a library in your classroom.
  • You will learn how to do an inventory of resources.
  • There are many tips and tricks about how to get the most bang for your budget dollars.
  • The book is full of useful photographs showing exemplars of libraries.
  • It demonstrates both how to get more books and how to organize them to support readers’ choice and agency.
  • You’ll find tips to get your students involved in library upkeep.
  • You’ll learn how to find and organize digital resources.
  • Online resources include forms for taking inventory, lists of vendors, lists of tried and true favorite books, and more.
  • Resources are provided to assist in creating book collections to honour the diversity in classrooms.
  • The authors share very creative ideas for encouraging summer reading.
  • All author royalties from the sale of this book are being donated to the Book Love Foundation to get more books in the hands of readers.

The authors suggest that having a whole-school focus on the books available to support instruction and enrich readers is a valuable exercise in professional development. Reading this book as a school team and following its incredibly detailed step-by-step advice on how to organize book collections and to prepare for and budget for purchasing would be a worthwhile focus for any school staff. It is the needed template for a carefully planned approach to spending over the long term.

Is it time for a serious look at your school’s book supply? It’s All about the Books is a complete guide. Get everyone involved in one of the main pillars of our education system – a wealth of well-organized texts to support and hook growing readers.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. She served as vice chair for Pride in Education and was one of the first diversity leads in the province.





When I started reading Engaging Literate Minds: Developing Children’s Social, Emotional and Intellectual Lives, K-3 by Peter Johnston, Kathy Champeau, Andrea Hartwig, Sarah Helmer, Merry Komar, Tara Krueger, Laurie McCarthy, I knew I was in for a treat when, at the very beginning of Chapter 1, the authors say:

“We’ve come to believe that in intellectually healthy classrooms children should be: meaningful engaged (not merely complying), inquiring/ questioning, theorizing, seeking evidence, productively disagreeing, helping each other and seeking help when necessary, collaborating and expecting and engaging in different perspectives. We should not expect children to be held in place by intellectual hierarchies.-p. 1”


This quote is from the first paragraph of the book! And the rest of the book beautifully lays out a way to make those beliefs a reality in classrooms.

This book was born out of a desire for change. The co-authors (who wrote this book along with Peter Johnston) are all teachers.They were teaching in the same school and read Peter Johnston’s book Choice Words as a whole staff book study. Over the last 10 years, Peter Johnston has been working with, and observing and documenting the changes taking place in these teachers classrooms. Since beginning this journey, the teachers have all moved to different parts of the US but their collaboration has not ended. They have all been intrinsically motivated to improve their practice through collaboration and continued professional learning.

I really think that makes this book unique.

I love the dedication in this book, and I think it says it all.

“To all the teachers and their students searching for ways to value thinking together to build a more engaging, just and humane world.”

You can find a free preview about the book and learn more about the authors here. 



With a target audience of Grades 3–8 teachers, Jennifer Jacobson, a former elementary school teacher and the author of fourteen children’s books, has drawn upon a treasure trove of experience in writer’s workshop to create No More How Long Does It Have to Be: Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019).

 A useful compilation of strategies to implement in order to engage and support writers in the classroom, this manual begins with sections on planning for independence, routines to support independent writers (minilessons, building stamina, conferring, and author’s chair), and moves into explicit lesson plans when exploring units on the narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. The final section is a chapter on assessment, standardized testing, and publication.

Each chapter contains useful tips and ideas that can be put into use right away. One such gem is the fun suggestion to approach the focused editing of conventions by using a designated crayon or pen color for each target (use a blue crayon for capitalization errors, green for punctuation, and purple for spelling).

Jacobson’s section on what to do during writing conferences is explicit and valuable. The focus, she writes, should: 1) be on the student’s writing goal (ex. adding voice), 2) use “mirroring” when the teacher retells what they heard to increase the sense of audience for the student and create value for the student’s writing, and 3) give the opportunity for the student to extend the subject matter while experiencing the writing in a fresh way, and 4) teach one new skill.

The lesson plans offered in units for teaching narrative, informative, and persuasive writing are brief and easy to read. Organized into approximately five days of lessons, they include exploring mentor texts, brainstorming, think aloud possibilities, rubrics and activities that encourage metacognition of the writing process. A five-minute quick write activity she suggests, for instance, is “What will readers gain from reading your story?” Each unit also incorporates suggestions for additional lessons related to the teaching focus.

This book is another teaching resource worthy of a look-see for its discerning focus on writing in today’s classroom.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a bilingual educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.







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.




You may be familiar with Austin Kleon from his previous books, Steal Like an Artist, The Steal Like an Artist Journal, and Show Your Work. If you know Kleon’s work, you already know that his writing is a fantastic resource for the workshop classroom. He encourages writers and creators to surround themselves with inspiration and share their ideas with others.

In the introduction to his most recent book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, Kleon tells readers. “I wrote this book because I needed to read it.” He describes it as a list of 10 principles that have helped him sustain his creativity, many of which he has stolen (borrowed?) from others.

Don’t Stop is organized into 10 chapters with each one highlighting a strategy for finding, maintaining, and even jumpstarting the creative spark:

  1. Every Day is Groundhog Day.
  2. Build a Bliss Station.
  3. Forget the Noun, Do the Verb.
  4. Make Gifts.
  5. The Ordinary + Extra Attention= The Extraordinary.
  6. Slay the Art Monsters.
  7. You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind.
  8. When in Doubt, Tidy Up.
  9. Demons Hate Fresh Air.
  10. Plant Your Garden.

The chapters are filled with advice and encouragement to help readers discover (or rediscover) their passion. The suggestions range from simple: “Airplane mode can be a way of life,” and, “Keep your tools tidy and your materials messy,” to complex: “Your real work is play,” and “Leave things better than you found them.”

Keep Going is a quick read that invites deep and lingering reflection and would be a terrific addition to a secondary classroom library. It is also a resource I’d recommend for writing teachers because it’s filled with quickwrite possibilities and can be used as a mentor text for multimodal composition.



Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are the authors of many of my favourite books about teaching literacy. They are the authors of many of the “Visible Learning” books (with co-author John Hattie). In my opinion, their book “Developing Assessment Capable Visible Learners K-12” is one of the best books written about formative assessment and feedback. The reason I enjoy their books so much is that they mesh the research with practicality. Plus, they always challenge and expand my thinking!

Their latest book, Comprehension: The Skill, Will, and Thrill of Reading (with co-author Nancy Law), is no exception.

In this book, the authors lay out their case for why reading instruction needs to move beyond teaching the skills of reading – to also include the explicit teaching of the will and thrill of reading comprehension.

If you are a teacher of literacy who is looking for ideas on how to…

…get students excited about reading.

…teach critical literacy.

…increase student talk.

…have students question any text they are reading.

…encourage students to take action through reading and understanding.

I would highly encourage you to read this book!

Fisher, Frey and Law’s research-based ideas about cultivating the thrill of reading in our students rests with them being able to answer one simple question:

“What does this text inspire me to do?”

Well, I pondered this question and was inspired to write this review!

Learn more about Fisher and Frey here.

Here, Nancy Frey is speaking about reading comprehension at the South Australia Literacy Conference in February 2020:

If you are interested in more resources about teaching reading and viewing, may I also encourage you to check out the ASD-W Margin Notes Literacy K-12 SharePoint – Reading/Viewing Page.

Happy learning!



I have been a Shawna Coppola fan for a while now. I found her on twitter a few years ago. Her tweets about teaching writing have really made me reflect on my own notions and biases of what “counts” as writing. I’ve also enjoyed reading her zines and seeing her watercolour paintings on Facebook.  Also, her dog is adorable.

Her new book is Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose (Stenhouse Publishers, 2020).

I feel all writing teachers should read this book!

Shawna brilliantly, and with a great deal of humour, shows us how our print-heavy writing workshop is damaging to our students’ writing lives and identities. She argues that we are missing out on some pretty amazing writing opportunities when we only “allow” pencil and paper as tools in our writer’s workshop. 

Shawna explains why other modes and forms of composition (visual, aural, etc.) should be part of our writer’s workshop. She equips us with the language to explain why we are teaching those forms and modes (to folks who might look at us quizzically) and the confidence that we are still teaching to the writing standards if we incorporate zines, podcasts, videos, picture books, infographics, etc. In Chapter 2, she lays out the “elements of inquiry” that we can use to introduce different forms and modes (no matter the age of the group).

Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose” by Shawna Coppola is a book that our students need us to read.

Learn more about Shawna Coppola here.