Margin Notes



Congratulations to Amy Bourgaize for winning #ASDWReads for the month of September!  Thank-you, Amy, for always sharing your reading with us on Instragram – your prize will arrive to you soon!

We are excited to see what everyone is reading as this cozy weather settles in. You can enter our October draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!



“If learning, particularly that which takes place in a classroom, floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And, what kind of learning?” ~ Simpson and Mercer

Bigger IdeasIn Building Bigger Ideas Maria Nichols defines talk as purposeful when it honors constructive intent, harnesses the power of varied perspectives, and engages participants over expanded time and space. Purposeful talk thrives in a dialogic space, “the shared dynamic space of meaning that opens up between or among participants in a dialogue. It forms as we immerse fully with thoughts that compel us, wrestle with the tug of varied perspectives, and construct unexpected new ideas with others.”

According to Nichols, two critical conditions for cultivating dialogic spaces are supporting children as they engage with each other and supporting children as they engage with ideas. In this context, “learning communities put talk to work, and the work of talk creates social bonds that continually strengthen the community.”

We can teach purposeful talk by teaching about talk as our students make meaning through talk. Building Bigger Ideas offers a responsive three-step framework:

  • focus children on aspects of purposeful talk behaviors,
  • facilitate as children engage with ideas and each other, and
  • offer feedback that links purposeful talk behaviors to the process of constructing meaning.

Using this framework, we can teach students to hear all voices, grow ideas, and negotiate meaning. The goal is to establish an environment where students use talk with independence to collaborate and build community. Purposeful talk, in the words of IDEO’s David Kelley, helps “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

Building Bigger Ideas may be targeted to Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it will support teachers of all grades and levels in establishing purposeful talk in the classroom. This resource is a terrific complement to professional resource libraries that include Teaching Talk by Kara Pranikoff and Choice Words by Peter Johnston.



When we heard about Kim Skilliter’s initiative The Humans of FHS, we asked her to please share with us (and you!) all of the details around this project. We are so happy she agreed! Here’s what she had to say:

I have always LOVED the Humans of New York site. I love how these stories work to soften the edges of a huge city, and to remind us that, at the core of society, no matter what is happening in the world, are people with incredible burdens, triumphs, challenges – and all it takes are a few questions to reveal what is below their facades. It is a reminder of how extraordinary we ordinary people are. As a teacher, I am an eternal optimist, and it does my heart good to know that, as Brandon Stanton describes in a TED Talk,, even the most intimidating people have been willing to share their stories with him. All he has ever had to do is ask.

In my never-ending – and, honestly, often unsuccessful – quest to find something that will appeal to my English 123 classes, I thought I would try to see how a Humans of FHS project would work. We explored the HONY site, learned a little bit about its history, and then I set the students loose in the halls for a few days. Admin loves when I do that! All jokes aside, they, and all the FHS staff, were incredibly supportive of this idea. Many of them are the subjects of the students’ profiles, and this is a testament to their kindness and approachability.

Once the work was complete, I printed the slides, and, with the enthusiastic support of the librarians, students displayed them on both floors of the library, facing out to the hallways. The response from the FHS community and our supporters was very positive. I still have a few tweaks to make; I was too hands-on with the proofreading of the slides, for example. I need to find more time to sit with students and to guide them toward, let’s say, more conventional English spelling and grammar, instead of just cleaning the slides up myself on the weekend. I need to encourage them to reach out to people they do not know. It is a work-in-progress, but it does work, and I got a huge validation of this one day from a normally very unimpressed student who, when asked how I can improve this experience for next year’s students, said “Well, the least you can do is put our names on the slides. I mean, we did the work!” She wanted everyone to see her name. She wanted to take ownership of her work. She was proud. For me, it does not get much better than that.


Kim is a teacher at Fredericton High School. She teaches 112, 122 and 123 English. She is always looking for new ideas, so she loves to read this blog!

Try This Tomorrow: A Brief History of…


Here in New Brunswick, we have achievement standards for writing that outline the qualities of a variety of writing forms. We’ve been working hard to find examples of places where these forms live in the world outside of school. Where do readers encounter these kinds of writing? What do they look like out in the wild beyond the school walls?

One of the writing forms found in the Grades 6-12 standards for writing in the explanatory essay. This type of writing tells how something came to be or how something works. “A Brief History of…”  writing, is a version of the explanatory report that gives students an opportunity to explore a topic of interest and incorporate research.

This Brief History of the Waffle Iron from Smithsonian Magazine is a fantastic example for students to check out as a mentor text for “A Brief History of…” writing.

Just because the explanatory report is listed as a form of writing doesn’t mean we have to limit our students’ writing to printed text. Students can create their “A Brief History of…” as a podcast such as the A Brief History of Timekeeping episode from The Secret History of the Future or a video like The Secret History of Dogs (TED-Ed).

“A Brief History of…” writing incorporates explanation, analysis, cause-and-effect, and storytelling. If you’re looking for a unique take on the explanatory report, invite your students to create one.




Congratulations to Lisa Stewart-Munn, Michelle Wuest, and Debbie Grillo for winning #ASDWReads for the summer! Thank you for sharing your reading, and we hope you enjoy your new books.
If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a photo of a book you read in September, and post it on Twitter or Instagram under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books you are spending time with this fall!

Welcome Back!


Welcome back to another year of Margin Notes. We are looking forward to sharing our book recommendations and literacy reflections and learning throughout the year.

It was great connecting with many of you on August 27th. Here is a picture of the banner you helped to create.FullSizeRender

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @marginnotesasdw!


July Reading #ASDWReads


Vacation means extra reading time. Here’s a summary of the audiobooks, e-books, and paper books I enjoyed in July:

July 1July 3July 2July 4JUly 5July 6July 7July-9.jpegJuly-8.jpegJul-11.jpegJuly-10.jpeg


Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


This is my final installment in this series of #CyberPD reflections on Welcome to Writing Workshop by Stacey Shubitz and Lynne R. Dorfman. I’ve enjoyed exploring this resource Welcome to Writing Workshopand would recommend it to teachers at any grade level who are interested in launching writing workshop or who are looking for ways to enhance an already established workshop practice. The final three chapters focus on small group instruction, share sessions, and strategic grammar, conventions, and spelling instruction. Again, the focus is on using the components of writing workshop to create a community of writers within the classroom, foster strong independent writing identities, and offer differentiated and responsive support to student writers.

Here are some of the ideas I captured in my notebook while reading:

  • “Small, flexible groups help teachers differentiate instruction. When teachers examine their conference notes, their anecdotal observations of daily progress, and information students provide for anchor charts during instruction or after whole-group discussions, they can decide which students might benefit from a small-group gathering.”
  • “There are myriad reasons to form small groups based on interest. Often these interest groups are started, organized, and run by the students without much help from the teacher. Sometimes the teacher gathers information in conferences that lead to the formation of small groups of specific students to study a craft move, an author, a sentence pattern or sentence patterns, or a part of speech.”
  • “Small groups are an excellent place to deliver highly individualized instructions while maximizing your instructional time. Although you’ll probably find yourself using small-group time to reteach minilessons, you will increase the effectiveness of your small-group instruction if you plan courses of study for your students to help them grow in specific writing skills. Remember to provide students with time for independent practice between course-of-study meetings so they will have ample time to try out the things you are teaching.”
  • “Our goal is to build and maintain a community of writers. Providing the time for students to reflect and to share writing pieces with classmates will help them build trust and respect. When students share their writing and thinking about their writing, they are sharing ideas that may move other writers in the community forward. In this safe community, students feel safe to try out new strategies, forms, and genres, as well as share their personal insights.”
  • “Clearly communicating the intended message is the goal of every writer. We must guide students to understand how our language works. Instead of making grammar and mechanics a chore, we must engage them in learning about grammar and conventions by teaching them how to love words.”
  • “When we grew up, we were taught to edit once we finished a piece of writing. As we’ve grown as teachers and writers, we’ve learned that isn’t what real writers do. Rather, ‘[E]diting shouldn’t be something editors save for the day before publication. Remind your students that writers are constantly editing. Yes, they’re polishing their writing by proofreading it before taking it to publication, but editing is a daily task’ (Shubitz 2017).”

As #CyberPD comes to a close for another year, I’m looking forward to joining the Twitter chat on July 23 at 8:30 EST/ 9:30 AST to connect with other educators about Welcome to Writing Workshop.

Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


As I continued reading Welcome to Writing Workshop for #CyberPD Week 2, I celebrated how the authors, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, make it explicit that the focus of establishing writing workshop is in the service of responsiveness to each student’s needsWelcome to Writing Workshop in order to foster independence. Although writing workshop provides a structure or framework for writing instruction, it is far from limiting or confining. Writing workshop, at the core, is designed to put student writers at the center, encouraging them to and providing the support they require to make their own decisions as writers. The ultimate goal is to create a space for students to live a writerly life.

Here are some of my favorite lines that I captured in my notebook while I read:

  • “The whole group setting is where teachers can set a positive tone by gathering the writing community for instruction. Here, we move students to independence by offering instruction through demonstration and guided practice. We share a mentor text, we present a piece of high-quality literature as an exemplar, and we model with our own writing. Our goal is to move students to independent practice as soon as possible so that the students are in charge, making decisions and self-regulating most of their work in writing workshop.”
  • “…in other words, being a responsive teacher is a great way to find things to teach during the whole class instructional time.”
  • “Dorfman and Capelli (2017) say that mentor texts help students move beyond their comfort zones—to take risks and stretch outside their ‘writing box’—and inspire student writers to reinvent themselves as writers, growing and changing in skill set, sophistication, and, we would add, in imagination.”
  • “If we want our writers to be successful, we need to give them the time to practice by actually writing. A regularly scheduled writing workshop—with time for sustained writing—gives students a chance to build their writing muscles. They can start to think about what they would like to write that day. They can talk about it with others before they write. They can plan “next steps” in their head. We cannot skimp on independent time because kids need uninterrupted periods of time to hone their writing craft to develop the stamina and endurance they need to be strong writers.”
  • “Independent writing time is a time when you want your students to live a writerly life. This time might help them envision other projects they might want to work on. Real-life writers are always engaged in multiple projects. Therefore, we think it’s important to provide your students with opportunities to have an ongoing project as their backup work. For some kids, it’s using their writer’s notebook as a playground. For other kids, it’s working in another genre.”
  • “…the one-on-one conference you hold with your students is time well-spent. Not only will you get to know your students better as writers, (and as people, too), but they will get to know you as a writer. Conferences are a way to build student confidence and resolve some anxieties. Writing is hard work, and some students will need a conference to cheer them on to do the necessary work to grow as a writer.”
  • “The true purpose of any conference is to move the writer, not the piece of writing, forward. It is here we can help every student find his writing identity so he believes he can write. We provide support and offer specific feedback. The relationships you forge during one-on-one conference time will help you find pathways to student learning and growth for every student in your classroom.”

Welcome to Writing Workshop #CyberPD


I am a week behind with my first #CyberPD post, so here I am reflecting on Week 1 in Welcome to Writing WorkshopWeek 2…

In the first 3 chapters of Welcome to Writing Workshop, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman introduce readers to the structure of writing workshop and the conditions that make it successful for all writers, including the teacher. These chapters focused on the community- and identity-building aspects of writing workshop. Here are some of the quotes I captured in my notebook while I was reading:

  • “It’s our belief that every student can write—even the ones who have stopped believing in themselves as writers. All students have stories to tell. All students have opinions. We take what children come to us with and help them shape what’s inside of them into writing on the page.”
  • The structure for writing workshop is simple: it is student-centered and based on the belief that students become successful writers when they write frequently for extended periods of time, and on topics of their choice.”
  • “The focus in writing workshop is entirely on the writer. We help writers develop the skills, strategies, and craft that will sustain them across multiple pieces of writing in various genres.”
  • “Establishing a writing workshop begins with the work we do to help our students feel safe and secure. We create a social environment where students can share their struggles with others and benefit from listening in to acquire the problem-solving methods of their peers.”
  • “Building a writing community starts in September, but sustaining a writing community is a year-long effort. It starts with the teacher and important, achievable goals: to build and sustain a classroom writing community that fosters trust among students and to clearly establish shared values about good writing, the work that writers do, and respect for others’ work.”
  • “A teacher participates as a member of the writing community by writing, often modeling during minilessons, writing in her writer’s notebook and referring to it often, and sharing examples of the kinds of writing she does outside the classroom. When you share parts of a letter you are going to send a friend, a card you created for a birthday, or a post on your blog, you are lifting the level of writing workshop by becoming another writer within the community.”