Margin Notes

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.”




poet xTrust me – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo needs to be on your reading list. It needs to be on your bookshelves. It needs to be in the hands of young people.

This novel is the story of Xiomara – a tenth grade student who finds herself questioning her budding sexuality, her moral obligations, and her upbringing. Xio is looking for a passion to call her own, and as a first generation Dominican-American, Xio is continually seen by the colour of her skin and the way her body looks. Maturing faster than the other girls, Xio has been the victim of cat-calling and sexist comments since elementary school.

Unable to cope with the frustration that builds up, Xio feels that fist-fighting and anger are her only means of communication. This is, of course, until she finds a writing mentor and a group of peers that notice her drive and passion for slam poetry. Xio is able to realize that she’s not someone to be simply looked at – she’s someone whose voice is meant to be heard.

Realistic and imperfect characters round out the novel. Xio’s twin brother is a genius with a secret. Her father has a tainted past. Her mother is a religious devotee unwilling to budge from her beliefs and believes Xio is destined to be an unwed mother who will ruin their family’s lives.

With the exception of a few pages, the entire novel is written in verse through Xio’s poetry. Acevedo writes Xio’s story in a complex manner that begs to be read again and again. The Poet X is heartbreaking but brilliant, raw but elegant, harsh yet hopeful. I would encourage any high school student to pick up this book. Its timely narrative is a catalyst for other young women to understand the importance of self-expression and self-care.

Laura Noble is a high school English teacher at Leo Hayes High in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Laura is currently completing her Master’s in Education and is an avid reader of young adult fiction, true-crime, and feminist literature.



Congratulations to Melissa Wilson-Smith for winning #ASDWReads for the month of May! Thank you for sharing your reading, and we hope you enjoy your new book.

If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a photo of a book you read in June, and post it on Twitter or Instagram under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books you are spending time with as spring is finally here!



When Sara Belong noticed some of her students refusing to read, fake reading, not being interested in the ‘popular’ books, and taking on the identity of “I don’t read,” she knew she had to do something. After sitting and conferencing with students about their interests and experiences as readers, she realized the gaps in her classroom library and set out to make some changes. The most prominent gaps she noticed were books about hunting, fishing, outdoor adventure, cooking, trucks, instruction manuals, and magazines. When she brought in a pile of cookbooks from home, she couldn’t believe the response. Her students were racing to grab them first, leaving the table empty, writing down recipes on the recipe cards she had available, and even telling her of their cooking adventures at home with the recipes they wrote down. When she learned about a student who eats vegan and another who “doesn’t cook but bakes cookies,” she brought in more cookbooks to address these interests, and the look on the students’ faces said, “You notice me!”


Stepping outside of the box of traditional classroom reading, asking her students “What will you read?” and embracing how her students respond to that question has allowed her to form new connections and break down preconceived notions of what reading is: “They are seeing that they don’t have to read what Ms. Belong likes to read.” When she presented some of these new forms of texts to her students, one question she received was, “I’m allowed to read that?” When her answer was, “Yes!” she knew that student felt noticed and supported: really seen.

Game Changer.jpgIn Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids, Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp emphasize that “Readers’ unique needs and interests should be the primary drivers of independent reading and matter more than mandates and expectations of teachers and caregivers” (p. 106). When Sara reflects on how honoring her students’ interests has affected her classroom reading community, she says, “It’s made all the difference for their engagement and motivation to read. I had one student who only wanted to read scary, real life stories, and now that we’ve found some titles she is interested in, she has gone from being disengaged to asking, ‘Can we read now?’ She seems happy to be here.”

Sara is constantly searching for various types of texts to include in her classroom library that will address the interests and needs of her readers. She is currently on the hunt for more cookbooks, instruction manuals, and outdoor adventure magazines. Her eagerness to honor these forms of texts reflects what Antero Garcia in Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids says in relation to cultivating passionate readers: “…we must consider the modalities of reading we are willing to include. More importantly, we must consider what opportunities are denied, and what interests are diffused when we exclude certain kinds of media” (p. 118).

When Sara hears a student say, “I’m not a reader.” She always says to herself, “Yet!” We love this. Thank you Sara and Antero for challenging us to examine our bookshelves and the books we talk about to kids!

Sara Belong teaches grade 6 at George Street Middle School. She adores her husband and three children and loves yellow curry, coffee, and peanut butter balls. Sara is currently reading To Know and Nurture a Reader by Christina Nosek and Kari Yates and is excited to try out the strategies in her classroom reading conferences.

BOOK RELAY 2018-2019


Last week we met with a wonderful group of middle and high school literacy teachers to wrap up our year-long book relay.  Teachers first met in their relay teams to discuss the titles they had read throughout the year, and then we asked teachers to vote on what title impacted them the most as readers. Here are the results:

The favourite title in the high school relay was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

poet xThis novel, written in verse, tells the story of a Xiomara, a young girl living in Harlam, who finds her voice and her courage in the pages of her journal where she writes her slam poetry. Her poetry is her heart on paper, and it explores her strained relationship with her mother, cultural expectations, religion, first love, and heartbreak. The story, as a whole, brings the power of poetry and love to life.

For fans of audiobooks, the author narrates the audio version of this book, and it is highly recommended as well!



The middle level teachers voted Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake as their favourite title in the middle level relay.

ivyThis coming of age novel follows the journey of Ivy, a 12 year old girl whose life is in turmoil in so many ways. Her house was wiped away by a Tornado, her mother recently had twin boys, and she feels lost in so many ways. But what confuses her and scares her the most is that she doesn’t feel the same way about boys as her best friend…she feels that way about girls, and she’s not sure if her family, her friends, and her town will accept her for who she is. This beautifully written book explores topics that will resonate with so many middle level readers.



Although these titles were voted as the favourites, as teachers of readers, we were able to discuss how all the titles we read would be loved by different students, and how much we appreciated having the opportunity to fill some of our book gaps.

And then we had cake!







Captured Memories Cover.pngTap. Tap. Tap.

Have you felt the silent shoulder tap prompting you to do something?

My taps began in July. I was planning for my upcoming grade 9 English class and considering new opportunities for learning. Tap. Tap. Find ways to connect teens and seniors. Discuss the role that stereotypes play in our lives. Help students understand their role in their community. Every time I picked up a book, a story, or an article I was drawn to selections that explored these ideas.

In late September I traveled to New York City with a team of teachers to visit the annual Maker Faire – an interactive display by passionate learners. The taps struck again. Find authentic writing and publishing opportunities for your students. Take learning beyond your classroom walls.

And so, the inspiration for this intergenerational writing project was born.

With the assistance and encouragement of Katie Prescott – a Literacy Lead with Anglophone School District West – our project was launched. Students began reading and talking about the relationship between teens and seniors. Together, we questioned the stereotypes that try to define us, and we sought to understand how we can move past them.

We reached out to a local seniors’ residence and invited a group to join us in our school library. They each brought a cherished object that had an important memory connected to it. What ensued was a delightful hour of storytelling, listening, connecting, and understanding. The nervous energy in the room quickly melted into comfortable conversation as smiles and laughter dominated the atmosphere. Our guests felt welcomed and valued, and students realized the power of responsibility and service.

The weeks that followed were filled with writing, editing, and rewriting as we sought to carefully craft the stories of our guests. We learned a lot about a writer’s voice and the impact of words. When writing for an authentic audience, precision matters. We wanted these stories to be just right.

As a grade 9 English class at Fredericton High School, we learned many lessons throughout the project, sometimes in unexpected ways:

  • We are writers and our words are important.
  • We have stories, regardless of our age, and these stories deserve care and respect.
  • We are more than stereotypes.
  • We can overcome fear and doubt through careful preparation and a determination to succeed.

This project confirmed for me the importance of heeding the silent tap on the shoulder. I witnessed students stepping up to their responsibility in a way that does not happen in a regular classroom environment. The compassion and care demonstrated by my grade 9 students is proof and comfort that our future is in good hands.

Valerie Marshall is a grades 9 and 12 English teacher at Fredericton High School. She believes every student has a voice to be heard, a talent to be explored, and an opinion to be valued. Her best days are spent with students, sharing ideas and learning together.

** To see an overview of this project on local media sources, click on the following links:

Initial Interviews with Seniors – CBC Video – November 29th, 2018

Presentation of Books to Seniors – CBC Article – May 20th, 2019





180 DaysAt the beginning of this school year, three teachers from high schools across the district embarked on a literacy adventure that grouped their students together in Cross-School Book Clubs. The project was sponsored by funding provided by the NB Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to support Global Competencies. Inspired by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (2018), Sarah Kennedy (OHS), Angela Lardner (SHS), and Sara Bamford (FHS) created an opportunity for their students to engage in shared reading and conversation as a way to better understand themselves and the diverse world around them.

During our first planning day as a team, we learned about the Office 365 technology the students and teachers would use to communicate (Thank you to our amazing Tech Team, Bryan Facey, Jeff Whipple, Carmel Desjardins, and Wendy Thomas, who equipped and supported us throughout the project!). One of the first decisions we made was to participate in our own book club to create a model for students. We read The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah and discussed the book over a four week period online. During our time together, we also co-created our vision, co-planned timelines, and chose the books we would book talk to each of the four classes. One of the most exciting parts of this project was that students had the opportunity to read their TOP choice. This was also one of Sara Bamford’s highlights: “What I loved most about this adventure is the choice that the students had. I really think that they didn’t believe that they were going to get their first choice until it was physically in their hands.”

In planning for the Book Clubs, the teachers decided that in order for students to have authentic conversations about the books they were reading, they needed to be able to discuss in the way they chose, not a way decided on by the teacher. Instead of being provided with guiding questions each week, the students took ownership over deciding what was meaningful and worthy of discussion. Here’s what Sarah Kennedy had to say about the online discussions: “Being able to see their responses was a great way to see how engaged they were with their novels and how they were sharing their thinking with others. I had some students who said they would rather share their thoughts verbally in a traditional group in class, but I liked that this format pushed them a bit when it came to organizing their thoughts in a different format and asking questions to engage others.” Angela Lardner made similar observations, commenting, “It was rewarding to see the engagement among students from different schools as they discussed novels. I was amazed at the amount of predictions, inferences and text-to-world connections made.”

Here is an excerpt from an online discussion about After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay:

teams 3 cropped

Here is an except from an online discussion about People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins:

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Teaching TalkEncouraged by Kara Pranikoff’s Teaching Talk: A Practical Guide to Fostering Student Thinking and Conversation (2017), the focus of assessment for the Book Clubs were the Speaking and Listening Outcomes. Midway through the Book Clubs, students took time to self-reflect on their contributions to the online discussion in relation to the curriculum outcomes. They were also provided with feedback from the teacher who was overseeing their group (this was not always their classroom teacher), who also provided them with a summative assessment after all discussions were completed. If teachers chose to ask their students to complete a final product on their book choice, that assessment focused on Reading and Writing/Representing Provincial Standards.

It was such a pleasure to work with these three passionate teachers and their students. Their openness and willingness to explore a new form of Book Clubs that allowed for communities of readers to come together across schools is truly inspiring.