Margin Notes



Here at Margin Notes we are loving the importance teachers are placing on sharing their reading and writing identities with their students and the many ways in which they are doing so.

The 30 Day Writing Habit created by Jill Davidson provided another opportunity for teachers to jump-start their writing for 2020 and share their writing experiences with their students . Beginning on January 6th, approximately 70 teachers in ASD-W received 30 consecutive days of writing inspiration and were invited to share their writing using the hashtag #ASDWWrites. For teachers already using a writer’s notebook this helped in developing a more consistent writing habit, and for teachers wanting to experience the process of writing and sharing it with their students for the first time, this created the opportunity to do just that.

Here is a sample of  writing inspiration from day 17:30 Day writing habit

After completing the 30 Days of Writing, teachers were able to share their feedback on the experience. Here is some of what the teachers shared:

“Writing is hard and is a journey that you need to commit to if you want to see improvement. I like feeling how my students may feel in the writing classroom.”

“It’s tough, hard, vulnerable, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, frustrating, beautiful, insightful, and creative – all on one page sometimes! I cannot expect it to come easy or be easy for my students. But it also cannot be something that we all avoid – it brings much more to us as writers and is worth the temporary agony.”

“The thing that stuck out the most was the importance of building writing stamina. Even though I was engaged in the topics, the amount of time I spent writing grew with each day I wrote. I also learned that I needed to take breaks after writing, especially if I wrote for long time.”

For further reading on the importance of writing when you are a teacher of writing, we suggest the following:

Sharing Our Vulnerabilities as Writers: Writing and Revising Even When You Don’t Want To by Jeff Anderson

On Joy, Teaching, and the Deep Satisfaction of Writing by Penny Kittle

Teacher to Teacher: On Being a Writer and Establishing a Writing Identity by Lynne R. Dorfman





It is only appropriate I share Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in  February, Black History Month inDear Martin both Canada and the United States, let alone during the current political climate.

Justyce McAllister is a young African-American who excels in academics and aspires to attend Yale after graduation. He participates in a debate club with a small group of friends, notably Jared, a white student with skewed views on race relations, and Sarah-Jane (SJ) Friedman, a confident speaker unafraid to challenge Jared in the club meetings. The story follows Justyce, his friend Manny, SJ, and Jared’s crew through a series of social situations and events in which discrimination rears itself, leading to tense, even violent incidents. From Justyce’s wrongful arrest, through a tasteless costume party in which a member of the group dresses as a Klansman, to a street confrontation, the reader is taken on a jarring and unsettling journey through the day-to-day life of a young black man trying to move beyond societal stereotypes without losing touch with his community.

Throughout the story, Justyce writes letters in his journal to Dr. King, presented in more of a conversational tone and handwritten-style font, where he is free to rhetorically ask Martin why he still has to endure racism decades later. From his friends’ aloof attitudes to his mother’s disapproval of his romantic interest in SJ, Justyce feels he has no one to whom he can turn.

The author presents a remarkable writing style. Typical of modern YA fiction, the perspective is present tense, a technique conducive to readers wishing to immerse themselves in the moment. Dialogue is often presented without tags, as though in a play—character name: spoken line. The debate sequences flow organically as a result. Stone’s style of writing should appeal to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike.

Adolescents today have a general knowledge of Civil Rights, who the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and how equal rights are not yet guaranteed. While many of our cultural icons are African-American/Canadian, there remains a lack of true understanding of the daily hurdles young black people face.

This story succeeds for precisely this reason. Young adult readers will invest in a narrative that relates to them. Stone masterfully conveys the complexities of race relations in a way young people from all cultures can understand. Most notably, the young characters reveal through talk what text books and lectures cannot. There is a lot of heart in this story; be advised you may find yours broken when it reaches its climax. As it should, before true understanding can be found.

Brandon LeBlanc is an English, French, and Social Studies teacher at Stanley Consolidated School.

Opinionated Students


We would like to share an idea we have used with a teacher in grade 8 to get the students thinking about writing persuasively.

Our goal is for the students to be able to choose a topic they feel passionate about so they can write with an opinion, see both sides of an argument, to have a purpose for their writing, and to identify the audience they are writing for. In the past, we felt like we had taught this kind of writing like a formula and it ended up being painful for both the students and the teacher. The students had little real interest in their topic and we were bored of teaching it as it always seemed to drag on forever. The writing it produced was generally appropriate against our writing standards but if we were really honest, it just ended up being a compliance writing piece and not truly authentic for the majority of students.

We looked at two main books for inspiration, Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This” and Linda Rief’s “Read Write Teach”. After reading their work, we realized in the past we hadn’t spent enough time building students’ capacity in being able to have an opinion and back it up with evidence. This had resulted in dry topics like, “Why cats are better than dogs”, “Why we shouldn’t have a dress code”, and “Why the Montreal Canadiens are the best hockey team”.

We decided to spend more time on the prep work to get them thinking, talking, and writing while building their background knowledge so that hopefully when it is time to choose what they are going to write about, they will be ready. We are also hoping to create some urgency and energy around the writing piece so it doesn’t drag on for weeks once they start it.

We started with a simple and fun game of “Would You Rather” to get them to practice having an opinion and be able to say why. We read the questions aloud, the students turned and talked, then we came back together as a group and shared a few. While the students were turning and talking, we listened in and facilitated where necessary. The two big things we noticed-some students still wanted to say, ” I don’t know” and we had to do a couple of whole class reminders to state their why. We really wanted to focus on these two skills as they are essential and easily transferable to this kind of writing.

Here are some sample questions we got off the internet: would you rather…be covered in scales or fur? Be able to fly or talk to animals? Find a suitcase with $5 000 000 in it or true love? Give up bathing or the internet for one month?

With about ten minutes left, we had them choose one or two questions to write about in their Writers Notebook which was easier for them to do after they had practiced first by talking and listening to their classmates. We noticed this was an essential step that we had often skipped or glossed over and we were happy to rectify the situation!



Tonight the streets are oursArden Huntley seems to have it all: family, a best friend, a gorgeous actor of a boyfriend, and good marks. But things change, and people change.

Arden has always taken care of the people in her life; she is loyal to a fault. Now she feels her loyalty is being taken for granted when her mother leaves, her best friend lets her take the fall for drugs found in their locker, and her boyfriend cancels on plans for their 1-year anniversary celebration. This is when Arden stumbles upon a blog called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” and becomes fascinated by the New York author Peter. She feels connected to him and starts to live vicariously through his blog posts.

Setting out on a road trip to find and meet Peter, Arden, and her best friend Lindsey, have a crazy night. This includes Arden discovering that Peter is not who she thought he was; he is not who he portrays in his blog. But this night also propels Arden on a journey of self-discovery, which leads her to reconnect with her mom and repair her relationship with Lindsey.

This story begins with, “Like all stories, the one you are about to read is a love story. If it wasn’t what would be the point?”. Readers looking for a book that includes a unique perspective on this theme will surely enjoy Tonight the Streets Are Ours.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.



Read-Alouds are a powerful, and we believe essential, component to building an engaged and empowered community of readers in the literacy classroom. Frank Seragini and Suzette Serafini-Youngs say it best in their professional resource Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days:

“What occurs during reading aloud and discussing literature affects how individuals transact with texts independently. How literature is discussed during the read-aloud provides the most concrete demonstration of the ways we want students to read and think on their own and in small groups. If things don’t happen during whole-group instructions, why would we expect them to happen when we send students off on their own to read?”

When we are reading aloud, we want our students to be engaged and captivated. Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch, in their book Cultivating Readers, discuss the ways students are drawn in by a read-aloud: “Students need to hear and see a reader who reads with great pace, tone, phrasing, expression, and intonation.” They also explore the many purposes a read aloud can have in our classrooms:

• Exposure to different genres
• Reading for enjoyment
• As a mentor text for writing
• For making thinking visible
• As opportunities for dialogue and discussion about rich text and topics
• As fuel for higher-order thinking questions

Knowing our purpose, selecting quality texts, planning how the read-aloud will benefit the readers in front of us, and responding to the “teachable moments” that arise during the authentic discussions all work together in creating a community of readers in our classrooms.

When selecting a read-aloud for your classroom, keep in mind all of the rich, quality types of text that are available aside from an engaging full-length novel:

• Sections from novels
• Non-fiction
• Poetry
• Short stories
• Images
• Articles
• Videos
• Comics
• Infographics
• Artwork
• Picture Books

To help you get started in exploring options for read-alouds in your classroom, we put together this Read-Aloud Padlet of resources that includes a variety of texts you might consider. If you are interested in learning more about how read-alouds can contribute to growing an engaged community of readers in your classroom, we suggest checking out the following:

Article: “The Power and Promise of Read-Alouds and Independent Reading” by The International Literacy Association
Blog Post: “Never too old: Reading aloud to independent readers” by Donalyn Miler
Blog Post: “Reading Books Aloud – Teaching Readers, Knitting Hearts” by Valinda Kimmel
Podcast: “Why Read Aloud Matters” with Rebecca Bellingham
Podcast: “A Novel-Approach Read Aloud” with Kate Roberts

As always, if you are looking for support or want to chat further about how to use read-alouds in your classroom, please send us an email!



I had the pleasure of attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference and presenting as part of a #BuildYourStack panel. Our theme was curiosity and I chose to share 5 titles to inspire secondary writers to get curious about the stories that live in their worlds. These titles pair nicely with writer’s notebooks and encourage students to observe and capture potential writing topics and ideas in their environments. Here they are:


I Wonder, written by KA Holt and illustrated by Kenard Pak, follows a group of children across a day as they wonder about and question the world around them. It ends at bedtime with the final curiosity of the day: “I wonder why I wonder so much.”

This picture book is an invitation for students to notice and record all their wonderings, questions, and curiosities over a day or longer.


The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker is a charming and quirky book filled with 131 exercises, meditations, and invitations designed to help us explore our surroundings with joy and curiosity. As Walker writes in the introduction, “Every day is filled with opportunities to be amazed, surprised, enthralled—to experience the enchanting. To be, in a word, alive.”

The activities range from simple (notice something new each day or make an auditory inventory) to more challenging (create a field guide or develop a personal annotated map). This book is a treasure trove of ideas for sending writers out into the world to practice the art of noticing.


In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Lynda Barry shares writing and drawing exercises from her classes. One of my favorite activities is called X-Pages. Barry asks her students to draw a large X across a notebook page, creating four large triangles, and spend five minutes recording what they did, what they saw, what they heard, and a sketch from the day.

This nightly five-minute ritual not only encourages writers to be more attentive and observant, it helps generate a large volume of details in the notebook for them to go back into to when looking for seeds of more writing.

A Mind Spread Out

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a collection of first-person essays by Alicia Elliott, a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Each of these essays is powerful in its own way, but the essay called “Half-Breed, A Racial Biography in Five Parts” offers a beautiful mentor structure for writers.

In it, Elliott shares five vignettes from her life—beginning in early childhood, moving through high school, and ending after the birth of her child. These culminate in a final reflection. Students can use this structure to name an aspect of their own identity and write five snapshots to create their own biography in five parts.


Here by Richard McGuire is an astonishing, almost wordless, picture book that tells the story of one corner of one room over thousands of years. The narratives from different times periods are layered across the pages, almost like collages.

This text invites students to visually depict the passage of time in their own lives by marking the changes in one thing, possibly a particular location or a meaningful object.







pumpkinheads coverPumpkinheads is a YA graphic novel created by the well-known writer Rainbow Rowell and the award-winning artist Faith Erin Hicks.

The story is about two high school seniors doing their final night shift together at a seasonal pumpkin patch. After three years of being autumnal best friends and workmates at a famous pumpkin patch, Josiah the MVPPP -Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person- and cheerful Deja have differing ideas on what should happen during this final shift. Josiah wants a routine Halloween night shift at the Succotash Hut, but Deja has a plan for the two of them to make the night the best Halloween ever by eating all of their favorite Halloween snacks, and finally getting “Josie” to speak to the co-worker he’s been mooning over for three years, nicknamed “The Fudge Girl.” 

From the first page to the last you can feel and taste the sweetness of friendship and all those amazing autumnal colors and food. I believe it is a story that many YA readers will adore. I very much like the way the story depicts how bittersweet the senior years can be when you are dangling between adolescence and adulthood.

The character strengths of Josiah: hardworking, committed, ambitious, and those of Deja: generous, kind and supportive, along with the themes of empathy, responsibility, cultural diversity and teamwork, work together to create an engaging story. I believe that these two adolescents could be role models for students in many ways and this is one reason why I highly recommend this book.

All in all, Pumpkinheads is more than a story about a last evening at a popular pumpkin patch; it is about authentic friendship and speaking honestly, as can be seen in a few of Deja’s remarks to Josiah during their final shift:

” I’m your friend. And friends don’t let friends live small lives.”

” I can’t ever get a sense of someone until I meet them.”

” We could be friends for all seasons.”

” It’s not fate that brings people together. It’s people!”

” I don’t want this girl to achieve mythical status in your life just because you never talked with her.”

 Rezvan Dehghani, originally from Iran, is an EAL instructor at Devon Middle school in Fredericton, NB.

Our Favourite Books Released in 2019


It is almost time to say farewell to 2019, and with Christmas just a few weeks away, we thought we would share some of our favourite titles released this year (and maybe provide you with ideas for your holiday gift-giving!).









Congratulations to Amy Bourgaize and Lori Jones-Clark for winning #ASDWReads for the month of November! Your prizes will arrive soon! You can enter our December draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!



Just as we encourage our students to abandon books that are not working for them, as teachers we need the same encouragement to abandon literacy practices that are not moving our students towards becoming engaged lifelong readers. The use of reading logs is one of these practices.

There is an abundance of research to support the idea that reading logs do more harm than good and can actually decrease our students’ motivation to read. If our goal is to inspire and engage readers, then we need routines and practices that encourage students to choose books that are interesting to them, to talk about those books and their experiences with them with others, and to authentically share their joys, struggles, and the ways they are moving forward as readers.

If you are interested in ditching those reading logs and trying out a new practice, here are some ideas:

For additional reading and research, here are a few more articles to check out if you want to learn more:

Pernille Ripp: “Before You Assign a Reading Log”
Pernille Ripp: “On Reading Logs”
Pernille Ripp  “Let’s Talk About Reading Logs Again”
Allie Thrower: “Ditching the Reading Logs”
Erica Reischer: “Can Reading Logs Ruin Reading for Kids?”