Margin Notes



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:

teams2 cropped

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.

Try This Tomorrow: Book Spine Poetry


If you’re looking for a fun way to get students making poetry, and at the same time get new titles into their hands, try using book spine poetry. This is an easy activity that makes us all poets. Just scan your bookshelf for interesting titles. Each title will make up a line of your poem. Arrange the titles so that they run together as a poem. Stack them in a pile and take a picture!

Here is a link to some 2018 book spine poetry winning poems (with the youngest category being 5-8 year olds!).

And here are some of ours:

Here is a link to our post from last year that includes a link to real world mentor texts of book spine poetry from 2015 when the Toronto Library and the Kansas City library used spine book poetry to trash talk when their baseball teams were both vying for a spot in the World Series

Posting these on class twitter and Instagram accounts is a great way to share the book spine poetry created in your classroom.



Congratulations to Lisa Stewart-Munn for winning #ASDWReads for the month of March! Thank you for sharing your reading moments, 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 April, and post it on Twitter under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books you are spending time with as spring is beginning to fill the air!

Try This Tomorrow: 19 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Ikea Employees


Mental Floss recently published, “19 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Ikea Employees” an article filled with neat insider information about “what it’s like to work for one of the world’s most recognizable retail stores.” At first, I paid attention to the organizing structure, thinking it would make an interesting mentor text for using titles to identify separate subtopics or ideas and make information writing flow. Then, I realized that the whole concept makes this article a powerful invitation for students to write about the behind-the-scenes secrets of something or someplace they have expert knowledge about. Think of how much you would learn about your students (and they could learn about each other) from these behind-the-scenes secrets!



Congratulations to Melissa Canam for winning #ASDWReads for the month of January! Thank you for sharing your reading moments, 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 February and post it on Twitter under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books are keeping you company while you stay warm this month!