Margin Notes



Field Guide.jpgIn his debut novel, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, Ben Philippe’s influences and inspirations are front and center. While he shares the Haitian-Canadian (je m’excuse, Quebecois) immigrant heritage with his protagonist Norris Kaplan, Philippe also directly references the 2004 high school dramedy Mean Girls, and the themes of this movie echo throughout the book.

As the new kid in school, after being dragged by his mom from Montreal to Austin, Texas, the socially selective (meaning slightly snobby and slightly awkward) Norris finds himself in a completely new setting: it’s hot, constantly hot, he’s the only French speaking student in the school, the only Canadian, and one of the only ones with a brown complexion. He is utterly prepared to hate his new life and carries the appropriate chip on his shoulder to school with him.

What unfolds is a story of, yes, discovery, but also an exploration and subversion of modern prejudice – the ones Kaplan fears, and the ones he realizes he holds.

This book should quench the thirst of most readers as it’s very relatable and cultural references are there for context and flavour. The quality of Philippe’s story and his writing style are impressive, but it should be noted that it does include mature content.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Pursuits teacher at Fredericton High School, where he also coaches soccer and track & field. When not teaching, or coaching, he can be found with his wife Jen outside with their dogs and playing with their daughter Olivia.

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.




As you are getting to know your students as readers and establishing a reading community within your classrooms, check out Jarrett Lerner’s artwork Kids Need Books of ALL Kinds ( and Grant Snider’s comic Books Are… ( These two graphics are sure to ignite many conversations around books, what they offer us, and why we need so many different kinds of them!

Here are three possibilities of how to use these in your classroom:

  1. Students could respond to the images in their Writer’s Notebooks and then share their ideas to grow their thinking.
  2. You could share how some of the different books you have read match up with some of the artwork and ask students to think about the same. This could be followed up with the questions:
    1. What did I learn about myself as a reader today?
    2. What did we learn about each other as readers?
  3. You could use Kelly Gallagher’s Say-Mean-Matter Questions to guide students through their written or spoken conversations about the texts:
    1. What does the text say?
    2. What does the text mean?
    3. Why does the text matter?

If you use these in your classroom or have other ideas on how to share them with students, please comment below or tag us on social media!



Girl Made of Stars CoverHow could something so heartbreaking be so full of hope? This question remained in the back of my mind as I read Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake.

As twins, Mara and Owen share an unbelievable bond. Ironically, it is this bond that threatens to tear them apart. When Owen is accused of rape, and the victim is Mara’s best friend, Hannah, Mara’s world begins to spiral. Her family expects she will support her twin, Owen, citing that this is all a “misunderstanding”. Mara’s bond with both the accuser and the victim makes it hard for her to make sense of the situation: “I need Owen to explain this. Because, yes, I do know Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Challenged to find truth, Mara reveals a long buried trauma of her own, and begins her own journey of healing and hope.

In Girl Made of Stars, Ashley Herring Blake tackles many tough issues: rape, sexuality, anxiety, and gender identity. From the ripple down effects that sexual assaults create on the lives of the victims and those close to them, to the struggle with one’s inner conflict, this young adult novel tackles tough issues. With well-developed, diverse, and complex characters, who are both very likeable and very flawed at the same time, Girl Made of Stars makes for a powerful read.

With Girl Made of Stars, Ashley Herring Blake facilitates conversations about so much more than the literature and writing style. This novel sets the stage for discussions about consent, anxiety, victim blaming, and other important questions that teens may be facing.

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick.  She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.

Building A Community of Readers


Here’s an easy activity from Cultivating Readers by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch (bonus-they are also Canadian educators!) that some teachers are trying out to start the year. Basically, you cut out footprints (copies are available in the book) and write down what you read over the summer. You chat with your students about your footprints (sharing your reading identity) then you ask them, “What did you learn about me as a reader?” They can turn and talk (talk helps to grow their thinking), share with the class what they learned about you, write their answers on a piece of chart paper and voila-there’s a snapshot of your reading identity.

We love this one because it lets students practice talking and thinking without being vulnerable about their own reading lives (until we get to know each other), and it gives them the language and vocabulary to eventually start talking about their own reading identity, which is essential to them becoming life-long readers.

If you try this out, please share your thoughts and experiences!



Someone I Used to KnowThe novel Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount is about not only the survivor of rape and her interactions with others, but also the aftermath for her family and friends. It is this side of the story that I enjoyed the most, as emotional as it may have been. I also appreciated the strong male character presence in this book, and I feel that makes it a good read for a wide range of readers.

The book does not go into all the gritty details of the actual rape, but it certainly deals with Ashley’s thoughts and flashbacks about it and the triggers she faces on a daily basis. Someone I Used to Know is, from my perspective, a clear window and definitely an eye-opener into the effects of rape on not only the victim but also everyone she is connected with. The chapters alternate between Ashley and her brother Derek, so we get both of their perspectives on how they are each feeling and also how they assume the other is feeling. I think this is the way with many difficult family situations, where we find it easier not to mention the “incident” and think we know what is happening with each other when, in fact, we are wrong. This leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings when discussing the issue head-on might be more beneficial for everyone involved.

The book is emotionally-driven and shows us how the relationships within the novel are affected by this traumatic event. We see how athletes and society revere their skill and entertainment value over the lives of “regular” people. We see how the victim suffers long after everyone assumes “they should be over it by now” and continues to suffer even after the rapist has served his time. We see how family dynamics change during a crisis and who is willing to stand up for what is right…even when it might not be the popular thing to do, and we are reminded that support comes from many different places, sometimes from where you least expect, but you have to be open to it.

I feel this book could be a beneficial read for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters. The daily decisions we take for granted continue to cause trauma and stress for these victims, and this book is able to educate us in an emotionally powerful way.

Paula Richards is a fairly new teacher to English Language Arts. She loves to read and has recently been surprised by a variety of new genres. She has three children who she tries to share her love of reading with through many library visits and too much money spent on book orders!



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.