Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER KIM SKILLITER RECOMMENDS BROTHER BY DAVID CHARIANDY

Jun
04

BrotherIt’s not often that I come to the end of a novel and immediately flip back to the beginning, but I did just that with Brother. David Chariandy’s mesmerizing writing and gripping storyline kept me reading so quickly that, coming to the end of its 187 pages, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind me.

Readers who appreciate Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give will find a similar storyline. Chariandy’s characters are the marginalized immigrants of early 1990s’ Scarborough, Ontario. They are hardworking and hopeful, but the obstacles in the way of achieving their dreams of a better life in this country are overwhelming. Parents navigate lengthy routes on public transit to work backbreaking hours at minimum wage jobs, forced to leave their young children home behind locked doors- with strict instructions not to open them. Children face racism at school; they are feared and shunned by their fellow students, driven into alternative programming, and, often, out the door entirely, by the educational system. The police are an omnipresent threat.

The title refers to the narrator Michael’s late brother, Francis, an intelligent, sensitive, popular and well-respected member of the immigrant community in The Park- a low-income housing complex in Scarborough. The novel is an homage to Francis and to all those young lives ruined and-all too often- lost, by oppressive ideologies at play in what is supposed to be the most welcoming of countries. Chariandy’s characters are complex; he fleshes out stereotypes and we fall in love with people like Anton, a small-time drug dealer who “never had the right sort of clothes against the cold and rain. . . couldn’t hide the fact that at dinnertime he wouldn’t be going inside.” Chariandy’s imagery is astounding, and we sweat in the summer heat along with his characters, like Michael and Francis’ mom, who comes home from work off the bus in a catatonic state to a stultifying, airless apartment- and a bowl of cold water for her feet, provided by a young Francis.

Chariandy, himself the son of Trinidadian immigrants to Toronto, is an important voice in Canadian literature because we need to read the truth about our country, and we need to have empathy for all of its citizens. We need to reflect on the oppressive systems at work in what is supposed to be a welcoming place, full of opportunity for all. Students need to be given the opportunity to hear diverse voices and to reflect on these important messages in our classrooms.

Kim is an English teacher at Fredericton High School. She loves to read, read some more, and talk to her students about how awesome reading is 😊.  She hopes one day soon to resurrect the Canadian Literature course at FHS, and to pilot an Indigenous Literature course as well.

WINNER!

May
31

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!

COOKBOOKS, CONNECTION, AND CHOICE: SARA BELONG TALKS ABOUT READING ENGAGEMENT

May
30

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!”

Cookbooks.png

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

May
28

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!

cake

 

 

 

GUEST WRITER VALERIE MARSHALL ON CAPTURED MEMORIES: AN INTERGENERATIONAL PROJECT

May
23

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

 

 

GLOBAL COMPETENCIES CROSS-SCHOOL BOOK CLUBS

May
21

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:

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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: THE OPEN LETTER

May
16

The open letter is a form of writing that offers nearly unlimited possibilities for writers. Typically addressed to a specific reader or group, but intended to be read by a wider and more public audience, the open letter can be crafted as a memoir, a persuasive piece, social commentary, or a small moment/slice of life. The open letter can be serious and formal, or it can be personal and humorous in that “you’re laughing because you’ve been there” way.

Regardless of the approach, the open letter requires some intentional writer’s moves when it comes to addressing the audience. The open letter directly addresses the named reader or group, but it must be written to engage the public audience.

McSweeney’s features a column called Open Letters to People or Entities who are Unlikely to Respond. Some of my favorite open letters are:

An Open Letter to Coastal Living Magazine

An Open Letter to the Immigration Officer Who Confused Me for a Criminal

An Open Letter to those Who Want to Liberate Me from My Hijab

An Open Letter to Collegiate Basketball Benchwarmers

An Open Letter to the Box of Loose Cables in My Closet

I’ve also found some excellent examples on HuffPost:

Open Letter to the Lazy Mom in the Grocery Store

An Open Letter to My Adolescent Daughter

An Open Letter to Teenagers from a Toddler Mom

Your students might also enjoy My Open Letter to Open Letters Everywhere (Odyssey) as a humorous reminder to keep it real and avoid open letter clichés.

Book Recommendation: Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

May
14

Our literacy team recently finished a book study on Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This book is filled with strategies for creating and communicating ideas that will be “sticky” with an audience. Although not specifically directed toward educators, we found lots of applications to our work with teachers and students.

The Heath brothers define ideas that stick as those that are understood and remembered and that have a lasting impact on the audience by changing opinions or behavior. After studying countless examples of ideas that fit this definition, including everything from marketing campaigns to urban legends, they identified six principles of stickiness:

1. Simple

“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence (p 27).”

2. Unexpected

“Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprises make us pay attention and think. The extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories. Surprise gets our attention. Sometimes the attention is fleeting, but in other cases surprise can lead to enduring attention. Surprise can prompt us to hunt for underlying causes, to imagine other possibilities, to figure out how to avoid surprises in the future (p. 68).”

3. Concrete

“This is how concreteness helps us understand—it helps us construct higher, more abstract insights on the building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions. Abstraction demands some concrete foundation. Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air (p. 106).”

4. Credible

“We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have ‘internal credibility (p. 106).”

5. Emotional

“How can we make people care about ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also the people they would like to be (p. 203).”

6. Stories

“Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers—we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p. 237).”

One of the ideas that stuck with me as I read and discussed this book (see what I did there?) was the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we can’t unlearn it. The more expertise we develop in an area, the more challenging it is to remember what it’s like not to know. Our knowledge and understanding make it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the learner, which is critical if we want our ideas to stick.

Made to Stick is an interesting and engaging read for anyone who wants their ideas to impact their audience, whether it is one person in a conversation, a class of students, or colleagues in a presentation. It offers practical and actionable wisdom that is illustrated by stories from many contexts where sticky ideas matter

CRAFT STUDIO: MY HEART FILLS WITH HAPPINESS BY MONIQUE GRAY SMITH

May
09

What I Was Reading:My-Heart-Fills-With-Happiness.jpeg

Monique Gray Smith wrote the picture book My Heart Fills With Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families and to encourage readers to reflect on the moments in life that bring them joy. This beautiful book, with illustrations by Julie Flett, is written in both Plains Cree and English, with the words on each page printed in both languages in some versions.

My Heart Fills With Happiness

My heart fills with happiness when…

I see the face of someone I love

I smell bannock baking in the oven

I sing

My heart fills with happiness when…

I feel the sun dancing on my cheeks

I walk barefoot on the grass

I dance

My heart fills with happiness when…

I hold the hand of someone I love

I listen to stories

I drum

What fills YOUR heart with happiness?

You can also view and listen to the author read the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBCNFMzvyl4

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • There are three stanzas, each with four lines
  • Each stanza begins with the same repeated line
  • The second line of each of the stanzas follows a similar rhythm with nine syllables
  • The second, third, and fourth lines all begin with “I”
  • Each stanza ends with two words and a total of two syllables
  • The last line invites readers to reflect and write their own poem

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Writing their own poem about what makes them happy
  • Trying out rhythms that are similar throughout the poem
  • Translating their poem into another language
  • Illustrating their poem
  • Sharing their poem with others and maybe even children at a nearby school

Guest Writer Krista deMolitor Recommends Flying Lessons & Other Stories

May
07

Flying Lessons & Other Stories is the cure for the indecisive reader. This anthology of short stories is written by some well-known and lesser-known young-adult authors of this time, including one story by acclaimed writer of Booked and Crossover, Kwame Alexander.

This book starts off strong with a short story by Matt De La Pena entitled: “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium”. What a title! When the main character (whom addresses the reader directly throughout the story) has out-grown shooting hoops with his normal friends at the local court, he hears of a spot across town by his father’s work offering a higher calibre of play. He commits to waking up early on his summer vacation to go into work with his dad at 5am every single morning. His commitment to the game teaches him a lot about himself, his love for the game, and his father. It’s a great story for any reader.

The more I read, the more I appreciated the selection of short stories. Each story brought with it a unique perspective and new positive and negative stereotypes. The writing is fantastic and the selection of stories seamlessly flow through diverse topics with an array of characters. There are numerous opportunities for mentor texts in this book as well; whatever strategy you want to teach will have plenty of examples in these stories.

The characters are authentic and relatable which makes it an easy choice for a classroom lacking in that area. Race, sexual orientation, gender diversity, culture, and other topics relevant to today’s readers are explored tastefully and realistically through entertaining stories.

Not only would Flying Lessons & Other Stories make a great addition to any middle level classroom, it would also be a great choice for some variety with read-alouds. Book talking individual stories also proved useful as many students were asking me weeks later to borrow the “book about flying”. Students can easily pick it up and flip to the short story that interests them the most (or, find the story with the most captivating title!) and read as much or as little of it as they like.

Overall, it was a great read and an absolute necessity for any classroom.

Krista deMolitor is a grade 7 Language Arts teacher at George Street Middle School in Fredericton.