Margin Notes

Feedback That Moves Writers Forward by Patty McGee


As teachers of writing, we have great hopes for our students. And we also have a lot of questions. Where do we start? How can we empower young writers? How can we ensure our students progress in their writing? How can we get them to take risks? And the list could go on and on. If you are asking these same questions, Patty McGee has some advice for you.

While writing through the lens of feedback, McGee pulls from educational research, learning theories, and her own action research which is why this resource is one that will speak to all writing teachers. Your thinking will be deepened on topics such as:

  • The need for growth mindset
  • How feedback can work inside a system that requires marks
  • The importance of the writer’s identity
  • Strategies to try when writers are stuck
  • Goal setting
  • Choice, ownership and agency
  • Reflecting for Learning


Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew


With almost 800 000 followers on Instagram, Mari Andrew’s poignant watercolour posts speak to many, and so too will her book. In 8 chapters, using a series of personal essays, and the illustrations that led to her Instagram success, Andrew shares her journey to adulthood under themes such as Heartbreak and Loss, Finding Purpose, and Overcoming Disappointment.

What is clear in both the illustrations and the essays is that Andrew is an observer of life. In the stories she shares, she compares her life to the route of a metro line she is riding, notes how it is only the brave who can have true empathy, and explains how you can’t force an experience to live up to your expectations. The pieces exploring grief, both her writing and her illustrations, are stunning in their articulation, for example when she writes, “Acceptance is not a relief, it’s the realization that you will always carry grief with you.”

Yet, although at times your heart will feel for Mari Andrew, her humour shines through many of the pieces and while you’re (more…)

For Every One: A poem. A nod. A Nothing to Lose. by Jason Reynolds


Jason Reynolds has written the anthem for all dreamers. But although he is a dreamer, he doesn’t claim to know how to make them happen. In fact, he starts out stating just that. Reynolds thought he would have made it by 16. At 18 he thought he would have made it by 25. And now he says he is making it up as he goes.

What he does know is how it feels to be a dreamer. He knows the battle of two voices, the one telling you to give up and the one that demands you keep going. He knows the fear, the doubt, the struggle.

Written for “the courageous” Reynolds explains dreams come in all forms, can be realized at any age, and “…don’t have timelines, deadlines, and aren’t always in straight lines. But the dream? The dream is what makes the dreamer special.”

The title of this book is For Everyone, and it indeed is for anyone. Anyone who has had a dream. Anyone who has doubted it. And definitely for every kid. This is why this book is a must for the classroom library or a class read aloud. I can’t imagine a better way to inspire both the dreamers in our classrooms and those who don’t even know dreams are possible than to put this book in their hands.

Increasing the Volume of Reading in the ELA Classroom PL


Recently, we met with an inspiring group of high school teachers to learn together about ways to increase the volume of reading in ELA classrooms.  We started the day in one of our favourite ways with a read aloud from a picture book and a quick write.  To make our learning visible, we then responded to the Compass Points questions and discussed/read some current research regarding the importance of reading in the high school classroom.

Next, we delved into some professional reading on increasing the volume of reading and reflected on our own reading identities and practices.  We explored the resource, “Teaching Reading With YA Literature” by Jennifer Buehler and pushed our thinking around three main ideas: Classrooms That Cultivate A Reading Community, Teachers As Expert Match Makers and, Reading Tasks That Foster Complexity, Agency and Autonomy. Following that, we looked deeper into conferring with individuals and groups through discussions and watching videos.  We also looked into the classroom conditions that were necessary to support reading and talking about reading with students.  We ended with reading like a writer by co-constructing criteria after delving into real-world mentor texts then coming back to our compass points activity to show the learning that had occurred throughout the day.  We celebrated our learning by giving each teacher a stack of brand new novels to share with their students and to add to their classroom libraries.


Conferring During Reader’s Workshop PL


Earlier this semester, we met with a group of wonderful middle school teachers who were interested in building their capacity for conferring with students during their reading workshop time.  To get the day started, we practiced some informal reader-to- reader conversations focusing on the question, “How’s your reading going?” as a way to model how simple it can be to start the conferring process. This led into our opening activity, a Compass Point (a routine best used for decision making and planning), where we discussed our current stance on conferring, what we were excited and worried about, along with what we needed to know more about, to set the stage for the day.  We came back to these initial thoughts later in the day to see how our thinking and ideas had changed through our learning.


Compass Points Activity


Often when we ask students to make decisions and plans, we first ask them to brainstorm or create lists, such as a pros/cons. Recently, we have been using an activity we borrowed from Project Zero during PL sessions with teachers that we think would work really well with students – Compass Points. The Compass Points activity asks a learner, or group of learners to identify what excites them about a proposal, what worries them, what more they need to know, and finally to name their current stance or suggestions.


The Talking-Writing Connection


A few weeks ago we hosted a supper meeting for a group of teachers who had been provided with a copy of Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom. The premise of the book is that, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design” and that we (teachers) need to know the effect of what we are doing in our classrooms in regards to student achievement. For example, the effect size for class size is 0.21 and the effect size for metacognitive strategies is 0.69. Hattie states that teachers should consider classroom work with an effect size of 0.40 and above when designing learning for students. Teaching is hard work. And if the hard work isn’t leading to an increase in student achievement, then we need to ask ourselves why we are doing it.

During our meeting, one point of discussion was the link between talk and writing. As explained by Hattie et al, as students improve their ability to have effective academic talk with their peers, their writing becomes more sophisticated. The researchers write, “After all, if students don’t get to verbally explain, pose questions, and narrate routinely, it’s going to be much more difficult for them to do so in writing.” The effect size of (more…)

Book Spine Poetry


If you’re looking for a fun way to get students creating poetry and at the same time getting new titles into their hands, try using book spine poetry. This is such 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 2017 book spine poetry winning poems (with the youngest category being 5 to 8 year-olds!).

Some real-world mentor texts of book spine poetry happened in 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.  Take a look!

We recruited some of our colleagues from around the office and we wrote a few together this afternoon:




Derrick Grant-Subject Coordinator for Math (obviously…)

Gina Dunnett-Director of Schools for the Oromocto Ed Centre

Posting these on class Twitter and Instagram accounts are a great way to share the book spine poetry created in your classroom.  If you try it, we would love to see some examples of your students’ poems!

Single Point Rubrics


As teachers of writing, we know that specific and timely feedback is necessary for the students we teach to progress as writers. The need to be able to name what moves they are making as a writer and get feedback on their decisions as they are writing, not after they have written. But this can often feel like an overwhelming task when you might only get through a handful of conferences during class time.

A few years ago, Michelle Wuest (SPR of English at Leo Hayes High School) shared a blog post from Cult of Pedagogy on single point rubrics. And in short time my ability to give feedback to students as they wrote was transformed.

As with everything you come across as a teacher, its use needs to be adapted to fit with the curriculum, the standards, and the unique needs of the students you teach. So with that in mind, here is an image of single point rubrics as shown by Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy:


Speak-The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll


It’s been at least a decade since I first read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson but the story is one so brilliantly crafted that it has never left me. In every school I have visited this year, I see students reading Speak, transfixed by it, and I know they are rooting for the main character Melinda, just as I did.

Melinda, returning to school in September is the social outcast. She is sometimes ignored and sometimes mocked, and even her best friend rejects her. This wasn’t always Melinda’s life, and it is the aftermath of what happened at a summer party where she was sexually assaulted (this is the part nobody knows) and called 911. All that is known is that the party was busted by police, people were arrested, and the newest rule at Merryweather is that being friends with Melinda is a social death sentence. Alongside the main theme of finding your voice, topics such as the hypocrisy of high schools, self-absorbed parents, and loneliness are also explored.

As with other novels by Laurie Halse Anderson, the internal narration in Speak is one of the most (more…)