Begins: October 29, 2018
Ends: June 29, 2019

Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN: Marginal Syllabus 2018-19

In the 2018-19 school year, Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN was a collaborative initiative led by the National Writing Project (NWP), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and Marginal Syllabus to explore the intersections of literacy and equity. LEARN engaged educators in social reading, collaborative web annotation, and public conversation about educational equity. Participants contributed to this interest-driven professional learning experiment using traditional means-like printing out articles and writing all over them with colored pens- and by using emerging digital media- like embedding videos in discussion threads which emerge in the notes alongside these texts online. This self-styled geeky online book club tinkered with the relationships between authors, readers, and texts, as well as issues of partnership in a collaborative inquiry about the potential for sustaining equity conversations. 

The eight texts we read in the 2018-19 school year were selected from recently published NCTE journals, including English Education, Voices from the Middle, Research in the Teaching of English, Language Arts, and English Journal. All articles examined and discussed critical educational equity topics that may be considered “marginal” to the status quo of schooling. We are grateful to NCTE for making this collection of “counternarratives” to educational inequality publicly available, and for allowing Marginal Syllabus to share the articles in public. 

LEARN partnered with authors who granted permission to publicly share, read, and annotate their work. Authors talked with us in Connected Learning TV webinars to discuss their work while interacting with readers. The webinars (gallery here, with individual videos linked below) captured the voices and off-the-cuff reflections of educators who make educational equity central in their literacy research and practices.

Readers contributed to LEARN by authoring notes and sharing responses to the notes of others, sustaining conversation. Readers engaged by interacting directly with authors. Readers engaged by skimming the LEARN articles and sometimes choosing not to post- or to post privately. Readers engaged in LEARN by writing tweets, blog posts, and articles. The multimodal forms of writing participants left as digital footprints in LEARN, mark a path of distributed professional learning conversations that trace back to the National Writing Project’s network of local sites. 

The web annotation organization Hypothesis has been another key partner and ardent supporter of LEARN. Educators who participated in these monthly conversations authored public Hypothesis annotations atop the eight NCTE articles. Thanks to the technical affordances of Hypothesis, the “remarkable” notes added by educators to the eight NCTE journal articles are a robust and stable record of educator discourse and meaning-making that others can easily access, learn from, and contribute to over time. 

With LEARN, NWP’s Educator Innovator has helped to drive the design, facilitation, and iteration of the Marginal Syllabus as an open professional learning opportunity that is advancing consequential conversations about literacy and educational equity. By hosting the webinars and annotated texts, Educator Innovator is making publicly accessible various multimedia resources that can be remixed, reconsidered and revisited into diverse K-12 and higher education learning contexts to explore issues of literacy and equity. 

The descriptions below of each 2018-19 LEARN article and annotation conversation, suggest opportunities for their continued use in professional learning settings. 

LEARN: 2018-19 Marginal Syllabus

Click on the links below to activate the annotatable version of these readings (used with permission); connect with us during live events or browse the event archives.

Dates Article for Annotation and Conversation
The 2018-19 LEARN syllabus began on October 29th with our reading of Electing to Heal: Trauma, Healing, and Politics in Classrooms, Antero Garcia and Elizabeth Dutro’s article that appeared in English Education. The piece calls for conversations among English educators to think about how people are positioned differently in today’s political climate and the need to create safe spaces which foster healing and critical development. Garcia joined us to talk about the writing in this Educator Innovator webinar and reader Sarah Woodard discussed her response to the work.

This reading might help educators: 

  • Reflect on the impact, on both teachers and students, of inequitable policies and political rhetoric intended to stoke fear and tension. 
  • Support students in testifying to their experiences and histories. 
  • Consider the way contemporary events demand increased attention to social emotional learning.

December In December we annotated Marcelle Haddix’s article, What’s Radical about Youth Writing?: Seeing and Honoring Youth Writers and Their Literacies, which appeared in Voices from the Middle. In it, she recounts the frustration of a community underserved by schooling and describes the promise she sees in her after-school program called Writing Our Lives. She provides youth writers who don’t seem engaged with in-class writing opportunities to write to heal, empower, and transform communities. Haddix joined readers Michelle King and Christopher Rogers to talk about the article in this Educator Innovator webinar

This reading might help educators: 

  • Employ an asset-focused approach to facilitating youth writing that considers their interests.
  • Consider the way out-of-school learning can inform classroom approaches to leverage youth’s writing competence. 
  • Create spaces where youth writers are critical ethnographers of their own writing lives.

January January’s reading was Generative Principles for Professional Learning for Equity-Oriented Urban English Teachers, an article written by Allison Skerrett, Amber Warrington, and Thea Williamson, which was published in English Education. The authors detail the experiences of three teachers from different backgrounds and teaching contexts who actively sought out professional learning to help them teach with a focus on social justice, and share six principles for organizing equity-focused professional learning with attention to agency, collegiality, and collaboration. The Educator Innovator webinar about the reading brought the authors together with reader respondents Nobuko Fujita, Samuel Reed III, and Bryan Ripley Crandall. 

This reading might help educators: 

  • Mentor new teachers with attention to their interests in social justice.
  • Design equity-oriented professional learning.
  • Reframe teacher education programs to analyze contemporary inequities in schooling.

February Our February reading was When School is Not Enough: Understanding the Lives and Literacies of Black Youth, a piece from Research in the Teaching of English, by Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, and Carlotta Penn. The article shares the perspectives of two young men, age 18, engaged in community-based social justice initiatives that affirm their identities and strengths, experiences that create a sharp contrast with the deficit narratives they encounter in school – narratives that tell them they are not enough. The authors joined readers Cherise McBride and Michelle King in our Educator Innovator webinar

This reading might help educators: 

  • Make connections between the identities of students and the literacy opportunities we afford them in schools.
  • Recognize engaged critical thinking on deficitized students.
  • Surface with students their stories of motivation and perseverance.

March In March we annotated Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books about Indigenous People, by Debbie Reese, a piece written for the journal Language Arts. The article explains how teachers can choose texts that support accurate representations of Native communities, and how teachers can develop a critical lens to better select and use curriculum materials in their classrooms and schools. Reese spoke with us in this Educator Innovator webinar

This reading might help educators: 

  • Inform their schools’ selection of reading resources about Native histories and issues.
  • Understand the impact of commercialized stereotypes of Native people on students. 
  • Interact with the author at her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

April April’s reading, Cultivating Urban Literacies on Chicago’s South Side through a Pedagogy of Spatial Justice, by Andrea Vaughan, Rebecca Woodard, Nathan C. Phillips, and Kara Taylor, originally appeared in Voices from the Middle. The text describes a middle-school unit that engaged students in a study of food access and justice in their neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The class read traditional academic texts, and also “read” their neighborhood through place-based activities as a source of local knowledge. The Educator Innovator webinar connected the authors in conversation with readers Betina Hseih and Christopher Rogers. 

This reading might help educators: 

  • Use the neighborhood as an alternative text type to affirm the knowledge students bring to the classroom.
  • Design inquiry projects with open-ended possibilities for student investigations.
  • Imagine real world purposes for writing in school.

May In May we read “We Are Not Dirt”: Freirean Counternarratives and Rhetorical Literacies for Student Voice in Schooling, an article by Everardo Pedraza and R. Joseph Rodríguez, published in the English Journal. The authors tell the story of a youth participatory action research (YPAR) project designed around an issue of concern for students: the school’s “tardy sweeps” policy, the name of which offended them and stirred them to action. The authors explain how the students’ action research resulted in the publication of a book featuring letters written by students which included contributions from community members who supported their cause. The authors spoke with us about the work in this Educator Innovator webinar

This reading might help educators: 

  • Gain an introduction to Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR).
  • Design instruction in response to students’ critical lens on schools and schooling. 
  • Establish community connections for classroom projects related to oppressive treatment of youth.

June 3 In June we annotated Even Cinderella Is White: (Re)Centering Black Girls’ Voices as Literacies of Resistance, an article that appeared in the English Journal, by Jemimah L. Young, Marquita D. Foster, and Dorothy Hines. Their piece is a profound call to action to recognize and respond to the cultural forces working against Black girls.

The piece describes an instructional approach called Counter Fairy Tales, a resistance literary strategy that promises to affirm Black girls while informing teachers and other students about the realities Black female students face. The authors joined us for our Educator Innovator Webinar

This reading might help educators: 

  • Critically analyze the depiction of Black girls in English classrooms and schools.
  • Create opportunities for marginalized voices to speak back to traditional texts.
  • Respond in more empathetic ways when readers and writers disengaged from experiences that fail to honor their identity and expertise.


National Writing Project

The National Writing Project (NWP), the founder of the Educator Innovator Initiative, is a network of educators and dedicated practitioners working together to improve practice with an eye toward young people as producers. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer and maker, not just a passive consumer.

National Council of Teachers of English

Through collaboration and community, shared stories and shared experiences, NCTE supports teachers and their students in classrooms, on college campuses, and in online learning environments. is an online annotation platform and a nonprofit advocating for open standards in web annotation. collaborates with educators to make use of annotation technology in the classroom and help students become critical readers and knowledge producers on the open web.