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The 2016-2017 Marginal Syllabus

Written by Joe Dillon
July 26, 2017

What follows is a summary of the nine texts, author partnerships, and annotation conversations that comprised the 2016-17 Marginal Syllabus. Read more about this project at

August: Digital Redlining, Access, and Privacy by Chris Gilliard & Hugh Culik

Conversation Context: In August we read Digital Redlining, Access, and Privacy, a blog post for Common Sense Education written by Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik. The authors explain the way IT safety nets and employee management efforts can create inequitable educational opportunities for learners. Chris Gilliard joined us to mark up the text during our first “flash mob,” as well as for a discussion in a Google Hangout.  Thanks to Autumm Caines for organizing the post-flash mob hangout (and check out her great work as part of the Virtually Connecting project).

This reading might help educators:

  • Respond to student curiosity online with positive assumptions and curiosity.
  • Consider the assumptions we make about a youth’s Internet searches and their use of  digital tools.
  • Ask critical questions with IT leadership about acceptable use policies, Internet blocks and filters in order to determine their impact on learning.

September: Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks by Mia Zamora

Conversation Context: In September we annotated Mia Zamora’s blog post, Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks, which appeared at Mia writes about the way she changed her approach to a course she taught called “Writing Race and Ethnicity” at Keane University. Mia joined in the synchronous annotation as we discussed the risks she took as an instructor with co-design. In particular, this post shares her public reflections about instructional decision-making that was timely and urgent in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that influenced changes to her course.

This reading might help educators:

  • Plan instruction to take into account current events and the civic climate.
  • Allow students to share in shaping the content of a course, or produce work that is personally meaningful as a result.
  • Plan course content and structure so that the teacher, too, is learning.

October: What it Means to Pose, Wobble, and Flow (Introduction) by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen

Conversation Context: In October we marked up a chapter excerpted from Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s book Pose, Wobble, and Flow: a Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction. Antero and Cindy introduce yoga as an inspiring metaphor for teacher learning, and they provide concrete examples of culturally relevant pedagogy that exemplify their model of Pose, Wobble, and Flow. Their analogy frames in decidedly realistic and human terms the way real teachers develop and improve their craft. In addition to October’s synchronous annotation flash mob, another group of annotators contributed substantially to this text in February.

This reading might help educators:

  • Think about the “pose” we hope to strike in our practice and consider equity in professional goal setting. 
  • Prepare for the iterative process of teacher learning and improvement in the classroom, in order to learn from inevitable “wobbles.” 
  • Develop new flexibility and strengths in our work with students. 

November: Ed Tech and the circus of unreason by Helen Beetham

Conversation Context: In November we read Helen Beetham’s blog post Ed Tech and the circus of unreason right on the heels of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. In it, she reflected on his victory as well as the state of educational technology from a higher education perspective. She delivers a list of responsibilities for educators based on the stunning election result and, in doing so, synthesizes political reality with the shifting landscape of the Internet. She joined us in our annotation of her post, and commented in the margins with participants who were grappling with the political news and the questions it raised about educational technology.

This reading might help educators:

  • Unpack our response to the political climate and the way it might change the way we view digital tools and our work in online spaces.
  • Consider our responsibilities in response to civic events.
  • Determine the real promise of digital tools as we investigate some false promises propagated in educational technology circles.

January: The School and Social Progress (from The School and Society) by John Dewey

Conversation Context: In January we annotated John Dewey’s historical educational text The School and Society with Christina Cantrill of Arcadia University and the National Writing Project. Christina chose the text and invited her teacher education course at Arcadia to join us in our annotation. Dewey’s words reminded us of how social change is interwoven inextricably with education. The responses in Dewey’s margins grapple with that marriage, and serve as a kind of signpost toward contemporary social change efforts and implications for educators, students, and schools.

This reading might help educators:

  • Grapple with time-honored theory as it relates to modern communities and schooling.
  • Contextualize community responses to civic events in order to determine our responses.
  • Challenge traditions in our contexts and in our practice.

February: Reading, Writing and Inquiry with Adolescents by Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks

Conversation Context: In February we read Reading, Writing and Inquiry with Adolescents, the preface of Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks’ book Research Writing Rewired: Lessons that Ground Digital Learning. Both authors joined us to mark up this short excerpt of their book, which shares three core principles they employ in the planning for, and instruction of, research writing. The text speaks to the way research writing has evolved for them in response to new content standards, the ubiquity of digital tools for writing and publication, and the prevalence of the Internet as a site of inquiry and research.

This reading might help educators to:

  • Plan writing instruction in response to promising practices established from educational research.
  • Explore the principles of Connected Learning to plan for authentic uses of digital tools in the classroom.
  • Create an active role for the student researcher that responds student interest.

March: How Can White Teachers Do Better by Urban Kids of Color? by Christopher Emdin

Conversation Context: In March we read Christopher Emdin’s How Can White Teachers Do Better by Urban Kids of Color? This was an excerpt from his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, which appeared online at The post discusses race in the classroom and contrasts the voices of students of color with those of white teachers, all while intermixing Emdin’s reflections and advice as an educator and researcher.

This reading might help educators:

  • Empathize with youth of color who perceive and experience cultural disconnects in their interactions with white teachers.
  • Re-envision how we might approach our work in a way that honors the assets of the communities we serve.
  • Listen to students’ perceptions about the fairness of teachers and schools.

April: Between Storytelling and Surveillance: The Precarious Public of American Muslim Youth by Sangita Shresthova

Conversation Context: In April, during our first week-long “annotathon” in partnership with Educator Innovator, we marked up Between Storytelling and Surveillance: The Precarious Public of American Muslim Youth, a chapter from the book By Any Media Necessary, by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman. The chapter author Sangita Shresthova joined us in the annotation of her study of American Muslim youth’s experiences online. We learned about the ways in which American Muslim youth experience islamophobia online, and also how they endure the criticism of older community members who take issue with some youth’s desire to have expressive and creative online identities. As a part of the week’s professional learning activities, we also joined a Google Hangout conversation with the book’s authors hosted via

This reading might help educators:

  • Discuss issues and opportunities germane to Muslim American youth with learners interested in culture, identity, and expression in our contemporary political climate.
  • Expand their online networks to include Muslim American youth and/or to engage around pertinent cultural conversations.
  • Include positive media representations of Muslim American youth in classroom teaching and learning.

May: Revising Narrative Truth by Bronwyn Clare LaMay

Conversation Context: In May we read Revising Narrative Truth, a chapter excerpt from Bronwyn Clare LaMay’s book Personal Narrative, Revised. Bronwyn joined us for the annotation and for a Google Hangout hosted via the network. The chapter shares the story of LaMay’s work with one student who reveals traumatic personal details about his life in response to her encouragement to write personal narratives in search of truth. Her responses to conflicts that arise with that student – and the larger classroom community – offer an inspiring story about relationship negotiation among all learners (including educators).

This reading might help educators: 

  • Support students to investigate their own stories and values.
  • Learn from productive conflict with learners that inevitably arises in classrooms.
  • Develop inclusive classroom communities that nurture student risk-taking, expression, and learning.

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