Being in the Margins

Teaching in the margins means creating an atypical plan so that students see a new perspective of learning.  Students’ curiosity can lead the discussion into a new direction, and the key to correctly teaching in the margins is to follow those threads while keeping it relevant to course material.

The examples of teaching in the margins that are, to me, most meaningful are:

  • Expanding on students’ questions
  • Incorporating discovery-based assignments in the classroom
  • Creating as many instructional conversation opportunities as possible

Margins, unlike teachable moments, are planned out.  A teacher knows when they are going to be able to teach in the margins and how to direct their classes to them.  Teachable moments are impromptu and less structured.  While these moments are useful, the beauty of margins is being able to structure a lesson around them.  The margins create teachable moments.


“I can’t keep doing what I’ve been doing,” says psychologist and professor Caleb Lack, who shared his experience in teaching “outside the box.”  Caleb is one of many examples of teachers who took the risk to teach in the margins.

Starr Sackstein, the author of the article that was used as an example of the margins, gave an attempt that crashed and burned.  Rather than throwing in the towel, she admitted to her students what she had done wrong, they worked together, and the new lesson was a great success.

Dr. Ann writes that, “[margins are] where life is often riskier for its inhabitants,” and I think this holds true as a metaphor.  The lesson becomes riskier and requires more energy.  Not everyone will understand why it’s happening, and there will be skeptics who say the lesson is “safer” in a different direction.  The return, however, is well worth the risk.

A teacher who is willing to teach in the margins has everything to gain.  They’ll get students who

  • Are willing to collaborate with each other.
  • Don’t feel like they’re wasting their time because they can see the relation of content to the “real world.”
  • Score higher on tests because they were actually engaged in the classroom instead of reading a collection of sentences on a page.

1 Comment

  1. Will,
    I really liked your post! The video was my favorite part and is one that I have seen before. I think it was a great way to show what the margins are really like. I also liked your quote from Dr. Ann that compares the margins with risk because I think that the margins can be risky but can also have rewarding effects. My only suggestions would be to add small headings to separate the post into chunks just to make it easier to read. Also, I’m not sure if the section talking about examples was the lesson plan activities but I am curious as to how you would take those concepts and narrow them down to specify them to your content area. Like, what exactly would you do with the kids or suggest doing? Overall, great post, you had some great ideas!


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