Teaching in the Margins: Where Diversity of Learning Flourishes


Just like a coral reef in the ocean, The margins is where life flourishes and learning grows.

What does it Mean to Teach in the Margins?
What is teaching in the margins? That is a good question! Before I walked into this class, I had no idea what it was. I read an excellent article by Ann E. Oliphant of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The article was titled, Exploration, Risk Taking, and Wonderment: Traveling to the Margins of Instruction”. By reading such an amazing article and discussing margins in class, I have a somewhat clear picture of what it is and how to utilize it in my classroom. In this blog, I will summarize the ideas that were in the article and also summarize the discussions that took place in class. Before taking this class, I had no idea HOW to teach. I wanted to, but was confused on how to engage learners. Now things make more sense and I have more confidence in myself as a teacher and student.

Teaching in the margins is education that is not standardized, boring, or just teacher-led. Teaching in the margins is flexible and allows the class to deviate from the norms to learn new things that wouldn’t be necessarily part of the curriculum. For example, if there was something in the news that needed to be shared within a science class, it would be shared and a lesson would be planned, regardless of what the class was doing that day. This could be any current event. In a science class, we are interested in biological, geological, or chemistry-related events. For example, if an oil spill happened in your community. The best way to feed the students’ curiosity about it is doing a lesson on oil spills. It could be doing an experiment with olive oil and water or watching a video on how we can use microbes to clean up oil spills.

Teaching in the margins means that your classes are student-lead, with the teacher as a guide to the learning process. The environment is not sterile and boring. Learning takes place! This happens through hands on activities and projects that allow the students to learn things for themselves. When students are in charge of their learning, they will retain the information better because they are the ones who discovered it! Teaching in the margins also means deviating from the normal lesson and teaching students skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. These skills include problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills. The margins also foster curiosity and creativity for students. They learn how to think “Outside the Box” to solve problems and discover useful information.

Some Characteristics of the Margins include:
• Student-lead learning
• Hands on activities that teach concepts in ways that are not obvious
• Lessons that teach important life skills
• Lessons that promote problem solving and critical thinking
• Flexibility in what is taught
• Unique ways of presenting material
• NO busy work or very little
• Allows students to discover key principles on their own
• Fosters creativity and love of learning
• Shows students real-life uses for the skill
• “Outside of the Box” thinking
• Lessons have meaning

Difference Between “Teachable Moments” and Teaching in the Margins
There is a difference in “teachable moments” and teaching in the margins Teaching in the Margins requires much more than just coming up with “teachable moments.”. It requires less lecturing and more doing, it requires teaching important skills, and it is a lot less standardized than “teachable moments”. During “teachable moments”, Something is pointed out and lectured about, usually. There is not always thinking and cognition involved on the part of the child. The child does not get to figure out or think outside the box to discover something by themselves. The information is given to them. I find that if children find out or discover information on their own, they retain it better. Teaching in the margins involves a lot more thinking and addition of time and planning than “teachable moments”. Teaching in the Margins is usually planned out in a way and is more student-led. It fosters the curiosity and creativity of children, when “teachable moments” just show a child something or demonstrate something. Teaching in the margins is a time for intellectual growth and learning for the child that “teachable moments” do not always accomplish.

An example of a teacher teaching in the margins, letting the class be student centered and allowing kids to be critical thinkers is Cesar Harada in a school in Hong Kong. The children went to a beach and found that 80% of the oceans are filled with plastic. This is a problem, so Mr. Harada helps his kids work on fixing the problem through science. The design machines to remove plastic, study the chemistry of plastic, and how it effects life in the ocean! This is an example of teaching in the margins because it is student-led, it allows students to problem solve, and it goes above and beyond your normal standards!

Why should you teach in the Margins?

The margins are a very important part of exemplary science teaching! When you teach in the margins, awesome things happen in your classroom:
• Students are engaged
• Students want to know more
• Students learn critical thinking and problem solving skills
• Students not only memorize information, but apply it to their lives
• Students see that learning can be fun
• The ask questions
• They learn real-life applications
• They are excited to come to class
• They will remember your class.
• Students enjoy that they have choices
• Their creativity is fostered

Teaching in the margins leads to exemplary science teaching! They are interrelated. When you teach in the margins, kids learn better and are more engaged and active in their learning.

My Lesson Plans in the Margins
I can come up with many lesson plans and examples on how to teach in the margins. Since I am a biology and chemistry major, I will come up with an example for both!

In biology, having an animal in your classroom is a great example of teaching in the margins, according to Ann E. Oliphant. This gives children a real world application to what they are learning about living things, it fosters their curiosity about life, leads to critical thinking and questions, and many students find that having some type of animal to take care of, in the classroom, offers its own rewards. For example, If the class was talking about phylums in taxonomy, I could take out some animals for them to look at. I can ask them to find out information about these animals from the internet and create a poster. If we are talking about arthropods, for example, I can bring out a live hermit crab or a tarantula for the kids to touch and feed. I can show them the key features that make this animal an arthropod. I can let them research the animal and make a power point or poster. I can then hang them in my room. I can also give the students opportunities to care for the animal.
• In chemistry, when learning about percent composition and the percentage by mass of each component of a compound, I can let the students chew gum! Teenagers love gum and this will show them real-life applications of chemistry. There are multiple steps in this lesson. Students will get to choose a piece of gum and weigh it with and without the wrapper. After that, they will chew the gum for 15 minutes, then they will take the weight of the gum to see how much it has changed. They will then use the periodic table to find the mass of sucrose. They will then find the percent composition of each of the atoms in the molecule. Finally, they will determine how much sugar was in the piece of gum that was dissolved! This will let them problem solve, think critically, and apply their knowledge to something simple: chewing gum!

Below is a video of a student teacher teaching the class and receiving feedback from an administrator. You can tell he teaches in the margins and the students seem happy. They look engaged and not bored. They like to share their findings with other students when learning about the human body. I think this video is really helpful for us to see before we go into schools. It was very helpful for me! These are middle school students that are featured in the video. The link is below!


Teaching in the margins is easy and makes a big difference for every single one of your students!


1 Comment

  1. Delaina, I really enjoyed your coral reef picture that describes the margins well. I really enjoyed how the characteristics of the margins was in list form. One thing I think could use work is how many paragraphs and big long sections there are. Also, your lesson plans for teaching in the margins are awesome. The section explain why you should teach in the margins is also very well written. In a tweet you said, “When students are engaged and living life in the margins, teaching goes smoother and the student’s individual needs are met.” How does teaching in the margins meet every individual student’s need? Overall great job with this blog post!

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