Going to the Margins!

What does it mean to teach in the margins?

Going to the margins in your classroom means that you are going into a lesson, topic, or an activity where you explore the unknown! Not everything in the classroom can be, nor should be, planned out and structured. Curriculum is important, but following tracks of student interest increases engagement in the classroom and makes for meaningful learning.

What is a margin?

In a classroom, instruction is often planned and structured. Teachers create and present slide shows, plan activities, and do experiments in the classroom setting to teach students the standards and curriculum.

In my experience, when teaching is always planned and structured, students are often less than engaged and just going through the motions. When students truly become engaged and interested, when they really learn, is when the class moves outside the structured center and move to the potentially messy, unknown world in the margins.

Think about a road. You have the asphalt, with the nice, structured, yellow lines. It is all very intentional, and there is a clear destination. Then you have the gravel along the shoulder on either side of the asphalt. You might have a ditch and some woods as well. Maybe a few trails from animals even. These are the margins! The messy, unknown destinations.

Students ask questions in class and become explorers! There might not be a known destination, nor a plan, but learning is so meaningful here! Students are excited and engaged in the activities, and these are the times they are going to remember years from now.

In the margins, students are leaders. They are guiding their education and they are curious and excited about what they are discovering! They are building their critical thinking skills and memories to last them a lifetime.

What is the difference between a margin and a teachable moment?

You might be asking what the difference is between going to the margins and a teachable moment. This is an important distinction to make!

Going to the margins is a longer term exploration. Students are engaged and curious over time, exploring and discovering their learning.

Teachable moments are shorter, and embedded in the center of the teaching. They might be a rock or a pothole in the road analogy above. Students might be engaged and curious, but they aren’t necessarily exploring and discovering in the same way. Once the rock or pothole is passed, the class continues on the road to the final destination that was planned in the first place.

Going to the margins is SCARY, but so necessary. Your students and their engagement and learning will benefit from their journey to the margins. Embrace the unknown, journey with them!

That is all for now… How do you travel to the margins? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Hey McKenna!
    I really loved your post, and you had a lot of original ideas that helped me understand the concept of margins better. I especially liked your introduction, where you said that following tracks of student interest allows for more meaningful learning. Your photo of a group of people on a hike in the forest made me think of following small hiking trails, “tracks,” instead of a large paved road. It is even better when your students trail-blaze these tracks, and their learning journey takes them into the unknown. This is why you say students are leaders in the margins. It is because the power has shifted from the teacher to them, and they are able to take control of their learning destinies! Great post and great metaphors, I really enjoyed it!

  2. Hi McKenna!
    I really loved your analogy of the road and the forest, and you made it even better when you compared teachable moments to potholes or rocks. I also loved how you said in the margins, students become the leaders. This is a great way to put it, because it makes a clear distinction between the center of the classroom, where the teacher is the leader, and the margins, where the students are the leaders based on their own interests. What is an example of a margins activity that you would like to do in your future classroom, and why does that activity interest you? Obviously not all trips to the margins are planned, but some are for sure.

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