Margins in the classroom: The Unsung Harmony

Can you imagine a song without any harmonies?

How boring would that be? No one would even listen to it, but we create that same environment in our classrooms. We can discover harmony in our classrooms when we explore the Margins. The Variations, Creativity, and Beauty created by going to the margins are echoed throughout the entire classroom environment.

What are the Margins?

The margins are the unpredictable moments in teaching when we vear off the main teaching methods we have traditionally used in teaching. In the Margins, we teach our students they have the ability to think deeply and critically. We also teach them that they have power in what/how they learn.

This is where New Variations of what we think our classroom should look like are created.

We discount the margins in everyday classrooms because they:

  • Encourage the release of control from the teacher to the students
  • Can seem chaotic and unpredictable
  • Are seen as distractions or moments that are “off-topic”
  • Build an environment where students and teachers are working together as equals.

The reputation of the margins is built on the power struggle of traditional teaching. The fear of losing control in the classroom overshadows the benefits of having student-centered classrooms.

What are the benefits of diving into the margins??

Allowing students to control their own learning can build self-confidence, critically thinking, and creativity. Releasing the power from the teacher to the students “gives students ownership over their learning”.

The Margins Promote:

  • Individualized thinking
  • The value of one’s voice
  • Collaborative learning
  • Readiness for real-world experiences
  • Passionate life-long learners

The Atlantic investigated Pittsfield Middle and High School in rural New Hampshire. Pittsfield is the first school in the area to adopt a student-centered method. The results are amazing!

  • The students enjoy classroom discussions and contribute excitably.
  • Significant increases in test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptances
  • Students are taking on the responsibility of their own learning
  • The students get instant feedback from the teachers
  • The grading system is based on competencies, each student is graded on how they master the skills and knowledge for each class.
  • The student’s strengths and passions are explored while their weaknesses are supported.

How can we take our classrooms to the margins??

Teaching in the Margins is not losing control, it is relinquishing power to the ones most impacted by the decisions made.

Margins bring amazing opportunities for our students to explore their passions, dive deeper into the topics, and create meaningful connections with the material.

The best way to explore the margins in our classrooms is through inquiry learning. Allowing students to break down in-depth questions, build stories, or discover something new through their own critical thinking skills is a great way of teaching to the margins.

Mrs. Kayla Delzer explains how her classroom is not traditional in her TED talk on Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders.

  • Instead of desks, she has round tables low enough to sit on the floor and a large carpet area.
  • She does not give students worksheets or boring mundane activities but instead focuses on student-teach-student activities
  • She prioritizes technology and uses it to transform her classroom by:
    1. Virtual field trips to historical sites, zoos from across the country, or even classrooms in other countries.
    2. Recording students reading books to allow the students struggling with reading to follow along.
    3. Creating a Twitter account for the classroom and allowing the students to tweet with other classrooms to “compare and share their learning”.

Why should we continue teaching the same way our great-grandparents were taught? The world of education has evolved and we need to catch up.

Can we use travel to the margins in every activity??

Like every great song, there is at least one harmony, but there is also a melody.

The melody in teaching is the center, teaching in the traditional sense. We have to have the material and knowledge of the center in order to appreciate the amazing contrast of the harmony.

This does not mean we can not bring inquiry or student-centered learning into the center. This means that to appreciate those times when we dive deeper into the subjects with discussions or hands-on learning we must first walk into the shallow end and understand the basics of what we are teaching first.

Releasing power is inducing chaos!

Teaching in the margins can be scary. Understanding that the conversations are unpredictable and that you will get off-topic is difficult. The best way of taking this dive into the margins is to put yourself in the shoes of your students.

Would you enjoy your class?

What life skills are you developing by being in your class?

Many teachers don’t care to take a step into the unknown to explore what and how the students want to learn.

We are not inducing chaos, we are giving the students the blank sheet music and allowing them to write the song themselves.

I hope this blog gave you an insight into how important the margins are and how you can implement some of these amazing techniques in your own classrooms.

Thank you so much for making it this far!

Until next time,

Trinity Smith


  1. Thanks lordke,
    Great question! I think there are so many examples of activities that would allow for self-discovery. One that I enjoyed in school was the bell ringer riddles. A riddle is introduced to the class and the students ask yes or no questions until they solve the riddle. this activity allows them to put the pieces of the puzzle together in their minds as well as practice collaborative learning.
    For more examples feel free to follow me on Twitter @MsCellfie.

  2. Thanks henryhs,
    I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. I love music so the metaphor with harmony and teaching in the margins helped me solidify the concept for me. I’m glad it was able to help you as well.

  3. Thank You cahillar,
    I believe that students can develop many skills while we are teaching in the Margins. Especially critical thinking skills and collaborative learning (teamwork) skills. I’m so glad my blog got you excited about student-center learning it is an extremely important concept we don’t implement like we should.

  4. Thanks gabricle,
    I think it is important to see the work we are aspiring to do in action! Real-world examples give us an idea of how we can implement the ideas in a realistic way!

  5. Hey Trinity, I really like how you included a real example of an exemplary teacher who teaches in the margins. I think it strengthens your argument for going to the margins in class. Also, I enjoyed the theme of music throughout your post.

  6. Hi Trinity! I really liked your harmony metaphor for the margins. I also thought you really nailed the reasons people might not want to go to the margins, specifically when you discussed the power dynamics at play. The video you linked was super educational. What is an example of a life skill students could develop while the class is in the margins? After reading your post, I am excited to implement a more student-centered classroom in my future classroom! Great post!

  7. Hi Trinity! I loved the graphics you used throughout! I found it interesting that you compared the margins to musical harmonies and used it as an overarching theme for the reading. I think one of the lines that stuck with me the most while reading was, “We are not inducing chaos, we are giving the students the blank sheet music and allowing them to write the song themselves.” This really depicts the message of instructional margins!

  8. I really liked how you used harmony and melody in music to connect the idea of margins. It really helped paint a good picture of how the margins create diversity and avoid homologous behavior. What would be one way I could encourage self-discovery in my classroom that would count as traveling into the margins? Lovely graphic use!

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