Marginal Syllabus is one way that NWP sites can bring fresh literature selections into their Summer Institutes while supporting new teacher-leaders to see themselves as part of larger conversations across writing project sites and the profession at large. Marginal Syllabus brings together new reading selections, social annotation of those selections with writing project colleagues, and conversations with authors about their work. The summer of 2020 is the first time that the National Writing Project will offer a Marginal Syllabus curriculum designed specifically for NWP Invitational Institutes.

What is Marginal Syllabus?

Marginal Syllabus uses open and collaborative web annotation to spark social reading and public writing about literacy, equity, and education. It is a way for readers across space and time to experience an asynchronous “annotation conversation” about a text by seeing how others have read and reacted to it, and then by leaving their own marks.

Since 2016, the Marginal Syllabus has organized 27 ongoing annotation conversations where educators have an opportunity to read together about equity in teaching and learning. Finishing its fourth year, Marginal Syllabus is now sponsored through a multi-stakeholder partnership among the National Writing Project, the National Council of Teachers of English, the web annotation non-profit Hypothesis, publishers of scholarship, K-12 educators, and university researchers. The goal of the partnership is to bring voices and perspectives that might otherwise be on the margins into the center of our scholarly reading.

So what’s an annotation conversation?

Marginal Syllabus annotation conversations follow a similar pattern. Authors contribute open access scholarship which is made available on the web. Then, the conversation begins as educators use open-source and collaborative annotation tools to publicly comment upon and discuss the scholarship. When possible, we invite the authors to join some readers on Zoom to record a conversation about their research and the backstory of the research we read together.

Over three years, hundreds of educators and university students have participated in Marginal Syllabus conversations by authoring thousands of Hypothesis annotations. By utilizing open and collaborative web annotation as both an everyday and disruptive media literacy practice (Kalir & Dean, 2018), the Marginal Syllabus enacts a participatory form of public discourse that exemplifies the “social scholarship of teaching” (Greenhow et al., 2019; see discussion of the Marginal Syllabus on p. 9). This “social scholarship” encourages educators to generate and share new knowledge about their teaching (e.g., Kalir & Perez, 2019; Kalir & Garcia, in press).

In 2019 the Marginal Syllabus received the John Lovas Award, given by the journal Kairos to an “outstanding online project devoted to academic pursuits.” Founded in 1996, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy is an open-access online journal that is one of the longest, continuously-published peer-reviewed journals in the field.

Why introduce Marginal Syllabus into your Summer Institute?

As a free and open-source tool, the open web annotation technology Hypothesis adds a new dimension to online reading—making reading public, social, and collaborative. This experience may introduce a new social connection to the participants in your institute as they read and annotate along with others in NWP Summer Institutes. In addition, as we all expand our repertoire of online literacy activities, learning about annotation conversations might benefit teachers and students thinking about how to leverage internet tools at a time of remote instruction.

Social annotation is a practice that may or may not be familiar to teachers, but might be a great tool in a teacher’s toolbox, especially if their school will be continuing non-traditional instruction—online or hybrid learning—into the fall. The National Writing Project summer institute has always been a place where teachers take up social practices within a community of practice that supports both their learning and their creating and sharing of knowledge and that supports teachers in learning how to teach writing by developing their own writing practice. Participation in social annotation during the summer institute will deepen participants’ understanding of social annotation as a user/participant, deepening their experience, knowledge, and confidence in using this tool in their online teaching experience.

How can we participate?

Hypothesis is not a social network, but rather an open-source and free tool. Creating a Hypothesis account takes about a minute and only requires an email. You retain the intellectual property of annotations authored using Hypothesis, public annotations are attributed with a Creative Commons license to help build a more robust and open intellectual commons. The organization’s principles are worth a read, too. It is for these and other reasons that the Marginal Syllabus has partnered with Hypothesis in every iteration of the syllabus since 2016.

If you would like your whole institute to participate, reserve some time for everyone to create a Hypothesis account and then choose the article to read and annotate. When you click on any of the reading links (below), Hypothesis will automatically open atop the linked PDF. Once the reading is open in your browser, you’ll be able to easily read and respond to all public annotations authored by other participants.

What is the syllabus for ISIs?

Below you’ll find a list of articles curated to support an Invitational Institute Experience, with brief descriptions of each.

Linked Title Authors Description
At Last: Practitioner Inquiry and the Practice of Teaching: Some Thoughts on Better Susan Lytle This article discusses teaching as a professional practice with the capacity for and the commitment to improving itself.
Generative Principles for Professional Learning for Equity-Oriented Urban English Teachers Allison Skerrett, Amber Warrington, and Thea Williamson This article investigates the experiences of three early-career secondary English urban teachers who sought to strengthen their perspectives and practices of social justice teaching through professional development. We foreground urban teachers’ needs for professional development that promotes equity-oriented educational stances and practices and that illuminates how productive principles for professional learning can facilitate meeting those needs.
Connected Learning Is the Heart of Research Kristen Turner and Troy Hicks This article introduces a new framework for teaching adolescents to read: connected reading. By sharing instructional practices and describing digital tools, the authors argue that a mindful, social model of connected reading is a crucial part of any research activity.
‘Untold Stories’: Cultivating Consequential Writing with a Black Male Student through a Critical Approach to Metaphor Sakeena Everett Sakeena Everett shares her critical ethnographic case study about Shawn, one such high school student, whose voice and writing is intentionally centered throughout this research article. This article describes Everett’s development of a consequential literacy pedagogy she employed while engaging Shawn in the composition of metaphor in a way that affirms his experience and identity.
Revising Resistance: A Step Toward Student-Centered Activism Alex Corbitt This article describes the Corbitt’s developing understanding that “listening is a cornerstone of pedagogical justice” and how that understanding changed the ways he supported his students’ in designing their own learning and engagement.
Namaste: Mindfulness and Respect as Foundation for the Workshop Classroom Richard Koch This chapter from the book The Mindful Writing Workshop: Teaching in the Age of Stress and Trauma discusses the importance of mutual respect and kindness as foundations for writing workshop and especially writers response groups.
Kindergartners’ Writing in a Dual-Language Classroom Eurydice B. Bauer Using a translanguaging lens, this article examines the development of specific writing skills among kindergarten dual language students working in buddy pairs.
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