For additional reviews of French-language resources, visit → lu, vu, entendu. With the exception of some classroom sets, items reviewed are available on loan from the Margaret Wilson Library at the College. Contact Olivia Hamilton at 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext 679 or email

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When Kacey Left

When Kacey Left


Navigating the complexities of teenage existence is difficult enough, but in the year following her best friend’s death, Sara finds that her path and her purpose are more ambiguous than ever. By reluctantly writing in a journal, as she is assigned to do by her school counsellor, Sara authentically reveals her intense pain, confusion and, with time, her growing resilience. Eventually through the development of some unlikely relationships, Sara discovers how to reclaim her identity apart from being the “dead girl’s best friend.”

This debut novel from B.C. author Dawn Green explores the theme of teenage mental health with a perfect mix of delicacy and honesty that young adult readers will appreciate. Its unassuming approach makes it accessible to students who will likely recognize characters and situations that are familiar.

By focusing on the living victims of suicide, When Kacey Left asks readers to not only question the how and why but more importantly, the what now? By doing so, the novel may generate fresh and insightful conversations about friendship, suicide, grief and forgiveness. Ultimately it offers cause for reflection on the far-reaching impact of our daily interactions with others, with an emphasis on the power of kindness and the possibility of friendship beyond our usual social boundaries.

This book could be assigned for independent, small group or full-class study with clear curriculum connections to both English and health education. A resource package compiled by the executive director of Toronto’s Stella’s Place (a comprehensive mental health assessment and treatment service for young adults) accompanies the book to further facilitate discussion in classrooms or counselling centres.

When Kacey Left, Red Deer Press, Markham, Ont., 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-0-88995-523-3, 227 pages, $12.95,

Natalie Munro, OCT, is a learning support teacher at St. Margaret’s School in Victoria, B.C.

Becoming a History Teacher

Becoming a History Teacher


This book had its beginnings at a symposium in Calgary in 2011, where history education researchers, teacher educators, historians, secondary school teachers, graduate students and student teachers from across Canada gathered to talk about how best to prepare teachers of history.

In their essays, they identify students’ disengagement from learning history and they struggle with the consequences of students not understanding what really matters about the lessons of history. They discuss the reasons and brainstorm ways to prepare students’ development of critical historical thinking. They examine the reliance on rote learning and memorization that offer little room for actually “doing history.” They urge history teachers to show students how to evaluate significance, assess cause and consequence, explore the varied perspectives of people in the past and probe the ethical dimensions of history.

All aspects of teaching history throughout the range of schooling, from elementary school through to teacher training and beyond, are picked apart. This collection of intelligent, passionate and readable arguments moves forward our thinking on teaching history. It promotes the development of more sophisticated historical understanding and is consistent with The Historical Thinking Project’s ( vision for students as critical thinkers who can “interrogate historical sources. They know that a historical film can look ‘realistic’ without being accurate. They understand the value of a footnote.” The role of history teachers is transformed from transmitters of information to practitioners of history. History class moves from a boring exercise in recalling a set of facts and dates to a hotbed of controversy.

Becoming a History Teacher: Sustaining Practices in Historical Thinking and Knowing, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-1-4426-2651-5, 345 pages, $25.17,

Nadira Baksh, OCT, recently completed a combined Honours Specialist in English and history. She is a volunteer at Dunrankin Drive Public School, Peel District School Board.

Simon vs. the Homo
Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda


Themes of gender and sexuality have emerged from the dark in the spate of LGBTQ fiction for teens in the last decade.

First-time novelist Becky Albertalli is well positioned to guide her readers through the genre — as a clinical psychologist, she knows the subject well. In this story of young love, with its conflicting emotions and fear of exposure, she has written a relatable story for teens who may be all tangled up in their own difficult sexuality or gender confusions.

Simon, a not-quite-openly gay 16-year-old, has met a young man online (“Blue”) and they have developed a thriving email relationship. Using pseudonyms, the boys talk about their dreams and their fears of coming out to their friends and families.

As their emails get more personal, Simon starts to think he is falling in love. To complicate matters, he inadvertently leaves his email open on a school library computer and classmate Martin reads one of Simon’s emails to Blue. This is too tempting for Martin, who threatens to blackmail Simon.

Although the blackmail plot line is entertaining, the essence of the story revolves around Simon and his relationship with his family, his friends and with Blue.

Simofn is a stickler for grammar and a very witty young man. Through his sharp observations, we witness his trepidation about coming out before Martin tells all. He worries that his family will make a big “to do” about his sexuality and turn it into more than he wants it to be. He also frets over telling his long-time friends. Most importantly, Simon wants to know Blue’s identity and to meet him in person. The book especially shines in the exchange of emails between Simon and Blue. The humour and angst of first love are portrayed with grace and sensitivity.

The author’s background shows in the authenticity with which Simon speaks. This book is a welcome addition to classes studying gender and sexuality

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, HarperCollins Publishers, Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-06-234867-8, 303 pages, $21.99,

Bev Bellrose is a library technician at Sudbury Secondary School with the Rainbow District School Board.

In the Best Interest of Students

In the Best Interest of Students


Educators should step back from their classrooms to reflect on what kind of teaching is really in the best interest of their students. Is it teaching to a provincial test? Or is it perhaps something broader and less prescriptive? Gallagher, whose previous book was called Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, is transparent in his analysis of assessment-based teaching — and it is not favourable.

The author strongly encourages teachers to teach beyond curriculum expectations so that students can explore their learning widely and deeply. He also suggests that we remain focused on what has consistently worked before in the instruction of reading, writing, speaking and listening. He believes in maintaining balance within a literacy program. Teachers are encouraged to include classics and non-fiction, along with high-interest and student-chosen titles. There is a great need for modelling in all stages of the writing process, where students pattern their efforts after familiar literature. Gallagher also stresses the need for teachers to explore narrative and imaginative reading and writing, and include these samples in their teaching.

In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-62531-044-6, 248 pages, US$23, distributed by Pembroke Publishers,

Dorothea Bryant, OCT, has retired from teaching language arts at the University of Windsor’s faculty of education, and now tutors primary and secondary students in reading and writing

Live From Your Class

Live From Your Class


Live From Your Class: Everything I Learned About Teaching I Learned from Working at Saturday Night Live does not follow the standard “Everything I Learned…” format a reader might expect. Instead, the author takes us on an autobiographical journey detailing his experience, from working at Saturday Night Live (SNL) in New York to teaching overseas, teaching adult learners, and finally, teaching in Ontario schools. As his career evolved, Cohen realized that he could use humour and the stories of his life to engage his students, build relationships and transform his classroom from good to great.

It turns out that teachers and the writers at SNL have much in common. The forums may differ but the goals remain the same: they both aim to galvanize either their students or their audience, to inspire them to think and yes, even to make them laugh. And surprisingly, they use many of the same tools to do so. With practical suggestions like getting out from behind the desk to quickly capture the attention of students (remember, teachers are performers too) to keeping instructions brief, Cohen leans on his wealth of life experiences to show how humour can be a great ally in connecting with your students.

A winner of the TED-Huff Post International Teaching Award, Cohen guides us through the kinds of humour that work well in a classroom, with a focus on humour that respects your audience. To that end, he leads us to a student-directed learning environment where students play a key role in how they can best learn. Also included are model plans, links to websites and additional free downloadable resources for integrating humour into your classroom and encouraging your students to laugh their way to classroom success.

Most valuable are the chapters spent discussing how to foster collaboration and group work within classrooms. Much like working in a comedy writing room, Cohen shows us how to effectively group students together so that their individual learning styles can support each other and grow their projects together. The chapters on Cohen’s experience teaching in international schools offer words of wisdom to those considering that experience.

Laughter in your classroom is good for both you and your students. Consider spending a Saturday night reading this book. It may even be more entertaining than that other live show on Saturday night.

Live From Your Class: Everything I Learned About Teaching I Learned from Working at Saturday Night Live, Cardinal Rules Press, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-53077-791-4, 312 pages, $16.95,

Anne Marie Landon, OCT, is acting principal at George Vanier Catholic School with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.

The Feedback-Friendly Classroom

The Feedback-Friendly Classroom


Student feedback is not just another task connected to classroom assessments. Rather, it should be an integral part of your schedule to maintain open communication between you and your students and social interaction among the students themselves. The Feedback-Friendly Classroom highlights the nature of honest communication as a crucial part of daily classroom culture, where students take ownership and play key roles in ensuring that they are learning what they should be learning by telling you what’s working for them and what isn’t.

With a core belief that socialization is just as important as academic learning, McCallum suggests a number of meaningful activities to support individual social and emotional growth, while building a community of respectful and engaged learners. She also stresses that it is not the quantity of feedback tasks but the quality of them that will harness effective learning. This creative guide can be used to incorporate feedback strategies and to show students how to transfer knowledge from all subject areas.

The Feedback-Friendly Classroom: How to equip students to give, receive, and seek quality feedback that will support their social, academic, and developmental needs, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-304-0, 128 pages, $24.95,

Cheryl Woolnough, OCT, is a Special Education teacher with the Peel District School Board.

Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson

Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson


A constructivist approach to teaching mathematics has been supported by research for years; students take the lead in their learning by constructing their own understanding through adept and creative questioning and planning. Nowhere is this more important than in mathematics, where learning is incremental and must be built one block of understanding at a time.

This book is an invaluable resource for a solid mathematics program that relies on the sturdy foundation of the three-part lesson. For those unacquainted with that model, it consists of a brief orientation section, an action component and a consolidation period. Teachers draw on students’ prior knowledge through discussion, present the main learning activity and then highlight the learning that has occurred. Each of these parts is supported by suggestions for open-ended questions that can be used to spur learning. Also published in French, the book offers examples of potential student responses. Manipulatives are also identified. All expectations addressed are listed or clustered — making it even easier for teachers to refer back to their long-range plans and cross reference when using multiple resources to deliver their mathematics program.

Small suggests that teachers be given the opportunity to observe and critique lessons, with a focus on the efficacy of the lesson rather than on the teacher.

Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson: Number Sense and Numeration, Grades K-3, Rubicon Publishing Inc., Oakville, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-77058-980-3, 127 pages, $45.95,

Jennifer Wyatt, OCT, is the junior-school principal at The York School, a Toronto co-ed, non-denominational IB continuum school.