Your guide to recently released books, CDs and other teaching resources.
For additional reviews of French-language resources, visit Pour parler profession. With the exception of some classroom sets, items reviewed are available on loan from the Margaret Wilson Library at the College. Contact us at 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext 679 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Joey Mandel
Mental resilience and practical strategies for coping with stress are key skills Ontario’s revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum focuses on in order for students to be successful. To reach that goal, teachers have been charged with creating learning environments that not only cultivate students’ cognitive development, but each child’s emotional and psychological development as well.
In Stop the Stress in Schools, Mandel argues that teachers can do much to support students who may not have been formally identified with mental health challenges but who still struggle with “social skills, anxiety, chronic sadness, obsessiveness, explosive anger, disorganization and/or inattentiveness.” The first step in creating a healthy and caring classroom is to take stock of one’s own strategies for coping with conflict and stress. In the bustle and demands of a typical classroom, it’s all too easy to react in negative ways that are not conducive to building the kinds of relationships essential to students’ emotional well-being.
Mandel identifies three social-emotional character traits — awareness, acceptance and the ability to manage stress — as essential to realizing positive mental health outcomes for children in our schools. In the context of developing each trait — like positive self-talk, feedback and calming strategies — the author provides a host of teacher prompts, teacher and student tracking charts, and checklists that teachers and students will find easy to use.
Given what we know about the link between high expectations and a positive classroom environment, teachers would be wise to adopt practices to support their students’ mental health needs, and must themselves be supported in taking on this new challenge.
Michael Bellrose, OCT, is the principal at Algonquin Road Public School in Sudbury.
Stop the Stress in Schools: Mental health strategies teachers can use to build a kinder gentler classroom, Pembroke Publishers, Toronto, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-298-2, 128 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com
By Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery and Margot Holmes Smiths
Believe it or not, learning vocabulary can be a really fun and engaging way to create a classroom filled with word-loving students. Word Nerds reminds us of the importance of regular, structured vocabulary instruction that expands the boundaries of what our students know about language, opening up new ways for them to express themselves verbally and in written form.
Growing up, many children attend music or art classes, play sports or are involved in hobbies. All of these activities involve practise and developing technique and skills. In teaching vocabulary, we must provide students with the same opportunities. With ready-to-go lessons, this book offers specific instructions on games and activities, as well as a range of ideas for adapting to your classroom at the elementary or secondary levels. Moreover, it suggests many ways to integrate the ideas across the curriculum and to use them for assessment purposes.
Word Nerds is based on solid research that is introduced so concretely that it seamlessly eases its application into the classroom, guiding teachers to develop activities that best suit their own students. I would recommend this book as a great way to open up discussions flush with vocabulary and ideas. Most importantly, the activities build amazing interest and enthusiasm in the classroom while offering students some key building blocks for a word-rich future.
Janet Cottreau, OCT, is an occasional elementary school teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine, 2013, softcover, ISBN 978-1-57110-954-5, 176 pages, $28.95, stenhouse.com
By Thomas C. Foster
A decade ago, Thomas Foster, a veteran professor at University of Michigan-Flint, published a bestseller that helped students between high school and university understand what the writer calls, “the grammar of literature, a set of conventions and patterns, codes and rules that we learn to employ in dealing with a piece of writing.” The current edition, more of a reissue than the revision promised, continues to educate us about “memory, symbol, pattern.”
Throughout the different chapters, Foster shows us how the Bible, Shakespeare, folklore and the classical tradition have shaped English literature. Even as we lose sight of these sources, he reminds us, their essence persists. As writers build on the work of their predecessors, they continue to manipulate the plots, write according to the conventions, and exploit the symbols that form the vocabulary deeply rooted in the original sources and common to all writing. As for symbols, Foster explains the principles of alchemy that transmute the base metal of the literal into the gold of the figurative; how the stuff of life — geography, weather, the seasons, illness, death, sex and violence — becomes the stock of literature.
In any book intended for a general audience, one can quibble about content. But given the quality of this book, it’s simply better to praise the cartographer who teaches us how to read a compass so that we can chart for ourselves the terra incognita.
Fred DuVal, OCT, is a program officer with the Accreditation Unit of the Ontario College of Teachers.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-0-06-230167-3, 368 pages, $19.99, harpercollins.ca
By Jeffrey Bennett
Jeffrey Bennett is trying to understand why so many people describe themselves as “bad at math.” More importantly, he asks what can he do about it to change that mindset. Each chapter of this thought-provoking book starts with real-world, multiple-choice questions about a wide range of current, “non-mathematical” topics like national debt, cellphone use or fossil fuels. The rest of the chapter is devoted to examining the tools needed to break the topic down by applying the key ideas of quantitative reasoning. Bennett then shows how numbers and other mathematically based ideas can help us reason our way through problems that confront us in everyday life.
All levels of education are considered in Math for Life. Not surprisingly, the author identifies excellent teaching as the single most decisive factor in student achievement. He calls upon teacher training to regard math like it does reading: a crucial tool for life. Bennett recognizes different rates of learning, but rejects different learning styles and preferences. He favours a “drill and kill” approach to mastering the numeracy basics, and suggests moving quickly from the concrete to the abstract when teaching math. One solution Bennett proposes is quite simple, yet powerfully effective. In his ideal classroom, he says, no one would be able to get away with saying — with either pride or acceptance — that they are “bad at math.”
On a personal level, this practical book challenges the reader to build on his or her existing knowledge and apply mathematical reasoning and effort to solve real-world problems. On a societal level it challenges us to build a society that is more adept at math. On an educational policy level, it encourages revisiting and revising mathematics curricula to meet the needs of 21st-century learners.
Anne Marie Landon, OCT, is a primary grade teacher at George Vanier Catholic School with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.
Math for Life: Crucial Ideas You Didn’t Learn in School, Big Kid Science, 2013, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-937548-36-0, 216 pages, $25, distributed by Independent Publishers Group, math-for-life.com
By Allan Stratton
In his latest novel, this award-winning author and playwright has crafted an eerie psychological thriller. The Dogs is dark and atmospheric, and the lines between reality and the supernatural are blurred to create a ghost story in which violence and madness prevail.
Cameron and his mother have been running from an abusive past for years, moving from place to place in the hopes of hiding from Cameron’s violent father. Cameron doesn’t know the exact details of what sent them into hiding. And although his mother promises to share them when he is older, Cameron feels his mother is overprotective to the point of being paranoid. She limits his use of social media, keeps a getaway bag packed and always has an escape plan in place. These themes of uncertainty and paranoia thread their way through the book as Cameron struggles to decipher what is real and what is not.
The novel begins with Cameron and his mother making yet another getaway because she fears Cameron’s father has found them. Their escape route takes them to a rundown farm where the boy discovers the previous owner of the farmhouse was killed by his own dog pack. Shortly after moving in, Cameron starts hearing voices and encounters Jacky, the ghost of the boy who once lived on the farm. Is Jacky real, or is he a manifestation of Cameron’s inner conflict? Cameron’s mother worries about his behaviour, and after a violent outburst both Cameron and his mother wonder whether he is “turning into his father.”
Ultimately, The Dogs is a coming-of-age story, one in which a boy struggles to understand his past and his relationship with his abusive father. Will solving the mystery at the farm bring him closer to understanding what really happened in his own family years earlier, and will it bring him the closure he needs to move forward? This page-turner — appropriate for readers in Grade 9 and up — will engage reluctant and seasoned readers alike, and will likely be at the top of many libraries’ “books for boys” lists this year.
Bev Bellrose is a library technician at Sudbury Secondary School.
The Dogs, Scholastic Canada, Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-4431-2830-8, 288 pages, $19.99, scholastic.ca
By Christopher Paul Curtis
This bestselling, award-winning author has written yet another wonderful historical novel that reads like Tom Sawyer and — like that classic predecessor — is brimming with adventure, humour and heartbreak. In fact, Curtis is often hailed as a modern-day Mark Twain. Written for children in Grades 4 to 6, the book is filled with intrigue and thoughtful reflections on how one’s past can scar and affect one’s future.
The second of the Buxton trilogy, The Madman of Piney Woods takes place 40 years after the first book, Elijah of Buxton. Although this book is described as a companion to Elijah, it stands on its own. This story focuses on Benji Alston, a young African-Canadian boy and Alvin “Red” Stockard. The two boys couldn’t be more different. Benji wants to be a famous journalist; Red, a scientist. Benji is from a loving home in Buxton, a former runaway slave settlement; Red lives with his mostly absent father and angry, oftentimes abusive Irish grandmother in nearby Chatham. Their unlikely friendship is one born of a shared experience; they’ve each met and talked with the legendary madman of Piney Woods.
Through their adventures, Benji and Red learn that adults can sometimes be frail and damaged, and that two young boys can be braver and stronger than they’d ever imagined. The novel deftly intertwines the stories of former slaves, the American Civil War, the Irish immigrant experience, racism and life in Southern Ontario in 1901. The author’s website (nobodybutcurtis.com) has teaching resources for several of his other historical fiction works (which are just as highly recommended as this one), although currently there is not one for Madman. He is now working on the third book in the series.
Terri Lawrence-Tayler, OCT, is an anatomy and physiology instructor with the nursing program at St. Clair College in Windsor.
The Madman of Piney Woods, Scholastic Canada, Toronto, 2014, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-4431-3912-0, 373 pages, $18.99, scholastic.ca