Your guide to recently released books 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 Olivia Hamilton at 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext 679 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Valerie Sherrard, Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
In this beautifully illustrated picture book, the two older siblings in a family of three children are praised by their mother for their literary and artistic skills. Meanwhile, the youngest boy’s propensity to build sprawling, messy structures is criticized. Mom just can’t stand the chaos! In his imagination, the boy is exploring worlds and thrill rides, creating intricate mazes and facing dragons with courage and spunk — all of which requires the strategic placement of various toys and furniture. And that annoys the mother to no end. Finally, the boy asks his mother to come down to his level and she complies. That simple level change alters everything. She finally learns to appreciate her son’s hard work (and play!).
This book is all about engaging parents in learning along with their children — one of the most pressing needs of struggling students. It’s a book that teaches children how to say: “Mom, Dad, you have to see how it looks for me from down here.”
“Down here” is a metaphor for any place parents (or teachers) need to go to gain the child’s perspective — how that child perceives math or music, chemistry or physics that is beyond their own skill level or experience. They can then offer the support the child needs.
Down Here shows children how to build more pathways of communication between themselves and their parents in a culture where communication is so commercialized and often tied to a screen. Families giving hope and confidence to their children, supporting their talents and skills — these are the great builders of success.
Mary Veronica Moloney, OCT, teaches the primary-junior language impaired program at D’Arcy McGee Catholic School in Toronto.
Down Here, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Markham, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55455-327-3, 32 pages, $18.95, fitzhenry.ca
By Jim Gomes
As the full name of this slim book promises, Ready-Set-Teach! 101 Tips for Classroom Success is true to its title. Beginning with preparation strategies, like getting to know your support staff and acquainting yourself with the school, the book guides teachers through all aspects of creating and supporting a well-functioning classroom where learning can happen.
As every teacher knows and this book emphasizes, the first days of school are crucial to setting the tone of the classroom for the remainder of the year. It is in these days that routines are established and students’ responsibilities are outlined. In a practical, straightforward approach, Gomes shows teachers how to establish routines for underpinning student success. He then moves on to other topics that are relevant to any classroom and shows how to create the building blocks for learning, such as using a variety of teaching techniques and activities to keep the students engaged and interested. The author also demonstrates the importance of maintaining open lines of communication by meeting with parents and other teachers to support a child as much as possible. Finally, he repeatedly stresses that education is more about people than it is about subject content and that students stand a better chance of being successful when they have a strong relationship with their teacher.
Ready-Set-Teach! offers tried and tested tips for creating classroom success and harmony, and would be particularly useful for new teachers.
Majella Atkinson, OCT, is a Grade 8 Teacher at St. Pius X Catholic School in Toronto.
Ready-Set-Teach! 101 Tips for Classroom Success, FriesenPress, Victoria, BC, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-1-4602-5142-3, 122 pages, $18.99, friesenpress.com
By Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
With so much at stake for people who fail to grasp basic mathematical ideas, Ontario teachers are being challenged to create classroom environments where their students are wholly supported in developing a deeper, more authentic understanding of what math is all about. For many, if not most elementary-level math teachers, meeting the challenge will require expanding their own mathematical and pedagogical skills, and cultivating a greater appreciation of how students develop the mathematical underpinnings they will need for all future math concepts.
Put simply, the authors’ thesis is this: mathematical knowledge should be constructed by each student wrestling with math ideas in a classroom where teachers ensure that knowledge-building and real understanding go hand in hand. Making Number Talks Matter is about helping students take back the authority of their own reasoning through a 15-minute daily routine in which they reason mentally with numbers.
The debates of new math versus old math or algorithms versus multiple solution strategies are all put aside in favour of a step-by-step approach to enhance student understanding of basic number sense, the critical component that supports algebra and other higher-level mathematics. Using such tools as number lines, doubling and halving strategies, and open arrays, the authors show teachers how to repair fragile arithmetic skills that often follow students from elementary into middle and high school.
Rather than teaching by rote, the authors advocate letting students really struggle with math ideas, creating a cognitive dissonance or confusion that leads to perseverance and real learning. “When you shift away from teaching ‘what to do’ to encouraging students to think in their own ways; away from teaching procedures … to posing problems and letting kids grapple with them … then your teaching and life in your classroom will be forever changed,” they write.
Making Number Talks Matter is a practical handbook for teachers and school leaders serious about helping children become more confident, more successful practitioners of mathematics.
Michael Bellrose, OCT, is the principal of A.B. Ellis Public School in the Rainbow District School Board in Espanola.
Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4–10, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-57110-998-9, 200 pages, US$23, stenhouse.com
By Kenneth Oppel
Oppel has the uncanny ability to put young readers on pins and needles about what will happen next to his main characters — so much so that they can’t stop reading. His is the kind of suspense that becomes the perfect hook for a novel study. The Nest, the latest of this international award-winning author’s work, is no different. It’s about a boy, Steven, whose baby brother, Theodore, is born with several congenital disorders. Steven, who believes baby Theo may die, is visited at night by a white wasp queen who tells him that she is making a replacement (and healthy) baby in her nest. At first, Steven is lured by the queen’s seemingly benevolent mission, believing that the wasp is fixing his brother. He soon discovers, however, that the queen means to dispose of Theo and substitute him with a malevolent baby that her wasp workers have created.
The wonderful use of words to evoke emotion and generate suspense provides rich language arts’ content for children in Grades 4 and 5. Steven’s dreams and intuitions have adults believing he has a form of mental illness. He is sent to a children’s psychiatrist who tells him that he hears the wasp queen because he is jealous of the time the baby consumes. He is told he feels anxious because he is allergic to wasps and that there really is no wasp queen nor any replacement baby. Steven tries to rationalize what he has seen and heard with what he understands about his obsessive-compulsive behaviour and this, along with his allergy and EpiPen, provides a rich narrative for the health and physical education curriculum.
Discerning white from black, truth from gossip and, ultimately, good from evil are universal themes throughout the book. So too is the powerful mythological story of the changeling baby and the metaphor of the wasp recreating Theo as a normal baby so that Steven can return to what was normal for him, before his very ill brother was born. The Nest is a model text of good writing and great reading.
Kara Smith, OCT, is the Chatham-Kent Cultural Centre’s Writer-in-Residence for the University of Windsor.
The Nest, HarperCollins, Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-44343-862-9, 244 pages, $19.99, harpercollins.ca
By David Booth
Can one traditional story be explored in dozens of ways? Could this same story be taught to students from kindergarten to Grade 12? How many different ways are there to delve deeply and challenge perspectives about a story? These questions and more are what David Booth set out to discover, and Exploding the Reading is the result of his research.
Teachers from different school districts in Ontario, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories were asked to read a 200-year-old legend based on a Selchie tale from Iceland. They were given complete freedom in their approach to the story. Taking the Booth mantra that “it takes two to read a book,” the teachers and students at a variety of grade levels burrowed into the story. What are the values embedded in the story? The origins of the story? The connections? What purpose does folklore serve for social order within a culture? The wide range of responses to the text itself and all the learning experiences that lie outside of it showed how to break a text wide open to reveal new levels of comprehension and engagement.
Although teachers may decide that this particular story doesn’t suit their students’ interests or the curriculum, the guide itself is a conduit to discovering deeper meanings within a story that is applicable to any reading. Ideas from basic retelling to written responses, responding through the arts, role-play, research and technology in a literacy classroom are all examined.
Booth’s writing style is accessible and straightforward. It is not possible to dip into Exploding the Reading without walking away with some new insight into how students can respond to a text. This book belongs in the hands of every teacher.
Kerry Zinkiewich, OCT, is an innovations consultant with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board in Peterborough.
Exploding the Reading: Building a world of responses from one small story, 50 interactive strategies for increasing comprehension, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-299-9, 157 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com