Professionally SpeakingThe Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers
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Governing Ourselves


Your guide to recently released books, CDs and other teaching resources. 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 e-mail

Composers, evaluation and novels

Fun with Composers

by Deborah Ziolkoski


Two new resources – one for ages three to six and the other for ages seven to 12 – explore creative ways to interact with the music of some of the greatest composers of all time.

The books are based on the teachings of German composer Carl Orff, who in 1924 founded a school of gymnastics, music and dance. Orff’s program allowed children to make music using their voices and simple percussion instruments.

The book for younger children features Dvorak, Bach, Strauss, Mozart, Haydn and Saint-Saëns, while the one for older children includes Brahms, Grieg and Bizet. Each musical excerpt is presented with stories, songs and movement, as well as ideas for improvisation and accompaniment. There are reproducible activity sheets and biographies of the composers.

A CD is included with both the student text and the Teacher Guide. Teachers also receive a DVD that demonstrates some of the activities in a sample lesson in a classroom setting. The musical excerpts are well-known and will be familiar to many children.

The text for ages three to six is ideal for teachers looking for imaginative ways to present music to their students. In the hands of an Orff specialist, this material would be even more enriching. Numerous opportunities to incorporate literacy and cross-curricular activities present themselves for ages seven to 12.

Fun with Composers, Fun with Composers Inc, Surrey, BC / Teacher Guides, softcover, each $99.95 (CD and DVD included): ages 3–6, 96 pages and ages 7–12, 112 pages / Just for Kids Guides, softcover, each $19.99 (CD included): ages 3–6, 88 pages and ages 7–12, 88 pages, tel 1-888-700-1333, fax 604-541-2918,

John Phillips, former head of music and drama at Richmond Green SS in the York Region DSB, is on secondment to the Ministry of Education.

Evaluating Students

How Teachers Justify and Defend Their Marks to Parents, Students and Principals

by Alex Shirran

Few tasks create as much soul searching for teachers as grading and evaluating students. These are minefields that often generate hostility from parents and challenges from students. Alex Shirran’s highly practical book gives teachers an excellent tool in the theory, practice and politics of marking, so they can defend their evaluation and teaching practices.

This resource presents an overview of a marking process that is research driven and universally applied, stressing transparency as the most important value.

Each of the six chapters starts with a real-life situation confronting a teacher and describes how the situation could be handled to avoid conflict with parents, students and principals. Included are marking rubrics and criteria, curriculum objectives and reproducible examples of unit, lesson and monthly plans. There are even ideas on how to record anecdotal student marks.

Shirran has based his book on years of classroom experience, and uses compelling case studies to back up his suggestions. He offers teachers a wealth of information on best practices for clarifying student assessment, and in so doing provides a comprehensive approach to all issues related to marking. This is a worthwhile tool for both the novice and experienced teacher.

Evaluating Students, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2006, ISBN 978-1-55138-206-7, soft--cover, 128 pages, $24.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807, fax 905-477-3691 or 1-800-339-5568,

Elda Fredette is a Special Education resource teacher at St. Vincent’s Separate School in Oakville.

Daughters of the Ark

by Anna Morgan

Daughters of the Ark is a novel about two girls, separated by thousands of years, who face dangerous journeys to new lands.

The story starts in 939 BCE as Aleesha and her family travel from Jerusalem to the court of the Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia. During the journey, Aleesha uncovers a conspiracy to steal the sacred Ark of the Covenant, which accompanies them on their travels.

The second part of the story takes place almost 3000 years later, in 1984, and is based on true events and real characters. Debritu, who is part of the Ethiopian community of Beyta Israel, travels with her brothers to find safety in Israel.

An emerald that Aleesha stole from the Ark of the Covenant connects the lives of the two girls. It is passed from generation to generation of Ethiopian Jews and eventually comes to Debritu.

Like The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars, Daughters of the Ark explores the courage and tenacity of the two Jewish girls in the face of great danger. It opens many rich possibilities for teachers at both the junior and intermediate levels. For advanced Grade 5 and older students, it not only provides an excellent study of non-traditional female characters, but presents research possibilities for the politics and culture of the African-Jewish experience.

This novel can be tied into the Grade 5 social studies curriculum by taking a different approach to early civilizations, or to the Grade 7 or 8 geography curriculum.

Daughters of the Ark, Second Story Press, Toronto, 2005, ISBN 1-896764-92-4, softcover, 200 pages, $8.95, tel 416-537-7850, fax 416-537-0588,

Jennifer Wyatt teaches Grade 4 at Havergal College in Toronto.

Well-Schooled Fish and Feathered Bandits

The Wondrous Ways Animals Learn from Animals

by Peter Christie

A unit on animal behaviour would not be complete without this well-researched and humorous book that explores how animals learn from each other. Students will be fascinated to find examples of just how smart animals can be.

Each chapter covers a different aspect of animal life in relation to behaviour: food, fear, mating, tool making, communication and sophisticated habits. The pages are packed with examples of social learning: rats learn to avoid poison, starlings figure out how to steal cash from a coin machine, humpback whales learn to sing, and fish learn by staying in schools. Applying the latter concept to your classroom should be easy!

The book targets ages eight to 11 and includes many beautiful pictures with insets to balance the text. An index facilitates access to specific topics. Students who wish to dig deeper can use the bibliography.

This resource would be a valuable addition to elementary classrooms and libraries.

Well-Schooled Fish and Feathered Bandits, Annick Press, Toronto, 2006, ISBN 978-1-55451-045-0, softcover, 48 pages, $9.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192, fax 416-499-8313 or 1-800-450-0391,

Margaret Grift is a school library consultant in Brampton.

Tell Me a Story

Developmentally Appropriate Retelling Strategies

by Jill Hansen

Activities that focus on the retelling of stories can improve children’s comprehension levels while they learn to read. Tell Me a Story is a well-organized and logical book that is geared to students in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3.

Author Jill Hansen is an experienced classroom teacher and her knowledge of children’s books is excellent. Many titles categorized by children’s interest and reading levels are listed.

A variety of reproducible rubrics and checklists provide tools for evaluating children’s progress as they learn to retell stories effectively. Other practical inclusions are card-game reproducibles and storyboard ideas for the classroom and hallway.

Retelling is part of Ontario’s kindergarten curriculum. This resource would be a welcome library addition for teachers who want more direction on how to instruct and evaluate this important pre-reading and writing skill.

Tell Me a Story, International Reading Association, Newark, Delaware, 2004, ISBN 978-0-87207-538-2, softcover, 112 pages, US$17.95, tel 1-800-336-7323, fax 302-737-0878,

Laurel Van Dommelen is a senior children’s librarian with the London Borough of Enfield, England.

The Novel Experience

Steps for Choosing and Using Novels in the Classroom

by Larry Swartz

Larry Swartz offers a remarkable amount of useful material in this 32-page flip book. He rises above the idea that novels are merely pleasant vehicles for honing literary skills and sorting out one’s psyche. To him, reading is a powerful two-way exchange, involving both the author’s work and what the reader brings to it.

Swartz sees reading as a literary journey. To help teachers and students enjoy their travels, he combines his personal philosophy of literature with practical tips. For example, he notes 10 aspects of reading comprehension – like drawing inferences or activating prior knowledge – and offers ideas for graphic organizers. He encourages readers to keep literature logs, which serve to place them “at the centre of their learning” and “foster the connection between reading and writing.”

Swartz also includes book and author lists for students in Grades 4 to 9. The flip chart concludes with checklists and questionnaires that teachers can reproduce for classroom use.

The Novel Experience, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2006, ISBN 9781551382005, softcover, 32 pages, $12.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807, fax 905-477-3691 or 1-800-339-5568,

Ruth Latta teaches a course in novel writing with the Ottawa-Carleton DSB.

Trash Action

A Fresh Look at Garbage

by Ann Love and Jane Drake
Illustrated by Mark Thurman

Most students are aware that recycling newspapers, pop cans and plastic bottles is a good idea. Trash Action takes that idea many steps further by offering children new ways to think about how they can reduce their ecological footprints on the planet.

Written in a playful prose style, the information and facts give both a global and a Canadian perspective on recycling and waste disposal. Rather than presenting pages of bland statistics and charts, the book introduces three entertaining characters – Rolly, Can-it and Bright Bulb – who show readers the huge impact that humans are having on the world environment.

Suitable for children at junior or intermediate levels, this book will complement the curriculum for science and social studies, and could also link in with geography and religious education.

Trash Action, Tundra Books, Toronto, 2006, ISBN 978-0-88776-721-0, softcover, 80 pages, $22.99, distributed by Random House, tel 1-888-523-9292, fax 1-888-562-9924,

Laurel Van Dommelen is a senior children’s librarian with the London Borough of Enfield, England.

Flat-Out Rock

Ten Great Bands of the ’60s

by Mike Tanner

Flat-Out Rock is a fun book by musician, recording artist and teacher Mike Tanner, who looks at 10 pivotal singers/rock bands of the 1960s: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Led Zeppelin. He chooses a defining event in the career of each to convey the impact they had on their audiences and their times.

Through photos, anecdotes, paintings and colourful insets, Tanner describes the lives and successes of this big 10 within the social and political context of the turbulent 60s. The book also includes a well-organized index and brief list of resources for further reading.

Flat-Out Rock is a must-have for music fans and students. It would make an excellent addition to school and public libraries.

 Flat-Out Rock, Annick Press, Toronto, 2006, ISBN 9-781554-51035-1, softcover, 144 pages, $14.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192, fax 416-499-8313 or 1-800-450-0391,

Gail Lennon teaches online secondary courses for adults with the Bluewater DSB.


Outset Media

Pure, a novel for adolescents by Ontario writer Karen Krossing, is set in a future society made up of genetically pure communities, conceived to protect resources rendered scarce by the depletion of the ozone layer and by a ban on fossil fuels. In this society, the genetic engineering of humans is forbidden and “skidge” – the genetically impure – are banished. Purity police harshly enforce the laws. So when 15-year-old Lenni Hannix discovers she has healing powers, and the chief purity officer, Rylant, investigates, secrets about Lenni’s birth are revealed.

There is a lot here for an English teacher to explore with students: a title that proves to be ironic, an apt quotation by Leonard Cohen in the preface, a clever plot with well-placed surprises and engaging characters. Although the society is not as well worked out as that of Huxley’s Brave New World, much less Lowry’s The Giver, it is certainly as plausible, and gives students plenty to think about. And as any parent with a narcissistic and emotional adolescent could attest, Lenni Hannix – from whose point of view the story is told – is a credible character.

Although boys might be put off by Lenni’s budding romance, this novel would be a good choice for Grade 8 or 9 students who have a grasp of the basics of literature and are experienced in reading circles. Written with simple figures of speech, in language that won’t leave students struggling to understand, it is definitely a solid class read.

Pure, Second Story Press, Toronto, 2005, ISBN 1-896764-96-7, softcover, 220 pages, $9.95, tel 416-537-7850, fax 416-537-0588,

Fred DuVal is a program officer with the Ontario College of Teachers and a former secondary teacher with the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine.

Let’s Talk!

Learning through Discussion

by John Philips

Whether you are a novice or an experienced teacher, elementary or secondary, Let’s Talk! is an accessible guide to discussion in the classroom. Based on the premise that we can all learn by talking with one another, the book reminds us that discussion is about ideas: sharing ideas, and expanding and learning from them, while valuing the opinions of others.

More than 40 wide-ranging topics like school, the law, parenting, TV, honesty, the media and war, are organized into eight chapters. Let’s Talk! begins with guidelines for maximizing learning and suggests ground rules and procedures for group, class and panel discussions. It also presents a range of possibilities for oral presentations, impromptu speeches, debates and writing tasks.

When I first skimmed the book, I was looking for ideas to help me get to know my new Grade 5 class. The first section is a natural entry point for getting-acquainted ideas: If you were an animal, fish or bird, what would you be and why?

Intermediate and high school teachers will find topics that expand the thinking of their students, such as: What should be the role of the United Nations in the world today? Do we need a world government?

Through discussion, students make curriculum connections, expand critical thinking and reasoning skills, and learn how to articulate and defend their opinions while respecting those of others. More importantly, discussion is a way for students to enlarge their understanding of the world and their place in it.

Let’s Talk!, JJohnny Press, Midland, 2004, ISBN 0-9686403-7-0, softcover, 112 pages, $21.00,

Helen Bajorek MacDonald is an elementary teacher with the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB.

Earth’s Endangered Animals series

by Bobbie Kalman and co-authors

Earth’s Endangered Animals is an engaging 11-volume series filled with interesting content and colourful photography. Each book examines a different endangered species: chimpanzees, elephants, komodo dragons, leopards, monk seals, mountain gorillas, pandas, rhinoceros, sea turtles, tigers and wolves.

The format for each book is similar, with a well-organized table of contents at the beginning and a half-page index and glossary of terms at the end. After a brief discussion of the animal’s unique features and why it is endangered, the authors explore its physical attributes, life cycle, predators and safe havens. The books conclude with a game-like challenge, such as Spot the Leopard or Save the Panda.

Using easy-to-read text and excellent pictures, Earth’s Endangered Animals provides students in junior and intermediate grades with a wealth of information. This would be an excellent series for junior/intermediate classroom and school libraries.

Earth’s Endangered Animals series, Crabtree Publishing Company, St. Catharines, softcover, each 32 pages, $8.06, tel 905-682-5221 or 1-800-387-7650, fax 905-682-7611 or 1-800-355-7166,

Gail Lennon teaches online secondary courses for adults with the Bluewater DSB.

La lecture partagée

by Sue Brown
French adaptation by Léo-James Lévesque

Shared reading is a topic that is gaining more and more traction with educators looking for tools to facilitate comprehension and instill a passion for reading. So what is an effective way to conduct a shared reading session?

Sue Brown presents various forms of this type of reading: shared reading by age group, reading out loud, guided reading and mini-lessons. She also suggests different types of texts that can be used as effective shared-reading tools in other contexts, such as web surfing. The objective is to provide a program that is adaptable to each child’s needs.

The strength of this handbook lies in its ability to facilitate discussion through the use of questioning and comprehension strategies that encourage greater autonomy in students. The goal is to improve their understanding of assigned texts, as well as of their own selections.

The book is rich in information on how to set up an effective classroom shared-reading program. It encourages healthy learning – and not just for students in the primary and junior divisions. In fact, I found it very useful with students who are 18 and older! It’s never too late to learn how to read.

La lecture partagée, Chenelière Éducation, Montréal, 2006, ISBN 9782765015154, softcover, 132 pages, $24.95, tel 514-273-8055 or 1-800-565-5531, fax 514-276-0324 or 1-800-814-0324,, (French adaptation of Sue Brown’s Shared Reading for Grades 3 and Beyond, Learning Media Ltd)

Lorianne Ratté teaches Grades 7 and 8 at École catholique Nouveau Regard in the Conseil scolaire de district catholique des Grandes Rivières.

For past reviews, visit the archives.


The authors of Sexual Misconduct in Education (Second Edition, 2006) are Grant Bowers, Rena Knox and consulting editor Justice Marvin A. Zuker. Zuker’s name was omitted from the review that appeared in our June 2007 edition.

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