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Your guide to recently released books and other teaching resources.

Borrow a copy of any of the books reviewed in Professionally Speaking by connecting with the Margaret Wilson Library. Email library@oct.ca, access your College account via oct.ca, use the OCT Membership App, or call 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext. 679. For reviews of French-language resources, visit pourparlerprofession.oeeo.ca.

Photo of the cover of 'Powerful Writing Structures.' The cover is of a scheduling calendar.

Powerful Writing Structures

Using her own classroom experience and infectious love for teaching as foundation, Adrienne Gear unpacks how to implement a balanced writing program throughout an entire school year. It shows educators how to become more reflective, purposeful and intentional writing teachers and offers tools to help students become effective and clear writers.

Gear's program is organized into what she refers to as "brain pockets." Within each of these "pockets" educators are given details on how to develop student understanding of various writing forms such as: personal narratives, descriptions and persuasive pieces.

In a user-friendly and simple-to-follow format, the author outlines how to organize an effective writing program that is manageable for both the educator and students. As well, she provides practical suggestions for conferencing and coaching students while demonstrating how feedback helps students improve and grow as writers.

One of the most valuable parts of each chapter is a list of recommended picture books the author refers to as anchor texts, which could be used to introduce each writing form. Mini-lessons are connected to recommended mentor texts so that students have a clear sense of what their writing can look like. Gear also provides the reader with samples of student work and relevant blackline masters to accompany the mini-lessons.

Janice Chisholm, OCT, is an early years reading coach, JK–Grade 2, with the Toronto District School Board.

Powerful Writing Structures: Brain Pocket Strategies for Supporting a Year-Long Writing Program, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2020, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-344-6, 198 pages, $24.95, ebook: $21.95, pembrokepublishers.com

Photo of the cover of 'Word by Word.' The cover is a book with several pages turning.

Word by Word

This is a delightful collection of lesson ideas for word building and word exploring. Organized by themes, this text will tantalize, intrigue and inspire language arts teachers to rush into their classrooms and showcase these strategies with students.

Swartz examines language acquisition at the level of the all-important single word. The text is chock full of playful ways to incorporate word analysis into everyday classroom activities. Each page offers exciting entry points for all ages to engage in meaningful wordplay. The suggestions are a wonderful balance of tried-and-true tactics combined with recent and relevant examples and references. There's no filler here, just page after page of a joyful celebration of words, their sounds and their meanings.

Each chapter explores a plethora of possibilities for word attack and appreciation. From poetry to spelling to texting, the offerings are practical and can be put into play in most any teaching context. The author grounds every suggestion in sound reasoning, making it clear why each activity is useful in the development of language.

Word by Word is an ode to words and a beautiful reminder of why we love them. It elegantly emphasizes how important words are to establishing essential reading and writing skills in the quest for deepening knowledge. Studying words in situations both familiar and foreign offers students opportunities to become their own lexicographer.

Joe Restoule General is a learning resource teacher at Jamieson Elementary School in Ohsweken, Ont.

Word by Word: 101 ways to inspire and engage students by building vocabulary, improving spelling, and enriching reading, writing, and learning, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2019, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-338-5, 160 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com

Photo of the cover of 'Inspiring Meaningful Learning.' The cover is a student pondering.

Inspiring Meaningful Learning

Two ongoing responsibilities for teachers are the preparing and planning of engaging lesson plans, and checking in with students to measure their understanding.

Author Brenda Stein Dzaldov addresses both of these areas in her six-step approach to creating egaging and effective lessons. Teachers are encouraged to welcome students into learning, and then share learning goals to help build a positive rapport. There are lesson outlines and templates to help draw students into topics. For example, the author highlights the importance of tapping into students' background knowledge to prompt discussion and deep thinking. For assessment, the author suggests one approach would be to allow students to take ownership of their learning through self-assessment.

This combination of rapport, lesson content and pedagogy are then used to inspire meaningful learning.

As the author writes, "I have seen how an organized, practical lesson design, backed by the theory around what educators know about engagement, motivation, and learnng, can make our jobs much easier and truly fulfilling — because meaningful learning ensues."

The book includes sample K–8 classroom lessons, guided questions, templates and tips to use in the classroom environment.

Teresa Ross, OCT, is a secondary school teacher with the Niagara Catholic District School Board.

Inspiring Meaningful Learning: 6 Steps to Creating Lessons That Engage Students in Deep Learning, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2018, ISBN 978-1-55138-334-7, softcover, 128 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com

Photo of the cover of 'Natural Allies.' The cover is abstract art.

Natural Allies

Soo Hong, an associate professor and chair of education at Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, explores the complex and historically dynamic tensions that can prevent open-minded relationships between schools and families. Grounded in rigorous research, Hong's book suggests that educational institutions, which hold the bulk of power, may create and sustain barriers to productive relationships between these groups.

A positive educational experience for students is based on engagement and student-centred programming (versus school-centred programming), a shift from the traditional delivery model. Hong observed a handful of teachers who successfully engaged families in public, charter and pilot schools in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Establishing an initial connection with families, and valuing their experiences, was critical in relationship building.

Hong suggests the first step to change is to acknowledge the systemic oppression that exists in the traditional communication model between schools and families, and to work at blowing it up. To achieve this, the book suggests, schools need to be inclusive, progressive, unique and equitable. They must offer multiple opportunities for connection, invite meaningful conversation, invest deeply in teachers and students, and value the cultural experiences of students. Trust, at the centre of it all, must be established ito move relationships forward.

Jennifer Wyatt, OCT, is head of the junior school at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ont.

Natural Allies: Hope and Possibility in Teacher-Family Partnerships, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2019, ISBN 978-1-68253- 424-3, softcover, 232 pages, US$33, harvardeducationpress.org

Photo of the cover of 'Taaqtumi'. The cover is an illustration of a bird.


This collection's Arctic setting — steeped in isolation, cold and remoteness — compounds the dread and fear in each of its stories. The horror genre lives and breathes, allowing us to examine our own demons and fears of the unknown. Taaqtumi dabbles in these tropes, but also infuses some unique flavours thanks to the authors' experiences and the stories' settings.

There's something in this collection for every kind of horror buff, from tales of zombies (ijiraujat) to monsters and a nanurluk (giant polar bear). Some stories are short enough to serve as creepy read-alouds for teens while others demand a longer attention span and a deeper dive. The collection is not suited to an elementary-age audience, though, as the horror can be intense and haunting.

Secondary and post-secondary English teachers may want to select a story or two to complement a genre study. Educators interested in expanding their geographical horizons by travelling via fiction will also experience a fascinating glimpse into the northern culture and climate — while being scared out of their wits.

One compelling feature of this anthology is its modernity. Many of the tales offer a futuristic Arctic environment setting, while still being cognizant of its Indigenous past and present. Eerily enough, a couple of stories feature a post-pandemic world, suggesting some particularly prescient authors are included in the mix.

Joe Restoule General is a learning resource teacher at Jamieson Elementary School in Ohsweken, Ont.

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories, Inhabit Media, Iqaluit, 2019, ISBN 978-1-77227-214-7, softcover, 184 pages, $16.95, inhabitmedia.com

Photo of the cover of 'Character Powers'. The cover is an illustration of a group of people.

Character Powers

This resource of 22 story cards from Toronto educator Michael Kronick, OCT, helps show students how character education shapes how they see themselves and others. Students can identify and cultivate their strengths and build self-esteem.

Each card features a well-known person and their particular strength of character. The flip side of each card tells that person's story. Keywords highlight the character traits as well as some of the more challenging vocabulary. Character Powers is marketed to ages 8+, but some younger readers may find words like echelon or prodigy to be a challenge.

The card deck features a rich and inspiring group of Canadians such as Terry Fox, David Suzuki, Viola Desmond and Shannen Koostachin. It also includes culturally diverse examples of important figures from around the world including young people such as Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai.

Students will see how a particular character strength made a difference in the person's life, and questions on the card prompt them to consider how it can make a difference in their own.

These self-directed reading, writing and art activities would be a great addition to any junior or intermediate classroom. Character Powers helps students develop literacy skills, recognize and appreciate qualities in others, and build confidence.

Caroline Pignat, OCT, is a two-time Governor General's Award-winning author and a high school teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

Character Powers Reading Cards: Inspirational stories that build character in kids, self-published, 2019, softcover, ISBN 9781999219604, 27 story and character cards, $35, characterpowers.com

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