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Blog: Teaching With Canadian Books

COVID–19 Teacher Diary: Three Middle Grade Novels to Nurture Student Connection

Welcome to the fourth post in the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic.

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Thank you for reading. If you’re an Ontario educator and would like to contribute to this series, please send us an email.

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Written by York Region District School Board Teacher-Librarian Geoffrey Ruggero

If you’re looking for middle grade reads with strong, inspirational, female protagonists, then pick up any one of these absorbing novels by Michelle Kadarusman. She combines her intimate knowledge of places she has called home, with elements of art and nature, and the difficulties of growing up, to create stories that create a connection between reader and character.

Whether sneaking around a quiet library, dealing with the hustle and bustle of a big city market, or standing in the depths of a jungle, Kadarusman’s intense attention to detail makes the reader feel as though they are immersed in the setting. Students will be swept away to different parts of the world in each of her novels, and they will no doubt look to make deeper connections to the learning that comes with reading her books.

During a time when teachers are looking f …

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COVID–19 Teacher Diary: Equity & Access for All Students

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Welcome to the third post in the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic. What does daily life look like for teachers right now? What’s working in the new world of online classrooms, and what’s not? What can parents do at home with their kids? How can educators, parents, and students all cope with overwhelm, communicate more effectively, and support one another?

Sign up to get new Teacher Diary posts in your inbox as they’re published.

Thank you for reading. If you’re an Ontario educator and would like to contribute to this series, please send us an email.

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Written by Peel District School Board Teacher-Librarian Jonelle St. Aubyn

When the news came in that school would be closed for an additional two weeks after the March Break, I was a little stunned but not terribly concerned. Not because I wasn’t taking the outbreak of COVID–19 seriously, but because I had hope that it would be under control soon and that we would all be returning to work after this extended break. The next morning at school, I announced to my students that there would be no limit on the number of books that they could take out and that no fines would be accrued over the time that they were off. At my sc …

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COVID–19 Teacher Diary: An Achievable, Accessible #ActivityOfTheDay

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Welcome to the second post in our 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic. What does daily life look like for teachers right now? What’s working in the new world of online classrooms, and what’s not? What can parents do at home with their kids? How can educators, parents, and students all cope with overwhelm, communicate more effectively, and support one another?

Sign up to get new Teacher Diary posts in your inbox as they’re published.

If you’re an Ontario educator and would like to contribute to this series, please send us an email.

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Written by York Region District School Board Teacher-Librarian Jennifer Byrne

The times we find ourselves in right now are uncertain and unprecedented. But what always sticks with me is this saying from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster’, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."

It is clear that for the disaster the world is experiencing right now, the frontli …

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Introducing the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Crisis Teacher Diary

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Welcome to the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic. What does daily life look like for teachers right now? What’s working in the new world of online classrooms, and what’s not? What can parents do at home with their kids? How can educators, parents, and students all cope with overwhelm, communicate more effectively, and support one another?

Sign up to get new Teacher Diary posts in your inbox as they’re published.

Thank you for reading. If you’re an Ontario educator and would like to contribute to this series, please send us an email.

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Written on March 28, 2020, by Peel District School Board Teacher-Librarian Allison Hall

It’s day fourteen of my family’s self isolation and I’m struggling to maintain a schedule and a little bit of normalcy. I have a never ending list of ‘I shoulds’—I should clean the house, I should paint the cupboards, I should update my library website with home activities for students—but I can’t find the motivation needed to complete any of these tasks.

I spent the week of March Break in a state of shock and panic. There were knots in my stomach and chest that wouldn’t loosen. I convinced myself that I was physically unwell. I woke up ea …

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Earth Hour: Books & Activities to Spark Discussion and Environmental Action

On Saturday March 28th millions of people around the globe will turn off their lights and spend an hour without the use of electricity to mark Earth Hour. The movement, in previous years, has helped spark initiatives like tree planting and the banning of single use plastics in different countries. It’s important to talk about Earth Hour so young people understand the reasons behind the initiative and encourage their families to participate. There are many areas of the curriculum that involve environmental issues and stewardship. The environment is a natural springboard to explore different models of learning such as inquiry, design thinking, and project based learning. Here are a few titles and activities for kids from grades K-8 that fit with a discussion of Earth Hour and what we can do to help protect our planet.

Inspired by true events, In the Treehouse by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričić is the story of a boy who plans and builds a treehouse with his dad and older brother. After a while his big brother doesn’t want to play anymore, he’d rather hang out with his friends. Until one night when the power goes out. The boy sees his neighbours actually come out of their houses and socialize. His brother joins him in the treehouse and they read …

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Reconciliation Through Education: Reading Jesse Thistle's From the Ashes with Senior Grades

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!
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Jesse Thistle’s memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way, took me on a heartbreaking journey of his life as a homeless Indigenous man. His resilience as he battled substance abuse and poverty (and eventually earned his GED in jail) was just part of this courageous story. Although there are many reasons to cheer Thistle on as he struggles to overcome intergenerational trauma, I was drawn in by the honesty of his writing.

This is not an easy story to read and I’d encourage grade 11 and 12 students to read it but still caution teenagers (16+) that there are many difficult aspects to Thistle’s life story that could be upsetting for them. However, the focus on the power of relationships and education shines through. In a CBC interview, the author said, “It was painful, but it was also very beautiful. These were really hard, painful, sharp memories. But I also saw there were people that were trying to help me, like the kind shop owner who gave me food or my friend at the shelter who watched out for my shoes. My brother Jerry always took care of me and took me in …

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Eight Books that Help Support Mental Wellness in Students

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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I’ve always been a worrier. In elementary school, I was afraid of speaking in class, and dreaded being called upon, even if I knew the answers. Well-meaning grownups would often say, “Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You just need to think positive.” I appreciated their reassurances, but you can’t get rid of anxiety with breezy bromides.

You can help ease fears by opening the door to a conversation, and here are some books that I wish I had growing up—both for myself and for the adults in my life. The following authentic and non-didactic picture books, middle grade, and teen fiction titles show realistic, nuanced characters who work on navigating their fears. These are books in which kids can feel seen and understood, and realize that they aren’t alone. Educators can make a profoundly positive difference in the life of a child, and these engaging stories also offer prescient insight into mental wellness supports. 

Healing power of art

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On the night before the first day of school, Molly Akita can’t sleep because it feels like there’s a pack of rabble-rousing dogs running wil …

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Embracing Winter with Inuit Games & Activities

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Settling into the winter months here in Southern Ontario means we try to enjoy some outdoor activities in the snow, as well as finding ways to reclaim the warmth when we come back inside. With my family, this means good novels and board games, with my students it means books to engage our imaginations and activities to keep us moving.

In my classroom, we have been learning about some of the ways that communities in Canada embrace the winter months. Learning about the rich history of Inuit games and activities enjoyed by the communities across Nunangat has inspired my students to want to know more. I knew exactly how I could satisfy their curiosity.

I was fortunate enough — and thrilled — to be one of the teachers who won the 49th Teachers/Inhabit Education Nunavummi Reading Series giveaway. I received a box of gorgeous books. In the box, were books that I knew would be the perfect additions to the collection of books that I use to integrate Indigenous histories and perspectives into my classroom program. One, in particular, had a special role to play.

Last week, I gathered my students on the carpet an …

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Four Fast-Paced, Captivating Middle Grade Books Any Student Will Love

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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If you’re looking for a great story, where the main characters are relatable, look no further than the Orca Currents collection. These books are known as Hi/Lo readers: short, high-interest novels with contemporary themes written specifically for middle-school students reading below grade level. (Reading levels from grade 2.0 to 5.0. Interest level ages 10–14.)

There really is something for everyone in this collection. The wide range of topics that are addressed in these books includes: fitting in, racism, gender equality, technology addiction, bullying, and self-image. Both the topics and characters will appeal to many readers. The main characters are always down-to-earth, real people, that many middle-school students can relate to. Whether it’s the new student, the child with a difficult home life, or the one struggling to develop relationships with peers, these characters will help your students to grow. I’ve placed a number of these books into the hands of students, and each time, they come back asking for more.

Although the Orca titles are aimed at students reading below grade level, I recommend these books to all students. We can all enjoy a fast-paced, captivating read every now and then, and that is what is so great about the Currents series.

Here are a few that I’ve read, and loved, recently:

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Six Books that Demand to Be Read Aloud

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Inspired by my recent reading of The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon, I am always looking for the next great read aloud. It has always been a cherished time, sharing a story with students of all ages. From a board book that seems so simple but you return to time and time again because the limited choice of words are so clever, to novels that seem to have long and luxurious chapters. Sometimes we get lost in the pictures. Sometimes we get caught up in the words. And sometimes, we can’t decide. The illustrations and the words have us so engaged, we lose track of where we are and fall deep into the story.

As a teacher-librarian, parents and students are always asking about favourite books. However, it is a different story when I say: Do you want to hear a new favourite book? There is a rush to sit up close on the carpet, sometimes pull up a cushion, and then it’s all eyes on me. Actually, it’s not all eyes on me. It is all eyes on the magic I hold in my hands. A creative expression that wants to be opened up and explored through the sound of my voice, using the author’s words and showing the illustrator’s artwork.

Fortunately, I have come across more than one book for all my readers. It's time to settle in on a carpet, cushion, or bed with these new favourites...

 

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Coding Simplified: 7 Books to Help Your Students Learn to Code

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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With December comes one of my favourite weeks of the fall, the Hour of Code. This year it takes place during December 9–15th and provides an excellent opportunity to introduce coding skills to your students. I usually run the Hour of Code for a two-week period, when students can participate in a variety of analog and digital coding activities. Depending on experience, they may start with the basics or try to code an animation, video game, website, or app. When I started running the Hour of Code a few years ago, my knowledge of coding was minimal. By sharing this fact with my classes and learning together with them, we created a community in which we could help and support one another as we worked through the process. Kids are always excited to try Hour of Code activities and many use their new skills throughout the year. If you don’t know where to start, here is a list of books to help introduce and/or reinforce coding concepts with your students.

A good place to begin the coding conversation is with an exploration of technology. When kids understand the purpose for coding, learning to code becomes …

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Five New Picture Books to Brighten Up Your Classroom

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Just like the leaves (or snow!), new books are piling up everywhere. But there is never enough talk about the new picture books that will brighten up our classrooms! So much is offered for primary students these days and these new books don’t disappoint. They cover many diverse topics from what it’s like to be small, the importance of play and being silly, the importance of self-expression, being a good neighbour, and loving everyone. Not only do these stories speak to children’s interests but they respect our youngest readers and speak to them as intelligent, kind, and important members of our community. So just like my kids who don’t help me rake the leaves in our yard—let’s jump right into the piles of these new books and classroom discussions!

In Small in the City, author and illustrator Sydney Smith walks us through the blustery streets of a city we love from the perspective of someone small. The minimal text and gorgeous drawings illustrate how a little person can feel unseen in the bustle of city streets, the noise and chaos. I love that this story takes place in winter, when snow can …

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