Cult of Pedagogy's Book Club

Exciting news!

One of our favourite teacher leaders, Jen, who blogs at Cult of Pedagogy, has launched her summer 2017 online book club and we are so excited to be participating this year! We decided to divide and conquer this online book club because even though we will be on our summer break soon, we still have a Masters happening (Meaghan) and a toddler to chase (Karley). We love how Jen chose the books for this summer's study via Facebook voting and we are intrigued by the relaxed approach this study will take. 

The first book up on the reading list is "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.  Karley will read this one and partake in the online discussion because she has had her eye on it for a few weeks already.  Read the book and be ready to join the discussion, which starts June 14th! Click HERE and head on over to Cult of Pedagogy for more information on this summer's book club.

Happy reading everyone!


Dive Into Inquiry Giveaway WINNER

And the winner is...

Mei-Lyn Freeman

Congratulations Mei-Lyn and thank you everyone for engaging with us and Trevor MacKenzie on our respective Twitter accounts and here on the blog! We hope you all get the chance to read Dive Into Inquiry soon.  Purchase Trevor's book HERE and add it to your professional reading library.


Book Tale and Giveaway: Dive Into Inquiry

Disclaimer: We were provided with a copy of the book in return for an honest review. All opinions and reviews are our own.

We are so excited for this post about an amazing book from an inspiring educator in our district, Trevor MacKenzie.

This book has made our list of 'must read' books for teachers. It is engaging and informative, plus it's a relatively quick read. There is so much practical, use right away advice in here that Karley even said, "I feel like I'm stealing treasure reading this!" How many workshops have you been to or books have you read where you are left feeling like "yeah that's awesome but how/when/etc?" This book was just the opposite - the steps to implementing are clear, concise and there are so many easy places to start.

"Student agency begins by creating strong relationships built on trust."

We don't need to be sold on inquiry, it's a teaching practice that completely respects the interests and experiences of students. Respectful teaching is right up our alley so of course we are in, but the HOW piece is always that intimidating stepping stone to something new. We have both done inquiry based units in the past and tried to incorporate it into some of our planning but honestly, reading Dive Into Inquiry was the first time we felt like we could successfully make our classrooms inquiry based.

Having tried Genius Hour and other personal inquiry projects in the past, there are some parts of free inquiry that we had trouble grasping when picturing the overall "inquiry based classroom" but Trevor explains exactly how to overcome these barriers through scaffolding, careful planning, and supporting students one on one. He gives clear, understandable examples throughout the book of how to manage so many of the different facets of managing an inquiry based classroom.

Our favourite parts of the book:

  • Outline for creating syllabus as a class (student agency!)
  • Description of the scaffolded "Types of Student Inquiry"
  • Examples of multi-age and community connections
  • Clear ways of guiding students through the research process
  • Examples of inquiry in different subject areas
  • Commitment to publicly sharing student work
  • QR Codes with examples of student work - so cool!
  • SketchNote graphics throughout the book
  • Plus it's really cool to see the names of people we know in a book!

We have a GIVEAWAY for you to win a copy of Dive Into Inquiry.

There are two ways for you to enter:

  1. Write us a comment telling us your experiences with inquiry or why you want to read this book
  2. Follow Trevor MacKenzie (@trev_mackenzie) and Tale of Two Teachers (@taletwoteachers) on Twitter and leave a second comment telling us when you do

Giveaway ends on Sunday January 15th. Winner will be announced on the blog and contacted via email.

Please note: Maximum two entries per person. Entries must be in the form of separate comments with email provided.

Good luck!

Book Tale: The Bridge to Brilliance

I've just finished reading Nadia Lopez's new book, "The Bridge to Brilliance" and I highly recommend all educators find their own copy ASAP.  Let me explain...mhba2

Nadia Lopez is the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA), a public middle school she opened roughly six years ago.  Ms. Lopez's story is one of determination, grit, inspiration and ferocity - she always does what is right for kids.  MHBA is located in Brownsville, Brooklyn, an underserved community riddled with gang turf wars and crippling poverty stats so intense that many of us can't even wrap our thoughts around it.  I will admit that I definitely spent some time Google Earth walking myself around Brownsville while reading this book because I had absolutely no idea where the town was.  However, as I read through Ms. Lopez's story I was able to peek inside the lives of the Brownsville students she works with every single day (even during spring and summer break) and feel like I was right there with them all.  Wow, what lives those kids lead.

Interestingly, I found many similarities between MHBA and the school I work at here in Victoria.  Both places are middle schools (grades 6-8), both have a relatively small student population (roughly 200 students), but of that small student population both schools have many students who are living below the poverty line, both have many dedicated educators and both have powerful and passionate female administrative teams.  Most of these similarities, as they came up throughout the story, brought me to tears because I could see myself, my school, and my very own students within the pages of "Bridge to Brilliance"; they're the east coast American version of us.  I Tweeted out to Ms. Lopez and she wrote me back:

So exciting to be communicating via Twitter!

I think Ms. Lopez's story, which was brought to media attention in 2015 via Humans of New York, needs to be read by every single educator.  Not only will her words make you question your dedication (yes, even those of you who are the most dedicated), but they will also help you see a different side to educating the whole child/the whole community.  Ms. Lopez will inspire you with her triumphant successes, but she will also make you cry because of the injustice her students endure.  This story will remind you that giving up on a child is never an option.  Go get her book and start reading - I promise you'll learn something.

(Follow the hashtag #TheBridgeToBrilliance to read more reviews of Nadia Lopez's story)

You can also check out Ms. Lopez's TED talk to learn more.


Book Review: Word Nerd

I can't get over this book! Anyone who has talked to me in the last month has probably heard about how much I love this one for a middle school read. Actually I just love this book for anyone to read!


Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

This book is well written with amazing character development. We just finished doing a novel study in class with it and almost all of the kids were hooked right away. My favourite part was a large group of students (mainly boys) who COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN! There really is nothing better than that, is there teachers?

The setting is in Vancouver, BC so some of the sights and places will be familiar to local blog readers. Ambrose (the main character) is a grade 7 boy with a peanut allergy who has a tough time at school and ends up being homeschooled. His upstairs neighbours are an older Greek couple who's son, Cosmo, has just returned from prison. Cosmo becomes a "Big Brother" type figure to Ambrose and the story is mainly about their relationship and how the help each other out through the game of Scrabble. It is heartwarming, quirky, funny, and exciting - with an important focus on acceptance and forgiveness.

The Scrabble focus of the book had my students on a big Scrabble kick that culminated in a half day Scrabble tournament where EVERY SINGLE student was engaged in the game. (And proud moment of one particular ELL student who pulled off a 64 point word!)

When we did mini book reviews at the end of the unit, not a single rating was less than 3.5 stars in the whole class and there were a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews. Besides maybe my human rights lit circles last year, I really have never had such a positive response from an assigned class book. I had a few kids ask me to recommend more books for them too and two students are already reading one of the other books by Susin Nielsen that they found at the library.

Go read this - now! And then read it with your kids. It is THAT good!

Note: There is a bit of bad language (and some uncomfortable "puberty" type talk) in the book but I think that's a big part of what makes it relatable and funny for students. In my mind the relevance and humour is something that students don't get enough of at school and for that it is totally worth the uncomfortable moments when reading aloud.


Things Liz Gilbert Says

Elizabeth Gilbert's most recent masterpiece, Big Magic, was a gift to myself for Christmas.  The other day I finally reached Big Magic in my rather extensive reading pile and my goodness am I ever glad this book was buried so deep in the line up because Liz's words are speaking straight to my soul right now.  It's like the magic piece of Big Magic was waiting until the very most wonderful moment read it.  Last week I hit a low point in my teaching.  I did a lot of reading, writing, playing and singing over the weekend.  On Monday I walked into my classroom literally a changed person.  These words have revamped my view on my craft (teaching) and have helped turn my perspective from bleak and desperate to uplifted and inspired.

"So try saying this: I enjoy my creativity.  And when you say it, be sure to actually mean it. For one thing, it will freak people out.  I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days.  It's such a gangster move because hardly anybody ever dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist.  So say it.  Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy." p. 118-119

I do believe teaching is a creative art.  At least the teaching I like to do is.


This one above hit me hard.  Never enough time? Umm...yep.  Never enough resources?  Hello.  Support?  I'm actually pretty well supported, but rewards?  I'm fairly certain in my last post I hinted at the thanklessness that can run rampant in this job.


And then there's this!  Managing oneself between those glorious moments of success and good feelings.  It's easy to get caught up in the mess of teaching.  It's easy to feel helpless and lost and completely frustrated.  Studies show that new teachers are often pushed to the point of exhaustion so that they give up entirely within the first five years.  So how am I managing between those bright moments?  Last week one might say I wasn't managing at all.  I really really needed this quote.

If you feel like you need a little creativity boost in your craft, I highly suggest Big Magic.  It's easy to read, astoundingly hilarious (I've had several "legit LOL" moments), and, as Liz Gilbert can only be, bluntly wise.  Check it out!


Peace and Love,


How To Raise a Reader?

If you thought this post was going to answer all your questions about how to get your child (or students) really into reading, well, I'm sorry for the misleading title, but I don't think I really know the answer. This post is more my wandering thoughts about reading that I pondered today while driving all around this city accomplishing a myriad of tasks.

I've been checking the mail every day for a week in anticipation of the arrival of a glorious Amazon box containing my latest read.  Today it arrived and after ripping it open I promptly placed my child in her rocking chair to pose with the latest and greatest.

HNJHey Natalie Jean is a (very popular) blog I've been reading daily for over a year now.  Natalie Holbrook is the writer and she tells stories of her every day life, including musings about home decor, fashion, marriage, motherhood...I love her blog.  So, imagine my excitement when she announced last fall that she was writing a book and it would be available in March 2015.  I pre-ordered as fast as I could and sat and waited...waited...waited.  This whole waiting for eight months thing made the arrival of Hey Natalie Jean so much more...special? I don't know, but in this world of insta-gratification, purchasing with the click of a finger and having the item arrive the next day (for a fee!), I really relished in the wait for this book.

As I was driving around here and there today I got to thinking about reading, and how excited I was to crack the spine of my new book.  I gently reminded myself to read it slowly, to savour every photograph and sentence.  And then I thought, "Why the heck am I so excited to read this book?  Karley - you are jetsetting to Europe next week for goodness sake, and you are more pumped to read a book than to pack your suitcase! What is wrong with you?!"

Wouldn't it be grande if all parents had a child who loved to read? I think I have the authority to say that all teachers would do backflips to have a classroom full of avid readers.  How did I become such an avid reader? I thought while waiting at a red light.  It comes down to this: I know myself well enough to know what genres I enjoy most.  I have a thing for people and their unique stories (hence my daily blog reading).  I have a thing for Second World War history.  I also have a thing for rustic homemaking and gardening.  I have known these things about myself since I was approximately eight years old; therefore, titles such as Little Women, Little House on the Prairie and Jane Eyre have graced my bookshelves for as long as I can remember.  I think my parents, who aren't actually super into reading, did a pretty good job of letting me read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I had access to any books I wanted.  I used to sit in the bath for hours and read.  I used to go to bed early and read.  Now, when there is an extra bit of time in the evening I excitedly tell Joel, "Babe, there is time to read tonight!"  Confession: One of my biggest fears upon Charlee's birth is that I wouldn't have time to read anymore.

The arrival of my new book today was such a celebration for me.  I texted the above photo of Charlee and the book to friends and my husband.  I brought the book with me to the chiropractor and actually hoped he was running late today so I could sit in silence and get through a few pages (he was right on time). I started planning this post in my head.  I just think there is something so sacred about books; this is the reason I will never, ever own an eReader or purchase iBooks.

As a teacher I have struggled to help get some of my lackluster readers really into reading.  I'm not quite sure how to navigate that issue yet because I truly think a person needs to know their preferred writing style and their favourite genres pretty well before reading will become their most favourite activity of choice.  And asking a student, "Well, what do you like to read?" does not help the situation because some people really don't know what they like.  I admit, it is frustrating to open book after book and be let down because the content is not appealing.  I think my husband is the only person I know who will continue to read a book even if he hates it (he complains the whole read, and I tell him to just give it up, yet he persists!) I hope, as a parent, to be able to convey my love of reading to my daughter.  I had a book themed baby shower back in September where we were gifted so many beautiful books for Charlee's library.  The child is four months old and she already has a decent enough library that I've not yet had to reread a story to her.

Teachers and parents, what is your personal experience with reading? How have you managed to convince your students and children that reading is equal parts exciting and fascinating?  Feel welcome to share with us in the comments.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some serious reading to do.


Book Tale: The Lost Girls

We've been experiencing some classic "Island Autumn Weather" here in Victoria lately; the wind and rainstorms have been quite impressive!  This time of year always finds me digging through my bookshelves in search of my favourites and "The Lost Girls" usually makes the cut for which books I reread.  I'm currently on my third read through "The Lost Girls" and I am loving it as much as the first and second reads.lostgirls2

"The Lost Girls" is true travel story written journal-style by three female friends nearing their thirtieth birthdays.  All three women worked in publishing/television in NYC during the time this book was written (2010) and they were all essentially slaves to their jobs, pulling insanely long hours at their desks and gaining extra, unnecessary weight on account of how much take out food they consumed on a weekly basis (sound familiar teachers?)  A series of events finds these three over-worked, stressed out friends ditching their jobs, relationships and connections in The Big Apple for the simpler lifestyle of backpackers.  Holly, Amanda and Jen find themselves shedding their NYC selves while spending one whole year conquering their biggest fears all over the globe, making new friends and discovering new passions as only authentic, true backpacker-style traveling will allow.

My kitty, Franklin, trying to model this book for you all.
My kitty, Franklin, trying to model this book for you all.

I love this book so much because it reminds me of my own four month backpacking experience through South East Asia.  I also love that these women were brave enough to escape the monotony of the daily (extremely unhealthy and overworked) grind and seek adventure to help them discover their true selves.  If you need some inspiration from people who take action to make positive change in their lives, this book is for you!

Find "The Lost Girls" website and blog HERE.

Book Tale: The Invention of Wings

Along with summer comes a LOT of reading time! This is one of my favourite things about having time off. I try to read a little bit each night before bed but I usually only get through a page or two before I'm too exhausted to keep my eyes open. In the summer I can stay up reading as late as I want and it is awesome!

jpegThis book has been sitting in my bedside table drawer for a while, just waiting for a chance to be read. Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favourite authors and I have been holding onto this book for a while waiting for a chance to read it. It was worth the wait!

"The Invention of Wings" is an AMAZING story based on the Grimke sisters' lives but with fictionalized characters that bring the story to life. The story follows Sarah Grimke and Hetty (Handful) throughout their lives starting when they were young girls. Handful was given to Sarah as a birthday gift, her own slave despite her wishes for abolition. The story follows them throughout their lives as they grow and change, sharing the tender friendship that is built in a strained world. The side through the eyes of Handful is beautiful but hardened with the sadness and despair of the truths of slavery. Sarah's story is about her struggle to find a place in the world and to make change in a powerful way.

I was glued to every word of the story and could not put it down! I think it was one of the only times that I finished a book, read the whole author's notes, and then proceeded to research about the story right away - I just couldn't get enough!

In many ways, I related to Sarah Grimke's character (obviously I am not a pioneer in abolition and women's rights, nor am I trying to claim that I've gone through even a fraction of what she and her sister did) because of her strong will to make the world a better place. There were so many moments when I could just completely see myself in Sarah's shoes - unsure of the best course of action. Being born into a middle class white world but having this deep unrelenting feeling that you can be a part of the change in the world, that's where I relate the most.

I cannot recommend this book enough, it sparked a passion in me to be the best of who I am and to push myself past the dominant world view that it is all too easy to look through. It was a reminder of the sacrifices that will need to be made in order to make change in the world and it was also a reminder that change needs to happen - we have come a long way since abolition and women's suffrage but we still have a long way to go.

Sue Monk Kidd, you did it again - you opened my mind and my heart. Please read this book! I promise  you will be enthralled by the characters and the story.


Books We Are Reading

First off... We have a winner! Congratulations Kelli! You are the winner of a copy of the book "Quiet" that we will be reading for our next online book club. Here is Kelli's winning entry:


We decided it's about time we write a joint post on what we've been reading lately.  I don't know about you guys, but Meaghan and I always have several books on the go and at least two more waiting in the wings.  This "habit" drives my husband nutty because I always have stacks of books on our bed's headboard and "it looks messy".  I think it looks AWESOME.

Here's a quick glance at what we've been reading as of late:

Karley's pile:reads

A Little House Traveller by Laura Ingalls Wilder: A gift from a good friend of mine who shares the Little House on the Prairie love.  This one is a day-by-day journal style account, written by Laura herself, about the Wilder's wagon covered move from South Dakota to Missouri.  If you like pioneer tales and some classic humour, I recommend this book!

Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James: Sadly, this book is fictional.  The author pretends to have discovered some long lost personal journals, written by Austen, and writes a memoir-like account of Austen's family life and love life.  A dreamy read...I'm on round two.

Quiet by Susan Cain: I received this one from my husband for Christmas and have yet to read it.  Thankfully this one is our new book club read!  Based on the title alone I am confident that this book will shed some light on the quieter, more introverted students in my class.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: Simply because one can never get enough Jane Austen.  That, and, I'm a hopeless romantic for the "olden days".

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I haven't read this one yet (I know, shocking!) I have this copy on loan from a friend and I started to read it and was, admittedly, weirded out by the style of narration.  I've had several people tell me, including my own mom, that because my most favourite genre is World War II history that I must read this book.  That will happen most likely this summer.

Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates & Katrina Kenison: I had to throw a yoga read in here because I take so much from my yoga texts.  This one is broken into small, daily chapters and includes a quote and a short story by the authors.  I often find myself digging through this continual read for applicable inspiration both on and off the mat.


Meaghan's pile:


Lost At School by Dr. Ross Greene: This is a book I'm currently borrowing from one of our past guest bloggers and it is amazing so far! I have been keep a stack of sticky notes nearby so that I can mark away as I read. It is a great mix of practical advice and research based insight that I'm finding fascinating.

Play by Stuart Brown: I haven't started this one yet but I am going to be reading it as part of a book club at school and I'm very excited about it! Play is also a topic of conversation quite often in our recreation/education household so it is very fitting.

Quiet by Susan Cain: Of course I will be reading this one soon for our book club! I've heard nothing but good things about it and I'm really excited to get started.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: I just bought this book with a gift certificate I had and I am so excited for it. I've heard really good things and Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favourite authors since I first read "The Secret Life of Bees."

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai: This book I received for Christmas but didn't start until about a month ago. It is just the most amazing story (I'm sure a lot of you have already heard it if not read it). I am feeling so inspired as I read it and its a good balance for me as a personal read with an education topic.


We want to know what you are reading! Leave us a comment here so we can have a great must read list for the summer.