International Dot Day


Today is International Dot Day. It is based on the story The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds. In this book, an art teacher inspires a reluctant art student by telling her to just place a dot on her blank piece of paper. The student then creates complex and wonderful dots on many different papers, and shares her confidence in “making her mark” with another reluctant artist. The theme running through the story is to allow people to express their creativity in order to gain assurance and confidence. Just as the student, Vashti, made her mark, so must we have the self-esteem and courage to make our mark on the world and express ourselves. In thinking about it, I am pretty lucky. Just by teaching, I am leaving my mark. Through creativity and collaboration with others I am attempting to help students become the best people they can be. If I was in the classroom this September, I would be trying to tie International Dot Day into a lesson on self-esteem and creative expression. However, I’m not back at school just yet, so I thought I would complete a little art project with my son. After all, I want him to have confidence in his abilities as he learns and grows.



The red dots are his fingerprints, and the green and blue dots are mine and my husband’s. It’s kind of my way of saying that we’re all in this together, and as a family we can all help each other gain what we need to “leave our mark” however we choose.

Old Challenge Complete, Newbery Challenge Beginning


This summer I tried the reading one book a day challenge, just to see if I could, and it turns out I can. Sixty-two books were read over July and August. The best part was that some of this number were children’s books that I read with my son. He’s obviously too young to understand what I was reading, but the cuddling as we flipped through the pages together provided some great memories. Here are a few of my summer favourites:


The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Can Ivan, a gorilla who since childhood has been in a small zoo at an arcade, honour his friend’s last wish and help a baby elephant named Ruby to freedom? The 2013 Newbery Honor Award winning book is easy to read, poignant, and memorable.


Hold Fast, by Blue Balliett

Early’s father has disappeared, and now Early, her mother, and younger brother are forced to leave their home and live in a shelter. The problem of how to save Early’s father will keep you reading, but I particularly liked this book because of the honest and sometimes heartbreaking portrayal of shelter families.

The Franny K. Stein series, by Jim Benton

The Stein family home is quite normal, except for a small room in the attic. It is here where Franny K. Stein, genius mad scientist, conducts her brilliant experiments. I have read five books in this series so far, and have been greatly amused by Franny’s thinking as she attempts to solve typical friend and school problems with her ingenious devices. This series would be great for Grades 2 – 4.


Tsunami!, by Kimiko Kajikawa

The story is simple enough, as an old, respected farmer living high on a hill attempts to warn his small village about an impending tsunami. But what really made this book for me are the illustrations. Ripped paper in a variety of textures creates gorgeous and dynamic pictures, plus a brainstorm for me about creating art for the classroom.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I had somehow missed reading this book during school, and I am so glad I gave myself a chance now. This novel is so brilliantly written that I went from thinking “Oh, maybe Jonas’ society isn’t so bad” to “OK, that doesn’t seem right” to “Oh no! Oh God, No! What are you doing?” in the time it takes to read approximately 150 pages. The only downside is I’ll now have to find time to read the rest of the books in the series.


Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz

If you teach the Middle Ages, just make this book part of your library. As a history major and a general history buff, I loved how Schlitz made the characters in her short plays relatable and endearing while still providing so much information about the time period.


I have now given myself a new reading goal, with no deadline. I am attempting to read all of the Newbery Award and Honor books. I have procured a list, and have scanned it to cross off any of the novels that I have already read. Some of the novels, like Ramona Quimby, Age 8, I think I will have to read again because I cannot remember the plot. Others, like A Wrinkle in Time, I may have to re-read to see if I like it any better the second time around. I’ll also have to overcome the challenge of finding all these books, in particular the novels from the 1920‘s. However, so far this challenge has been rather enlightening. By choosing to read books based on this one criteria, I have been exposed to a variety of plots, characters, and experiences. I have also noticed that many of the award winners are realistic fiction, which is a genre that I don’t naturally pick up, so I feel rewarded in that I have more books to recommend when asked what students should be reading. I am hoping to post updates about my progress, or, if you wish, simply go to my goodreads account to see my recent reading accomplishments. Also, if you like charts, learn more about the Newbery Award.

It’s So Much Work, But That’s Why We’re Here



Have you ever been reading a book about helping children, and as you go along you start to have the sinking feeling that the book’s advice is something you should already be doing in the classroom? I had that feeling recently as I was reading It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success, by Richard Lavoie. In his book, Lavoie examines a variety of learning disabilities that students experience, and how these difficulties can negatively impact students’ lives outside the classroom. He states that while many schools and teachers focus on academic assistance for these kids, most children are far more concerned with their social status and how their learning issues can isolate them from their peers. I admit that I have been one of those educators who was primarily concerned with helping students with learning disabilities reach their academic potential. I think I assumed that if these students felt more confident in the classroom, their self-esteem would enable them to be more capable in social situations. If they did need assistance finding friends or navigating the rough waters of middle school, I would help them in the same way I would help any other student in my classroom. However, Lavoie has helped me to see that students with learning disabilities have unique needs, and that my assistance for their social difficulties needs to be specific. For example, if a student has trouble picking up on social cues, tone of voice, or body language, he can have great difficulty understanding why his peers might be frustrated with him. I can help by spending one-on-one time reviewing a particular situation and leading him towards insight as to why the friend is irritated. I can then give him a similar hypothetical situation to see if his gets the point, and ask him to behave differently if a similar issue arises throughout the week, as well as schedule a follow-up meeting to see if he followed through on our conversation. I can also help him to discover the “hidden curriculum” in school, where he will learn the rules of the school that the students create, such as which doors he needs to enter after lunch and how students typically wait at the canteen. Lavoie offers practical advice to both parents and teachers who see a child suffering through social issues but are unsure of how to help. I know that when I go back to school I will try to implement some of these ideas. It is important to make all students feel comfortable in the classroom, and in middle school that means teaching them the social skills that they will need to feel comfortable and confident in the eyes of their peers.

7 Great Reads for Canada Day


It’s Canada’s 146th birthday today, and in celebration, I thought I’d write a quick list of my favourite Canadian books. This list is in no way exhaustive and is in no particular order, but is more of a compilation of titles and authors that come to mind.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Of course this book must be included. The classic tale of orphaned Anne going through all the trials and tribulations of life in an idyllic Prince Edward Island setting. I remember liking how much Anne worked to make life as she wanted it to be, even with her many setbacks. It’s no wonder that this book has stood the test of time.


Shattered, by Eric Walters

This is such a powerful book about how those who have never been on the front lines can be affected by wartime atrocities and must ask what they can do to help. Walters has a frank writing style that makes you feel as if you are the main character, listening to Jacques describe his time as a member of the Armed Forces in Rwanda. This is a novel that would elicit meaningful and complex discussions in a middle or high school Social Studies.

Growing Pains: An Autobiography, by Emily Carr

Yes, I know she’s probably more famous as a painter, but when she could no longer trek out to the wilderness to paint her larger than life creations she wrote about her lifetime of experiences. Emily wrote several books, but her autobiography has always been my favourite. It’s a wonderful memoir of a woman who was so unsure about so many aspects in her life, and the one thing that kept her moving and forced her to make life decisions was that she wanted and needed to make art. It seems only fitting that the most written about Canadian artist should be able to have her own say.

Shhh! Canadian Scientists and Inventors Rule, by Diana Crutchley

From acetylene to zipper, learn all about uniquely Canadian inventions in this science ABC book. I have been to two of Diana Crutchley’s literacy workshops, and have come away from both with fun and informative ideas to try in the classroom. This book fits in with my impressions of the workshops. It’s a quick and enjoyable read, and is a worthwhile purchase for a middle school classroom.

Terry, by Douglas Coupland

I’ll admit it, throughout most of my childhood I knew Terry Fox was brave and determined, but I just didn’t get all the emotion that surrounded his run. Terry passed away when I was one month old, so I wasn’t one of the Canadians glued to the screen as he made his historic run, or donating money at the impromptu telethon once the run abruptly stopped. But this book by Coupland made me get it. The pictures interspersed throughout Terry’s story made me understand just how monumental Terry’s undertaking was, and how his efforts should not be forgotten. Now I use this book every year right before the Terry Fox Run, so my students will be able to get it too.

The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

For me this book was always an introduction for students about how other children were forced into terrible situations that they must overcome. Every time I read this book I become struck at how Parvana wants her old life back, but is slowly coming to terms with how this is now the way life must be in Afghanistan. This is another book that would provoke complex and thoughtful discussion in class. Of course, after you read The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey and Mud City must come next to you can complete the entire trilogy.

The Secret of Grim Hill, by Linda DeMeulemeester

When you have a class read-aloud that the students refuse to have you put down, you are going to appreciate the book. There is nothing more Cat wants to do than go to the Grimoire private school in her new town, and when she learns that the champions of a soccer match will be given the opportunity to enroll she just has to win the game. However, something supernatural is happening in Grim Hill, and Cat’s soccer victory could be her undoing. This is the first of five books, with a sixth promised soon, and my only complaint is that the sixth is taking so long to be published.

Happy reading, and happy Canada Day!

There, I Read All of Harry Potter



And … done. All seven Harry Potter books have been read. They were actually finished two months ago, and my response to them has been turning itself around in my mind for some time. However, I find that I have not been able to come up with any eloquent or profound observations, so here is my basic review:

I get it now. The books are good, and would sometimes even be considered great. J.K. Rowling was able to create an interesting and suspenseful plot, likeable characters, and intriguing meanings and symbolism. There were moments when I was deeply engrossed with the wizarding world, moments when I chuckled out loud, and moments where I actually felt a little frightened. (I would say reading the books late at night contributed to my being a little scared. Reading about Voldemort coming back while sitting in a dark nursery with my sleeping son at 1:00am and using a flashlight to help me read was not one of my smarter moments). I would think about the books when I wasn’t reading them, which to me is one of the criteria for a great series. I am pleased that I now get all of the Harry Potter jokes and memes that present themselves to me as I explore the Internet. I will say that there are probably other books out there that can rival the Harry Potter series in terms of plot, creativity, and adolescent interest. There were points where I was comparing Harry Potter to Percy Jackson, and then thinking that it was an unfair comparison because the Olympians books were published much later.

Overall, I can understand why people migrated towards these books and accepted them as their own, and why the series did such a great job at helping to re-establish the fantasy genre. My only word of caution is to not assume that the Harry Potter series is the epitome of young adult fiction, as some people seem to believe it is. Although it remains to be seen if any other series can reach the heights of Harry Potter, there are certainly going to be future books that will give it a try, and a few may succeed.

All I can say is, Grover better be in that wedding dress …



I recently saw the Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters trailer online, and so far: OK. They finally have the demi-gods fighting the true villain of the books, Kronos, instead of foiling a plot of Hades. For those of you who don’t see why that is significant, imagine that in the Harry Potter movies they decided to make Snape the real villain instead of Voldemort, and then see how mad you get. Annabeth is now blond instead of brunette, they’ve included Clarisse, Tyson looks like he could very well be a naive cyclops, and Nathan Fillion is Hermes. I mean, if Fillion, the one and only Mal and Captain Hammer has attached himself to the project, it can’t be that bad, can it? But I’m afraid I’ll have to reserve judgement until I see the movie, as I was burned by the first one so badly. Being in a theatre with approximately 200 seventh graders experiencing their first bout of nerd rage at the destruction of their beloved book’s plot will do that to you. But for those online who have immediately criticized the trailer for not sticking completely to the plot, I say relax for a moment. They may have to fix what went wrong in the first movie, and the transition from adored book series to film can be hard. I’m hoping to see a movie that is not strictly sticking to the book’s plot, but that maintains the humour and sarcasm that would naturally accompany teenagers with godly powers trying to complete heroic quests in the contemporary United States. But at some point, Percy and Annabeth have to rescue Grover from the lovesick Cyclops, and Grover has to be in a wedding dress when they do so. Because, come on, that’s just good theatre.

If It’s Not Bullying, What Is It?



Now, don’t misunderstand me: Bullying is a real issue that needs to be addressed by parents, teachers, and students alike. However, sometimes I get the feeling that the word “bullying” is being used as an umbrella word to describe any kind of hurt that one kid experiences from another kid.  Allow me to provide an example:

Student (emerging from gym changeroom): Ms. A., Johnny is bullying me!

Me: What happened?

Student: He was throwing his deodorant and it hit me!

Me: Did he mean to hit you?

Student: No, he was playing catch with someone else.

Me: So how exactly were you being bullied?

Students: It hit me and I hurt!

Now, obviously the deodorant thrower would be spoken to about careless play in the changeroom, and would be asked to apologize to the person he accidentally hit.  But this isn’t bullying. I find that children in middle school develop a very clear sense of justice, in that if they feel they are wronged consequences must be taken, either by an authority figure or by themselves. In the above example, the student felt that being hurt equalled bullying, and the teacher needed to met out some justice to make him feel better and to make things fair.

I also find this sense of justice quite relevant when I have dealt with or witnessed in person or online disputes. Student A does something that hurt Student B, either emotionally or physically.  Student B feels retaliation is necessary to make things fair. The retaliation goes back and forth between the students (and often their friends) until Student A feels that she is sufficiently hurt enough to tell a teacher. She calls it bullying, but if teachers begin to research the incident, they find that Student A and Student B are both the bullies and the victims in this little scenario.  Therefore, while a student should never be ignored if they say they are being bullied, there are some questions to be asked and ideas to try before everyone panics:

1. Thoroughly talk to the student who says they are being bullied. Get the entire story. A question that I have often found useful when trying to determine what actually happened is: “If Student B was standing here right now, what would she say about the facts you are giving me?”

2. Improve the students’ vocabulary. Give the proper definition of bullying. Teach them to be able to explain their frustrations and be able to describe exactly why they are hurting or feeling bad.

3. Remind the students that their actions have consequences. If they are engaging in an online argument where both sides are being nasty, they are not going to come out of the battle completely innocent. Give real words for the types of hurtful actions they might be engaged in. For example, if they are writing rude, untrue facts about a person online and making it public, call it libel and state what would happen if they were accused of this as an adult in the community, instead of a student within the protective barriers of school.

4. Try to teach social skills to the students who need it. Admittedly, this can be very hard. I have found that students will give every child a chance to talk and be friendly to them.  But notice I said chance, not chances. If a student with poor social skills is rude to them once, they will usually not try again. If the child who usually gets bullied improves their social skills, they can often find others who will hang out with them and make them feel part of a social group and less prone to bullying.

5. A wiser teacher than myself once told me to say this to parents: “Let’s make a deal. If you believe half of everything your child tells you about school, I will believe half of everything your child tells me about home.” With all of the bullying stories in the media, it is very easy to want to protect your child from the harm that you have seen others experience. However, if you try to get the entire story from your child and discuss how the problem could be solved, you may not have to rush to the school for a meeting. If your brainstorming sessions with your child have not yielded a solution, then by all means meet with the teacher or principal to try and solve the problem.

We all want to protect kids from the hurtful bullying that we have witnessed, and may have even experienced ourselves. However, if we take a step back, meet the students where their current mindset is, and talk through the situation and the solutions, we may be able to offer long-term help that will benefit kids into adulthood.

11 Parenting Facts from the Past Four Months


Talk about being a lifelong learner.  As I go through each day exploring with my son and learning from my mistakes, I think about the revelations that I have arrived at over the weeks.  The list is certainly adaptable, but here are a few that immediately come to mind …

1. The new grandparents, who used to enter your house and ask how you were, now start a conversation with the query “Where is he?”

2. You never before knew how relieved you will feel when your baby lets out an enormous burp or fart.

3. You unconsciously praise stranger’s babies when they burp or fart.

4. You long for just one adult conversation per day.

5. You have no problem switching from normal adult conversation to baby talk in the presence of your child.

6. You think that Apple should advertise the fact that iphones can take direct hits of milk and spit-up and still be fully functional.

7. You are constantly teaching yourself to complete many tasks one-handed.

8. You realize that you can actually be very efficient when the baby is down for a nap and you have T-minus 20 minutes to get something accomplished.

9. You don’t mind looking like a fool in public, as long as it calms the baby.

10. You will dredge up lyrics from every song that you have ever memorized in the hopes that this next one may calm the crying baby.

11. You will never be so exasperated and so completely in love with the same person at the exact same time.

Harry Who?


“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”  -Robert Frost

Life changes, and so do my plans for this blog. If you would like to know about my new goals, check out the revamped About page.




I have a shameful confession to make. I, Sara, a 10 year teaching veteran of middle school, has never read Harry Potter.  I know, it’s shocking, but I do have my reasons.  The books became popular when I was still in university, and while I was interested in the mania at the time I was too busy critiquing The West Beyond the West for my History 105 class to read for pleasure.  Then, when I had the time to read young adult novels, I chose to pick up books that weren’t popular or well-known.  After all, Harry Potter seemed to be so loved by the masses that I wouldn’t have to encourage kids to read it, and I wanted some less popular books under my belt that I could recommend to kids. In a small way I also liked the shock on students’ faces when I admitted my dark secret.  They always proclaimed that I was missing out on something important, and several even volunteered to loan me their book sets so I could find out what I was missing.  However, with the little free time that I have while my son is napping, I have decided that the time has come to pick up the books and immerse myself in the world of Hogwarts.  Maybe now I can find out what made the books so appealing in the first place, as well as finally understand the Harry Potter memes that keep bouncing around Pinterest.  After the seven books are read, I will be sure to give you a review.

Planning is Crucial and Unnecessary


My husband told me something this week: “Plans are useless.  Planning is essential”.  He says it’s a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he also read it off the Internet, and you know what Abraham Lincoln says about Internet quotes:

But he’s right, and this holds true in the classroom.  You plan by thinking about pedagogy, your students’ learning abilities and personalities, and your own personal teaching philosophy.  You plan your lesson and unit plans using learning goals and outcomes, teaching strategies, and assessments.  Anyone who has walked into a classroom as a substitute teacher, or thought that they could teach a lesson well without writing anything in their day book, must know that planning is necessary.  However, sometimes the students aren’t at the point where they are ready to hear what you want to teach, and you have to quickly adapt and meet them at their level of knowledge.  Or the students are preoccupied with another school event or problem, and will have trouble focusing on your lesson. Or there’s an unexpected fire drill, or an unscheduled assembly, or a scheduled assembly that you’ve forgotten about, or your principal needs to speak to you, or there’s a parent on the phone, or your teaching partner’s lesson has run long.  At this point all the plans might have to be revised or simply thrown out the window.  Every teacher must also get used to this lesson flexibility throughout the course of his or her teaching day.  These contradictory statements hold truth not just in teaching, but in many aspects of life.  Whether or not it was actually stated by Eisenhower, it’s a good quotation to remember.