Book Reviews

Book Review: Abigail the Whale

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I am always on the hunt for great books to add to my classroom library or to share with colleagues. In schools, we talk a lot about having a growth versus a fixed mindset. When you have a fixed mindset, you aren’t open to trying new things and may believe more in “I can’t” statements. When you have a growth mindset, however, you become more open-minded, embrace challenges and change those “I can’t” statements to “I can’t yet…” Books that help kids see the importance of having a growth mindset are valuable additions to any library.

Publisher’s Summary

Abigail dreads swimming lessons. Every time she dives into the pool, she makes a big splash, and all the girls in her class shout: “Abigail’s a whale!” Abigail can see that she is larger than the other girls. She feels huge, heavy, and out of place.

Abigail’s swimming teacher takes her aside and points out: we can change how we see ourselves. He offers a creative visualization technique she can use to feel bolder, more confident, and more accepting of herself. Abigail tries it out in challenging situations that week—walking home in the dark, eating her vegetables, trying to fall asleep. Illustrations in the book show her perspective morphing powerfully to match her new thought patterns.

Next time she’s in swimming class, instead of feeling heavy, Abigail thinks sardine, eel, barracuda, shark! She starts to figure out how to draw on mindfulness, creative thinking, resilience, and positive self-esteem to embrace exactly who she is. This picture book supports social/emotional learning and serves as a perfect jumping-off point for topics like bullying, empathy, confidence, and creative problem solving.


Abigail the Whale is a powerful book about mindset that you need to share with kids and adults alike! Follow Abigail on her journey towards a growth mindset. I love how the illustrations and text work seamlessly together to help the reader understand what Abigail thinking and how her positive attitude is helping her achieve her goal.

Classroom Connections

This text would be great for primary, junior or intermediate audiences. During your read aloud, the following questions could be used to support student comprehension and to get kids thinking within, beyond and about the text. The Fountas and Pinnell Prompting Guide 2 is a great tool to help develop rich questions.

Before Reading

What do you think this text might be about?

What makes you think that?

How do you think the girl on the front cover is feeling?

During Reading

How do the illustrations help you understand how Abigail is feeling?

What do you think the author meant when they wrote “She thought shining sun”? How would you feel?

After Reading

What did this text teach you about mind-set?

How can you use this mindfulness strategy to help you?

Happy reading!

Do you have any favourite mindset books you love sharing with kids?


Book Reviews

Top 10 Picture Books to Help Celebrate #Canada150

We are pretty excited over here to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday on the weekend! We have been gearing up all month long, complete with a recent weekend trip to Ottawa. Over the last few weeks, I have been reading books to kids of all ages to help build on the Canada 150 excitement in schools and home alike. Here are my top 10!



1. Good Morning Canada by Andrea Lynn Beck

My daughter is 14 months old and this is her go-to book. She drags this amazing and sturdy board book with her up and down the stairs, all along the hallway – everywhere her tiny feet will take her. A wonderful morning read that reminds us of the simple pleasure of saying “good morning” each day. This book showcases Canadian wildlife, sports, weather, food and even our beloved RCMP officers. This rhyming easy read is sure to hook even the youngest of readers.

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2. Canada in Colours by Per-Henrik Gurth

This bold and colourful picture book highlights amazing landscapes from Canada coast to coast. An awesome way for little ones to learn about colours and our nation at the same time!


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3. Canada 1, 2, 3 by Per-Henrik Gurth and Kim Bellefontaine

A beautifully coloured counting book for kids. As kids practice their counting skills, they learn about life in Canada and all it has to offer.


Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 8.03.01 PM.png4. Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland

Canadian author Nicholas Oldland is one of my favourites! In this book, he tells the story of a bear, a moose and a beaver – three friends who embark on an adventure. When their competitive nature gets the best of them, they decide that the journey together was even better than reaching the destination. A great book that talks about the importance of slowing down in life and enjoying the journey.

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5. Cloudwalker by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd

Stunningly illustrated, this book tells the story of what gave life to the sacred headwaters on British Columbia’s Northwest coast – the source of three of the province’s largest salmon-bearing rivers.

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6. Where are you Bear? by Frieda Wishinsky and Sean L. Moore

We are all about alphabet books these days. This alphabet adventure takes the reader to each province and territory in Canada. I LOVE the reference page at the front of the book that talks about what the illustrations depict in each province. A great book to visit again and again!


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7. Moose, Goose, Animals on the Loose! by Geraldo Valerio 

Seriously, this book gets a huge shout-out for having amazing wildlife exhibited throughout their book AND the added critical thinking for a child when they turn to the X and see exotic LynX and exuberant MuskoX listed as the animals. If you’re looking for an amazing vocabulary book – this is it!

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8. My Canada: An Illustrated Atlas by Katherine Dearlove and Lori Joy Smith 

Yes, an atlas made my list. This beautifully illustrated atlas of Canada is great for kids. Full of pictures of Canadian monuments, wildlife, landscape and more, this book is great to look at with kids over time as you explore Canada physically, virtually or in print.


Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 8.29.55 PM.png9. An Inuksuk Means Welcome by Mary Wallace

A beautiful picture book set up as an acrostic poem. The reader will learn seven words from the Inuktitut language whose first letters spell INUKSUK. Accompanied by defined textured paintings, this book is not to be missed.



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10. M is for Maple by Mike Ulmer and Melanie Rose

This rhyming alphabet book highlights Canadian history and landmarks, giving more details inside the margins in case you wanted to read a little bit more about the topic. A great book to read with all ages that will fill you with Canadian pride!


Which books have you been reading to get ready for Canada 150?





Book Reviews, Learning

Book Review: Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets

If you love picture books with amazing illustrations, you need to read Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets by Pei-Yu Chang. The artwork that accompanies this engaging historical fiction text is so original and inspirational, you’ll be wanting to create your own!



Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets is a story based on the real life events of Walter Benjamin, an author and philosopher from Germany. This story provides an account of Mr. Benjamin as he navigates his escape from Nazi Germany during World War II. When Mr. Benjamin decides to run away, his route is blocked by guards. The only way to escape comes with the help of Mrs. Fittko, an Austrian woman who fought in the Resistance against Hitler’s regime.  Mr. Benjamin is instructed by Mrs. Fittko to travel light so that they can pass unnoticed. The night they leave, Mr. Benjamin shows up with a large suitcase. What might be inside this suitcase and why would Mr. Benjamin risk his life to bring it?


With its amazing artwork and captivating title, Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets hooks readers right from the start. This is a great text to give kids a glimpse into Nazi Germany, and an opportunity to explore questions around freedom and why citizens would be fleeing their homes and cities during this time.

Classroom Connections

This text would be great for late junior/intermediate audiences. During your read aloud, the following questions could be used to support student comprehension and to get kids thinking within, beyond and about the text. The Fountas and Pinnell Prompting Guide 2 is a great tool to help develop rich questions.

Before Reading:

Display the cover of the book.

What do you think this story will be about?

What clues do the title and and illustrations provide?

During Reading:


How does this image make you feel? What do you notice about how the illustrator has drawn this image?  


What do you think might be in the suitcase? Why do you think that? 

How do you think Mr. Benjamin is feeling? What information in the book makes you think that? 

After Reading:

How did the author make the information interesting?

What part of the story is probably fact and what part is imagined? 

What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?

Happy reading!

Check out Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets and other great books here.

My Learning Journey

Documenting Student Discourse in Math

Getting our students to talk about math is important. It is so crucial that kids engage in math thinking collaboratively, so that they can have a chance to orally discuss strategies, concepts and understanding with their peers. Having opportunities to engage in discourse together will help strengthen student understanding which will help students as they transition to independent tasks.

Anthony & Walshaw state that:

“Effective teachers engage in classroom discourse by valuing students’ ideas, exploring students’ answers, incorporating students’ background knowledge, and encouraging student explicit communication about mathematical learnings.”

So, how do we get kids talking?

I have been offering a series of Lunch & Learns at my schools (a series of learning opportunities where educators can come together to eat and learn during lunch), one focussing on daily math routines. Taking 8-10 minutes everyday to have kids work through a quick math task/invitation can have an extremely promising effect on their math discourse. There are a variety of great routines that get kids talking (click here for the link to the article we used which lists and explains various routines).

As a result of a Lunch & Learn, a teacher I work with began using a new routine where she would place a picture on her SmartBoard and her students would look to find the math in the image. She found me later in the week and asked me to come in so I could listen to what her students were saying.

I need to say that I am pretty smitten with the process of pedagogical documentation. I find the entire process exciting and rewarding. It truly helps to understand kids and where they are at, as well as provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the learning and plan responsive next steps. So, when I went into this classroom, I came prepared to document some of the conversations that were taking place. Below is a collection of some of the conversation that I captured.

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I highlighted what the teacher said in pink. This way, when we reflected afterwards, it helped us to notice what questions she was asking and how much she intervened in the conversations.

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Together, the teacher and I sat down and discussed where to go next with student learning based on the conversations we heard.

How are you documenting student conversations in mathematics? Does it inform your instruction? 

Learning, My Learning Journey

Surface, Deep and Transfer: An example

There is an abundance of amazing (and not so amazing) math resources out there. A lot of times when I work with teachers, they voice that it can be overwhelming and sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start. This is totally true – so where do we begin?

I was in a Grade 8 classroom a few weeks ago and the teacher had done a great job of pulling resources from a few different sources to support her learners. Having just participated in an Adobe on Math Discourse (more about this in a future post), the teacher had welcomed me into her classroom to focus on this important component to a math program. As I was documenting student conversations and observations, I couldn’t help but notice how the teacher used a variety of resources in such an effective and engaging way.

I will preface this next portion with a bit of background knowledge. In our board, we have been doing some learning around rich instructional tasks and Hattie’s three phases of conceptual learning: surface, deep and transfer. The surface level learning is where students build an initial understanding of concepts, skills and vocabulary on a new topic. The deep level learning is that collaborative learning where students deepen their understanding of something by making conceptual connections between and among concepts and applying and practicing procedural skills. Transfer of learning happens quickly and is when a student can apply that conceptual understanding with minimal support to a new or parallel task, or future unit of study.

The following is an account of how one teacher went about structuring two math periods to help students conceptually understand how to calculate the area of a circle.

Surface Level Learning

To engage students in some surface level learning, the teacher had her students watch a YouTube video that discussed different vocabulary of circles. Next, students reviewed the understanding they had already built around the relationship between diameter, circumference and radius from previous classes. She then had the students complete these handouts from TIPS 4M to check for understanding.

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Deep Level Learning

Next, the teacher had her students engage in some deep level learning around how to calculate the area of a circle. The teacher used TIPS 4M again, this time having students work together to complete the task. After students completed the task, they talked as a whole, listening to each other and coming up with the formula for the area of a circle. After students felt comfortable with the WHY and HOW of the formula, she had them estimate the answer to a few problems on the board together. Students were asked to explain how they got their answer (why did you multiply by 3?). To solidify this understanding, the teacher then showed this YouTube video.

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The next day, students were asked to complete a multi-step word problem in pairs from their Nelson Math textbook.

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Transfer Level Learning

A unit test will be given to see if students can transfer their new learning independently.

A great balance of using technology, collaborative tasks and print resources to engage students in rich learning!


Early Years, My Learning Journey


What a great month! October brought for me my first round of PLCs at all my schools. All schools are different and it is amazing to be part of three different learning communities.

At one of my schools, our PLC consisted of professional conversations around our kids. We looked at evidence of learning to get an idea of our students’ strengths and next steps. For most of our students, teachers felt there was enough evidence to confidently place those students on an RTI triangle (for math and language). After this happened, teachers opened up and had great conversations about the students in their class. We were a group of 7, which worked out beautifully (including admin). Teachers shared what they were doing in their classrooms, the high expectations they have set for their kids and talked about student strengths and needs. It had a cozy feeling to it. As a whole, we all gave input when asked about how to support some mystery students. We came up with ideas for our own professional learning to support the gaps we felt we had as educators.

After this round of PLCs, one thing stood out: the evidence of learning from almost all classroom teachers that was brought forward was all product based. The exception to this was solely in Kindergarten. I will support teacher in helping to gather meaningful evidence of learning through conversations and observations when I am in classrooms.


We share: (we share everything)

Last week I was BUSY. As I continue to learn how to balance work with being a new mother (what is sleep?), I am so thankful that I am surrounded by a wealth of knowledge amongst my colleagues and friends. Last year I focussed mainly in supporting primary classes and was one of two ILs at both schools I was assigned to. This year, however, is a totally different story. I am K-8 support, shared at 3 schools and I no longer have the luxury of working in the same building with others in my role. I was overwhelmed! How was I going to be a support for concepts I found challenging to teach when I was in the classroom? My first meeting of the year? With a 7/8 teacher about fractions. I had a minor breakdown.

But, wait! Our department has built such a strong connection between each other that I was instantly emailing and calling my colleagues. They of course reached out and offered up a few resources that helped me to get started. Once I knew (remembered) where to look, I was able to clearly tease out information that would help to support this teacher and her students. In fact, I was so amazed at the reading and learning I was doing with fractions, I eagerly set up another meeting with this teacher. We drank tea and watched an Adobe learning session to further help us understand how to teach fractions. We are excited to move forward and track her students’ learning!