Who Are You? What Shapes Your Identity?

Throughout the school year I love to post what we are unpacking in our classes here at Oak Bay High School.  Being a full-time English teacher (this year my timetable consists of English 12, English 11 and Creative Writing) I am actually living in the inquiry pool that I outline in Dive into Inquiry.  We are following the processes outlined in the book and using structures such as the Four Pillars of Inquiry, the Inquiry Process, and the Free Inquiry Proposal that are in Dive into Inquiry.

Our current unit of study, a structured inquiry unit, focuses on the essential questions Who are you?  What shapes your identity?  

In rolling out this essential question I presented students with a number of provocations to get their wonderings and understandings out publicly and to help drive my instruction and their shape role in the unit.

I first shared with them the below slide to set the shape of our unit.  I outlined that we will be looking at identity in many contexts and understandings to help deepen and enrich each of our perspectives on the factors that shape who we are.  We’ll be grappling with many readings, resources, images and art, as well as speakers and other multimedia provocations.  Each of these will at times challenge our perspective, reaffirm our beliefs, and perhaps steer us in a new direction and understanding.

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We then spent time in small groups of 3 (the magic number of optimal collaboration) contributing our ideas on what actually shapes our identity to a digital pin-board using Answer Garden.  We discussed ideas around each perspective and students spoke to their opinions and prior knowledge.  Have a look at the images below!

I then shared the below provocations in order to see what they noticed, what they wondered and what they knew about each.  This was a great activity as it solidified how we, as a community of learners, will have our voice heard in the course and that this will guide my instruction and their role in their learning.


We settled on the below image and followed the same notice, wonder, know process.  The conversation was powerful.  We discussed the why behind the before and after of each pairing, the factors that students knew contributed to this change, and highlighted some big ideas and conceptual understandings that will be the backbone of our unit.  Beyond identity words that surfaced included assimilation, discrimination, segregation, racism and residential school.

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As you can see the provocations slowly, step by step, began to narrow our focus on one lens on identity: aboriginal people.  We will now spend a few weeks deepening our understanding on this aspect of identity.  Students have a few novels to select from: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Three Day Road, or Indian Horse.  We are also looking at the life and death of Chanie Wenjack as well as a few other pieces that I’m certain will resonate with students.

We will then shift our focus on identity to other lenses such as gender and identity, politics and identity, and art and identity.  In this structured unit we are not tied to a single text or resource.  Rather we are connected to an overarching essential question and interact with a broad range of readings and artifacts that deepen our understanding of the essential question.

I’ll keep you all posted as this structured unit unfolds.  Feel free to leave a comment for my learners (or me!) below.



Listen to Sarah wax on being creative. Consider the depth to what she shares.  Think on her talents demonstrated throughout her video. Focus on her honest voice, her candid reflection, and her rich metacognitive discourse.

Now get this.  She’s 15 years old.

Back in the day what were you doing when you were 15?  What are most of your students doing right now?  And most importantly, how can we empower and support more of our students in our classes to do what Sarah is doing?

Great food for thought, no?

Make your Monday meaningful y’all.

Guest Blog by Meaghan & Karley!

I was thrilled when two colleagues in my own district were willing to read and review Dive into Inquiry this past year.  Although the giveaway is long ago over their feedback and analysis of the book’s offerings is extremely helpful.  Have a read below and give them a follow on their online spaces.  Thanks friends!

“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 (2016). 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!”

*editor’s note: the contest is closed

The Inquiry Process

Trevor MacKenzie

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I love this visual.  When adopting an inquiry mindset it’s important for educators to grasp that although we are giving agency over learning to our students, we must help them be successful in their new roles in the inquiry classroom.

We need to model how questions lead to learning.

We need to be explicit in our teaching of the structures we will use to be successful in our inquiry.

We need to share assessment and have students take the reins of metacognitive reflection.

One strength of Dive into Inquiry is found in the graphics throughout the book.  The power of an image to help create understanding and inspire change cannot be understated.  These graphics can be used as teaching tools to help strengthen the inquiry process.  In my classroom these are on display on our walls, students have copies of them in their binders and on their blogs, and we…

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Interview with an Amazing Teenager

I love sharing stories of amazing teenagers, kids who shed light on the oft missed talents and dreams our students possess.  I love hearing the kind of stories that scratch at the surface of what it means to be a teacher to reveal that perhaps, just a little, we may be missing something.

Cue Jaime.

As a 14 year old grade 9 student Jaime had a curiosity, a question she wanted an answer to, and this seemingly simple and small query has turned into something special, collaborating on a book with YA novelist Eric Walters on the highly anticipated release of 90 Days of Different.

90 Days

How did this all come about?

I had the pleasure to interview Jaime as she gears up for the book’s release and her return to high school for her grade 11 year.  Have a read and leave your comments for us below.

What is your name, your age and where do you live?

Jaime, I just turned 16, and I live in Toronto.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I go to high school in Toronto. I have a French bulldog named Ruby. I love playing sports; especially volleyball and snowboarding. I play the violin in strings class and the orchestra at my school. My favourite subjects are English, History, and Gym. Most of my spare time is filled up by reading and hanging out with my friends.

So I understand you had the opportunity to work with Eric Walters on a book. Have you always liked books, reading and writing?

I was kind of a late bloomer with respect to reading and writing. I didn’t start reading until Grade 4. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read, it’s just that I didn’t enjoy it. Even though my house was full of books, my parents read all the time and they took me to the library and Chapters every Sunday hoping I’d find something that piqued my curiously, I never found a book that interested me.

When I got to Grade 4 everything changed. The first book I actually enjoyed and wanted read past the third chapter was a novel called The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau. I liked the storyline because it had lots of small sub stories along with the main plot. The writing was so deep and detailed. I also liked how each character had interesting and unique traits that made them interesting to read about. From then on I became hooked on reading.

Next came writing. In Grade 5 I had the opportunity to provide feedback to a draft novel called Catboy written by Eric Walters as part of the TDSB’s Author-in-Residence Program. I helped with small things like correcting some facts and letting Eric know I thought there should be a girl protagonist in the story. Eventually with my feedback around character development, he created a female character named Jaime and we wrote her into the novel. These two experiences changed my perception of reading, writing and literature.


And today?

Today I consider myself as a pretty voracious reader and writer. I read constantly and I try to write whenever I find the time or a new idea pops into my mind. I love expanding my knowledge of literature. The past two summers I’ve worked at an amazing library as a summer student. I’m responsible for assisting all ages of library patrons with paper and digital resource selection, organizing the library resources database, providing customer service and helping run the children’s program. It’s been really interesting because I’ve gained an understanding of the many different genres of literature for children, youth and adults by working closely with all ages of library patrons. I gained a better understanding of what engages people in multi-media literacy. Everyone is inspired by something different when it comes to literacy, and writers choose to use different settings, moods, characters and writing styles to convey different messages. I learned that literacy is complex and very personal—yet it is so important to success in life.

What types of books do you like to read and why?

I typically enjoy reading books that have a captivating plot and maybe a couple sub plots intertwined into it to make it a more interesting read. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, I usually read books that address current real world issues or past events. I enjoy being taken into a whole new world and experiencing it through someone else’s perspective and I love having that feeling of not wanting to put a book down and being in suspense of what’s next.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books on the Holocaust or books that tell a story about the life of someone who lives in the past or far into the future.

Some of my favourite books are An Ember in The Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir. Scythe, by Neal Shusterman. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.


So lets talk about your project. First, what is the book about?

The book is a YA novel targeted for a tween audience called 90 Days of Different. It’s a coming of age story about an 18-year-old girl named Sophie—she’s the protagonist who is fairly reserved and responsible, for a reason I won’t spoil—and the adventures that her best friend Ella coordinates for her so that she can try new things, come out of her shell and discover who she actually is. Each of the adventures is called a “different” and the differents occur over a span of 90 days during the summer. That’s why the book is called 90 Days of Different.

How did this whole project with Eric Walters come about?

It all came about because I was curious. I was reading a really great book one day, and I just wondered how does a book goes from an idea in an author’s head and end up on the shelf in a store or the library?

Back then, I really had no idea but every time I picked up a book, the question kept lurking. I looked online to see what I could find and learned the process is complicated. So I decided if I wanted to explore the process to really understand it, I needed to ask a real author.

So what did you do?

First I talked to my Mom. But by the time I did, my idea had evolved. I didn’t just want to ask an author my question anymore; I wanted to explore how I could become a better writer by actually working and learning alongside an author through the whole writing process. I also identified a whole list of specific new skills and knowledge that I wanted to learn more about.

My Mom wasn’t surprised because she knows I love writing, reading and multi-media. She told me that if I really wanted to do this then I needed to take responsibility for writing a proposal, as this is how the world works. Why do I want to do this? What do I want to learn? What skills do I want to gain? She also told me I had to take responsibility for finding a Canadian author to work with.

So I wrote a proposal to clarify exactly what I wanted to learn, why I wanted to learn it and how I wanted to learn it, and because I had worked with Eric Walters on Catboy, I sent it to him. This was in Spring 2016 but my Mom gave me the wrong email, so he didn’t get my proposal until July. I wasn’t sure what he’d think or if he’d remember me, but he wrote back and said he did. He said the proposal was intriguing and he needed to think about it for a few days.

When Eric got back and said yes, I was ecstatic. He identified a book he was just starting to think about that he thought would be the perfect match and i had a teacher assigned to my project. However, what unfolded over the next year and a half was much more than my initial project proposal suggested.


Can you describe what took place?

Eric sent me an early draft of his manuscript in Fall 2016.

First part of the journey: My first job was to read manuscripts and provide feedback. He was very clear he didn’t want fluffy feedback; he wanted authentic feedback that included the good, the bad and the ugly. So I read manuscripts, chapter by chapter, and in December 2016, I provided Eric a 22 page critical analysis that included:

  • An overview of my perceptions of the draft manuscript
  • A chapter-by-chapter analysis identifying what I liked about the plot, where there were challenges in the storyline, the character development and the pacing of the novel, and what I found unrealistic and would take out.
  • A list of facts that were wrong and the correct information
  • A list of things that needed to be edited and the corrections
  • A list of ideas, or concepts, for chapters I thought would be interesting to add to the novel

Second part of the journey: While Eric was taking my feedback and writing subsequent drafts of the manuscript, my second job was focused around the role of social media in the novel. Eric asked me to identify what social media may be pertinent to each chapter from a teenager’s perspective and how the concepts and role of social media in the novel could be portrayed. I sent my analysis and thoughts to Eric in January 2017, and this is when our totally new creative idea came into play.

Third part of the journey: In early February 2017, Eric and I met with the President and staff from Orca in a business meeting to pitch our idea. As the novel includes a reoccurring theme about how teens use social media today, we wanted to have a visually compelling and engaging online component to accompany the novel that included tweets, Instagram posts and blogs written from Sophie’s perspective (the protagonist). They agreed. So while Eric wrote another draft of the manuscript, it was my role to take on Sophie’s character and lead the design, development and content creation for the social media strategy for the novel.

Fourth part of the journey: To manage this stage, I needed to learn about project management, which I did through school. Over the next seven months, I was responsible for:

  • Creating a project management plan to outline my work which had to be approved by Eric and Orca
  • Taking over 200 pictures and videos that depicted Sophie’s journey through of all the differents in the draft manuscript
  • Determining which medium the digital assets could best be positioned (e.g. on twitter, Instagram or as a blog)
  • Writing all the captions for Twitter and Instagram
  • Writing the online blogs in the voice and character of Sophie

Throughout the whole journey: I worked with Eric, Orca and my teacher face-to-face, on the phone and using digital tools such Dropbox, Skype, email and text. My work wasn’t limited to the school day because I had to keep pace with Eric and Orca’s timelines. Sometimes Eric was touring across Canada and the US and Orca is in British Columbia, a three-hour time zone away, so we used a wide range of technology to communicate, at all hours, seven days a week.

From the very first part of the whole journey, not only was I included in the meetings about the writing process, the marketing strategy, and timelines for the book, but Eric, Andrew, Kennedy and Leslie actually included me in the problem-solving and decision-making that was needed through every step of bringing the book from manuscript to publication.

Once the book was in its final draft manuscript, I also learned about the process of choosing a cover for the book, what an ARC was, how the ARC process unfolds, and how a book moves through the publishing process to the store or library shelf. I learned about the delicate balance of the roles, responsibilities and the relationship between authors, editors and publishers.

I kept a portfolio of artifacts of my work as they evolved as evidence of my learning for everyone to access. I also wrote a journal to capture my questions, collect my wonderings, reflect upon my thinking, and to share the processes and particular pieces of the writing and the creative products I was developing. 

Tell me more about the writing process.

This was the best part of the project for me. While I helped Eric with his novel as I outlined, the 10 online blogs were the pieces of writing that I was given the opportunity to write by myself. It was a very humbling experience and an interesting process because once I identified the topics, I had to combine two critical skills.

First, I had to research the topics I was writing about to set the context of my writing in a realistic way. To gain more knowledge about the details and mechanics of certain scenes, for example axe-throwing and walking the Edgewalk, I researched online, I watched YouTube videos, and I reached out and interviewed experts or people I knew to collect their perspectives and experiences. Research lays an authentic foundation for what you are writing, even if it is a fiction novel.

Once I understood the experience, I had get inside Sophie’s character and write about the experience from her perspective and voice. This was hard to do because Sophie’s voice and character are very different from mine. But that’s what a writer does. They write from the perspective and voice of a character. I remember when I sent Eric my very first draft of my first blog, I had clearly not done well. His feedback was kind yet long and direct. It was one of the best learning sessions we had because he taught me the strategies I could use to write from someone else’s perspective. I wrote that very first blog about ten times again before I got it to a point where I felt it was better. I was constantly assessing and critiquing my own work, draft after draft. As the months went on, and as I wrote about the additional topics, Eric’s feedback focused on different things that could improve my writing even more. He is an amazing mentor. By the eighth blog topic, and for the first time ever, Eric’s feedback was one sentence. ”Well done. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s good to go!”

I learned a lot through this intensive writing process. First, authors write many, many drafts before they get to a point where their writing is good. Second, feedback is essential. It’s not to criticize, it’s to expand our skills and our craft as writers and to make us think. Feedback actually makes us better writers. Third, writing is a long, long journey and you have to be persistent and resilient. Fourth, writing is a collaborative process. No one does it alone. Accessing experts, consultants, research, friends and editors is essential to the writing process. Editors make us better writers. Lastly, no one is born a good writer, good writing only evolves through practice.

Describe your writing process. Where and when did you write? How long were your sessions? Pen and paper or laptop and googledocs? Music or silence? Coffee or tea?  

I can’t say I’ve established a specific writing process yet. My usual writing process is sitting somewhere by myself in silence. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing with a pen and paper or typing on Word, I like to spend a good hour or two getting my ideas to sound as good as they do in my head onto the paper. When writing the blog posts for 90 Days of Different it was basically the same; I sat down by myself in silence with only my laptop and my thoughts… and I definitely prefer tea.

What has been the most challenging part of this whole process?

I think the most challenging part of the process was to write a voice from a character that wasn’t solely my own. I found it difficult at first to get into Sophie’s shoes and express her thought and feelings. I had trouble trying to perfect Sophie’s voice in the way Eric wanted her to sound and to match his writing style.

As the online writing for 90 Days is my own, choosing settings, creative and engaging plots, appropriate tone, realistic character development, and then adding in point of view, mechanics and writing conventions like correct spelling and grammar was also a fun challenge. I definitely improved as I wrote more blogs (drafts and drafts!) and got the feel of how they should be written. Eventually it became natural and after a while it was kind of like Sophie was one of my own characters. 

What has been the most rewarding part of this whole process?  

The most rewarding part of the whole process was seeing the blog posts I wrote posted online and getting that feeling of pride and disbelief that something I’ve written has actually been published and recognized. I have never experienced or had the opportunity to have my writing published on a public platform, so it was a big deal for me.

If you could give some advice to yourself when you first began this process, what would you say?

I would say don’t stress as much over your first drafts, they don’t need to be perfect the first time. Be creative, take from your own experiences as a teenager, and transfer those into your writing and into Sophie’s voice. She needs to be someone who is relatable and interesting to read about.

I had the pleasure of getting Eric Walter’s voice on Jaime’s role in 90 Days of Different, her talents as an aspiring writer, and his lens into creativity and the role adults and educators have in empowering our youth.  Have a read:

Jaime was an essential part of this project.  She gave feedback to the drafts of the novel – she was used as a beta reader – and her feedback was respected and incorporated. i often involve students in giving me feedback.

What Jaime did – which was amazing – was being involved in the parts of the book that are on-line.  She not only gave input but was the author of many of the blog posts that are not in the book.  I helped her by editing, helping her to understand how to write from another perspective and shaping her writing.  She is an incredibly quick study and her learning curve was amazing.  With the last two blogs I basically corrected at most a coma.  All of these blogs are marked by her initials at the bottom.  She was also the creator of pictures, instagram and tweets.  She was a leader and helped to educate the publisher, writer and PR team.

Jaime became an integral part of a team that included writer, publisher, editor, marketing and PR team.  She was part of meetings, email discussions, and telephone calls.  She gave valuable input that was respected and utilized.  I don’t know of any young person her age becoming such a vital member of an entire publishing project and team.

Age is not a definer of ability, creativity or invention.  Adults – writers, parents, teachers – need to respect that young people have so much potential that is not fully utilized.  We can learn so much from them.  When they ask questions, when they experiment we unlock the great potential for them to learn – and for us to learn from them.  Experience teaches us all so much, but it also may blind us to new ways of seeing or doing.  Young people have new eyes to see old problems – and maybe a better way to do things.

Jaime was new eyes.  And in this case she also was better positioned to understand the components of this novel that included social media than us ‘old’ folks – which included Orca staff in their mid-twenties.  She took the idea of developing the social media component – making Sophie real – and ran with it.  We were trying something new and different.  Jaime not only contributed to that but make it better than we could have ever done without her.

Interested in ordering your copy of 90s Days of Different?  Head to Orca Book Publishers, select your country and order it today!


From previous post…

This school year each and every Monday I’m going to publish a post to help you inspire curiosity and learning in your classroom!  It may be a video, a photo, a quote or a passage that will hook your attention and impact your learners.

As an inquiry teacher I often use provocations to entice student voice and see where the learning action takes us.  Provocations come in many forms and I’m going to send one to you every Monday to help get the creative energy flowing and hopefully help you keep the curiosity alive and well throughout YOUR school year.

Leave our community a comment below the weekly #MeaningfulMonday post so we can all learn from and inspire one another. Tweet out how you used it in your classroom or where your learners went with it using the #MeaningfulMonday hashtag.  Together we can stoke curiosity in the minds of our learners and begin to plant the seeds for deeper inquiry and powerful learning experiences.

This week’s #MeaningfulMonday…

I’ve always been a big fan of embracing all forms of learning that force us to vacate the four walls of our classroom and transcend our bell schedules and timetables.  This is the case partly due to how students naturally learn in their day-to-day environments.  They do what works for them because they’re in control of their learning.  I also believe that when we foster agency in the classroom amazing things happen.  This week’s edition of #MeaningfulMonday touches down on these points. Whether it’s the flipped classroom, blended learning, the role of technology to accelerate and personalize learning, or the inquiry mindset, my girl Adilyn has it going on.  Check it out.

Make your Monday meaningful y’all.