CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
Teaching With "Dear Canada" is the teachers' guide to the following four books from the "Dear Canada" series:
With Nothing But Our Courage: The Loyalist Diary of Mary MacDonald (Johnstown, Quebec, 1783) by Karleen Bradford, 2002. The diary is written from October 6, 1783 to November 5, 1784.
Footsteps in the Snow: The Red River Diary of Isobel Scott (Rupert's Land, 1815) by Carol Matas, 2002. The diary is written from July 15, 1815 to July 18, 1817.
Orphan at My Door: The Home Child Diary of Victoria Cope (Guelph, Ontario, 1897) by Jean Little, 2001. The diary was written from May 24, 1897 to September 13, 1897.
A Prairie as Wide as the Sea: The Immigrant Diary of Ivy Weatherall (Milorie, Saskatchewan, 1926) by Sarah Ellis, 2001. The diary was written from May 1, 1926 to April 18, 1927.
The "Dear Canada" series would be appropriate for the existing Grade 6 Manitoba Social Studies curriculum, Units 3, 4 or 5, depending on the year of the diary. Eleven and twelve year olds would be interested in these books because of the content, but many of them would not be able to read them by themselves. The books would also be useful in the existing Grade 2 curriculum, Families Long Ago, Families Now, if the teacher read the diaries to the students, especially Footsteps in the Snow. It would be a good introduction in teaching Grade 2 students how to write a diary or journal as well as teaching about what it was like in the Red River area in the early 1800s. This guide has some appropriate activities that could be incorporated into both grade levels.
One of the main features of the series is that it is Canadian, and one of the books, Footsteps in the Snow, is about Manitoba. I am always looking for Canadian materials, and I feel that these books, written and researched by Canadian authors, are valuable for our curricular studies. Each book has useful black and white pictures with captions, archival maps, and in some books, recipes and actual advertisements that helped to attract settlers to Canada .
The guide, Teaching With "Dear Canada" begins with a discussion of the use of historical fiction in teaching Social Studies. The author states some cautions and guidelines that include the comment that "...literature is written to tell a story, not to convey information or clarify concepts." (page 3) After checking all four books that are included in the guide, I feel that all the authors completed so much research into the time periods of their books that a good deal of historical information could be gleaned from the use of these diaries.
In the guide, summaries of each of the four books are given. The notes entitled "What's Going On in the World in __?" and "Prior Knowledge" are included for each diary so that connections can be made between the events that are happening around the world at the time of the particular diary with the events of that diary. In addition, there is a timeline that would be a help for students to place the events of each of the diaries into historical perspective.
For each diary, many discussion questions are given to begin the study of the story. Although a list of nonfiction, fiction and background information sources for teachers was given, a briefly annotated bibliography of all resources would have been useful to show what was in each book so that a researcher would know where to look as it may be difficult to find some of these resources. It would have also been helpful to include more information in the "Prior Knowledge" section to assist in answering the discussion questions. For example, songs such as "The Golden Vanity" or "The Maple Leaf Forever" are mentioned, but the words are not included. If copyright is a problem, then that concern should be stated.
Another concern I had with the guidebook was the use of words such as "find out" and "research" without mentioning which books in the bibliography would help to answer the specific questions. Expanding more of the questions with "why" or "what" or "using" would be more helpful. Page numbers were often given in the guide for students to look up certain things such as "Hogmanay" or "Handsel Monday" in Footsteps in the Snow, but it was found that not much detailed information on those topics had been given. Many of the questions assumed that the person using the guide had a good deal of background knowledge. That may not always be so. Therefore, if more teachers are to use this guide successfully, it is important to help them find further information easily.
further reservation that I had about some of the suggested activities
was that often there is no indication as to where to find the directions
for completing the activity. For example, it is suggested that the
student's sketch of a fort be compared to the actual fort, but no
explanation is given as to where to find details for comparison. The
student is asked to find out how cramped the ship was that brought
people over to Canada from England. An example of a web site or a
book where you could look it up would have been useful. One suggested
activity is to make a relief map of salt dough, but there are no directions
in how to make one. Where is the recipe for salt dough? It is suggested
that the student learn the "Red River jig," but there are
no directions for how to do this interesting activity. The students
are asked to "serve specialties of the time such as burnt leather
cake," but the recipe is not given in the guide nor is there
any indication that the recipe is actually included at the back of
Orphan at My Door. When dealing with the diary, A Prairie
as Wide as the Sea, the guide's author suggests that the students
"create names of fictional towns in Canada out of their names."
This could be an interesting initial activity, but I think it should
be expanded to a study of the history of names of our towns and cities
using such books as Naming Canada: Stories About
The terms "Indian" and "buffalo" are used in the diaries because of the time period that the authors were writing about. There is no explanation by the guide's author about their use in the present. We need to explain to our students why these terms were used then but also what terms we use now and why.
More use could have made of the historical pictures and facts, advertisements and maps in the diaries. The pictures and advertisements could be enlarged and given to the students to use to find out some of the answers to some of the discussion questions that are included in the guide. One map that has been enlarged from the Loyalist diary could have included more questions about the area. What hardships were encountered on the journey made by the Loyalists? How does this map relate to the British North America map of 1783 that is found on the previous page in the back of that diary? It could have been noted that the route taken by the Loyalists on their way to Canada was given at the back of that diary as well.
Guides are very useful to teachers, beginning and experienced, but I feel that many more details could have been included in this particular one. It has many good activities and suggestions, but it could have been so much better. I know that when the author started to write this guide, she had to make the decision whether she would make it a "recipe book" or just make it a sampling of ideas that were then to be developed by the teacher using the guide. The publisher probably had a hand in this as well because it is supposed to be a "guide." As a teacher, however, I find that if a guide includes as many of the completed activities with all the specific resources and materials required and noted, it is much more valuable and would actually be used by teachers. Maybe then the term "guide" would not be used and "resource book" would be more appropriate.
Recommended with Reservations.
Gary Evans is an instructor of Early Years Social Studies (Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment) at the Faculty of Education, University of Winnipeg and of Early and Middle Years, Year 1 at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba. He is also a recently retired Early Years teacher.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.