Manitoba ASCD Blog

Zac Chase on...Student Wondering

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The following article was originally published here


I spent a day working with a few hundred teachers a while back, helping them think on the topic of “effective questions”. The conversations were wide and varied. We covered the theoretical and the practical. My goal and charge was to make sure this conversation about student inquiry led to everyone in the room having something to back with them Monday to shift their practice in ways that opened the door to more student inquiry.

A some point in the second conversation, I realized I have one overarching, non-negotiable component to effective questions in classrooms and schools – they come from students. You don’t ask effective questions, you open the door for them, create the environments for them to spring forward, and honor them as they surface. When I get to visit schools, no matter the stated purpose of a classroom visit or observation, I leave with one metric I value above all others – “Do I know what the students in that class were curious about?”

This is different than the question of what can students in that classroom do or what do they know. These are the questions of City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel’s instructional rounds and they are important. They also wedge open the door of compliance over exploration. I can leave knowing a student can perform a complex scientific experiment or recite a renowned soliloquy and be rightly impressed. If I leave these rooms without a clear understanding of what these capable students are wondering, we’ve missed the mark. These are students who are competent, but they are not necessary students who are curious. Watching a room brimming with evidence of student curiosity is an altogether different thing. Such classrooms are spaces where – were the teacher not to show up the next day – it is entirely possible the students would keep on with their exploration and tinkering.

This is also the reason I’ve latched on so tightly to Rothstein and Santana’s Question Formulation Technique and the brilliance of their book and suggestion of “Make just one change.” For those uninitiated to the QFT, the steps are as follows:

  1. Design a question focus.
  2. Produce questions.
  3. Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions.
  4. Prioritize questions.
  5. Plan next steps.
  6. Reflect.

After that, Rothstein and Santana suggest, a teacher can continue on with their lessons as they would have were the QFT not a practice they’d adopted. Sure, they could, but I find it difficult to comprehend why they would. If you’ve ever seen a classroom of students who are conditioned to a compliant, prescribed model of learning taste curiosity for the first time in their school careers, you know that toothpaste is unlikely to go back in the tube. You know it because of the spark in students, and you know it because of the energy it brings to teaching.

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of guest teaching in some grade 11 English classrooms. No ground was broken. I spent most of the time asking students about conversations and what made good ones and what led to bad ones. Then, I let them practice and helped through some processing. What did they want to figure out about having good conversations, I asked them. The opinions were as diverse as the room.

“You got X to talk,” the class’s teacher said, “That’s the most I’ve ever heard him say in a class all year.” When I thought about his contributions later, I realized the moments of X’s participation that struck me as most powerful were not what he knew, but what he wondered.

Here was a student who had been waiting for the invitation for inquiry for too long. I wonder how many others are waiting for similar invitations. I wonder what it will take to prop open the door.

Interested in reading more from Zac Chase? Check out his blog here

Posted by Meghan Burns at 7:01 PM – 0 Comments

Reflections on the 2019 Adolescent Literacy Summit

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

As a high school English teacher my goal is to continuously promote daily reading and writing with my students. After attending the Adolescent Literacy Summit, hosted by the Manitoba Reading Association on April 11 and 12, 2019 Dr. Nancy Frey, Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego University reminded me that “All students deserve a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.” It is essential that we implement best practices that work well to fast-track student learning. Some of Dr. Frey’s topics that resonated with me included: the surface, deep, and transfer phases of learning. Once we experience learning through the eyes of our students and assist them to become reflective in their own learning then we as educators will acknowledge this impact on student achievement. Without more complex tasks, students will not deepen their learning. Let’s keep our students curious by alternating the tasks. We need to use a multitude of learning strategies with our students so that they are ready for surface-deep levels of understanding. Have students’ self-question…what have I learned today?  Involve students in their own learning…be reflective learners.

About the Author

Margaret Murray is an English teacher at Kildonan-East Collegiate, River East Transcona School Division, as well as a member of the Manitoba ASCD Professional Learning Committee Co-Chair and Board member.

Posted by Meghan Burns at 9:18 PM – 0 Comments

Highlights from the 2019 Adolescent Literacy Summit

Saturday, April 20, 2019

As an EAL teacher, my focus is always on bringing my language learners to a place where they feel they can participate in conversations, share their options and feel valued as a participating member of their core classes, particularly English and Humanities. Attending the Adolescent Literacy Summit, hosted by the Manitoba Reading Association on April 11 and 12, reminded me that these are not goals restricted just to EAL teachers, but that "every student should be able to use literacies to change the world." It is a tall order to imagine being able to do this for every child, but at this year's summit I found a plethora of research-based strategies that I can apply on Monday to bring all of my kids a little closer to the goal.

Highlighting Hattie’s Visible Learning research in her energized opening keynote, Dr. Nancy Frey armed us with considerations about what works best to get students into deep consolidation of skills and concepts and taught us that there is a time and place for everything from vocabulary instruction to extended writing practice. In her breakout session she reminded us that student can’t be left in the dark about where they are, where they are headed and what success will look like. Learning from Dr. Frey was certainly a highlight for me but walking away knowing that my school and I are on the right path was very encouraging.

Equally delightful, though, were those Manitoba gemstones who shared their stories and resources with us. I nearly fell off my chair as I listened to the positively inspired spoken-word poetry presented by the youth from Glenlawn Collegiate, directed by the small but mighty, Vindra Jain, who shared her process to promote creative writing and literacy in her school. Not to mention the many other “Voices from the Field”, who showed us how they are embracing the new Manitoba ELA curriculum to bring deeper learning to their classrooms.

In the end though, I have to say that the biggest bang for my buck came from Timothy Shanahan’s breakout session on Teaching Students to Read Complex Texts. He shot down my commonly held belief that students should only be reading texts at their own level +1 by piling research in front of us that revealed the danger in such thinking. He gave us concrete evidence showing that students can handle texts far above their level with the right instruction and then taught us how to give them that instruction necessary to produce successful readers of complex texts. In addition, Shanahan has made dozens of examples and resources available on his website at, which is a fountain of information and inspiration.

About the Author

Brenda Boonstra is an EAL teacher at Balmoral Hall school as well as a member of the Manitoba ASCD Professional Learning Committee.

Posted by Meghan Burns at 5:59 PM – 1 Comments

Reflections on Building Trauma Sensitive and Supportive Classrooms

Saturday, March 23, 2019

On the evening of March 7, 2019 a group of dedicated education professionals – teachers, consultants, administrators, and educational assistants – came together to learn about best practices in refugee and newcomer education from Dr. Jan Stewart. Her presentation, titled “Addressing the Needs of Refugee Students: Building Trauma Sensitive Schools and Supportive Classrooms,” was based on her extensive research and scholarship in trauma and refugee and newcomer education both in Canada and abroad.

Throughout the evening, Dr. Stewart reminded us that everyone in the room has a story. There were a number of opportunities for self-reflection on our own personal and professional experiences relating to trauma. Refugees’ own words were used to illustrate their experiences, and the images and information included in the presentation were a poignant underscoring of the fact that the traumatic events we see reported on the news are not just something happening far away that is easily dismissed; these events are real and so have a real and lasting impact on the children and adults who experience these events first hand. We were also reminded that it is not only students who come to us as refugees who may have faced trauma, and to be aware of the experiences of all of the people in the classroom.

After the overview of childhood trauma and the mental health crises that emerge from being exposed to trauma, and to help us to navigate through these complexities, the audience learned to be able to recognize signs of trauma in our students and learned some methods of intentionally creating an environment for these learners where they may feel secure. Teachers in particular were able to walk away from the presentation with resources and some strategies for creating a supportive learning environment and teaching other students about trauma and resiliency.

One of Dr. Stewart’s many strengths is her way of discussing some chidren very difficult realities in a sensitive but matter-of-fact way. Though there were a number of times throughout the presentation when the subject matter was incredibly heart heavy, she gave educators hope with the idea that trauma does not need to be an endpoint; resiliency can be fostered given the right supports and environmental conditions.

Ultimately, Dr. Stewart challenged us as educators to acknowledge the responsibility of our roles within the education system to be intentional about meeting the learning and mental health needs of students who have faced trauma.

About the Author

Jen Donachuk is a program/school support teacher in the Winnipeg School Division as well as a member of the Manitoba ASCD Professional Learning Committee.

Posted by Meghan Burns at 7:18 AM – 0 Comments

Jan Stewart on...The School Counsellor’s Role in Promoting Social Justice for Refugee and Immigrant Children

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The following article was originally published in the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 28 No. 3, pages 251-269

Forced migration as a result of conflict and war has contributed to the global movement of people and the need for institutions, such as schools, to respond with programs and services to meet the needs of students from culturally diverse backgrounds. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2012) reports 257,515 newcomers to Canada in 2012, with approximately 10–12% classified as refugees. By 2031, Statistics Canada (2010) projects that roughly 30% of the population will be a visible minority and approximately 36% will be under the age of 15.

Globally, the increase in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers and the forced movement of people to host countries such as Canada, Australia, and the United States have necessitated a closer examination of educational systems and policies that affect resettlement and adjustment (Taylor & Sidhu, 2012). Much of the literature related to refugee education has focused on problems and challenges that refugee students encounter and the difficulties the school and community have with helping students be successful in a host country (McBrien, 2009). Schools have a critical role in the process of resettlement of refugee students (Christie & Sidhu, 2002), yet numerous reports indicate that schools feel unequipped and teachers feel ill-prepared to meet the unique and diverse needs of these students (Stewart, 2011).

Refugees are individuals forced to fee their country because of persecution, war, or violence (UNHCR, 2013). Many refugee children and adolescents, who have been exposed to war and armed conflict prior to coming to Canada, have certain needs beyond cultural and social adjustment. Some students have suffered from personal trauma, torture, imprisonment, violence, and loss (Machel, 2001), and others have experienced long-term catastrophic stress and psychological distress as a result of conflict and forced displacement (Zanskas, 2010). Changes to demographics result in increasingly complex social dynamics as well as concerns for inequality and injustice (Goodman, 2001). In addition to noting changing demographics and the movement of people, Kirylo, Tirumurthy, and Ceasar (2011) drew attention to the varied modes of technologies and communication systems that have connected the world and resulted in interrelationships between people from diverse countries, also resulting in the need for increased multicultural and social competencies for counsellors.

Although many children from refugee backgrounds exhibit resilience and resourcefulness, there are some who come to school and experience numerous challenges and obstacles that complicate their social, academic, and emotional development (Matthews, 2008). The literature pertaining to the needs of refugee children reveals numerous systemic and complex issues that complicate the adjustment process for refugee children (Yakushko, Watson, & Tompson, 2008). School counsellors can act as stable support persons in the lives of refugee students, and they can play an integral role in making schools into safe and accepting environments for these children. To do this, school counsellors need to learn about the issues related to children from refugee backgrounds so that they are able to critically examine and challenge how to best meet their personal, social, and academic needs. When properly prepared, school counsellors can play an important role in constructing culturally responsive policies, practices, and interventions that influence the entire school community.

More attention needs to be devoted to programming and support for newcomer and refugee children, and educators need more preparation so that they have the skills and knowledge to best support their unique educational and psychosocial needs (Stewart, 2011). Numerous reports suggest that school systems are failing these students (Dahir & Stone, 2009; Hek, Hughes, & Ozman, 2012), and this often leads to exclusion or marginalization and the exacerbation of social difficulties (Stewart, 2011). Without the institutional capacity or individual support for refugee students, there is a risk that they will leave school, either voluntarily or involuntarily (MacKay & Tavares, 2005).

Counsellors are uniquely positioned in the school to provide leadership, guidance, and direction toward social change. Fundamental counselling skills are closely aligned to the tenets of social justice (Constantine, Hage, Kindaichi, & Bryant, 2007). Counsellors reflect and value fairness, equity in resources, and the liberation of those who are marginalized. Counsellors who are committed to social justice think critically, question their current practices, and undertake an advocacy role to support marginalized students (Constantine et al., 2007). D’Andrea and Heckman (2008) noted that while multicultural and social justice issues are rooted in the counselling field, they have been largely ignored.

The argument put forth in this article is that current educational systems and learning communities must be transformed to meet the rapidly changing racial, cultural, and ethnic demographics of Canadian classrooms, and school counsellors can assume an essential role in this transformation. To do this, school counsellors need to develop culturally responsive skills and competencies that will better help them respond to the needs of refugee and immigrant students. It is incumbent on counsellor education programs to develop counsellors who are critical and who question policies and practices affecting underserved and underrepresented students and who have the motivation to advocate for change.

Although social justice issues are far-reaching and complex, the purpose of this article is threefold. First, the article provides an overview of the concept of “social justice” and how the concept can be supported and promoted by school counsellors. Second, an adapted version of Brown’s (2004) theoretical framework is used to guide the discussion and to orient and prepare counsellors toward a social justice paradigm that includes critical social theory, adult learning theory, and transformative learning theory as well as three pedagogical strategies of critical refection, rational discourse, and policy praxis. Third, an overview of the issues refugee students encounter in Canadian schools is discussed along with strategies and recommendations for supporting these children and their families. When school counsellors are prepared for social justice critique and activism, they will be able to examine injustices in the system and focus on desired goals.

Interested in reading more? The full article can be found here

Posted by Meghan Burns at 10:40 AM – 0 Comments