Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

partying with the mice

Have a great weekend everybody.
And for all of you who are having holidays next week, have a wonderful, restful time.

At Literacies, like Kermit and the mice, this evening we will be closing up for Christmas.

"It is a season when saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive."

Literacy workers are thus employed every season. Thank you all for keeping the faith throughout 2007. Your steadfast commitment to equity, justice and compassion nurtures peace and understanding in ourselves, our families, our communities and beyond. You are the role models and the start of many ripples. Thank you. And bless you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

bubble wrap

And for all of you who are getting just a little sick of trying to keep up ...

...we second that emotion!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

facebook rap

Thanks Tracy Defoe for finding this.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

facebook rules?

I joined Facebook last year.
I find it a very odd environment. Mostly I do not know why I am there. I vibrate my sister's hamster - and no, that is NOT a euphemism for anything. I insult friends I have not seen for years in a mock Shakespearean lingo. I look at photos of other people's travels and adventures. I rage against all the advertising and spam.

And then this happens:
Copyright Delay Demonstrates the Power of Facebook
On December 1st, Michael Geist, a columnist on technology law issues, launched the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group because "seemed like a good way to educate the public about an important issue." He "sent invitations to a hundred or so Facebook friends and seeded the group with links to a few relevant websites."

"One week later, there were 10,000 members. Two weeks later, there were over 25,000 members with another Canadian joining the group every 30 seconds."

and then:
"it helped spur on an offline protest when Kempton Lam, a Calgary technologist, organized 50 group members who descended on Industry Minister Jim Prentice's local open house to express their views on copyright."

To see the CommonCraft Plain English Video about Social Networking, click the link in the sidebar ... or here.

Tracey Mollins's Facebook profile

Monday, December 17, 2007

learners who inherit the future

On October 29th of this year, 120 educators and people with an interest in education from across Canada gathered in Winnipeg for the The Canadian Education Association's Rethinking Adolescence, Rethinking Schools workshop. They have posted audio files of some of the discussions.

Winnipeg Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds spoke about how the real 'essential' skill is learning to think. She quotes Eric Hoffer from his book Reflections on the Human Condition, "In times of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. Learners find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

She goes on to say, "We do not need malleable young people [or people of any age] who are primed to spit out the one correct answer to every question without being able to connect it to a history, a world, or a meaning."

Listen to more here.

The panel then responds to a question from People for Education Executive Director Annie Kidder about how, in education that develops the thinker, the risk-taker and the agent of change in all of us, do we feed the assessment / accountability beast that inevitably narrows learning to the acquisition of flavour-of-last-month so-called essential skills. She phrased it a little differently of course.

Listen to this discussion here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

building love

Last week I listened to this Democracy Now interview with Dave Isay. Dave Isay founded StoryCorps, an American oral history project. The mission of StoryCorps "is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening."

"...when you hear stories like this, you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our stories are the most interesting and important stories of all... And when you take the time, you’re going to find, you know, poetry and grace and wisdom in the people you find all around you, whether it’s your family or your friends or your neighbors or someone who you are sitting next to on a bus."

Dave has compiled some of the almost 30,000 life stories that everyday people have shared with family and friends via the roving StoryBooths in a book called Listening is an Act of Love.

There was much that resonated for me in this interview, but the deepest resonance came from the phrase 'listening is an act of love'. I thought about all the listening that literacy workers do and how it IS an act of love ... and an act that builds love.

Have a great weekend everybody. You are a gift. Your work is instrumental in tipping the balance of the universe in favour of peace, love and understanding.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

broad strokes

These days I'm thinking a lot about what 'counts' as research in practice (RiP), mostly because I'm in the midst of work on the next issue. Our theme next time is "The State of RiP". We chose this theme because people are wondering what will happen to RiP now that it is no longer a priority for federal funding here in Canada.
Perhaps we've boxed ourselves in by thinking that RiP is mostly projects with start dates and end dates, research questions and 'deliverables'. Research is so much more than that. I'd like to share the broader definition of research, phrased so well by Richard Darville in our inaugural issue:

all the ways in which people concerned with adult literacy practice re-search – look again, articulating and clarifying what they know, and pushing out into the unclear and the unknown.
What would it mean to think of RiP as this sort of re-search? Here's more from the same article:
When we begin to connect a broad understanding of practice with a broad conception of research, the first thing we recognize is that much of practice already includes research. It is research when teachers experiment with learning materials, with the phrasing of explanations, or with learner involvement in program organization, and make findings about what works. It is research when practitioners carry on discussion and debate, seeking to share and to clarify their understandings, or to pose and address problems. It is research when people drafting and testing plain language documents come to new understandings of reading processes. It is research when practitioners and policy makers observe and reflect on how administrative arrangements work.

So research is a normal part of ongoing good practice. But of course when people conventionally speak of research, they mean something different and more formal than this – inquiries that are deliberately planned and conducted, and that result in some writing (or taping or filming) and public communication of their results.
The next issue of Literacies will explore whether the current funding situation is helping broaden our ideas about what counts as RiP, or simply making people feel their work is even more devalued.

What are your thoughts? I'd like to hear from you!

Source: Darville, Richard (2003). Making Connections. Literacies #1

Monday, December 10, 2007

one small drop, one strong wave

Last Thursday I went to the Labour Education Centre 20th anniversary celebration.

The Labour Education Centre was founded in 1987 by union activists from the Toronto and York Region Labour Council who believed in the power of learning to transform the lives of working people.

What a fantastic event ... a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues in this social season and to reflect upon the role of the labour movement in education and the role of the literacy movement in labour.

We were treated to a series of musical presentations. One group to serenade us was from PATAC.

PATAC envisions a future where each person’s right is respected and upheld in a society with genuine freedom and peace based on justice. ...PATAC is an Anglicized spelling of the Filipino word ‘patak.’ It means a drop of something and aptly describes the basic principle of the organization. ‘Patak-patak lang’ is a common phrase that Filipinos say when they want to ask everyone to contribute to the achievement of something, whether it be a contribution to help someone or to buy a meal. It is this same principle that PATAC adheres to. We believe that with a little help from everyone, we will be able to achieve our dream.

Here are the lyrics from one of their songs:

We are one great echo
Saying no to those who give us
machines of death and destruction
saying no to those who kill
The soul of beloved places

Now we are one strong wave
Crush the wall of darkness
Drive out those who make us
Strangers in our land

Tomorrow we'll sing to you
A vision of the peace we wage
Fr we are growing faithful and strong
In the middle of the storm
Tomorrow oh child, we'll work hand in hand
As we fight for peace today

We are on a bold wind
Reclaim the world we honor
And open it up to peace alone
La la la la la la
La la la la la la
And all the ancient islands and waters
To where our spirits
Must come home!

This song was written by a group of artists. The musicians who performed it at LEC were Marco Luciano, Levy Abad Jr. and Ricky.

Friday, December 7, 2007

the wisdom of our allies

Thanks to Mike Kwan for commenting on justice 2.0 and telling us more about WiserEarth.

WiserEarth . . .
serves the people who are transforming the world. It is a community directory and networking forum that maps and connects non-governmental organizations and individuals addressing the central issues of our day: climate change, poverty, the environment, peace, water, hunger, social justice, conservation, human rights and more. Content is created and edited by people like you.

There are
107,756 Organizations
8,026 People
2,509 Resources
1,282 Events
294 Jobs
178 Groups
currently networking at Wiser Earth. Including Literacies. And these 131 "adult literacy" organizations.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

supporting RiP

This piece was created by Yukon artist Jo deBeaudrap for the Focused on Practice research project. Here's some of what Jo learned from being involved in the research:

RiP participants expressed both frustration and gratification about their field. They wrote about the need for community support, for building a foundation and finding new ways to do things. Some expressed frustration at being surveyed when time and money are stretched thin....
Working on the piece I thought about how literacy affects the social and economic development of individuals. The impression that I have is that the challenges for the worker are often similar to the challenges of the learner: time, money, support and staying motivated.

The Framework project outlined all of the barriers that make research in practice difficult. More importantly, perhaps, it also articulated a strong vision for how research in practice strengthens literacy work, and the best ways to support this vital work. Research coordinators Jenny Horsman and Helen Woodrow are clear that RiP includes "not only practitioners carrying out research but also reading research, reflecting on practice in the light of research, and changing their practice as a result of research and reflection" (p. 11). Here is what the researchers concluded about the best ways to support RiP:

Research in practice will thrive within an infrastructure that strengthens both the literacy field and RiP itself. It will flourish if governments, funders, administrators and institutional providers recognize the realities of literacy work and value and support practitioner knowledge and methods of strengthening and developing that knowledge. Here is what this means:

...Infrastructure that strengthens RiP:
• Awareness raising
• Funding for all aspects of RiP (locally and nationally, including various ways to engage with research, for short and longer-term studies)
• Support for reflective practice as a precursor to RiP
• Readily available and flexible seed money, sabbaticals and other structures that would free up time to plan and carry out RiP
• Training (both face-to-face and face-to-face combined with online formats; topics including introduction to reflective-practice, recognizing the role of research in everyday practice, and all aspects of RiP)
• Mentors (face-to-face and online, both local and from other regions)
• Flexible ways for provinces and territories that are new to RiP to learn from other regions and to develop locally appropriate models
• Support for dissemination in varied formats (including Literacies and other print vehicles, online sites, and face-to-face methods)
• Networks (local, regional and national)
• Gatherings (local, regional and national)
• Resources (easily accessible for both newcomers to the field and experienced RiP practitioners) (p.18)

Which of these are supported? Which are neglected?

Monday, December 3, 2007

who said anything about fun

Here is another literacy story:

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, conducted by Boston College, assessed 215,000 fourth-grade students' ability to read both literary and informational texts.

Russia topped the 2006 PIRLS study, followed by Hong Kong and Singapore ...Rounding out the top 10 were Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands and Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium. The United States ranked 14th, followed by England at 15th. The worst performances came from South Africa, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, Indonesia, Iran, Trinidad and Tobago, Macedonia, Georgia and Romania.
You might say, "Who cares?" but here is my favourite part:
The study found that girls on average showed higher reading ability than boys, and that only half of students polled enjoyed reading, with few reading for fun.

Friday, November 30, 2007

justice 2.0

Here is a message from Paul Hawken about how the largest movement in the world came into being, and how no one saw it coming.

All who seek out ways of facilitating, promoting, developing and enhancing ways of learning that are participatory, democratic and emancipatory are part of this movement. That's us, right? And all of these organizations and all of these people are our allies.

Thanks to Mark Federman via Stephen Downes for highlighting this video.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

the state of RiP

The next issue of Literacies will focus on the state of research and practice (RiP).We chose this focus because many people have serious questions about what will happen to RiP in the current funding climate.

Last year's groundbreaking study, Focused on Practice, revealed that
research in practice (RiP) is "essential yet close to impossible, given the state of the adult literacy field" (p. 105) in Canada.

For the study, practitioner-researchers in each province and territory, and an Aboriginal researcher, collected data about the state of RiP. Together the whole group analyzed the data. The central findings are explored in Chapter 6 of the book (pp. 105 - 117). Here is what they found were the central reasons why RiP is so contradictory:

  • We want to read research and engage in it, we just can’t spare the time or find the energy
  • Even so, or because of this, RiP is needed more than ever before
  • We must do RiP because we are so isolated, yet our isolation makes it impossible to do RiP!
  • Given the state of the field, RiP is essential, but the state of the field limits the value of RiP!
  • We are wary of research yet we use research skills all the time
  • RiP might lead to change, but would we like all the changes?

Over the coming weeks, we will share more about these findings, and what a range of people are saying about these contradictions.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Welcome back. To see our version of the grey cup cocktail, please click here.

On a not so happy note, the AlphaPlus library has been dismantled.

In September 2007, as a direct result of the federal funding cuts to provincial literacy initiatives announced in the fall of 2006, the AlphaPlus Library discontinued it's lending services and began the process of decentralizing its adult literacy collections and finding new homes that were willing to ensure continued access to the resources for members of the provincial literacy community.

Thanks for all the good help AlphaPlus librarians. We miss the lending service more than we can say. And thank you for 'decentralizing' the library in such a thoughtful, caring and democratic way.

...The singer
Must then pass out of sight, not even relieved
Of the evil burthen of the words. Stellification
Is for the few, and comes about much later
When all record of these people and their lives
Has disappeared into libraries, onto microfilm.
A few are still interested in them. "But what about
So-and-so?" is still asked on occasion. But they lie
Frozen and out of touch until an arbitrary chorus
Speaks of a totally different incident with a similar name
In whose tale are hidden syllables
Of what happened so long before that
In some small town, one different summer.
Syringa by John Ashbery

Friday, November 23, 2007

medieval shift

Another episode in the history of shifts.

Have a great weekend. Relax with a nice book.
Or, if you are so inclined, a nice Gibson's Touchdown.
My friend's son, Simon Ho, won a contest to invent the official drink of the Grey Cup.

Here is the recipe:
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and combine:
- 1 1/2 oz. of Canadian Whisky
- 1/2 oz. of orange juice
- 1/4 oz. of Canadian maple syrup
- 1 oz. of cranberry juice
- Dash of bitters
- Shake and serve in a rocks glass filled with ice
- Serve with pretzels or other salty snacks


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

places to learn

During the forum, Nancy and Wendell started us dreaming about places to learn. Here is Audrey Thomas' dream from LITERACY THROUGH LEADERSHIP - Outlining an Adult Literacy Strategy for British Columbians - Select Standing Committee on Education - First Report.

Audrey Thomas:

“My vision for literacy in BC is that anyone who needs basic literacy skills or wishes to improve any of the cluster of literacy skills — which are now defined as numeracy, reading, writing, computer skills, oral communication, problem-solving, teamwork, etc. — will have a place to go where they will be welcome to continue their learning and that, if possible, they can access that learning through electronic means, which we were beginning to do when I left the ministry. I think that for that to happen, every community in BC should strive to be a literacy-friendly community so that we take away the stigma that makes it difficult for adults to come forward and we make it as easy as possible to diminish the barriers which many adults find.

“Finally, I would just like to say that there has been a lot of good work done in the province, and there's no need to reinvent the wheel, but there may be ways of helping the wheel get a little bigger and move a little more easily.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

shift happens update

And while we are on the subject... Here is a video called Did You Know 2.0

This video is an "official update to the original "Shift Happens" video from Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod" from June 2007. For more information, or to join the conversation, you can visit the Shifthappens wiki.

The music is kinda scary but is this shift scary?

Friday, November 16, 2007

into the machine

Here is more from the famous Michael Wesch:

A short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today - how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

old friends, brilliant careers

Another person from a past phase of my brilliant career that I got to hang out with in Ottawa is Norm Beach, adult english as a second language teacher, anti-poverty campaigner and environmental activist extraordinaire. We worked together at the Toronto District School Board and at CUPE 4400.

Norm is embarking on a new phase in his actually brilliant career. He is taking a four-over-five sabbatical and is using the year to write. Here are a couple of things that are online.

Missing piece of poverty picture

Adult education, the key to helping many parents improve their families' lives, hasn't even been near the radar screen in the public debate about schools and poverty.
Medicine to treat the eco-blues
I admit it doesn't make sense that I would glare at a discarded Coke can rather than the drivers pumping toxic chemicals into my lungs. But I can't blame every harried commuter stuck in a traffic jam, especially since I've been one myself. And Coke cans don't glare back.

Monday, November 12, 2007

we're back

Well here we are again. In the café and in Toronto. I was up in Ottawa last week for the Linkages: Connecting Literacy and English as a Second Language forum. It was an amazing 30 hours. So many innovative and creative people from both fields and from the academy, the government and the community. Thanks to the good folks at the Movement for Canadian Literacy for such a wonderful opportunity to network. I met up with colleagues from many different phases of my brilliant career and with new-to-me people who I hope will become part of future phases.

James Simpson was there from the University of Leeds to talk about The Right Course, a project he worked on with Melanie Cook and Mike Baynham.

This project asked: How do ESOL or bilingual students get placed or place themselves in literacy and/or ESOL classes? ... The decision may be made at an institutional level, and one part of this research ... sought to understand how placement practices operate in particular institutions. But students position themselves as well ... The second part of the research ... included an examination of students’ views on whether and why an ESOL or a literacy path is followed.

This snapshot of adult education policy and practice in the UK presented a picture of how the implementation of a national strategy can impact teaching and learning. Some of us heard a cautionary tale and some called for a similar national effort to develop common definitions and standards here in Canada.

At one of the discussion tables, Doug Fleming posed these questions, "What would a common definition of ESL/Literacy give us? Can we develop a definition that includes all the work currently called ESL/Literacy? What would have to be excluded?"

We talked about creating a definition based on practice rather than one that was prescriptive and about how we would need to do more field research to make sure we could be as inclusive as possible. And then, of course, we ran out of time. I hope that this conversation gets picked up again somewhere.

Sue Folinsbee's discussion paper, which does not appear to be available online but which is a fascinating read, is a good start and points us towards many investigations.

Charles Ramsey is going to work with NALD to set up an ESL/Literacy listserv. I'll let you know details as soon as I get them.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

be back soon

Tomorrow is the last day of the forum.
See you back here on Monday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

gone fishing

Just kidding!

We are over at the Literacies web forum until November 9.

Join us for a discussion about the joy, craziness, despair and love (not necessarily in that order) that is literacy work in the 21st century.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Yes ... it is turning into Sue Palmer week. This time we take an excerpt from Time to Teach.

...No one in teaching ever liked targets, but on the whole we went along with them because they were part of the initiative to raise standards, and that was clearly a good and necessary thing – five years ago far too many children were leaving primary school with appalling basic skills. [The] Labour [party]’s thrice repeated education pledge meant a real opportunity to improve literacy and numeracy teaching, including money to help failing readers, and information for teachers about phonics, grammar and spelling – essential elements of literacy that had been neglected for decades. Specific targets for pupil achievement were part of the package, and in the early days perhaps they did help focus schools’ attention and ginger us all up a bit.

And in those first few years we did make progress – gradually the numbers of children achieving the‘average’ score of Level 4 in national tests at age 11 rose from the 50s to the 60s to the 70 percents. So maybe the targets weren’t utterly a bad thing... Carried along by spin and good intentions, we all stuck with it.

As time went on, however, you couldn’t help noticing the ill-effects. Targets seemed to force teachers increasingly to teach to the test, sacrificing the ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and the emphasis on creativity that’s essential if primary children are to learn. Stress levels throughout the profession rose, as priorities went cock-eyed. Headteachers, government advisers, officials at County Hall all seemed to be rushing around with rising blood-pressure, looking for some philosopher’s stone that would, in the second week of May, turn the base metal of a Level 3 into the shining gold of a Level 4. Some headteachers even tried cheating... statistics were the important thing now... and many excellent primary teachers decided it was time to leave.

Then, last autumn, the 2001 test results were published. Horror! We were no longer making progress. National scores had not improved on last year, and in maths they’d actually dropped.

The DfES did not pause to wonder whether their short-termism might have proved counterproductive. Instead, their response was short-sighted, swift and terrifying: new, tougher targets for 2004 and unprecedented levels of government prescription to meet them. Within weeks they’d developed scripted lesson plans for 11 year olds and published them on the DfES website – what amounts to the first volume of a national textbook. Since most Year 6 teachers have been reduced by all the target nonsense to grovelling wrecks, they’re embracing with tired resignation a level of state interference which, three years ago, would have been unthinkable: “OK, I’ll follow the government lessons to the letter, then no one can blame me if my kids don’t get their Level 4.”

For one who became a primary teacher because of a passionate belief in democracy, this was when panic set in. This was when I started waking in the middle of the night, wild-eyed and shivery, wondering how we’d got here. How had I, and countless other well-meaning teachers and educational professionals, managed to spend three years marching down this terrible educational cul-de-sac? How had we let statistics become more important than children? How had we allowed a focus on short-term solutions – based on a couple of highly questionable national tests – lead to prescribed lessons, stamped with the words ‘Government Approved’? And where might this subtly-crafted culture of dependence take us next....?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the paradox of orthodoxy

More from Sue Palmer. This excerpt is from To prescribe or not to prescribe.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In autumn 2003, five years after the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy, a colleague and I presented a series of conferences around the country on the theme of Literacy: What Works? We asked the 500 primary teachers who attended to list the three best and three worst results of the NLS. Since numeracy is not my strong point, I had no idea how long it would take to collate 2 x 500 x 3 written responses. Six months and ten floppy disks later, I’m still at it – and still puzzling over the paradoxical nature of the results, particularly as regards the prescriptive nature of the NLS.

On the one hand, teachers clearly appreciate some aspects of centralised prescription. Just under 300 comment favourably on the structure provided by the Framework of Objectives, the document which set out teaching objectives for each year of primary school. As many put it, ‘we now know what to teach and when’, and words like clarity, focus, continuity and progression crop up repeatedly. There’s also considerable praise for many teaching strategies introduced by the Strategy.

On the other hand, well over 300 responses in the ‘worst things’ section relate to the ill-effects of prescription from on high, pointing out that many teachers now think in boxes, follow plans blindly, feel insecure and deskilled, and are afraid to innovate. The general impression, reading through these dispatches from the front, is that teachers may know what to teach and when, they may be equipped with worthwhile strategies, but all too often the final outcome is not better teaching but the dead hand of orthodoxy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

just clever enough

Sue Palmer is a literacy specialist from the UK and writes about impact of technology on children. In 2002, Sue became convinced that social and cultural changes underpinned by technological progress were affecting many children’s potential to learn, especially to learn the skills of literacy. Her research expanded to cover other aspects of child development, culminating in 2006 in the publication of Toxic Childhood: how modern life is damaging our children…and what we can do about it.

She writes about children and teachers of children but I find some of what she has to say quite relevant to our profession as well ... what do you think?

Here is an excerpt from Sue Palmer's article Too Clever to Care. Replace 'teaching assistant' with 'volunteer tutor' and doesn't this sound a little familiar?

Nurses ‘too clever’ to care said the headline. Apparently nurses today are so highly qualified for managerial and clinical tasks that basic nursing care is often delegated to unqualified ‘healthcare assistants’. Some nurses are unhappy about this, as they believe close contact with patients is important to understanding their medical condition.

It’s a familiar dilemma. In our own profession, where teachers are increasingly caught up in bureaucracy and additional responsibilities, much day-to-day contact with children now falls to teaching assistants. I often meet teachers who feel they’ve been dragged away from the job they love, and consigned to long hours of planning, target-setting, record-keeping and so on. Some even take early retirement and come back as teaching assistants, so they can enjoy working with children without all the attendant bureaucratic chores. ...

...Over the last few years, however, it’s been increasingly accepted that teaching assistants should assume more of the hands-on element of teaching – and the workload agreement points the way to even more of this. At the same time, our government seems obsessed by the prospect of using information technology to assess and track pupils’ progress and, through the medium of the forthcoming digital curriculum, even to take over some aspects of teaching.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

and why, sometimes, we can't

Here are some quotes from The Working Conditions of Adult Literacy Teachers: Preliminary Findings from the NCSALL Staff Development Study by Cristine Smith, Judy Hofer, & Marilyn Gillespie

For us it was a major struggle to get full-time jobs and get health benefits . . . I think we had clear concerted efforts about the development of solid jobs - where this could be a real job for people.
-Program director

If anything were to happen to my husband there is no way I could support a household; there's no way I could support myself on that wage. I'd have to go on food stamps.
-Family literacy / ESOL teacher

I just don't see how you can expect people to commit to any kind of staff development and find out more about best practices when you pay them for four hours a week . . . I don't go for paying someone 40 hours a week and expecting them to work 80 or paying them for 20 and expecting them to work 40. I just don't believe in it and I think it's been done so much to women.
-Program director
As a teacher, we are always looking toward making sure that learners' needs are met. I can't do that if my needs are not met . . . No wonder learners are giving up. No wonder they're afraid to go talk to administrators when teachers are even afraid to follow up on their issues . . . If I'm going to teach students to voice their opinions and to make changes, I need to do it also.

-ESOL teacher

Friday, October 12, 2007

so why do we do it?

The work of community-based literacy and workplace education is one of the most fulfilling and exciting experiences of my working career. I have found that at the core of each educator in this field is a deep sense of caring and dedication to the learner. As a community of educators, we build a strong sense of partnership by providing a foundation of support for one another and therefore our learners. We listen to each other, we talk about our experiences, we share resources and we are innovative because resources and funding can be scarce. We believe in and are drawn together by our vision of a well-educated community.

Margan Dawson, Literacies author
We need to feel valued and respected for the work that we do:
Workplace Educators speak out

Good teaching offers love. Not only the love of learning and of books and of ideas, but also “… the love that a teacher feels for that real student who walks into a teacher’s life, begins to breathe, and then walks out.” As Beidler [Professor of English at Lehigh University] says, “I teach because, being around people who are beginning to breathe, I occasionally find myself, quite magically, catching my breath with them.”
from Why I teach by Bruce Saulnier

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Sorry, gentle reader, to be so long between posts but I have been quite under the weather this week. The cursed ailment comes and goes like allergies but feels like a head cold with all attendant nasties.

Back in writing form next week.

Until then, check out this job description for
Teacher Adult Literacy

"Many adult literacy and remedial education teachers work part time and receive no benefits; unpaid volunteers also teach these subjects."
Sound familiar? What about this?
Working Conditions

A large number of adult literacy and remedial education teachers work part time. Some have several part-time teaching assignments or work full time in addition to their part-time teaching job. Classes for adults are held on days and at times that best accommodate students who may have a job or family responsibilities.

Because many of these teachers work with adult students, they do not encounter some of the behavioral or social problems sometimes found with younger students. Adults attend by choice, are highly motivated, and bring years of experience to the classroom—attributes that can make teaching these students rewarding and satisfying. However, many adult education programs are located in cramped facilities that lack modern amenities, which can be frustrating for teachers.
Isn't it nice that the authors are so right about adult students?

Monday, October 8, 2007

working in literacy

Our forum blog is ready. The discussion does not start until October 22 but you can visit the pages and get ready. The articles are on the Literacies site. Here is something to get us in the mood for the forum:

The face of adult literacy has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. In addition to literacy/upgrading, programs are being called upon to offer employment development skills, family literacy, life skills training and various short courses. Practitioners are also expected to offer expanded needs assessments as well as counseling supports. Literacy has expanded to include the workplace and the family as well as the individual. Clearly the roles of literacy practitioners have changed.

When asked why they stay in the field, practitioners consistently report that they enjoy teaching, feel gratified to see learner progress, enjoy the challenges of adult education and feel they are making a positive contribution in an area of great importance to society. It appears that one of the greatest strengths of the programs is this base of committed experienced practitioners. Learners consistently report that one thing that keeps them coming to class is the relationships they have established with the instructor, and the supportive atmosphere that a skilled instructor can create in the classroom. The commitment and skills of the instructor and the relationships he or she nurtures in the classroom lie at the heart of the successes of all literacy programs, whether adult literacy, family literacy, or workplace education.

From the Millennium Project Final Document. October, 2000.
Stevenson-Britannia Adult Literacy Program (Manitoba).
Janet Regehr, Project Consultant

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

evolving literacies

These days adult literacy work is a delicate balancing act between what people in our programs say they want and what funders say they should do. Since before Canada was a nation, education has been used to build a particular kind of society. As Harvey Graff writes in 'The Moral Bases of Literacy':

Approved books spread the doctrines of order, harmony and progress, ignoring conflict and inequlity....one key role for literacy. Yet we must also recognize that the child did not need to be proficiently literate to read and comprehend the moral message and thus be instilled with the desired values. At mid-century, before silent reading was valued as a pedagogical tool--and for some years thereafter--oral reading dominated the classroom...

In a recent essay, educator Emilia Ferreiro points out that the biggest technological development in the history of reading was not the printing press but the separation of text into words, paragraphs and chapters using spacing and punctuation. She argues that:
Texts written during the classical period were made to be 'spoken out loud' just like a sheet of music. And, also like music, the letters were the least of it....What really counted was the interpretation. And then came social control over interpretation--a badly done reading would become equivalent to heresy a few centuries later....

Silent reading nourished two unforeseen consequences: heresy and eroticism. The new intimacy with the text set off two complementary movements in a single act of complicity: the freedom of the reader, whose interpretation was for the moment out of reach of censorship, and the freedom of the writer, who could allow himself to express, in the intimacy of his cell or his bedroom, what no voice could express out loud.

But, she warns, perhaps the advent of the computer screen will have even greater impacts on literacy and society. Reading on computer screens "transforms the act of reading into a public act" and requires readers to assume rigid postures to relate to text. What does this mean? Ferreiro believes that
The real challenge is that of growing inequality, for the chasm that separates the illiterate from the literate has grown ever wider. Some have no newspapers, books or libraries, while others are flying with hyper-text, e-mail and virtual pages of nonexistent books. Will we be capable of coming up with policies to reverse this growing inequality? Or will we let ourselves be carried away by the vortex of competitiveness and profitability, even though the very idea of participatory democracy perishes in the process?

Great questions.

Ferreiro, Emilia, “Past and Future of the Verb ‘To Read’”, in Past and Present of the Verbs to Read and to Write. Toronto: Groundwood, 2003, pp. 37-56.

Graff, Harvey J., “The Moral Bases of Literacy: Society, economy and social order”, in The Literacy Myth: Literacy and social structure in the nineteenth century city. New York: Academic Press, 1979, pp 21-48.

Monday, October 1, 2007

a thought to start the week

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

e. e. cummings

Friday, September 28, 2007


The wind gives me
Enough fallen leaves
To make a fire

by Ryōkan

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Here is a whole bushel of apples for this teacher.

On Tuesday, September 25, 2007, teachers from across the province will rally at the Sooke Board of Education [British Columbia] office in support of a colleague who may be disciplined for refusing to administer a standardized test to her Grade 3 students.

Motivated by concern for her students, Kathryn Sihota, a Grade 3 teacher in the Sooke school district and 27-year veteran in primary teaching, took a stand last spring and refused to give the DART (District Assessment of Reading Team) to her young charges. "I've administered the test for years and I'm not going to do it anymore," Sihota says. "The last time I gave the test, a child dissolved in tears from anxiety. I'd put her in a situation I didn't want her to be in.

Teachers oppose testing when its purpose is simply to satisfy the government and school district agenda of data collection for political purposes, rather than to assist them in finding ways to enrich students' learning experiences. An increasing number of tests are now being imposed on students and are detracting from a quality learning experience.

"Teachers work with students in classrooms every day and understand that students need support and encouragement to be successful," says Irene Lanzinger, president of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation. "We use a variety of assessment methods, including tests, to help students learn. The over-emphasis on standardized exams and data collection is putting students and their success at risk while doing nothing to enhance learning. Teachers throughout the province are speaking out on behalf of their students and the support they need in order to be successful."
September 24, 2007
The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

by John Updike

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

falling for fall

Fall, leaves, fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Emily Jane Brontë

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Recently someone quoted Carl Jung in a conversation about change:

"We give up the good for the better."

Autumn Movement

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
and the old things go, not one lasts.

Carl Sandburg

Monday, September 24, 2007


We are starting to see signs of autumn/fall here in Toronto but the temperature remains quite balmy - we are expecting high 20s again this week.

Issue #7 Working in Adult Literacy is at the printers and should be on its way to our subscribers and distribution partners by Thanksgiving week.

The forum will start on October 22 so mark the date.

And here is something else autumnal:


The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

by Emily Dickinson

Friday, September 21, 2007


It is Peace Day everyone. A minute of silence at noon.

And then this story about how, if we want to enjoy the world, if we want everyone to enjoy the world, we probably have to change the world.
Enjoy the world this weekend and we'll see you back here on Monday.

Here are the Clancy Brothers doing The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin', he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell --
And in five minutes flat, he'd blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda,"
All around the green bush far and free --
To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As they carried us down the gangway,
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.

And so now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
Reviving old dreams of past glory,
And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.

But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda,"
And the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday, no one will march there at all.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda.
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong,
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

by Eric Bogle

Thursday, September 20, 2007

row on row

I thought that my Peace Week posts would be more about the joys of peace and not so much about the horrors of war but I seem stuck in this theme so here is one more. Plus some Can Con.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae May 1915

Inspiration for the Poem

On 2 May, 1915, in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed by a German artillery shell. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae. It is believed that John began the draft for his famous poem that evening.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

one dialect

These Brits can read the heck out of a poem can't they?
Canadian content anyone? I've scoured YouTube but no luck so far.

The Long War

Less passionate the long war throws
its burning thorn about all men,
caught in one grief, we share one wound,
and cry one dialect of pain.

We have forgot who fired the house
Whose easy mischief spilled first blood
Under one raging roof we lie
The fault no longer understood
But as our twisted arms embrace the desert where our cities stood
Death’s family likeness in each face must show at last our brotherhood

by Laurie Lee

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

more peace

Have you thought of something to do for peace day yet?
You can 'make a commitment' here.


At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

Siegfried Sassoon

Monday, September 17, 2007

giving peace a chance

September 21 (Friday) is The International Day of Peace.
All over the world, people will be taking initiatives towards creating peace in their homes, in their communities and in their countries. What do you have planned?

Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter's cost.

Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.

In all men's hearts it is.
Some spirit old Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.

Red fangs have torn His face.
God's blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.

O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.

by Isaac Rosenberg

Friday, September 14, 2007

celebrating change

I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
- E. B. White

Have a great weekend everybody. Enjoy the world. See you Monday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

celebrating literacy workers

A master can tell you

what he expects of you.

A teacher, though,

awakens your own expectations.

--Patricia Neal with Richard DeNeut (As I Am: An Autobiography)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

what can we count?

Here is a poem by a tutor from St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program.

Anniversary Literacy Poem

How do we love thee, St. Christopher House Literacy Program,
can we count the ways?
Take thirty years of group and individual classes (in the evenings, along with the days)
times the number of completed grammar exercises
then subtract the mistakes that we made:
Do you arrive at the number that quantifies a literacy protégé?

Literacy and . . .
numeracy, of course, that’s what this is all about
Learn the basic functions, count and conquer!
. . . the job maket, that is. And then shuffle us out?

Or should we take a different approach to our equation
starting with the people in the organization
Fran, Judi and Joanna, divining the perfect combination of learners, tutors, kids, activities and inspiration on any given night.
We can even take it right down to the number, if you like,
of pens, pencils, and computers used to enlight-

-en us to a new and better understanding
an accounting of our programming
without the messiness of sentiment, aesthetics or creativity
showing up in the assessments of our ability.
Dollars and scores keep us going—those are the measures that impress.
Even though such external parameters don’t, for us, convey success.

Tenses, agreements, plurals, to the exponential amount of words we’ve learned
Do we add or divide by the people we’ve met, the pages we’ve turned?
Squared up with the compositions: poems, stories, essays and reports
the letters we’ve written to favourite authors, and interest groups of all sorts

And must we keep with the hard work only? Or can we count the parties too?
One every month or so – New Year’s, birthdays, the summer bbq –
And how about special projects – the Tree Tour, workshops, the Link, to name a few,
does this make us eligible for a little more dough to get us through

next class, next week, next tutor orientation,
next group meeting, next time we gather to critique the state of the nation
and other important topics: the Beckhams, Angelina and Brad,
the TTC cuts, crime, health, family, landlords, and whatever else we’ve had
to discuss – most eloquently, by the way – and write about as well.
We do good work here,
so how about stop treating literacy like something we’ve got to sell?

perhaps it’s time to test your literacy skills by asking: how
much do you recognize here?
This isn’t just any poem, after all,
It’s an adaptation of one by Shakespeare.
You know, the famous bard who,
some four centuries before our program was mounted
taught us that literacy isn’t something that can be counted.

Monday, September 10, 2007

celebrating literacy

The party put on by the St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program was the BEST! It was a fantastic gathering of literacy practitioners, literacy learners and musicians. Thanks Judi and Fran for a great day of catching up with old friends and making new ones. We have always been wildly impressed with how you consistently enagage a diverse group of learners and tutors in meaningful learning experiences. Despite all the constraints and barriers, you work hard, and with great success, to find the opportunities and openings. And now you treat us all to this most excellent day. Wow.

There were so many highlights but an important part of the event for many of us was the presentation about the history of SCHALP by Nancy Friday and Jean Unda. They referred to two documents that were so important to the founding of SCHALP and are deeply meaningful to many literacy workers. Both documents discuss how education can be used either to reproduce existing structures and promote compliance or uncover systemic inequity and foster critical thinking and action.

Literacy: Charitable Enterprise or Political Right created by Sidney Pratt, Naldi Nomez and Patricio Urzua in October, 1977 draws on the 1975 Declaration of Persepolis and describes how the principles of the declaration can be put into practice in community-based literacy programs in downtown Toronto.

Here is an excerpt about curriculum development:

The human being is seen as a subject, acting upon the objective reality, responding in multiple ways to challenges, creating and transforming reality in relationship with other human beings. Society is seen as historic, cultural and dynamic. Historic, because it is relative to time and space so that it is also human being. Dynamic, since humans are acting upon society as subjects, society is always changing. Education perceived as a historical dialogue where situations are posed as problems and analyzed.

Friday, September 7, 2007

literacy day

Sorry to be away for so long. I missed you all. Click here to see where I was.

I am back now. Getting ready to celebrate Literacy Day tomorrow in great style at St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program.

My cousin sent me this image. The whole set of photos is here. I am not sure if it is okay to use this photo here but I decided to live dangerously because it makes me think about a lot of stuff and I hope it will do the same for you. Have a great weekend and a beautiful ILD.

"First Writing" Enlightenment Ceremony Held For Children In Nanjing, China:
A teacher paints a vermilion dot on the forehead of a student during the 'First Writing' enlightenment ceremony held for grade one students of a primary school at the Confucius Temple on September 3, 2007 in Nanjing of Jiangsu Province, China. The ceremony symbolizing the start of literacy, involves painting vermilion, reciting Chinese classicals and tolling bells, in a bid to promote traditional culture.
(Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bread and Roses

As we go marching, marching,
in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens,
a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance
that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing:
Bread and Roses!
Bread and Roses!

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

James Oppenheim (1882-1932)

According to the Calgary District Labour Council, " Bread and Roses was written during a strike of women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912.

"27,000 women went on strike for a 54-hour week with no loss of pay(the previous working week was 56 hours).They spoke over 27 different languages among them and marched every day to keep up their morale. Their banners called for bread and roses, and a poet among them wrote these words,which went on to become a famous song for women trades unionists everywhere.They were on strike for eleven weeks and eventually won the reduction in their working week, a reduction that gave them money in their pockets as well as a better quality of life for their families, not just bread, but roses, too."

Hope this tune carries you through Labour Day.
We'll be back on September 4th.