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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

more data clutter

In response to my comments about the IALS study (see monday morning blues), a colleague sent me this link to a CBC story about a U.S. study:

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, investigated 3,260 U.S. patients over 65 who were on medicare. It indicates that older adults with low literacy levels had a 50 per cent higher mortality rate compared to seniors with better literacy skills.

Great. You get old, you forget how to read, then you die.

Later in the story, Dr. David Baker, the author of the study is quoted as saying:

"When patients can't read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy. They don't know how to take their medications correctly, they don't understand when to seek medical care, and they don't know how to care for their diseases."


The study does admit that:

"There are several possible mechanisms by which the association between literacy and mortality might occur."

The IALS study quoted on LearningWork blog states:

Many Canadians experience a significant loss of literacy skills during adulthood, and this loss appears to be concentrated in adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds...

Hmmm. I wonder if being from a lower socio-economic background has anything to do with the type of health care one gets.

Dr. Baker also says that more plain language is needed.

"We're not talking about dumbing down material. We're talking about using simple language the average person would understand."

In other words:

“...health literacy goes beyond the individual. It also depends upon the skills, preferences, and expectations of those health information providers: our doctors, nurses, administrators, home health workers, the media, and many others. "

For more about this patient-centred approach to health care and literacy, see the Centre for Literacy of Quebec health literacy project.

Monday, July 30, 2007

monday morning blues

Here is something I read over at the LearningWork blog:

Many Canadians experience a significant loss of literacy skills during adulthood, and this loss appears to be concentrated in adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds, according to a new study. ...

The loss of literacy skills in Canada appears to be a gradual process that begins at the age of about 25, peaks at around 40, and tapers off during late middle age (55).

For example, adults aged 40 in 1994 had average scores on the IALS literacy test of about 288. When this test was implemented nine years later, those who were
aged 49 had average scores of about 275.

Really? I am not sure what this reported 13 point drop in scores could mean, but anecdotally I notice that what we read and how we read changes with age and with technology. I think that the possibilities and strategies for engaging with print material changed quite significantly between 1994 and 2003.

How many of us, when working with newcomers preparing for citizenship tests, or helping young friends do homework, or watching that show where people pit their wits against those of elementary school students, have reflected on how much of what we learned about math, civics, history, natural science in our school days has fled from our knowledge bank? Speaking personally, I am sure that any tests on geometry or the life cycle of frogs would show a drop of much more than 13 points over the years.

Come on everybody. Stop cluttering up the conversations about literacy and education with this weird, incomprehensible data. Every time I read one of these reports I think of this:

This is not the information age.
It is an age of data with delusions of grandeur.
Sorry, I cannot remember where I heard that or who said it. But I used to.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Check out the Devil's Dictionary.

Here is the definition of accountability:
ACCOUNTABILITY, n. The mother of caution.

And a few more:
ACHIEVEMENT, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.

EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.

UNDERSTANDING, n. A cerebral secretion that enables one having it to know a house from a horse by the roof on the house. Its nature and laws have been exhaustively expounded by Locke, who rode a house, and Kant, who lived in a horse.

ACCORDION, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.

Have a good weekend! See you Monday.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

joy in the machine

Maria over at Alpha sent me the link to this video yesterday.
I thought it fit with our theme earlier this week.

Have you ever seen anyone have so much fun installing anything on a computer?

At the Ubuntu website, the operating system is described as "a community developed, linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need - a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more."

The word Ubuntu has its origin in the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. and refers to a humanist ideology focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. Ubuntu is seen as a traditional African concept.

Bishop Desmond Tutu describes it this way:
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
And Nelson Mandela, like this:

A traveller through our country would stop at a village, and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but Ubuntu has various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?

So whether we install Ubuntu onto our computers or into our hearts, it seems that joy will be part of our experience.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

literacies everywhere

One of the most exciting things I observed in Scotland last month was that literacy work is...everywhere! Groups that define community in various ways offer adult literacies. This means that some tutoring happens in the community where a person lives, and other support is integrated in programs that link to other ideas of community.

For example, the Glasgow Women's Library offers adult literacy tutoring but also works hard to make all of their programs accessible to women, no matter their formal education. Another example is the Glasgow Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre, which aims to be a truly inclusive space that recognizes and meets "varied needs in a climate of trust and respect". Learning is one of its basic services and the literacy project recently completed a book of student writing.

Offering literacy in community sites is one way of ensuring that what adult students learn is "relevant to their own context and everyday literacy practices." How does this work in practice?

As in many parts of Canada, literacy workers are hired for part-time, contract positions and are not paid for preparation time. Most literacy practitioners work in isolation and have few chances to get together with others to share what they are doing and what their questions are.

In this photo, Gerry Green and Anne Strain admire woven accordion books we made together. Anne volunteers as a tutor assistant at the Glasgow Women's Library while Gerry is a literacies tutor who works, on contract, at several sites.

The current campaign in Scotland is the first time in 20 years that adult literacies work has been supported in any significant way. One of the biggest challenges of the campaign was finding people to do the work.

The development coordinator at Learning Connections, Fiona MacDonald, wrote in Literacy Today that "Training opportunities had been rare, often unaccredited and with few routes for progression." In conjunction with the Scottish Qualifications Agency, Learning Connections developed accreditation for tutor assistants.

Here are the objectives for the unit called "Preparing to work with adult literacies learners." Tutors should be able to:
  • Explain and reflect on the social practice approach to adult literacies learning.
  • Explain and reflect on the roles and responsibilities of learner and tutor.
  • Explain and reflect on approaches to building confidence and motivation in adult literacies learners.
  • Explain and reflect on approaches to supporting the learning process with adult literacies learners.

Learning Connections has also developed a qualification for tutors of English for speakers of other languages with a focus on literacies. They are working on a post-secondary program for adult literacies tutors in Scotland.

But what does all of this accreditation mean? Work in adult literacies continues to mean part-time, contract work. Sound familiar?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

inside the machine

Okay ... that is social networking. And social networking is a web 2.0 thing. But what is web 2.0?

Michael Wesch of Kansas State University made this video. The work Wesch does with students seems quite inspiring ~ to the students in his classes and to me as a teacher.

The video is a fantastic graphic way to present web 2.0. One has to be a very fast reader to follow it. You can watch a sub-titled version here, but even the subtitles move by pretty quickly.

So if there is a global village, it is not a very equitable one, and if there is a tragedy of our times, it may be that we are all interconnected but we fail to see it and take care of our relationships with others. For me, the ultimate promise of digital technology is that it might enable us to truly see one another once again and all the ways we are interconnected. It might help us create a truly global view that can spark the kind of empathy we need to create a better world for all of humankind. I’m not being overly utopian and naively saying that the Web will make this happen. In fact, if we don’t understand our digital technology and its effects, it can actually make humans and human needs even more invisible than ever before. But the technology also creates a remarkable opportunity for us to make a profound difference in the world.
from an interview with M. Wesch at John Battelle's Searchblog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

social wha?

We hear a lot about Web 2.0 and social networking these days.
Some of want to understand it better and some of us want to help learners understand it better.

So what is social networking?
For those of us struggling to understand what the point of Facebook is,

Facebook profile

the good folks at commoncraft have made a plain language video to explain it to us.

They have also made videos about RSS and Wikis. I love the wiki video - they show how to use a wiki to plan a camping trip. Thanks commoncraft!
Wendell over at qualities - communities - literacies uses some of these applications with students and is constantly experimenting in the Web 2.0 environment.
Wendell introduced me to Beth at Beth's Blog - another great resource for educational technology stuff. The only problem is that her blog is so laden with video and networking programs it can be slow to load. Today her blog kept crashing my browser (Firefox). But it is a fascinating read when you can get in, which I usually can.
Happy networking everybody. See you on Facebook?

Friday, July 20, 2007

women hold up half the sky

2007 UNESCO Literacy Prize Winners Announced

Literacy projects in China, the United States, Nigeria, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania are the winners of the five UNESCO Literacy Prizes this year.

The theme for this year’s Prize was “Literacy and Health”, in particular, literacy related to general health care, nutrition, family and reproductive health and health-related community development.

Three of the five projects rewarded are projects focussed on women's literacy, empowerment and community development (China, Senegal and Nigeria).

The other two awards went to family literacy projects ~ a children's book project in Tanzania and a family literacy and health project in the US.

Thanks everybody for holding up your bit of the sky this week.
Have a great weekend. Until Monday...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

medieval underwear

or how this REALLY started - well in England at any rate...

Delegates at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, northern England, were told that social migration from rural to urban areas in the 13th century brought with it changes in attire.

Whereas rough and ready peasants thought little of wearing nothing under their smocks, the practice became frowned upon in the burgeoning towns and cities, leading to a run on undergarments.

And when the underwear was worn out, it provided a steady supply of material used by papermakers to make books.

"The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags," Marco Mostert, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and one of the conference organisers, said this week.

"These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books.
"In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased -- which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making."
And you thought that it had to do with the invention of the printing press.

This is from a story that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Friday, July 13, 2007 about this University of Leeds report.

It comes to the Café via Carl Mollins. Yep, that's my dad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

mapping the data

Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. There are 366 maps, also available as PDF posters.

For example here is the adult literacy map.
In this map, the size of the territory shows the proportion of all people over 15 years old that live there who are literate.

"I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops."

And on that note...

In this map, the size of the territory size shows the proportion of all people who live there who are members of trade unions.

Funny how, in all the talk about the correlation between literacy rates and GDP, we never hear about the correlation between being a union member and being literate that seems to be illustrated here (except in South Asia).

Below each map there is a link to the Technical notes for this data. Click on this link to find out the definitions and sources for the map. These graphic illustrations are interesting but they are mostly based on quantitative data and, as is often the case with quantitative data, tend to raise more questions than they answer.

And that brings us back to the old adage: "There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

sadness, uncertainty, relief, and anger

Wow. This really hurts. I have no words. Only sadness, uncertainty, and anger.

Ottawa, July 16, 2007 - At a meeting held on June 29, 2007, the Board of Directors of Laubach Literacy of Canada passed the following motion: “To wind down LLC in an orderly and structured fashion while ensuring the preservation and continuity of the NRB (New Readers Bookstore) and the training and certification core services.”

The wind-down will take place over the next seven to nine months. The wind-down refers only to the operations of the National Organization, and not to any of the provincial or local organizations, as their governance and operations are independent of the national organization.

...“LLC is very mindful of the impact of this decision on the provincial and local organizations, as well as their volunteers and students. Sadness, uncertainty, relief, and anger are all normal feelings in the face of the loss of something that so many people have supported, or received support from, over the past three decades. We are confident that this decision will best position us to ensure that LLC’s most valuable assets will continue to be available to the literacy community over the long term.”

Thanks for everything Laubach.
Let us know what we can do to make the next seven to nine months easier.

Let's all send the announcement to everyone we know.
And let's all send Laubach Literacy of Canada our words of support.

Monday, July 16, 2007

word of the day


Some Canadians felt it as they listened to the verdict in the Conrad Black case.

And some of us who spend much of our working lives reporting to bureaucrats on products, outcomes, deliverables, timelines, etcetera, felt a little schadenfreudish as we listened to George Bush Jr. defend the fact that his war strategy has been judged not satisfactory on eight out of eighteen benchmarks.

"Two months ago, ... Congress established 18 benchmarks to gauge the progress of the Iraqi government. ... Today my administration has submitted to Congress an interim report that requires us to assess -- and I quote the bill -- "whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is or is not being achieved."

Of the 18 benchmarks Congress asked us to measure, we can report that satisfactory progress is being made in eight areas. ... In eight other areas, the Iraqis have much more work to do. ... And in two remaining areas, progress was too mixed to be characterized one way or the other.

Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks. Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism. ..."

Why schadenfreude? Well, no matter how you feel about the occupation of Iraq, there is delicious justice in seeing how even the mighty struggle when we try to predetermine outcomes in complex situations. And watching the most powerful man in the world trying to justify being marked less than satisfactory was kinda like icing.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I saw this and thought of you ... have the best weekend ... rest up ... enjoy the timelessness of it all. We'll see you here next week ...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

time to learn

The majority of learners (35) reported that estimating how long it will take to reach a goal was difficult. Many learners seemed to link time limits with being pressured or rushed, something they needed to avoid to be successful. One learner reported, “For me, I don’t count times. If you put a time, it’s like a rush and you do everything wrong.” George felt that “sometimes timed goals lead to failure and depression.” These typical responses did not appear to be linked to learners’ length of time in their programs. ...

Fifteen learners said that to commit to a timeline would be setting themselves up for disappointment and perhaps failure. For many of these learners, estimating a timeline for their learning brought up negative memories from past school experiences where they had not completed their education, a particular course or covered an academic concept in the time allotted. Some expressed a fear that if you did not reach your stated goal within an estimated time frame, you would be asked to leave the program, even when clearly this was not a program policy or practice.

Five learners described learning as a life-long pursuit, so timelines were not necessary. Three learners in this category participated in their respective programs, worked towards and achieved specific short-term goals and then exited. They returned to the program when they required specific literacy skills and knowledge for another goal. For example, Venus participated in her literacy program a few years ago with the aim to read and write for everyday purposes, a goal she accomplished. Recently she returned to her literacy program to work on understanding and managing household bills.

Five learners said it was difficult to determine how long the learning would take due to diverse changing life circumstances. Estimating how long it will take to reach goals could be affected by issues such as daycare, employment, health, or part time versus full time programs. For many of the women who were single parents, the availability of daycare and the health of their school age children often interrupted participation in their programs.

Eight learners were not sure how long it would take to reach their goals; however, they did not provide explanations for their uncertainty.

from I Open Up: Exploring Learners' Perspectives on Progress
by Susan Lefebvre, Patricia Belding, Mary Brehaut, Sarah Dermer, Anne-Marie Kaskens, Emily Lord, Wayne McKay and Nadine Sookermany

You can listen to Nadine and Susan talk about this project here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

welcome to the blogosphere alpha

AlphaPlus has created a blog to share ideas, links, news and information about literacy and employment training in Ontario and elsewhere.

Two members of the AlphaPlus staff, Flora Doehler and Maria Moriarty are the main contributors to this blog.

Flora has been at AlphaPlus since 2001 and has worked in the information and resource service and as a web developer and designer. Flora is a painter, an accomplished gardener and nature lover. Her favourite place to be (when she’s not at AlphaPlus) is Bear River, Nova Scotia.

Maria has worked at AlphaPlus for more years than she cares to remember. She has worked in the information and resource service and in supporting research and research in practice projects. Maria is an enthusiastic, if amateur, gardener, an avid reader and baseball fanatic. Her favourite place to be (when she’s not at AlphaPlus) is in one of her two home towns, Montreal and Dublin.

They are making a lively, collaborative space where we can share knowledge, experience and questions about adult literacy and employment training. This blog will connect people, and ideas so that we can all learn from each other and can respond to changes, challenging times and opportunities as they come up.

Maria and Flora will post information and links to adult literacy, resources, issues, questions, good news, and sometimes not so good news. They invite adult literacy workers, practitioners, researchers as well as employment training agency staff to share information, ideas and questions on the blog.

Monday, July 9, 2007

and my wishbone's connected to ...

Good Monday morning tout la gang.
I hope that you all had a fantastic 07-07-07.

This quote on Julia's blog made me laugh.
And then stand at attention.

"You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be."
- Richard from Texas

This is going to be my motto this week.
And for much longer if I can manage it.
What about you? What is your motto this week?

(the photo is a detail of the fishers memorial at peggy's cove. the memorial was carved into granite over many years by a pc resident. now, there is backbone on top of backbone.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

learn anything you want

Coming here as soon as Nancy wins the lottery...

The learners’ stories combine to create an eloquent narrative about the value of adult and community learning, celebrating the energising, life-enhancing, health-giving and career-building consequences of non-accredited programmes.

Others spoke of being unexpectedly and irrevocably ‘hooked’ by their experience into becoming committed learners. This was underpinned by an appreciation of the intrinsic value of learning as well as the contingent economic, social and intellectual benefits. In some cases this extended to a sense of entitlement: ‘You should be allowed to learn just for the hell of it.’ In many ways, their enthusiasm echoes the eclectic vision offered by David Blunkett in the Foreword to The Learning Age – of learning as a nutrient for civic, social, economic, artistic and spiritual activity.

The opportunity to study without qualifications was widely appreciated. The benefits were seen as wider than the achievement of agreed learning outcomes, including the recognition of unanticipated (or unspecified) but valued gains such as greater confidence and self-awareness. Reference was made both to the lack of pressure and competition associated with qualifications, and to the dignity of having greater choice about what was learned. This was described as an ‘adult’ approach and something that distinguished their experience from school. ‘At school you are told what you will learn. It’s an adult way of learning, to make your own choices.
from the executive summary of the NIACE project
(National Institute of Adult Continuing Education - England and Wales)

Proof Positive: a report on research into learners’ views on approaches to identifying achievement in non-accredited learning

by Kate Watters and Cheryl Turner

Happy weekend everybody. See you Monday.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

critical assessment

Assessment and evaluation also bear the effects of our failure to fully contextualize the lives of learners. Union educators have pointed out that the assumption underlying much of workplace literacy is that workers and management have the same interests in education. Certainly, some interests are shared, but others aren't.

More importantly, educational programs that direct learners toward participating in and measuring up to existing standards, understanding existing systems, and complying with organizational goals usually leave out avenues for conceptualizing, supporting, and making change.

What the work of anthropologists shows is that the population in our programs needs not only literacy but also an expansion of existing opportunities for both work and education. We and our students need to understand not only how education affects work, but also how racism and sexism, and the social capital that comes with class status, determine which jobs are available to whom.
(p. 13)
Politics, Policy, Practice And Personal Responsibility:
Adult Education In An Era Of Welfare Reform

by Deobrah D’Amico,
Ph.D. Consultant to the Adult Literacy Media Alliance,
the Consortium for Worker Education and the Literacy Assistance Center

NCSALL REPORTS #10 April 1999

click on cartoon for more legible version
originally published october 2004 in the literacy enquirer

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

critical consciousness

à propos of nothing ;-)

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."

"But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or sub oppressors. The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradiction of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them to be men is to be oppressors."

"The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creation of people, people themselves, time, everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal. ...The oppressed, as objects, as things, have no purposes except those their oppressor prescribes for them."

"It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as subjects of the transformation."
Paulo Freire
from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968
compiled by M. M. (thanks!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I was watching a rerun of The Hour and saw this interview with Ralph Nader.
He was talking about his book, Seventeen Traditions, which he describes as "a love story for my mother and father".

part 1:

part 2:

Click on the You Tube logos to see these videos in a larger format.

The website is in large part an ad for the book, but I was thinking that it might be interesting to read some of the traditions with students, write some of our own and submit them or make our own space for our traditions. I am thinking that participating in seventeen traditions might be a way to honour our own wisdom, insight and knowledge and that of our parents, grandparents and great~grandparents ~ the knowledge that is passed orally and treasured within families and communities but not often considered by policymakers and 'decision-makers'.

What do you think? If you have a chance to try this out, let us know how it went. If you would like to use this space or space on the Literacies website to present your collection, contact us.