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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


At Literacies we will be closing up for Christmas tonight. For all of you who are having holidays this week, have a wonderful, festive time. We are feeling especially celebratory because Canada could see its first cross-country white Christmas since 1971!

❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄

Merry Christmas babies.
You surely treat us nice.
Now we feel like we're living in paradise.

❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄

This has been another challenging year to be a literacy worker. Long before bankers and auto-workers were feeling the effects of this recession, we saw many good projects and programs lose funding. We see more and more learning communities struggle to sustain themselves despite diminishing resources and too many colleagues struggle to make a living from the work they love and do so well. But through it all we see your unwavering commitment to learning, community, and justice. You strengthen our backbones, tickle our funny bones, and light up our wishbones. Thank you babies. You are paradise.

❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄ ☃ ❄

Monday, December 22, 2008

the triple triple

I hope you all had a magical winter solstice and managed to stay warm and cozy on the longest night of the year. Here in Toronto, we were told to expect, as a follow up to the hyperbolically dubbed snowmageddon, a snowpocalypse. It turned out to be more of a snow calypso; scattered flurries of giant swirling flakes that made the big city feel like a tiny snowglobe.

I have noticed that a lot of the literacy folks who are also Facebook friends seem to enjoy playing the Scrabble-like games available on the 'book. For all those word-loving literacy workers, please enjoy this video called Craziest by Liz Dubelman of VidLit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

fanatics in the attic

happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

help 4 those trying to keep up

Butterscotch.com is "a portal into the world of technology." Like the CommonCraft Plain English Series (a big favourite here at the café), Butterscotch can help you do more with the technology you know about and learn about new developments. Butterscotch's tutorials offer demos, tours, tips and tricks and a step-by-step guides for the software, Windows, Mac and online services in plain English, without the jargon.

Butterscotch also hosts a number of shows:

The A-List Show at Butterscotch "does the leg work, trolling hours of YouTube footage, email forwards and silly sites to find the best soon-to-be viral videos, Internet memes and bizarre online trends. ... We're wasting time online so you don't have to."

The Lab Rats Show "demystifies technology;" the hosts "discuss everything from practical ways to combat identity theft to keeping kids safe online, from wall mounting a flat panel TV to fixing a broken iPod."

The Miss Download Show "gives the scoop on ... fresh, powerful, fun and useful software that's worth the download."

And the The Noob Show "offers tech 101 for newbies and interesting info for seasoned veterans... important tech questions are answered in friendly, approachable and easily understood language."

cartoon by Hugh MacLeod,
retrieved from gaping void on December 10, 2008.

Monday, December 15, 2008

keeping up

Overheard: Facebook is so 2004.

Please note: I joined facebook in 2007.
And only then because my 20something relative invited me.

cartoon by Hugh MacLeod retrieved from his site: gaping void.
(sorry - i have lost the url for the exact post.)

Friday, December 12, 2008


happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

help 4 procrastinators

Not that there is anything wrong with procrastinating but just in case you are getting sick of it, or need to get something done, here are two sites that may help.

First, Write Or Die from Dr. Wicked, a proponent of writing quickly.

"Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you're fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences."

Warning: Kamikaze mode erases your words if you stop. But Gentle or Normal mode are much less destructive and might be fun for some students. Some people might enjoy trying to beat the clock.

Second is a special formula found at 43 folders, "a website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work."

Procrastination hack is "a squirelly new system to pound through my procrastinated to-do list. ... It’s called (10+2)*5 and here’s why:

  • 10 - Work for ten minutes with single-minded focus on moving toward completion on a single task. Ten minutes, and that’s all you’re allowed to do is work, work, work. No cheating, because (DING!) you actually get a break when you’re done…
  • 2 - After ten minutes of sweaty, dedicated work you get a 2-minute break to do whatever you want—drink coffee, call your bookie, whatever. When the two minutes are up, it’s back to work on the next task on your list. This is important.
  • *5 - You’re going to iterate this four more times for a total of one hour’s working/breaking."
Visit the web page to find out what supplies you need and the important squirrely rules that ensure success. Warning: The language on this site is a bit hipster and colloquial. Students may enjoy working to this formula.

Monday, December 8, 2008

election day

happy election day quebec. bon chance and all that.

'tis the season

For those who give gifts at this time of year, here are a couple of websites that can help answer the questions, "What do I get for Aunt Alice?" and, "What do I do with this strange trinket from Aunt Alice?"

At Kiva.org you can join a community of lenders (people from countries with relatively robust economies) that supports a community of entrepreneurs (people from countries with less robust economies). Kiva gift certificates allow your friends and family to browse profiles of entrepreneurs looking for financial support, and choose someone to lend to. Kiva collects the funds and then passes them along to a microfinance partners who distribute the funds to the entrepreneur. Over time, the entrepreneur repays the loan. Repayment and other updates are posted on Kiva and emailed to lenders who wish to receive them. When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend to another entrepreneur, donate their funds to Kiva (to cover operational expenses), or withdraw their funds.

DreamBank.org is a Canadian gift registry website where you can post your dream gift - something special that you'd like friends and family to contribute to for your birthday and holidays, instead of giving you "stuff" that you may not need or really want. DreamBank provides a way for your friends and family to help you do, or have something special. DreamBank uses PayPal to process dream funds but has worked out the best possible fee schedule for users and promises to continue to enhance these discounts as they grow. Contributors pay $2.25 Canadian transaction fee on each contribution and Dreamers pay a 2.5% cash-in fee (on dream fund total). DreamBank gives 10% of all net transaction revenue to a group of selected charities. Shopping at DreamBank can help the planet by reducing the waste caused by packaging, manufacturing and transportation.

These ideas and more from this post @ publicbroadcasting.ca.

Friday, December 5, 2008

normally carefully immediately

happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

research into practice

"Research has helped us to understand the impacts of violence on learning and to identify ways to address them. How can we move this research more widely into literacy practice? This question was a starting point for research by eleven practitioners from across Canada."

In Moving research about addressing the impacts of violence on learning into practice they describe their research and share what they learned in print and multimedia presentations.

The launch for this website, the book and the DVD is here in Toronto on Friday, December 12, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. If you can make it to the launch you can meet the Ontario-based researchers for this project and watch some of the multimedia pieces, listen to readings and join in the discussion.

If you will not be in Toronto on Friday, don't worry. You can watch the multimedia pieces and find the readings by visiting the website. It is a great place to stop, learn, reflect and explore.

The Toronto launch will be held here:
OISE/UT, 7th floor, in the Peace Lounge
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
252 Bloor Street West, Toronto (St. George subway station)

Monday, December 1, 2008

playing chicken on parliament hill

Well things are getting politically exciting here in the icebox. Our current minority Conservative government proposed a mini-budget that left many confused and perplexed. In amongst a few proposals to ease financial were the following items: Civil servants would have their right to strike suspended for a year; the public funding for political parties, a measure introduced as a campaign funding reform measure aimed at limiting the influence of private interests, would be eliminated; and the right to appeal pay equity rulings would be removed.

The opposition parties responded that they cannot support the proposed financial statement because it addressed economic issues too lightly and included measures that reflect a particular brand of conservative ideology.

Thomas Walkom calls Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic update, "a bizarre document that bears no relation to either reality or any of the current prime minister's recent statements" and that "downplays [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper's fears of a lengthy economic depression, ignores his stricture not to cut back at a time when governments should be doing more and singles out seemingly random targets in an effort to solve problems that don't exist."

Now the opposition parties are working to form a coalition that can replace the Conservatives after a non-confidence vote and the Conservatives are backtracking on some proposals, calling the potential coalition undemocratic, releasing excerpts of covertly made tapes of opposition party meetings, and questioning the leadership of their party.

What does this all mean for federal literacy policy and funding? Who knows. The Conservative Party has restricted funding for research and development in literacy and has stated a number of times that it is not the federal government's role to provide remediation for people who failed in the past, which of course says more about their lack of understanding about adult literacy than the people to whom they are referring.

We will keep watching this story and once the dust settles we will try to figure out if literacy work will be better supported by the potential coalition government of if we will be looking at more of the same.

Friday, November 28, 2008

a huge hug

happy weekend everybody.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

each one

Here is what Charlie Angus wrote about the forum:

Meegwetch to the hundreds of students and activists who made it to Toronto today for the historic "EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT CONFERENCE" hosted by the children of Attawapiskat. It was one of the most inspiring events I have ever attended. We know so many supporters and friends couldn't make it so here are some of my own quick highlights of the day:

16-year-old Serena Koostachin stood up and gave an inspiring speech that invoked the spirit of Rosa Parks. "We are the children who have spent our entire life sitting at the back of the bus. And we aren’t going to sit at the back any longer. Do you know the story of Rosa Parks in Alabama? In those days, Black people had to sit at the back of the bus. It was the way things had been done for years. And then, one day Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus and said she wasn’t going to sit at the back any longer. One person stood up for her rights and she helped change America. All across Canada First Nation children go to school in crappy portables or in buildings that are condemned. This is the way things have been done for years in Canada – ever since the days of the Residential Schools. But the children in our community stood up and said no. We aren’t willing to sit at the back of the education bus any more."

Another highlight was when all the schools present stood up and said why they were there. It took over 20 minutes to list off the schools -- London, Ottawa, Waterloo, Woodstock, Mississauga, Timmins, Exeter, plus so many schools from Toronto.

Chief Terry Waboose of Nishnabi Aski Nation gave a powerful talk where he thanked the children of Attawapiskat for their pride and refusal to give up hope. Then he said, but what about all the children in the rest of our territories? "If we can fill a room with so many people who care about Attawapiskat then we need to fill Toronto stadium to help the children of Pikangikum, North Spirit Lake, Cat Lake, etc."

The leadership from all the school boards and education leaders was inspiring. But the real leaders were the students. The Attawapiskat youth leaders made us so proud but we were also so proud of the hundreds and hundreds of students who committed to take the campaign into their schools and their communities. The Attawapiskat campaign has been called the largest youth-driven children's rights movement in Canadian history. It just got a whole lot bigger today.

Looking forward to the students and activists who will be posting great photos and video of the event.

Every student left this event with the task: EACH ONE REACH ONE - -EACH ONE TEACH ONE.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

attawapiskat update

We first wrote about the situation with the elementary school in Attawapiskat in March here.

Since then a lot has happened. People have been working hard, organizing and campaigning.

The children of Attawapiskat have formally put the Canadian government on notice that they intend to challenge Canada’s record at the upcoming United Nations review of the Rights Of the Child Convention. (click here to read more)

Thirteen-year-old Shannen Koostachin has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her fight to get a school built in her impoverished Cree community of Attawapiskat. (click here to read more)

Today the Attawapiskat Human Rights Youth Forum will take place at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

They invited Chuck Strahl, the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister to join them. He sends his regrets.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Do you know about ELMO?

No not that Elmo.

The Exemplary Literacy Material Online Reviews site by Literacy BC.

It is a "is a free, interactive, online database of adult and family literacy resources and reviews. It was developed to meet the ongoing need adult literacy providers and learners have for appropriate and high quality instructional and learning resources."

At ELMO you can:

  • Use ELMO Reviews to find resources - such as a novel for an adult learner, curriculum for literacy instructors, a tutor toolkit, a family literacy DVD, or a useful ESL Web site.
  • Discover which resources have proven useful - read reviews (and comments on the reviews). Check for mini-reviews (opinions) and field-reviews (how effective a resource is in practice.)
  • Add your voice - log in and writing your own review, comment on a review, or suggest a new resource for the ELMO reviewers to read.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2nd career?

"Just some hope" from Geek and Poke.

Second Career refers to an Employment Ontario initiative.
Literacy and Basic Skills
is another Employment Ontario program.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

one x one

I have been a quite off schedule on the blog lately. I am very sorry about that. I have been doing a bit of other work and that has taken me away. And I just am not sure what to say about literacy these days. I think it has to do with the fact that some of us, because of funding cuts, are not sure what the future holds and when we talk about literacy in general or our own work we always come back to that question. Many who work in literacy -- or in any publicly funded community development work -- spend a good bit of our working lives in this space. Planning for things that may or may not happen. Trying to figure out how to make things happen with no money. Trying to figure out how to make a living and do literacy work at the same time.

In thinking through some of these things, not very effectively so far I will admit, I keep going back to an article by Umair Hague: Obama's Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators.

The seven lessons are:

1. Have a self-organization design.

2. Seek elasticity of resilience.

3. Minimize strategy.

4. Maximize purpose.

5. Broaden unity.

6. Thicken power.

7. Remember that there is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal.

Right now I am thinking a lot about number 3.

"Obama's campaign took a scalpel to strategy - because they realized that strategy, too often, kills a deeply-lived sense of purpose, destroys credibility, and corrupts meaning."

More and more, literacy programs and organizations are being expected to or are asking to engage in strategic planning processes. We think of it as a way of finding answers to how to move forward in uncertain times. We hire consultants and post the result of our 3-day planning retreats on our websites. And then what? How do we do long term planning when we know that will probably never have the resources to carry out the plans? Or that circumstances change almost daily and the plan that made so much sense just a few months ago seems quite irrelevant to the purpose of today? And what about the heartbreak of engaging in these processes with partners to find the results of our work, the hard won compromises and recommendations shelved and soon to be forgotten?

Many literacy workers choose literacy because they want to live their lives with "a deeply-lived sense of purpose" and what Hague seems to be saying is in order to achieve number 4, maximize purpose, we must do number 3, minimize strategy. Perhaps number 3 also gets us more easily to number 2, the elasticity of resilience that would help us sustain our purpose in the face of changing governments and each administrations' strategic planning and ensuing policy whims. Do we respond to the barrage of strategies with little strategy of our own but with deep purpose and resilience? What if instead of speaking back to policy with strategies and recommendations of our own, we broadened our unity and thickened power of the whole field?

Some would say that many already do. I agree. I see it and I hear about it all the time but I see it happening program by program. I wonder how we could do this as a field and what would happen if we tried.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

bringing pomo to life

Inspired by MFlavin and the haiku writing students, I made a movie at xtranormal. It is pretty cool, reasonably straight forward and, for now, free.

I wanted to practice so I used a cartoon that Tracy Westell and I did in 2004 for the Literacy Enquirer called PoMo (PostModern) Cloze.

The result is below or you can go to xtranormal and see it here: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch?e=20081112192610609

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

shame to be at war

On Remembrance Day, the National Film Board's Front Lines will be available for viewing online.

A tribute to the combatants in the First World War, this film traces the conflict through the war diary and private letters of five Canadian soldiers and a nurse. Hearing them, the listener detects between the lines an unspoken horror censored by war and propriety.

The film mingles war footage, historical photos and readings of excerpts from the diary and letters. The directorial talent of Claude Guilmain breathes life into these 90-year-old documents and accompanying archival images so that we experience the human face and heart of the conflict.

For the educational sector, five documentary vignettes have been drawn from the film: Nurses at the Front, The Officer's Role, The Life of the Soldier, Faith and Hope and The Trenches, each with further information on its particular subject.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Here are a few definitions of literacy.
Do you agree with any of these? What would your definition of literacy be?

Go to our Jottit page and click on edit to help create a definition. We can keep editing the definition until we get it to where we are happy with it. You can always see the history if we want to revert to an earlier version or recapture an idea that gets deleted.

Jottit uses a formatting system called Markdown. To see how to format your writing, click on the formating help link in the top right corner.

Anyone can edit anything here so let's see what happens.

If you want to learn more about Jottit and see how to use this tool with students and coworkers, there is a demo here.


A person is literate who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on his/her everyday life.
United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1951
Literacy work, like education in general, is a political act. It is not neutral, for the act of revealing social reality in order to transform it, or of concealing it in order to preserve it, is political. Literacy is not an end in itself. It is a fundamental human right.
International Symposium for Literacy, Persepolis, 3-8 September 1975
Literacy is a person’s ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work, and in the community in order to reach one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.
International Adult Literacy Survey, 1995
Literacy is a complex set of abilities needed to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture – alphabets, numbers, visual icons - for personal and community development. The nature of these abilities, and the demand for them, vary from one context to another. In a technological society, literacy extends beyond the functional skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to include multiple literacies such as visual, media and information literacy. These new literacies focus on an individual’s capacity to use and make critical judgements about the information they encounter on a daily basis. However a culture defines it, literacy touches every aspect of individual and community life. It is an essential foundation for learning through life, and must be valued as a human right.
Centre for Literacy of Quebec, currently at http://www.centreforliteracy.qc.ca/def.htm

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


via www.patrickmoberg.com

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


happy election day american cousins!

Monday, November 3, 2008

literacy unknown

Wow. That was a long break. I went to Calgary to the Health Literacy Institute hosted by the Centre for Literacy of Quebec and Bow Valley College. I spent three days in Calgary at the institute, three days in Edmonton meeting with Literacies colleagues and touring the city and then two days on the train travelling from Edmonton back to Toronto. You can see some of what I saw over at storyjuice.

The institute was an amazing event. I wish that you all could have been there. It was a meeting of people who brought academic theory, practical experience and wide and deep understanding of how to put research into practice and how to develop research out of practice. The one caveat that struck me is one that often strikes with regards to terms such as health literacy, information literacy, computer literacy, financial literacy, etc. It seems that there is always a point where general literacy, in the reading and writing sense of that word, gets mixed in with the concept of comunicating complex and complicated information in ways that can be understood, evaluated and used by a diverse group of people. I think that we need to be careful to ensure that health literacy (and all of those other kinds of literacy) is not be dependant upon or integrated with reading-and-writing literacy. People have a right to good information that they can use to manage their health and other aspects of tehir lives regardless of their ability to get information from print materials.

And that always leads to questions about the word literacy: what does it mean? does it now mean so many things that it actually means nothing? In the history of the English language, no group has had much longterm success in trying to control meaning and usage so it is unlikely that the literacy field will ever be the place where the definition of literacy lives, but how well does the word serve us now? How well does it describe the work, the learning, the research, the teachers and the learners?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

strategic planning

We need your help.

It looks as though Literacies is facing another break in funding with no real idea how long that break will be.*

Some days we are resigned to the fact that Issue #10 will be the last, but as we put Issue #9 together we are struck, as always, by how important it is for us to have this place to express and share all the things we learn, understand, experience, think, create and dream.

For our forum this time we invite you to tell us what you like about Literacies, what could be better, what you think of some options for continuing to publish during a funding hiatus, and what you would be willing/able todo to support the work of Literacies during the hiatus and beyond. We will use your input to make decisions about our future, to demonstrate that people care about Literacies and to advocate for the options that are important to you. We’re ready to hear from you!

There are 22 questions in this survey. Most questions are multiple choice It will take approximately 15 minutes (?) to complete the questionnaire.

The survey will be open from October 13 until December 1.

To read the questions before you take the survey, download this PDF document (40kb).

*Literacies is funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) for one more issue. The last OLES request for proposals was to develop workplace literacy tools and resources. The work that we at Literacies do--practitioner networking and knowledge mobilization--does not meet the criteria for this call. OLES has promised future calls but as this issue goes to press an election has been called. Regardless of the outcome, we know that there is often a post-election freeze on requests for proposals.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Cheryl Turner from Guelph Action Read talks about participating in the Tongues in Trees project:

Tongues in Trees was an outdoor installation at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre as a part of the Shakespeare - Made in Canada Festival. Dawn Matheson, a multimedia artist and writer living in Guelph, volunteered at a poetry reading that included adult literacy learners from Action Read Guelph and was inspired by the voices speaking their own words and those of famous poets. Dawn and a group of learners worked to reveal Shakespeare as the “artist of and for Everyman, Everywoman” he really is.

Happy harvest weekend.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


The Ontario Literacy Coalition conference was a bewildering, challenging and exhilarating 3 days. Like all the best conferences, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and network with esteemed colleagues.

The learner forum was incredibly energizing and I found myself being drawn there quite a bit more than I had planned. The creation of the special bulletin resonated with some learners at the forum. I think that both practitioners and learners are concerned about being left out when decisions that will affect them are being discussed and made. Learners want to read the two reports for themselves in order to contribute their own response to the recommendations. They have asked for clear language versions that are accessible to learners.

Alan Quigley, in his keynote speech, reminded us of how far our knowledge, skills and values have taken us. At the conference our great capacity to apply our heads, hands and hearts to potentially divisive conversations was challenged a number of times but, in the end, most were navigated in a way that was positive, inclusive and constructive. Great courage was shown, great leadership came to light and innovative approaches flourished.

Thanks again to the OLC staff and committee for a most memorable and engaging opportunity. Thanks to all who participated for enriching, energizing, supporting, stretching, reaching, demanding, pushing, questioning... in ways that make us proud to know you.

The OLC will be posting information and reults from the conference on their newly launched website as soon as they can.

Monday, October 6, 2008

reading the reports

Recently a group of literacy workers and researchers came together to apply their expertise and analysis to two reports that could inform education policy decisions in Canada.

Learning Literacy in Canada: Evidence from the International Survey of Reading Skills, was released by Statistics Canada in January 2008. It used data from the International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS) to offer information that can help “policy makers, researchers and practitioners” decide “how to plan and deliver appropriate and efficient reading instruction for different adult learners” (p. 19).

Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s future literacy needs is a synthesis of work by a number of researchers who were involved in developing IALSS. This report, released by the Canadian Council on Learning in July 2008, offers program recommendations, practices, and strategies for improving the skills of the low-skilled readers identified by the ISRS.

We have created Reading the Reports (PDF download) to let you know what they are saying. We hope you find this brief summary of their discussion helpful and informative.

The group is: Tannis Atkinson (editor of Literacies), Dr. Pat Campbell (Grass Roots Press / Education for Change), Dr. Richard Darville (Carleton University), Brigid Hayes (Brigid Hayes Consulting), Dr. Nancy Jackson (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto), and Tracey Mollins (publisher of Literacies).

What conversations have you been having about these reports? Let us know your thoughts, ideas and questions.

Friday, October 3, 2008

debating literacy - not so much

Well, did everybody survive the debates last night? Whew!

At about 9:30, literacy and the cuts to literacy programs finally got a mention from Elizabeth May in a discussion of cuts to the arts. Stephen Harper responded that the program that was cut was not a program that taught people to read. And that was it.

They may not have wanted to talk about it last night but, as a reminder, here is what was cut:

The Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program (ALLESP) [now Office of Learning and Essential Skills: OLES] is funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). It is a program that assists not only adult learners throughout the country, but teachers and tutors as well, in the form of training, professional development, curriculum development, research and knowledge exchange on best teaching practices. The network of literacy and learning coalitions that have been built up around this funding has enabled thousands of adults in [Canada] to continue their education by upgrading their reading and writing skills. Many literacy organizations help those from marginalized backgrounds, such as single mothers, underemployed individuals, persons on social assistance, immigrants and Aboriginal people.

As part of the $1 billion Conservative program cuts, local and regional literacy organizations that conduct capacity building initiatives, research and knowledge exchange, and promotion and awareness work will now stand to lose their HRSDC funding – a total of $17.7 million dollars over the next two years ($5.8 million in 2006-2007, and $11.92 million in 2007-2008). Although proposals have already been submitted, no funds will be allocated to current applicants of the 2006 ALLESP local and regional call for proposals. This local and regional stream of the ALLESP has been cancelled.

The government has designated the literacy cut under the heading of “Value for Money”, that is to say, “funding for third parties to further their interests or programs that are not effective, do not achieve results or are being refocused or targeted for improvement.” HRSDC plans to instead focus on its national ALLESP funding stream.

Since literacy falls into the category of education, many direct service agencies running literacy programs receive provincial funds from bodies such as the [provincial ministries] or school boards, and therefore may not see any funding cuts to their programs. This provincial money is often exhausted by agencies to provide the bare necessities in order for the program to run, such as providing a physical space, teaching materials, and instructors. However, the mounting fear is that these cuts will harm quality of service and the ability for adult learners to effectively take part in literacy programs, as those who will be hardest hit are literacy networks and coalitions. These coalitions play a substantial role in supporting direct service agencies, by providing essential services such as training for tutors and teachers, developing resource and learning materials, program development, advocacy, and research. Direct service agencies often do not have the proper resources to perform these fundamental tasks and therefore depend on coalitions for this assistance.

Because Canada is behind other industrialized nations by not having a national literacy strategy, the coalitions and networks have been acting as the string holding together Canada’s patchwork of literacy programs and services. The funding provided by HRSDC has greatly contributed to building a strong network of agencies and coalitions to help support adult learners in developing their literacy skills. The cut in funding will only erode this support network, therein isolating service providers and practitioners in our communities, hindering both knowledge exchange and the promotion of literacy in Canada.
from Faces of the Cuts: The Impact of Federal Program Cuts on Communities in Toronto - An Early Look at Selected Areas Slated for Funding Cuts Forum Convened by Community Social Planning Council of Toronto

Just to let certain political leaders know, even if you are not talking about literacy, funding for literacy teaching, research and development and literacy policy in Canada, WE are. And if your own numbers are correct and "4 out of 10 adult Canadians have low literacy levels" - that is a lot of votes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

doing and being

I have been doing a bit of research for a workshop about creating inclusive and accessible learning opportunities in multi-cultural settings. Whew. One thing I found was this video by IllDoctrine. He makes the point that, when you want to call a behaviour racist it is better to talk about the doing as racist and not accuse the person of being racist because that is a no win argument. It is a point that has been made by others but I think that IllD does it particularly well.

Friday, September 26, 2008


These election campaigns can be a bit hard to handle. And two on the continent at once is serious overload. Ze Frank is doing his own democracy projects and one of them is this song.

"I asked people to sing along to a basic track and send me the results as audio files. After I had about 20 in total I mixed the results together to create the chorus of the tune."

Have a listen. It will get you in a good frame of mind for the weekend.

This weekend is Word on the Street in some Canadian cities. If you are in Toronto, check out the Storied Neighbourhoods tent hosted by Diaspora Dialogues. I will be there. I think it is going to be good.

But whatever you do, remember to breathe.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

best laid plans

I am pretty sure that anyone who reads this blog also reads Wendell's blog but just in case you do not, check out his new posting, Plans.

Wendell writes about how, when we read intake forms and learner biographies, our minds inevitably drift to planning but

Of course, making plans before meeting the learner is simple folly. It's all too easy to impose my likes and dislikes on the brief biographies contained in the intake forms. What matters is their quality world pictures; their wants, hopes, interests, ideals. Better that I should wait patiently to meet them and talk with them.

because a learner's work and education history is NOT necessarily a predictor of what we want our work and education future to be.

None of this prevents me from scheming in advance of meeting learners. But it does prevent me from taking too seriously the plans I make for others.

I really hope all the policy-makers and -implementers with big plans for slotting teaching and learning into such things as learner-skills-attainment matrices read this post because this is why matrices DO NOT WORK with REAL PEOPLE.

Sorry - someone sent me this and I am feeling a little worn out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

literacy in the news BC-Style

The Vancouver Sun ran a 5-part series on literacy last week. The very best story :-) is the one by my cousin Suzanne Ahearne called A helping hand from literacy tutors. about Project Literacy Kelowna, a community-based program. In the story we hear about the program from the perspective of the program worker, a tutor, a learner and the executive director. We hear about teaching, learning, the muddy waters that are literacy and the funding roller coaster ride.

There is an accompanying audio piece where the learner and tutor talk more about working together.

Other stories can be found here:

There is a story called B.C. educators seeing more 'ground-zero' learners - but the link takes you to the Helping Hand story.

There is also a 4.5 minute video of an adult literacy class. And the photo gallery is here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

literacy workers speak out

Here are some excerpts from the comments on Carol Goar's article entitled Parties can't read literacy warnings:

42 percent represents a lot of votes!

42 percent of the working population that lacks the reading, language and vocabulary skills to participate in the knowledge economy represents a lot of votes. Pull those voices together under the banner of adult rights to literacy opportunities and funded programs and that’s a strong voice. Governments and politicians listen to strong voices (think banks). How can we get 42 percent of the working population to put adult literacy funding and opportunities into the mouths of our politicians? There lies the key to democracy. ...

short sighted and mean
Cutting funding to an adult literacy program is short-sighted and mean, but hardly surprising for heartless Harper.

Rhetoric costs nothing...
Students, instructors and employers know that we need to take urgent steps to provide quality, stable literacy programming so that adults who want to learn who want to improve their lives can exercise their right to do so. As you note federal politicians pay lip service to literacy but are unwilling to pay much more. The cuts in 2006 were cleverly engineered and packaged by the outgoing government. A quick tour of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills web site appears to show that this government is engaged in supporting literacy – but, literacy organizations know the “real” story. The funding process is narrowly-focused, convoluted, and opaque. Literacy organizations across the country are understaffed, under- funded and over-stretched. Applying for funding is so time-consuming and costly that many organizations cannot afford to do it. Essentially the process disqualifies many candidate organizations.

response to LTragg
I have worked in literacy for over 20 years and have met many wonderful people. I have never thought of a literacy learner as someone who as "sunk so far down the ladder as to be illiterate". Many, many people lack basic reading and writing skills through no fault of their own. For every learner, there is a story. Some people will freely admit that they messed up in school by not participating, skipping school, getting caught up in other behaviours, etc. But by far the majority have other stories that can include domestic violence, moving from town to town, learning disabilities, health issues and more. For those of you who don't believe that literacy is a real issue, I suggest you try volunteering in your local agency and put a human face on the issue of low literacy. Talk to people. Spend some time with them. Discover how struggling with skills that many of us take for granted can impact daily life.

Taking a position on literacy
Throughout the country, organizations are working in their communities to support adults who have difficulty using written language. For a political party not to have developed policy on literacy says to these organizations and the people they support that this work is not important. The Harper Government has ripped apart the small but crucial infrastucture that has connected and sustained organizations doing this this work. We need at least one of our political leaders to commit to rebuilding this infrastructure, in consultation with communities and literacy organizations throughout the country. Who will take up this challenge? Thank you to Carol Goar for issuing this challenge, and helping our leaders focus on this unsexy but essential issue.

We all benefit from putting literacy on the agenda

Many people experience literacy issues today and have in the past; it's the demands of the knowledge-based economy that brings the issues to the forefront because reading, writing, and other functional literacy skills such as filling out complicated documents and working with computers have become an integral part of our working activities. Canadian schools aren't doing badly; they are ranked high in the international PISA study assessing the reading, writing, math, and problem solving skills of 16 year-olds. When not put to work literacy skills can diminish greatly, we have to acknowledge that as a society, and help adults to remain or become contributing members to their work environment, family, and community again. Many of these adults have or had jobs, have or had paid taxes, and support their families. They have a right to better themselves. In the end, adult literacy learner or not, we will all benefit from a society, in which more people participate fully.

We Need This
After working for an adult literacy program in another province, I've definitely seen just how important such work is. For whatever reason, some of our children aren't learning as they should in school and they are graduated anyway, becoming adults that barely have the minimum to succeed. So yes, our schools should be doing better. But in the meantime, we have work to do on the community level to help both those born here and those who come here and have to learn English. So much of our strength as people comes from our ability to understand and be understood and literacy programs offer that education. And as Goar stated, our strength as families has so much to do with literacy. I hope our government reads this.

Public funding
Literacy will always need public sector to support to make sure that programs are accessible to the diverse group of people who seek learning opportunities – including, but not limited to, those who need upgrading for work. The federal government used to support a wide range of research, including research-in-practice, and professional development that moved us forward as a field and enriched our practice as individuals. We have seen no support for that type of groundbreaking work since the NLS was replaced by OLES. If we are to meet the challenges of providing accessible, relevant and innovative programming in the 21st century, we need both funding (provincial) for programming and support (federal) for research and professional development that is accessible, relevant and innovative.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

jumping into the conversation

Literacy workers and learners from around the country are responding to Carol Goar's piece on literacy in yesterday's Toronto Star. Here is what the Jumping In Group had to say:

From a literacy group

Dear Carol, We agree with you. Adult literacy is important. We are people in a literacy program. We wrote this together. We have jobs. We work hard. We pay taxes. We have children. We need education for ourselves and for our children. It is also good for the country. If you have a good education you can get a good job and don't have to take no crap from nobody. Thank you for getting the information out about literacy. The Jumping In Group

Posted by Jumping In Group at 7:52 AM Thursday, September 18 2008

Go to the story to read what others have to say including Guy Ewing and yours truly (traceym). You can comment too or agree or disagree with comments made by others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

literacy in the election campaign - NOT!

Literacy workers and learners who have been waiting to hear about how each party will fund and address literacy research and development after the election may have a long wait according to Carol Goar, who writes in today's Toronto Star:

...Regrettably, the federal government is withdrawing from the field. Eight months after taking power, the Conservatives chopped funding for adult literacy by $17.7 million [from a budget of $42 million]. They replaced the National Literacy Secretariat, set up Brian Mulroney 21 years ago, with their own Office of Literacy and Learning. But it deals only with national organizations. The network of provincial and local literacy organizations that linked thousands of volunteers has withered.


Across the country, educators, librarians, employers and community leaders are doing their best to reach out to people who need help reading, writing and getting started in a new country. But as Judith Maxwell, founding president of Canadian Policy Research Networks, notes: "Governments are more and more leaving it to the individual to find the right literacy training."

Naturally, this withdrawal of support at the top has affected morale in the trenches. Although charities such as the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournament, ABC Literacy, the Movement for Canadian Literacy and Frontier College are doing a terrific job, they can't provide a pan-Canadian action plan. Nor do they have the resources to reach the 9 million Canadians whose inability to meet the demands of a typical workplace is holding them back.

This ought to be an issue in the federal election campaign. But none of the political parties has made it a priority.

The Conservatives regard literacy as a provincial responsibility. One of the reasons they cited for cutting federal funding in 2006 was that it wasn't Ottawa's job to do "repair work" for provinces that weren't teaching kids to read properly in the first place.

The Liberals have said they will implement a national literacy strategy. But there's no mention of it – and no money for it – in their election platform.

The New Democrats pledge to "press for a pan-Canadian strategy on lifelong learning that would go beyond simply restoring the Conservative funding cuts." But they have not released details.

The Green party is committed to eliminating illiteracy, but has no plan to do it. It says illiteracy is a reflection of Canada's social deficit.

The Bloc Québécois has no literacy policy, except to demand higher provincial transfer payments.

One way to let the Star, other media outlets and perhaps election campaigners know that it is important to keep shining a light on the issue is to comment on this story.

* Remembering the cuts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

lavender freedom

Sometimes we ask ourselves the question, "What keeps us in this work?" Literacy workers in Canada are well-educated, smart and wise. They are self-directed learners who work hard at staying current in their field. They are self-directed innovators who use any available resource to maximum advantage. They play well with others. They could work anywhere.

In some places in Canada, literacy workers have stable employment, fair wages, good benefits and pleasant working conditions. But in most places, the opposite is the standard. So why do these talented and experienced people work here? Many talk about job satisfaction and I agree, but I wonder, if for some of us, there is not something else doing on.

I was twittering today and @hodgeman pointed to this interview with Bruce Campbell--any Xena fans out there?--who is a bit of a free spirit.

Mr. Campbell long ago stopped pursuing, deciding that instead of chasing stardom in Los Angeles he’d rather make his own movies, write a few books and basically not get involved in anything that would interfere with his ability to hang out on his middle-of-nowhere property, a lavender farm outside Ashland, Ore. ... Pleased as he is with the attention, and the steady work, Mr. Campbell admitted that there are days when he remembers why he has avoided taking parts in television series over the years. “For five years you’re trapped like a rat, in this lovely cage with silky paper on the bottom of it and a golden door that’s always locked,” he said. “Everyone takes good care of you, but you can’t go anywhere.”

Perhaps part of the literacy crazy wisdom is a free-spritedness that makes us resist the easy paths and the compromises that we have to make to walk upon them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

using our voices to make things better

It is Friday and we made it through the first full week back at school, the first week of the election campaign with its odd references to puffins and sparrows and so little reference to policy, another week in the endless U.S. election with its odd references to pigs in lipstick and Sarah Palin's odd performance, the seventh anniversary of the attack on the trade towers, earthquakes, hurricanes fires, the collision of particles in the Large Hadron Collider ... and so much more. Phew. And congratulations to all of us. This is a week that called upon our patience, our compassion and our critical literacy. I think we deserve a treat.

Last week zefrank posted this and I have been thinking about it ever since. I thought perhaps you would like it too. It is a poem about Deaf Poetry Jams by highschool students. Warning: There is a little bit of swearing in this video. Another warning: I always tear up a little at a certain point. But in a good way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

grains of sand

Culture is, in fact, nothing but a grain of sand, but therein lays its power, in its silent front. It operates in the dark. That is its legitimate strength.

It is full of people who are incomprehensible but very adept with words. They have voices. They know how to write, to paint, to dance, to sculpt, to sing, and they won’t let up on you.

From an open letter to Prime Minister Harper by Wajdi Mouawad

Frontline literacy practitioners are expected to do more with less. We spend increasing amounts of time on administration to answer demands for accountability. As outcomes are measured, it is easy to feel that our programs and our work are being measured. Who has time to read in a literacy program? Not the literacy workers. Who has time to write? Again, not the staff, unless it is writing grant proposals. What an irony that as literacy practitioners we can become alienated from the power of our own reading and writing. ...

We can better support our learners and ourselves if we use our own literacy abilities to shape this work that we love.

From Practitioners Making Time to Read and Write by Sheila Stewart, Literacies #1, Spring 2003.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the feudal lords of profit read some books

Every two weeks since April 16, 2007 Yann Martel has been sending Stephen Harper a book that has been known to expand stillness.


"On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

I was thinking about that, about stillness, and I was also thinking, more prosaically, about arts funding, not surprising since we fifty artists were there in the House to help celebrate the fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts, that towering institution that has done so much to foster the identity of Canadians. I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment, to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that—in conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens—is to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst—intolerance and totalitarianism—because incapable of thinking for themselves, and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit. ...

The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. ...

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness."

Check out the reading list, the letters and Mr. Harper's response at What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

paperwork and program work

Last week I read this in a CBC story about the listeriosis outbreak:

"Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors have since [March 31] had to deal with significantly more paperwork, which reduces their awareness of the everyday goings-on at meat-packing and processing facilities. ...The biggest concern from the inspection staff is simply the amount of time now they spend looking at reports and generating reports."

Sound familiar? (The less-than-highlights)

Reading further, opposition parties accused the government of cutting the food inspection budget. The government argued that the budget had actually been increased but that processes had been changed.

The federal Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz was quoted as saying:

"Those that might characterize paperwork in a derogatory sense, I would challenge, given that that scientific review demonstrates the safety and security of the entire process used to produce food."

Perhaps a scientific review does demonstrate the safety and security of the entire process but is it not a hands-on review by an inspector using professional knowledge, experience and judgment to assess and evaluate that ensures safety and security?

Is this another case of practitioner expertise being disregarded and devalued?

It is unlikely that anyone is going to die if literacy practitioners are restricted from using their professional knowledge, experience and judgment in their work, but what will be lost?

Monday, September 8, 2008

happy literacy day

Friday, August 15, 2008


I am heading westward for a little family fun -- camping on Newcastle Island and cafe-ing in Vancouver. And lots of other stuff too. I may not blog here for a bit so I am going to leave you one more zefrank video. I hope it feels like a little internet holiday. See you soon.

P.S. One person who thinks you're great is me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

conference in calgary on october 16

Health and Literacy:
Constructing Curriculum for Health-Care Providers.
A Learning Institute, October 16-18, 2008, Calgary.
Registration here.

Early bird registration deadline: August 31.

The Centre for Literacy, Bow Valley College, and the Health and Learning Knowledge Centre (CCL) are cosponsoring this three-day institute in Calgary from October 16-18, 2008.

What do we currently teach health-care providers about the connections between literacy and health? Do we agree on what should be taught to whom at what point in their professional training? What should physicianslearn about health literacy? What about primary care nurses? Public health nurses? Pharmacists? Radio-technicians? Aides? Social workers? Others? How should foreign-born providers be trained?

This Institute welcomes health-care providers from every branch of health-care service; curriculum developers in health-care and adult basic education and literacy; ESL providers, administrators, policy makers, and anyone with interest or expertise. We will share international promising practices and models, consider challenges, and propose new directions for grounded curriculum in health literacy.

Bow Valley College has provided subsidies for up to ten individuals from community-based organizations or for students registered in a post-secondary health-care program.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

rockin‘ the to do list

I just smashed through a big chunk of the list after a month of despair and procrastination. Why the despair? I was not sure if I could ever stop procrastinating. I was worried that I had developed an addiction to procrastination. Here is more on procrastination and addiction from zefrank:

Procrastination: not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

just make something

I feel at a loss for words. Does that ever happen to you? I guess it happens to zefrank sometimes and here is what he has to say about it:

Whew. That helps me. I hope it helps you too.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

two conferences on october 6 in toronto

Learn, Grow, Connect: Practicing community legal education in a diverse Ontario.
October 6 and 7, 2008 at the 89 Chestnut Conference Centre, Toronto..

Join us for two full days of panel discussions and small group sessions presented by experts, innovators, and experienced practitioners.

Connect with people from across Ontario who develop and deliver information to help their clients and communities understand their legal rights.

* Gain practical skills and knowledge, such as plain language tips and guidelines, best practices in adapting and translating information into other languages, and models for field-testing and evaluation.
* Learn from other participants and from experts on topics ranging from doing legal information needs assessments to running effective legal education workshops to using popular theatre, Facebook, YouTube, and community media to get your message across.
* Discuss how best practices from other sectors can help build a "practice of community legal education" and how your community legal education work can be supported in the future.

For more information on the program and to register and book your hotel room, visit the conference web site.

The Ontario Literacy Coalition Conference -- Spotlight on Learning: Literacy Takes Centre Stage..
October 6 and 7, 2008 at the Delta Chelsea Hotel, Toronto..

This event brings two learning models together in one program. The Training Event offers workshops and panel discussions for a wide range of audiences with an interest in literacy and life long learning. The Adult Literacy Learner’s Leadership Forum, running concurrently, gives student leaders an opportunity to learn, share and plan for coordinated future partnerships.

The Training Event and Leadership Programs offers a wide range of workshops categorized in the areas of Learner Leadership Forum, Technology (Computer Labs), Labour Market Initiatives, Applied Learning, Research and Policy, Family Literacy as well as Professionalism/Marketing.

Our goal for the event is to shine a spotlight on learning in its many forms. In showcasing the foundational importance of literacy as a cross-cutting integrated component of learning and living, that spotlight is also cast on the bright future of the literacy field in Ontario.

Online Registration is available now.