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, February 29, 2008

what the kids are doing now

Have a musical weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the (auditor) king is dead

So, Bronwen, what can we do?

We must give to our students a doubled gaze, to enable them to become critically literate, to become citizens at once capable of adapting and becoming appropriate within the contexts in which they find themselves and as responsible citizens capable of critique; citizens who can understand the constitutive work that discourse does and who can work creatively, imaginatively, politically, and with passion to break open the old where it is faulty and to envisage the new. Even more urgent is the task of giving them some personal tools for withstanding the worst effects of neoliberalism, for seeing both the pleasure and the danger of being drawn into it, for understanding the ways in which they are subjected by it. They need to be able to generate stable narratives of identity and to understand the way neoliberal discourses and practices will work against that stability.

We need to work at the level of both rationality and desire. Students must be trained in philosophy--to understand the range of discourses through which they, and others, are constituted, and how those discourses work at the level of reasoned argument and logic. It is essential too that they know how discourse works on desire. Desire goes beyond rationality and, to a large extent, is part of the mysterious, the poetic, the ineffable: in a realm not readily pinned down with words, not readily amenable to logic and rationality .... In various humanist guises, desire has been used as an indicator of who we ‘‘really’’ are, as signifying an essence that is ‘‘natural’’ and personal, as independent of social influence. But desire is spoken into existence, it is shaped through discursive and interactive practices, through the symbolic and the semiotic. Desires are constituted through the narratives and storylines, the metaphors, the very language and patterns of existence through which we are subjected--made into members of the social world. It is not a choice between compliance and resistance, between colonizing and being colonized, between taking up the master narratives and resisting them. It is in our own existence, the terms of our existence, that we need to begin the work, together, of decomposing those elements of our world that make us, and our students, vulnerable to the latest discourse and that inhibit conscience and limit consciousness.

I think what she is saying is that we work to discover each learner's personal What I Need to Learn list and we honour it every day in every class.

Monday, February 25, 2008

long live the (auditor) king

In The (im)possibility of intellectual work in neoliberal regimes Bronwyn Davies writes:

Don Watson describes the all-pervasive language of neoliberal managerialism as ‘‘unable to convey any human emotion, including the most basic ones such as happiness, sympathy, greed, envy, love or lust. You cannot’’ he says ‘‘tell a joke in this language, or write a poem, or sing a song. It is a language without human provenance or possibility’’.

Here is more about that language:
Oppressive state language--that is, currently, the language of neoliberal government--is more violent than its bland, rather absurd surface might lead us to believe. It is at work here, busily containing what we can do, what we can understand. It is the language in which the auditor is king. It is a language that destroys social responsibility and critique, that invites a mindless, consumer-oriented individualism to flourish, and kills off conscience.

And what it means to think critically:
To critique is risky work, not just because it might alienate those who are deeply attached to, or personally implicated in, the discourses to be placed under scrutiny but also because to draw attention to the very terms through which existence is made possible, to begin to dismantle those very terms while still depending on them for shared meaning making--even for survival--requires a kind of daring, a willingness to envisage the not yet known and to make visible the faults, the effects of the already known.

Stay tuned. This story has a happy(ish) ending.

Friday, February 22, 2008

essential skills

I was rereading an old gem from Stephen's Web and thought of you. Here is his list of Things You Really Need to Learn:
1. How to predict consequences
2. How to read
3. How to distinguish truth from fiction
4. How to empathize
5. How to be creative
6. How to communicate clearly
7. How to learn
8. How to stay healthy
9. How to value yourself
10. How to live meaningfully

What do you think? I think that most literacy workers and literacy learners carry personal what-I-need-to-learn lists in their heads. No matter what crazy matrix with no matter what crazy combination of 'essential' skills and IALS levels and outcomes and transition pathways and prescriptions and goals our funders like us to refer to and tell us will lead to success, we all have our own list of skills that are essential to us--lists that probably change from time to time, as our circumstances change and as we learn things.

And part of the poetry that literacy teachers do is to figure out each learners' list, teach to each list even though each learner has a slightly different list, adapt as the lists change and then translate all the musical things that happened into the reductionist prose of those weird matrices funders love to chart and graph and assign significance.

Pip over to Stephen's list to see what he means by each of these--there are some surprises. And have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

leisurely blog loop

I know that bloggers are not supposed to get into too many blog loop posts, but I was reading the EdTechie post that starts " John recently posted about Bertrand Russell and his essay 'In Praise of Idleness'," and some thoughts occurred.

I have been involved a couple of discussions lately about leisure-time reading and how ideas about reading for pleasure play out in adult literacy programs and for adult literacy learners. Some of us literacy workers start from a place where we think of leisure-time reading as an honourable and desirable way to engage with culture. Some of us, after working in the field a while, move to a place where we wonder if the whole concept is a middle class construct and one that we impose on literacy learners in a way that is invisible to us but very visible to them.

EdTechie, in pondering what Russell would make of Web 2.0, cites this quote:
"The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief."

So I am thinking that it is time to rethink some of my ideas about leisure time, reading for pleasure and class. If only I had the time. Maybe I should get off the blog loop for a bit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

word count

In Ontario and Manitoba we are celebrating our first-ever February statutory holiday. Family Day.

Saskatchewan started last year and Alberta has been taking the third Monday in February off since 1990!

Family Day or no Family Day, I know our loyal readers will check in so here is a Monday morning tidbit as usual.

Over at Literacy Source they have posted a 150-word history of English. Not quite 6, but pretty good.

Just think, I made this lengthy attempt. If only I had known.

The Literacy Source folks generally pay pretty close attention to word counts.
Here is how they explain scaffolding in their tutor workshop notes.

1. Teacher does it

2. Teacher does it, student helps

3. Student does it, teacher helps

4. Students do it

Perfectly pithy.

P.S. Click on the picture for another blog about English.

Friday, February 15, 2008


The idea for a 6-word story came from Ernest Hemingway.

One day he bet a friend that he could write a whole story in 6 words.
His story was "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."
He won the bet.

Smith Magazine had a contest last year. People had to write a memoir in 6 words. They collected 1,000 stories and made a book.

You can read some of the 6-word stories here.

What about you? Can you write a memoir in only 6 words?
Have a memorable weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


For those of us who feel a bit curmudgeonly around Valentine's Day, the cranky people at Spinner have complied a list of the top 20 meanest love songs.

But if the brittle laughter of the English teacher in you is more your thing, check out the top 20 worst lyrics ever.

Canadian Content alert at No. 8:
My panty line shows
Got a run in my hose
My hair went flat
Man, I hate that
--Shania Twain, Honey I'm Home

Happy Valentine's Day.
I love you like
A fat kid loves cake
--50 Cents, 21 Questions (No. 18)

Monday, February 11, 2008

size doesn't matter

For those of us who are a bit daunted by Big Think, a group of people who used to work at Google and YouTube have just launched a new site called Howcast.

There are hundreds of short how-to videos over there on a huge variety of topics from How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint to How To Chill a Six Pack in Three Minutes - which is perhaps one more way to reduce your cfprint? And then you might need this. Or this.

There are step-by-step instructions integrated into some of the videos so you can go back and forth and print them out for future reference.

You can join the Howcast Network as a Filmmaker or as an Expert.

Of course, under the heading no free lunch (actual heading: Howcast+Partners) from the Howcast Blog:
"Howcast works with leading marketers like JetBlue Airways to reach their target audiences with relevant, unobtrusive advertising, as well as with great content partners like MySpace and YouTube to bring our original Howcast content to the world. In the next few weeks, we’ll share more about our work with these and other business partners."

P.S. Click on the picture to see more of these tiny, perfect(?) worlds.

Friday, February 8, 2008

what we've been waiting for

...Maximising the impact of practitioner research: A handbook of practical advice by Mary Hamilton, Paul Davies, and Kathryn James is ready for download.

Here is what they found:
"Well-supported and resourced practitioner research is best placed to develop practice because it encourages critical and reflective inquiry. It throws light on, explores and challenges accepted practices and wisdom from the inside as well as the outside. It provides the opportunity to recognise and use practitioners’ knowledge, and to identify and promote innovative practices, which mushroom constantly in so many places."


There is much wisdom in this book. It is a great resource for all those contemplating research in practice or working in research in practice and for all of us who wonder what exactly research in practice is and whether or not that is what we are doing in our programs on a daily basis.

"This handbook attempts to provide useful, practical and realistic advice for those who manage practitioner-research programmes whilst also acknowledging that this is a contested area with competing views about what practitioner research is, how it should be done, who should do it and what the point of it all is."

A manual that acknowledges the grey areas and does not idealize the conditions and contexts in which literacy is practised and researched...thanks Mary, Paul and Kathryn!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

across the pond

Are you curious about what's happening in adult literacy research in practice in the British Isles? Do you have some funding for travel? Consider the annual conference of Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL)!

This year's conference will be held at the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland, from June 19 - 21.

The theme is "Inclusion and Engagement in Adult Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL". Workshops will focus on the following areas:

• Approaches to teaching and learning that include a range of learners with different interests, aspirations and needs.
• Engaging with new technologies.
• Literacy, language and numeracy practices and engagement in communities
• Policy and practice: the challenges and opportunities for engagement and inclusive learning.
• Inclusive practices in research in literacy, numeracy and ESOL.

If you want to offer an interactive workshop, take part in a panel discussion or present a poster, please send a proposal by March 14 to: kieran.rapal@cgvec.ie.

And if you will miss the event, you can read about it in a future issue of the RaPAL Bulletin.

Monday, February 4, 2008

a literacy journal a little like us

Community Literacy Journal is a peer-reviewed journal from the United States of America. In some ways they seem similar to Literacies and in some ways, quite different.

Click here for a handy-dandy comparison chart.

They are certainly an important, and welcome, participant in the conversation.

Their mission is to "provide a place where community literacy workers and academics can share ideas, learn about activities and projects, discuss theory and practice, and share resources. ..." (read more).

They started in the Fall of 2006. They and publish two times a year. Their newest issue came out on January 25. Here is the Table of Contents:
Programming Family Literacy: Tensions and Directions
Story to Action: A Conversation about Literacy and Organizing

Rhetorical Witnessing: Recognizing Genocide in Guatemala

Rewriting Ideologies of Literacy: A Study of Writing by Newly Literate Adults

Repairing Inmates Through H.O.P.E.: Incarcerated Literacy and the Myth of Progressivism

Slipping Pages through Razor Wire: Literacy Action Projects in Jail

Looks amazing. They do not post their articles online but you can read summaries here. They have made their first issue available as a PDF file.

Friday, February 1, 2008

slow learning

It is snowing madly here this morning...winter wonderland! Beautiful now. A bit concerned about the forecasted ice pellets. But we can take it. You all know how intrepid Torontonians are when it comes to snowfall ;-)

In this neck of the literacy woods, programs have been offered chunks of end-of-year funding to be spent between February 1 and March 31 on 'rapid retraining' for people who have-been or are-about-to-be laid off because of restructuring.

Program workers who want to avail themselves of this face the challenge of developing a proposal in a few days and then creating a program, organizing resources, recruiting learners and retraining them rapidly - all this in 2 months. They will do it. We all know how intrepid literacy workers are. For real. No I-mean-this-ironically smiley face here.

But it will not be easy. As one program worker pondering this barrier-laden opportunity said, "Nothing rapid happens here."

Her comment made me laugh - a somewhat bitter laugh I must admit. And then it made me think about some discussions we had a while back about 'slow learning'. You can get a flavour of those discussions over at www.literacyenquirer.ca - click on lf podcast.

Have a great weekend. Slow down. Take it easy. It will all still be there Monday.