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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

blatant hypocrisy

While the governments at all levels like to say that they support literacy for First Nations people, their actions speak louder than words.

This week the First Nations Technical Institute announced that funding cuts may force them to close. Established in 1985, FNTI is highly-regarded and successful. However, it does not receive direct operational funding as other colleges and universities in Ontario do. Now the federal and provincial governments are squabbling over who should fund it.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (which Canada did not sign) includes the following:

Article 13 - Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. … States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected…

Article 14 - Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning… States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals…to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Please help FNTI fight for equity. Sign their online petition.

Monday, January 28, 2008

big thinking 1.5?

BigThink was launched earlier this month as a YouTube for intellectuals. They felt that someone needed to bridge "what was an evident gap between credible, informed editorial opinion and the less controlled freestyle of online social media." Okay then.

Their about-us video starts with this quote from Edward R. Murrow: The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.

By providing access to an Expert Network, the BigThinkers hope to encourage an online discussion that is "open across all geographies, boundaries and jurisdictions - not limited to one class, rank or station." They post videos of interviews with academics, politicians, writers, artists and presidential candidates. Site users can respond by posting videos or text comments or they can post their own ideas and questions for debate. TED Talks meets YouTube? Or YouTube meets YouTube?

So who are the BigThink experts? Here is what the BigThinkers have posted on their FAQ page: The Web has no shortage of self-anointed experts, and the Expert Network is our way of reclaiming a little nook of cyberspace where depth of knowledge and expertise still reign... we look to a range of factors, including a person's body of published work, peer recommendations, professional honors, and popular interest. Fame is by no means a pre-requisite to be an expert, however. If you think you qualify, we invite you to apply to be one of our experts and share your knowledge with the world.

Just keep in mind what Edward R. said: Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

Here is how the BigThinkers respond to the question, "What's an idea?":
...by submitting an idea, you're entering it into the public sphere. Sure, some of your ideas will be greeted with hearty hurrah's [sic], but others might be met with strident disagreement. But that's the fun of it. Enough preaching to the choir, enough ideological isolationism. We want to pull you into a lively and challenging debate.

What preaching to the choir? What ideological isolationism?

BigThink seems to be a kind of Old School Library/Web 2.0 hybrid. On the one hand they are channeling Andrew Keen (the Expert Network) and on the other, David Weinberger (mission statement:
to move the discussion away from talking heads and talking points, and give it back to you).

It will be interesting to see how this site develops. In the meantime, there is some engaging and accessible content over there. Just remember that Ed warns us:
Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and cover them up, at least a little bit.

(photos taken from this tribute to some old school journalists/barroom intellectuals.)

Friday, January 25, 2008


This is a little way off but we might need time to prepare...

May 16 is the International Day for Sharing Life Stories.

This is a venture, or adventure, is supported by the Center for Digital Storytelling and the Museum of the Person. The Museum of the Person is a network of museums in Canada, Brazil, Portugal and the United States of America.

“Our two organizations see the movement to share life stories as a critical part of the democratic process,” states Joe Lambert, founder and director of the Center for Digital Storytelling.

CDS and the Museum of the Person are calling on people to gather in community halls, classrooms, public parks, theaters, auditoriums on May 16 to share their stories. They are also calling on organizations to mark the day on their websites and host virtual story circles via online chats and exchanges, and publication of new stories.

People are invited to add their endorsement by registering at the site or writing to internacional@museudapessoa.net.

International Day for Sharing Stories. Museum of the Person. Already it sounds like music. What will you do?

Have a great weekend. Tell a story. Listen to a story. See you Monday.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

being clear

If you've never read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (1946), you're missing a treat. He argues that too many writers don't bother to "[pick] out words for the sake of their meaning and [invent] images in order to make the meaning clearer." Instead, they "[gum] together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else".

Orwell's view is that these all-too-pervasive habits can lead to careless thinking, as writers can get bogged down in familiar phrases on their way to seeking exactly how to express what they want to say. More dangerous, he says, is the way in which this type of writing is used in politics.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

His essay is a call to "send worn-out and useless phrase[s]...into the dustbin, where [they] belong. It also includes a useful checklist for writing clear prose.

Check it out!

Monday, January 21, 2008


A major research institution (MRI) has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element has been named “Governmentium.” Governmentium (Gv) has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take over four days to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium - an element which radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons, but twice as many morons.

Friday, January 18, 2008

learner centred

On Wednesday, January 9, 2008 Statistics Canada released a summary of the International Survey of Reading Skills 2005 in The Daily

"The study ... was a follow-up survey of the Canadian component of the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (IALLS) that measured literacy skills among individuals aged 16 to 65 in Canada and six other countries.

The ISRS reassessed about 2,000 Canadians from all literacy level[s] but focused on those whose literacy scores in the IALSS fell into levels 1 or 2, the lowest of five."

Here is my favourite part:
"The study suggests that the approach to improving reading levels for people with the lowest proficiency will likely have to vary from individual to individual. That is because their specific reading skills differ widely and thus, the teaching methods will vary according to learners' needs."


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

testing, testing

I've recently been enjoying reruns of Laverne and Shirley, a 1970s tv show about two women who work in a beer factory in Milwaukee. The two lead characters are roommates, and the show centres on their lives, friends, neighbours and families.

I enjoy the show because it's about working people, and the best episodes include a lot of word play and physical comedy. Until the show Charmed debuted in 2006, Laverne and Shirley was the longest-running series featuring women as the lead characters.

What does this have to do with adult basic education? This week I saw an episode from the 5th season (1979-1980) called "Testing Testing". It included several moments that spoke to our current reality.

The premise of "Testing, Testing" is that all employees must undergo a psychological test. They aren't told the reason for the test or what the test is meant to measure. All they know is that they've been asked to draw a house, and they will each be interviewed individually by the psychiatrist. Laverne, Shirley, Lenny and Squiggy are worried. They hate tests.

Laverne is worried about her drawing, because both her hands are swaddled in bandages...earlier that day she got cut when she took an unsafe bottle off the assembly line. She didn't report the injury, but she explains how it happened to her friends. As she recounts the accident, her friends remind her of the workplace jargon she should use instead of her vivid descriptions.

In the interviews with the psychiatrist, each character tells their life story and how they came to be doing the kind of work they are doing. Each is heartbreaking in its own way. Laverne lacks confidence. Lenny and Squiggy drive trucks because they don't have a lot of other choices.

At the end, the psychiatrist reports what he has observed...that we should respect and value the work that common folk do. While his 'research' has been completely unethical, the episode was worth watching for the fact that it showed so much about education, power and working lives. Check it out if you get a chance...

Monday, January 14, 2008


Just in case you thought it was safe to add the iLike application...

Thanks to David Davies via Stephen Downes.

What's that expression about no free lunches?

Friday, January 11, 2008

free and freedom

Project Gutenberg says:
"The word free in the English language does not distinguish between free of charge and freedom.
Free of charge means that you don't have to pay for the book you received.
Freedom denotes that you may do as you like with the book you received. ...Fortunately almost all Project Gutenberg ebooks are free of charge and free as in freedom."

And the really good news is that Project Gutenberg has a collection of audio books in its collection. Either human read or computer generated.

So choose between Edward Lear, Jane Austen, Karl Marx or Aesop, load up the mp3 player and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

manitoba initiative

Last fall, the Adult Secondary Education Council (ASEC)Manitoba started publishing a new journal. The inaugural issue of the Journal of Adult Learning in Manitoba features several interesting articles, including:

  • a history of adult literacy work in Manitoba
  • a practitioner's account of how her classroom has changed since she began approaching literacy as social practice
  • an article outlining how instructors can teach chemistry when they work in a site with no lab
  • a history of ASEC, which links teachers in adult high schools
The stunning artwork on the cover is by designer Kae Sasaki.

These days, it's rare to get good news about adult literacy work. How inspiring to see this new initiative from Manitoba. Long may JALM prosper!

Monday, January 7, 2008

news from nwt

The latest NWT Literacy Council Newsletter - Literacy Matters - tells us about the Ulukhaktok Literacies Research Project. This is a two-phase project "to determine what constitutes indigenous literacies in Ulukhaktok and what elements of these literacies can still be seen" and then to "repatriate Inuinnait traditional knowledge (language, literacies, narratives, values and beliefs, etc.) through viewing and visiting historical photographs and Inuinnait cultural materials currently held in the British Museum in London" in partnership with the British Museum, the Kitimeot Heritage Society, the University of Lethbridge and the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the community of Ulukhaktok.

"The research questions that guide the study are: How do we, Inuinnait, remember our ways? What knowledge, stories and language will long lost Inuinnait pictures and things (clothes and tools) trigger?"

There is a CBC video about the RCMP in Ulukhatok here. The story is from a southerner perspective but you get some amazing winter views of this beautiful village and some of the people who live there. You can also see high school students using uluit.

In March 2008, there will be an exhibit from phase 1 at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre that will focus on the literacies that the Kangiryuarmiut used on their long distance walks. "It will include information such as:

  • How they told the time (without today’s clocks)
  • How they knew where to go (without today’s maps)
  • The songs they sang and the games they played when they gathered together"

Friday, January 4, 2008


RiPAL BC has just updated their website for the new year. What a good role model they are.

They are highlighting 3 projects.

  • From the Ground Up - an innovative project that is employing an outcome measurement approach
  • Toward a “Whole-Life” Approach: Addressing learning disabilities in Adult Literacy Settings
  • Connecting the Dots - a project is exploring the impact of accountability on literacy practitioners and funders

Check out these projects and all the good resources at RiPAL BC.

And speaking of BC, Literacy BC has hard copies of Focused on Practice: A Framework for Adult Literacy Research in Canada to distribute.

"We can all work together to make research in practice matter. In every part of the country, adult students face similar struggles. Literacy practitioners across Canada need to be able to share their research and ideas, as they did in this study."

Anita Abbott - Rabbittown Learners Program, NFLD and Labrador

"This encouraging piece of work focuses clearly on the qualitative results garnered by recording 'the natural flow of community and classroom life'. It articulates what research in practice means, how much time and skill it takes to collect this kind of data, and why it matters in the field of adult literacy. The national scope of participation and contribution is impressive."

Vicki Noonan - Malaspina University College, British Columbia

If you would like a copy, contact them.

Oh - and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

a ratty new year

Happy new year everybody.
For some this will be the year of the rat.
A rat year is a time of hard work, activity, and renewal. This is a good year to make a fresh start. Projects begun in a rat year may not yield fast returns, but opportunities will come for people who are well prepared and resourceful. The best way to succeed this year is to be patient, let things develop slowly, and make the most of every opening you can find.

And, as if to epitomize this approach, The United Nations has declared 2008 the international year of the potato.

Here's to another year of slow cultivation ...and continuously seeking the places where cultivation can happen.