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, July 30, 2008

literacy for what - military style

A colleague sent me a link to this story about the Awakening movement. The Awakening movement is a literacy project sponsored by the U.S. military in Iraq.

It seems that the name of the project is another example of military hyperbole:

This literacy project is part of a pilot program set up by the U.S. military and designed to provide basic literacy skills to some 500 of these young men. ...

The ultimate objective, ...is to enable them to pass a basic literacy test that would make them eligible to join the Iraqi security forces. ...

Dr. Ala Mekki, who heads the education committee in the Iraqi parliament, says the Iraqi government is serious about educating these men. "Yes," says Mekki, "it is a serious desire, and we want to educate them and make them ready to be integrated into the Iraqi army and Iraqi security forces and Ministry of Interior."

Is the goal of this movement really an Awakening or is this just more expansive language used to describe a literacy program that actually has a fairly narrow focus and will be measured against a very specific, government-centred set of outcomes?

Not that I have not asked a similar question in a similar situation before. One of my first literacy jobs involved working with former Iraqi soldiers in a literacy and settlement program. We were concerned that most of these men left our program for low-paying jobs with little longterm security. In terms of our funding mandate, these students were considered to be success stories. We hoped that even this was better for them than the chaos and violence they had left behind. I wonder what they would have chosen if the Awakening movement had existed after the first Gulf War? I wonder why the choices continue to be so limited and not really choices at all?

Monday, July 28, 2008

what's in a username?

Over at the Daily Kos, MissLaura was blogging about building community that has power both online and offline and describing the thrill of meeting online comrades in meatspace, when she said this wise thing:

In each of those thrills, small and large, is a bit of what's needed for that movement cohesion. That we care about each other and each other's opinions ... creates the conditions for social pressure to do more, stay connected, and understand ourselves as part of something bigger than our own actions.

All of this makes me, makes each of us, a little better and stronger -- talking to people we never would otherwise, but now are connected to through this community; volunteering for a campaign because we have new role models, and friends to be accountable to; learning from each other; tempering each other's excessive optimism and raising each other up from defeatism. That's not to say it's perfect. It's to say that in community we have a potent force to work with in changing the country's politics and, along the way, ourselves.

And on that note, check out this group on Facebook: What's wrong/right with this picture?

A discussion of how adult literacy myths and facts are presented in studies such as the CCL's Reading the Future, the International Survey of Reading Skills, and the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey. A place where some literacy workers discuss what we think of the ways these reports are used to paint a picture of adult literacy in Canada, how those pictures do and do not reflect our realities, and if we can find any common ground upon which to base a response from the field.
Join us!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

the price of being a refugee in canada

Refugees Welcome?
Families flee to Canada for better lives, but the debt incurred makes it hard. Now advocates want policies changed to ease the process.
Story by: Suzanne Ahearne, Vancouver Sun

This picture is of Noella. Noella is the four-year-old daughter of Phillipo Kijori-Amisi and Anitha Ngendakuriyo, who fled a refugee camp for Canada.
Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun.

My cuz wrote this story about the little publicized refugee loan program that requires refugees to reimburse, with interest, the Canadian government for their flights to Canada. I think it is time to shine some light on this policy. Thanks for doing this Suzanne.

Suzanne has also donated some of her excellent photographs to Literacies, including the profile picture and the cups of coffee in the blog sidebar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


here is a preview of the fall 2008 issue that tannis made in wordle

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the skin of utopia

I have a ridiculous and indulgent enthusiasm for little, and not so little, Moleskine books but have always felt a bit stupid about spending that much money for a notebook or diary. Thanks to Janet Isserlis on Facebook, I can now more comfortably allow myself this luxury. Janet let us know that Moleskine supports lettera27, a non profit foundation on a mission "to defend the right to literacy, to education, and access to knowledge and information, all over the world and especially in the most deprived areas".

Visit their site to see more about the projects they support:

WikiAfrica/Palabre, a project designed to Africanize Wikipedia through networks, research, projects, publications, and events. WikiAfrica contributes to Wikimedia projects online and offline with texts, quotes, images, audio, and video.

The AMREF Italia project in Dagoretti-Nairobi dedicated to recover an identity denied and to create opportunities and a new sense of community for street boys and girls in Dagoretti Nairobi (Kenya).
Or join the tower of babel:
A tower made of thousand of thoughts, phrases, and dreams on the theme of the right to education and access to knowledge. Thousands of pages available to each person: writing, the skin of utopia.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Judi showed me wordle last night -- she is going to use it with a group of students in the St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program -- and I made this word cloud of the café.

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Here is where you can find this wordle in the gallery. I saved the image above as a screen grab (command + shift + 3 or 4 on a mac, and this or this on windows) and then saved it again as a jpeg. They give you code for a thumbnail version but it is very small.

Have a great weekend. Do not stay inside playing on your computer the WHOLE weekend :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

by bus, train, broken-down car, on foot...

This week some of us are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, the party that brought us national publicly-funded health care. Here is an excerpt from a story that appeared in the Toronto Star earlier this week:

The delegates crowding around Woodsworth in the photograph had come together both to seize an opportunity and address a need. The opportunity was the Great Depression. Capitalism seemed to have failed. The economy was in a disastrous state, unemployment was at a mind-boggling high, and the world's financial system seemed on the verge of collapse. The need was the lack of a convincing alternative.

Sound familiar? Perhaps in all this doom and gloom an opening exists for people who believe, for example, in equitable and real access to education for all -- even people who test at Level 1 in the IALLS.

Happy birthday CCF and thank you all you faithful 1933 delegates and all you progressive descendants who built on the CCF foundation to try and make our country a fair and humane place to live.

Monday, July 14, 2008

authentic conversation

I tweeted about this last week but feel it deserves a full post. Konrad over at the blog of proximal development has written about a really interesting way of having students engage with and reflect upon reading that I think would work amazingly well with people who do not use print to express thoughts and ideas.

Last month, I decided to help my students engage with Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl as more than just a literary text. I wanted them to look at it as an experience, as life written down by someone their own age. ... I wanted them to think about Anne as a person and her diary as a personal record. I wanted them to have an opportunity to engage with the text and think about what Anne’s words and experiences meant to them.

Konrad and the students used the online technology at Seeqpod, SkreemR and Mixwit (all new to me) to create mixed tapes about the Diary. To read about how he did it and what happened, click here.

Thanks Konrad for sharing this inspiring idea. I cannot wait to try it. And I love that MixWit tapes are created with a 21C technology but look like the mixed tapes I made as a 20C teenager -- I feel an intriguing juxtaposition of nostalgia and progressivism. I wonder what these kids, for whom cassettes are an obsolete technology, make of this interface.

Friday, July 11, 2008

verve and joy

A boy jumps into a canal to cool himself during a hot day in Larkana June 23, 2008. Temperatures have soared to more than 49 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country since June 8, the meteorological department said.

Check out this slideshow of people seizing the moment and cooling off with verve and joy. Have a great weekend filled with many moments of verve and joy!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

hopeless and faithful

Yesterday, the incomparable Jo Petite posted her facebook status as 'hopeless and faithful'. That phrase hit me right in the heart right away. Why? I am not sure. But those three words have been wafting in and out of my reflections for about 48 hours now. Hopeless and faithful is such a human way to be caught in the terrible and beautiful thing that is this life. And this literacy work. Surrender and perseverance. Humility and resolution.

I went to an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum last night (free Wednesdays!) called Out from Under: Disability, History and Things to Remember. It is an amazing collection of artifacts and words and at every turn your eyes prickle with the tears you would cry for an hour if you were not out in public. Here is a poem by Mae Brown, the first deaf-blind person to get a university degree in Canada -- in 1973!

When I lie down, tired, worn out,
Others will stand, young, fresh,
On the stairs which I have built
They will climb, and on the work
Which I have done, they will mount.
At my clumsy work they will laugh
And when the stones roll
They will curse me.
But they will climb, and on my stairs,
And they will mount, and on my work.

I have heard a couple of very tough stories about literacy work this week. Stories of people working hard to make impossible choices. Stories of thoughtful evaluation and planning in the face of, at best, carelessness and, at worst, disrespect. I am not sure if Ms. Brown's words will help them, but they sure helped me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

learning juice

I came in quite hot this evening and plonked on the sofa with a cool drink to regroup. As I was scrolling through the tv channels, I saw this:

"Expand my brain, learning juice."

Now I am not suggesting that beer is the best way to expand your brain, but what is your learning juice? What gets you going? Tell us all about it over at the literacy parade.

Monday, July 7, 2008

gift horse

Just in case you missed this ...

The OLES Call for Proposals for Literacy and Essential Skills for Those Entering or In the Workplace is now open. The call is pretty narrow -- in this call OLES will support two types of activities:
* A. The development and application of new tools and models that help individuals entering or in the workplace to improve their literacy and essential skills; and
* B. The adaptation, distribution, promotion and application of existing workplace focused literacy and essential skills tools and models

The rationale for the workplace call seems to reflect the change from a literacy-as-a-human-right approach to a literacy-as-a-vehicle-for-economic-competitiveness rhetoric described by Nancy Jackson in her interview with CBC's The Current on June 12, 2008. (Click on part 2 -- Nancy is on from about 3:55 to 14:40. Thanks Alpha for this link.)

Focusing on the workplace makes sense. According to the 2003 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS), 76% of individuals with low levels of literacy and essential skills are in the labour force; either working or looking for work. Many of these Canadians face labour market challenges, including a lack of access to training and skills upgrading, lower earning potential, greater risk of being unemployed, and more difficulty in finding a new job if they do become unemployed. At the same time, Canada is facing skills shortages in certain occupations, sectors, and regions. For their part, employers report having difficulty finding people with the right mix of technical and literacy and essential skills needed for the workplace.

But --

In 2008-09 OLES plans to launch several Calls for Proposals (CFP), each with a specific theme. Themes will be based on needs identified through ongoing research, consultation, and dialogue with partners and stakeholders. Having different themes will allow OLES to better respond to Government of Canada priorities and to improve the success of Canadians in their families, communities and at work.

So perhaps we should not yet give up hope that there will be opportunities for the kind of field-expanding-and-deepening exploratory research, reflective practice and professional development that the National Literacy Secretariat tried to foster and nurture during its tenure.

P.S. At Literacies we are wondering if any of the proposals submitted to OLES in October 2007 were funded. We have heard about a number of proposals that were rejected but none that were approved. Does anyone know what was funded from that call?

Friday, July 4, 2008


Today some of our American friends are celebrating ... happy birthday to you!

An American ESL teacher is creating a series of gifts for all of us in adult education, especially those of us interested in incorporating online, Web 2.0, and computer resources into our work. Larry Ferlazzo makes “The Best…” lists where he highlights what he thinks are the best educational websites each year. He updates each list in an ongoing way. I have not explored every link but have found some pretty interesting stuff there that I am anxious to try out. You can find the lists on Larry's blog.

Have fun exploring these lists on Monday. Take the weekend off and spend with your bike and your books and your friends and your family in the sunshine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

a proud day

It is really great to be home for Canada Day. Of course the classics are the best but there is a lot to be proud of when you are Canadian:

Have a a fabulous day.