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.

Monday, March 23, 2009

the r-word

This is the 40th anniversary of the Special Olympics in Canada.

"In June 1969, in Toronto, Ontario, the very first Special Olympics competition was held in Canada, less than one year after the sports movement was born on Chicago’s Soldier Field. It attracted 1,400 individuals with intellectual disabilities from towns and cities across the country who came to compete in athletics, aquatics and no surprise here, floor hockey."

This year the Special Olympics (Canadian site) is launching a new campaign on March 31: Spread the Word to the End the Word. Special Olympics is asking us to recognize and rethink our use of the word "retard," or the "R-word."

"Most people don't think of this word as hate speech, but that's exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends. This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur."

I thought that this was something we had all learned a long time ago but I have noticed the resurgence of the word over the past few years. I thought perhaps the word had lost its connection to a group of people, but it turns out I thought wrong. I actually used "retarded" as an adjective last week. I noted it because I was shocked to hear that word coming from my mouth for the first time since my playground days when I was sharply chastised for it. I am still not clear why it happened. I thought that I needed to check myself. And I thought about how common usage can enter, or re-enter, our lexicons so easily if we are not paying attention.

It is something even the mightiest of us are learning, or re-learning. Last Thursday, on The Tonight Show, President Obama said his bowling skills are "like Special Olympics or something." He was trying to make a self-deprecating joke of course, but then realized that he had instead insulted a whole group of people. On his way home, Obama called the Special Olympics Chairman, Timothy Shriver, to apologize for the remark.

I guess, at least for the President and me, this campaign could not come at a better time.

You can learn more about the campaign and make a pledge at http://www.r-word.org/.

Friday, March 20, 2009

tweet tweet

By the time this goes to air, it may be Twitter will be yesterday's thing, but it happens to be hot at the moment because things reach a tipping point, and Twitter has reached its critical mass.

Enough people are now on it to talk about it so that people go "What is this Twitter?"

...Suddenly there's wit, charm, self-deprecation, self-knowledge, understanding - all kinds of qualities. ...

As I talk to you now, and as one talks, especially to strangers, all the terrible problems of class, differences in education, race and gender all have their part to play in the embarrassment of real life conversation, but the moment one's let loose with a keyboard or a pen you can express yourself properly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Tannis went to the Read Saskatoon 30 year celebrations in February. She had a great time there. Those are good people at Read Saskatoon. She brought back this outreach postcard for the Basic Education Program at The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST). It was designed by SIAST students and we think it is PERFECT.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Sorry for not posting as promised last week. I got a little bogged down. We were making our last attempt to try to describe Literacies in terms that might get OLES to look at funding the journal again. We wrote and wrote and talked and talked but we could not get there. I hope everyone else got their proposals in without too much sweat and tears.

Speaking of sweat and tears, Carol Goar visited a literacy program in Brampton, Ontario and wrote about it in her column today.

It is one of Ontario's underfunded, undervalued schools of second chances. It doesn't look like a school. It's a warren of rooms in a suburban plaza. There are no lockers, no corridors, no principal's office.

It doesn't feel like a school either. There are few rules, routines or restrictions. The people who study here don't need discipline. They need hope.

Sometimes when I am in need of hope I watch this video. We have posted it here before but I think it is time to watch it again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

it is all fun and games until...

The Canadian Council on Learning has posted their online literacy assessment tool.

The tool can be used to assess your IALSS level. IALSS is the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey:

"The International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey was a seven-country initiative conducted in 2003. In every country nationally representative samples of adults aged 16-65 were interviewed and tested at home, using the same psychometric test to measure prose and document literacy as well as numeracy and problem-solving skills.
  • ...The main purpose of the survey was to find out how well adults used printed information to function in society.
  • Another aim was to collect data on the incidence and volume of participation in adult education and training, and to investigate the relationships between initial and adult education, on the one hand, and literacy, numeracy and problem-solving proficiency and wider economic and social outcomes, on the other.
  • In addition, a subsidiary goal was to provide information regarding change in the distribution of skills over the years since the previous survey (the 1994, International Adult Literacy Survey).
  • ...The data are used to inform policy decisions, help effectively allocate resources where needed and inform decisions on the composition and content of remedial skill development course and adult education."

Ever since the first IALS survey in 1994, there has been debate* about what exactly these data tell us, but, until now, I do not think that anyone has suggested that an IALSS-based test, designed to survey a population, ever be used to assess and assign levels to individuals. If they have, they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

A couple of us tried the test. It took ages, the fonts were teeny weeny, the interface did not work in any browser, and it was incredibly dull. I think that the test could take quite a long time to complete. We did not want to spend too long on it so we tried not to get bogged down. We just clicked on our first good idea for the right answer and let it go.

We both scored Level 4 (Strong skills -- individuals at these levels can process information of a complex and demanding nature) in Document Literacy (The ability to find and use information in forms, charts, graphs and other tables).

My colleague scored Level 4 in Numeracy (The ability to use basic math skills in everyday life) and I scored Level 3 (Adequate to cope with the demands of everyday life and work in an advanced society -- roughly denotes the skill level required for successful high school completion and college entry). I must admit I did not feel like doing some of the calculations and guessed at some of the answers but Level 3 is what I would guess is correct for me in any case and, as it turns out, I am a pretty good guesser.

Now the bad news. We both scored Level 2 (A capacity to deal only with simple, clear material involving uncomplicated tasks -- people at this level may develop everyday coping skills, but their poor literacy skills make it hard to conquer challenges such as learning new job skills) in Prose Literacy (The knowledge and skills required to understand and appropriately use information from print materials). CCL recommends that all Canadians need to be at Level 3 if they are to achieve prosperity, health and happiness.

My colleague is very clever and has exemplary prose literacy skills. I am using this fact to cheer myself up a little. I am surprised to find that despite my rather cavalier attitude to this test, the result made me feel a little crappy. I usually feel fine about my ability to understand and appropriately use information from print materials. There are things that challenge me but I have confidence that if I persevere I will get it.

Our Level 2 scores prompted another colleague to wonder, "If the CCL online test is based on or reflects the IALSS test and if [these two] only scored 2 on the Prose test, perhaps the IALSS test is underestimating people’s literacy levels."

One of the questions that has been raised about IALS and IALSS is why the results show such high numbers of people at Level 1 and 2 when people self-assess at a much greater ability to understand and appropriately use information from print materials.

But the biggest question for me remains, “Why do I want to know what IALSS level I am at?” or “Why does anyone want to know what IALSS level any individual is at?”

What we want to know is how do we work with text now and how do we want or need to be able to work with text to do what we want or need to do. To do this we can use a method such as the Canadian Adult Reading Assessment that assesses reading skills and strategies in a manageable, non-invasive, non-judgmental way and demonstrates how learner-centred assessment leads to the development of a learner-centred curriculum that is relevant and effective.

C'mon CCL, stop now before somebody gets hurt.

*For some of that debate see Literacies Issue #2 and the Literacies IALS web forum.

Friday, March 6, 2009

me and my sisters

Happy International Women's Day. Have a great celebration.
We'll be thinking of you and all that you do to build equality in your communities.
And remember...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

carol goar covers a literacy event

Carol Goar attended the booklaunch of Beyond the Book: Learning from our History and wrote this article.

“As he [Allan Quigley] took his audience through a century and a half of breakthroughs and setbacks, several strong themes emerged:

  • Literacy has always been pushed to the margins of the school system. Charities, churches and community groups built Canada's adult education network. Politicians and pedagogues were reluctant conscripts. "We live with an unrelenting sense of impermanence," Quigley said.
  • The desire to learn is inextinguishable. No matter how self-conscious, poor or oppressed people are, they want to read. No matter how tired workers are, they find the stamina to study. Each successive generation of literacy pioneers has been told its efforts were futile or misguided. Each has proven the naysayers wrong.
  • Literacy is inseparable from social justice. People share their skills because they want to spread the gospel, fight poverty, help workers get better jobs, welcome immigrants and strengthen their communities. From the earliest Bible classes to today's adult learning programs, the intent of literacy has been to lift those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid to a place where they can get a foothold and keep climbing.
... No one at last week's book launch expected a secure or comfortable future. Fortunately they know how to produce miracles on a shoestring.”

Read the complete article and leave your response here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

tireless, courageous and sue-ped up

Sue Bannon from the Midland Area Reading Council has been talking to her Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and here is what happened. Last Thursday Garfield Dunlop, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe North, stood up in the Ontario Legislature and made this motion:

"I move that, in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should provide adequate funding to community-based literacy and basic skills programs so that the agencies can properly address the growing enrolment."

His speech in support of the motion sounded kind of like a literacy worker speaking. Mr. Dunlop either has experience in community-based literacy or he is a good listener. Perhaps a little of both. He brought this issue to his colleagues with passion, compassion and complexity.

You can download a transcript of his complete speech and the comments of the MPPs who spoke to the motion here (PDF 100 KB). Not everybody spoke like a literacy worker. Some kept their politician hats firmly on their heads. Some spoke in support but still have a little listening to do. But many spoke of community-based literacy as we understand it: hard work that takes courage and commitment, where the rewards can be difficult to quantify but are deeply felt, and that continuously creates huge and tiny reward ripples for individuals and communities.

Here is a list of who spoke and some excerpts:

Garfield Dunlop: Progressive Conservative (Official Opposition) Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe North.
"...in order to have about 115 learners in their organization [Midland Area Reading Council] right now-and most of the learning is provided by volunteers in our communities - these groups operate on funding of about $60,000 a year. That's for staff time, hydro, heat, computers - $60,000. So basically they're poverty organizations as we would stand today."
Andrea Horwath: New Democrat Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton Centre.
"The important piece of this member's motion is to acknowledge that government has a role. Government has a role to make sure that people are prepared and able to engage not only in the economy and economic activity but in the broader social and political activities that a civil society has to offer. ...It is not a matter of inability; it's a matter of lack of access."
Bob Delaney: Liberal (Current Government) Member of Provincial Parliament for Mississauga Streetsville.
"I think it's an important subject that does deserve discussion in the Legislature."
Robert Bailey: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Sarnia Lambton.
"I was very disappointed to learn, when I met with this organization [Organization for Literacy Sarnia-Lambton], that they have been struggling and operating for a number of years with only $63,000 in core funding. This $63,000 covers rent, administration and wages, which as we know is just not realistic in this day and age. In fact, the executive director, who is a retired school teacher, bless her heart, has not even been drawing a wage for the last number of years in order for the program to keep functioning."
Cheri DiNovo: New Democrat Member of Provincial Parliament for Parkdale High Park.
"I hope this valuable motion is taken up by the government, not just in a vote today-which seems inevitable now-but in actual adequate funding."
Mike Colle: Liberal (Current Governement) Member of Provincial Parliament for Eglinton Lawrence.
"There are some very good teachers and some very good volunteers teaching literacy and numeracy."
Peter Shurman: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Thornhill.
"I want to underscore something else. Literacy does not mean that you're stupid or lazy or incapable. It usually means you just plain need a leg up. So that's what these programs are about, and it is extremely important. ... I myself have had the privilege of standing before 100 people and talking to them about my background and why I developed literacy skills and looking at their backgrounds and finding out that there's an array of reasons why they didn't, and watching them so hungry to suck up the knowledge they were getting from that literacy centre, that was teaching them to be as good as they could be by having these basic skills."
Ted Chudleigh: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Halton.
"I would like to bring the attention of the House to the tireless workers and volunteers who tutor these students and what a wonderful job they do. As the member who brought this bill forward mentioned, there are 265,000 hours of volunteer work every year. That's an amazing number. I'd also like to commend the courage of the students. It's not an easy thing to walk into a library or walk into an organization and say, "I can't read and write." That takes a great deal of courage. I would commend those people who do that, particularly later in life."
Garfield Dunlop: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe North.
"I, for one-and I'm passionate about this because I've got some strong stakeholders in my riding that push me. I'm not going to let this drop. Even if you don't put one cent in the budget, it's not going to drop. We're going to keep nagging you and nagging you and nagging you until this funding for community-based organizations is increased."

And the motion carried. It seems that community-based literacy has a new champion in the legislature. Thank you Mr. Dunlop and all the others who supported this motion. Those of us in Ontario will help you as you keep nagging and nagging and nagging. Those of us in other provinces will use your speech to energize our champions and encourage new people to join their ranks.

Monday, March 2, 2009

equal shmequal

Saturday is International Women's Day. Here is what our government has to say about this year's IWD on the Status of Women page:

Canada's theme for International Women's Day/Week 2009 is Strong Leadership. Strong Women. Strong World: Equality.

The theme reflects the government's firm belief that increasing women's participation and access to leadership roles and opportunities will help women and girls thrive, reach their full potential and fulfill their dreams, and help build a more prosperous Canada.

For Canadians, equality means women and men sharing in the responsibilities and obligations, as well as in the opportunities and rewards, of life and work. In Canada, leadership is key across society - from the private sector, to governments, to the general public - for people of all origins, generations and backgrounds to participate fully in our country's economic, social and democratic life, and ultimately, in improving the state of the world.

Now more bad news. For all those, including Bev Oda, our federal Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women* from February 6, 2006 until August 14, 2007, who think this 'fight' has been won...

The current Canadian government’s budget Bill C-10, tabled by the Conservative party and supported by the Liberal party, contains the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act which threatens women’s right to pay equity. Some people question why this bill is included in the stimulus package as it does nothing to save money, help the economy, or save jobs.

When this legislation passes:

  • Some federal public sector workers will no longer have the right to file complaints for pay equity with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
  • Pay equity will be called "equitable compensation issues," and will become something negotiable with employers rather than a recognized human right. This means that a woman's right to equal pay is now an item on the bargaining table and could be traded away for additional coffee breaks.
  • Employers will, for the first time, be able to use "market forces" as a factor in determining whether pay equity will be addressed. Pay equity was originally designed to correct a failure in the market that permits systemic wage discrimination against women.
  • The affected federal public sector workers will have the right to file complaints with the Public Service Labour Relations Board, but unions will be fined $50,000 if they are found to be helping or encouraging women to fight a pay equity complaint.

And on and on...

This legislation has gone through second reading in Parliament, with third reading and a vote coming up in early March.

If you would like to contact your Member of Parliament to ask them to vote NO to Bill C-10, you can click on this link to send a letter to your MP: http://petition.web.net/psac/node/26

(In the letter, you need to fill out your MP's name, and type your name at the bottom of the letter. If you don't know who your MP is, his or her (still mostly his :P) name will appear near the bottom of the petition once you fill in your postal code).

Here are some links to news and information on this issue:

* The Status of Women portfolio was transferred to to a Minister of State (junior cabinet minister) on October 30, 2008. The first and current Minister of State (Status of Women) is Helena Guergis.