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, June 28, 2010

good for the gander

No comment about the G20 here. Lots of that over on Story Juice. But just wanted to make a note of this comment from a Prime Minister whose government has put a giant kibosh on any opportunities for publicly funded workers to meet, network, or share professional knowledge and expertise.

Even in an age when teleconferences are so easy to organize, said Mr. Harper, there is nothing that can replace getting together with somebody face to face, shaking their hand, talking to them, and understanding their own pressures and concerns.

Maybe Mr. Harper read this :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Wow. It has been a long time since the last post and there is lots to catch up on but I do not have time now so I thought I'd post something by someone else who took a long time between "posts":

Here is the beginning of this speech about education and creativity.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

a nice place to learn

I went to Belleville yesterday to do a presentation about literacy for a group of people who work in literacy, settlement and employment services. Nice people.

I took the train down in the morning and had to wait until 9:30 until I could get a train home. What to do?

Hang out with the amazing folks at Quinte Adult Day School of course. The staff are Marsha, Gary, Chris, Cory and Stacey and are just what you would expect from literacy workers - funny, compassionate and passionate. And, of course, fantastically smart, innovative and creative.

One thing they do at QADS is work with people on job skills and one of the ways they do that is by restoring the beautiful old buildings of Belleville and Trenton to their former glory ... and into well-appointed places to learn.

Needless to say, I learned a LOT!

Thank you QADS people and thank you Community Literacy Ontario for providing us with this opportunity.

originally posted @ StoryJuice

Thursday, April 8, 2010

never stop

Joanne Kaattari from Community Literacy Ontario sent me this link and I thought I would share it with you too.

I think it is good for those days when everything seems a bit overwhelming and we need a little pep talk (from Morgan Freeman!) about how great we are, how much the world needs our brains and how very possible everything is.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

new esl/literacy horizons

The New American Horizons Foundation has created a couple fantastic videos about teaching ESL/Literacy.

I used the video called "Building Literacy with Adult Emergent Readers," hot off the press, with Teaching English as a Second Language Certificate (TESL) students to show them one way all the elements we cover in the ESL/Literacy component of their course can come together in a classroom.

One thing some TESL students used to say during the ESL Literacy workshops was that they could not see how it all came together -- how it would actually work with real students. As we cannot observe an actual class as part of the workshops, I struggled to figure out how to convey how ESL Literacy classes work. That struggle is over thanks to the good people at the New American Horizons Foundation. The TESL students really enjoyed the video and I noticed that the kind of lesson plans this group submitted showed a deeper understanding of working with ESL Literacy students. A win win. And how often does that happen in literacy :)

Watch the video here or on the NAH site. You can buy the DVD for $5 plus shipping.

Friday, March 26, 2010


It has been a little while since the last post. I was not really sure how to follow Ms. Waring :)

Have you been to the Catalyst Centre: The One-Stop Pop-Ed Shop Worker Co-op website lately? Lots of good new stuff happening there.

In case you have never been there, here is what they do:

The One-Stop Pop-Ed Shop Worker Co-op is a collective of educators committed to democratic, social justice education and community development. Popular Education is movement, a practice and a theory of social change that based on learning and committed to resisting unjust uses of power.

One thing they have posted that might be a good follow up to the Who's counting? video is an activity called Jobology.

This activity can be used to develop some awareness in a group on the history of work i.e., how has work changed historically for different classes of people and the role of unpaid work in sustaining capitalism. These can be used for activist work against poverty, develop awareness of class, gender and hierarchy in society. Download the activity description here (1 MB PDF)

Here are some of the questions they suggest:
  • How and why has work changed globally and personally over the generations?
  • When and why is it important to know our history - what stops us from knowing?
  • What are your thoughts about unpaid community contributions? E.g. from the union and community?
  • Does anyone see a class picture here?
  • What is class?
  • How do students fit in this picture of work? Is learning a job?

If you try it out, let us know how it went.

Monday, March 8, 2010

happy international womens day

Who's counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics

In this feature-length (94 minutes) documentary from the National Film Board, Marilyn Waring "demystifies the language of economics by defining it as a value system in which all goods and activities are related only to their monetary value. As a result, unpaid work (usually performed by women) is unrecognized while activities that may be environmentally and socially detrimental are deemed productive. To remedy this, Waring maps out an alternative economic vision based on the idea of time as the new currency."

This documentary also examines Ms. Waring's career as a member of the New Zealand parliament and her ideas about democracy.

Today Tara Hunt wrote about Marilyn Waring on the NFB blog.
And I copied her :)

Have a FANTASTIC International Women's Day women and men, boys and girls.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I hope everybody had a great Adult Learning Week. ABC Canada changed their name for the occasion. Nothing so drastic here. I took a virtual trip south of the border and read a couple of articles over at the New York Times about some change that is happening there.

The first one was about how Diane Ravitch, formerly a staunch believer in standardized testing, charter schools and the power of free markets to improve schools, has changed her analysis of how education works. She now thinks that charter schools have proved to be no better than regular schools but redirect resources from the public system and that testing has become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

Welcome to the dark side Ms. Ravitch. That is more than a mere name change.

The other, Building a Better Teacher, is about Doug Lemov's eureka moment:

Lemov spent his early career putting his faith in market forces, building accountability systems meant to reward high-performing charter schools and force the lower-performing ones to either improve or go out of business. ...

...he has come to the conclusion that simply dangling better pay will not improve student performance on its own. And the stakes are too high: while student scores on national assessments across demographic groups have risen, the percentage of students at proficiency — just 39 percent of fourth graders in math and 33 percent in reading — is still disturbingly low. ... But what makes a good teacher?

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?

Congratulations Mr. Lemov.

I would take exception to "in disguise" of course. The best teachers can make it feel invisible, but even that they do on purpose.The best teachers know that the best teaching and learning happens when no-one is disguising anything.

Every day is different. Every learner is different. And every time we "teach" something, we have to make a different series of bite-sized moves. To see how it is done, head back over to Wendell's blog. Here is the latest example of how those bite-sized moves create a banquet.

Never mind all the successes in the world. Each time we start anew, and "best practice" means what works best for that learner in that moment.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

mind-mapping at the NFB

This just in:
The National Film Board of Canada posted this on Twitter:
Educators – have you tried mind mapping with NFB films? The blog post is here.

I have not tried this but it looks pretty cool.

Mind-mapping is a great way for students to organize ideas and the teaching guide that accompanies our Films for Change playlist explains how this is done.

With the aid of simple technology (i.e.: a pen and paper) or more complex mapping software, students can plot out and connect the relationships between different concepts. Instructional Strategies Online provides information on how to integrate mind mapping into your teaching.

The image at the top of this post shows how we created a mind map to raise awareness of global environmental issues with facts taken from NFB films.
Follow the NFB on Twitter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

fractal day

How are you all? Are you enjoying Family Day?

I have been SICK. I have had an absolutely miserable cold. Everything hurt and I was sleeping most of the day away. I am still not quite back to normal. My main goal for today is to stay awake for 8 hours in a row. But after just 3 I am craving a nap :P

One thing I did do was sleepily watch a show on TVO called Hunting the Hidden Dimension about fractals. What are fractals?

"Fractals, like the air you breathe, are all around you. Their irregular, repeating shapes are found in cloud formations and tree limbs, in stalks of broccoli and craggy mountain ranges, even in the rhythm of the human heart. Mathematicians are finally mapping the uncharted territory of fractal geometry, deepening our understanding of nature and stimulating a new wave of scientific, medical and artistic innovation stretching from the ecology of the rainforest to fashion design."

Fractals are the way math is beautiful and art and everywhere.

You can also watch the video here. It is just over 50 minutes.

And here is some excellent family fractal fun from Ze Frank:

The virtual kaleidoscope on Ze Frank’s Web site is easy for even the most technophobic user. Simply start to draw in the space above, and with a few choice clicks from your mouse, you can instantly see your own fractal creation become animated. You can choose among a variety of colors, and the speed in which you’d like to see your pattern wax and wane, and then bask in watching this very hypnotic kind of art. Best of all? Squinting not required. (VeryShortList.com)

Monday, February 1, 2010


Happy February!

I am not really sure what to make of this but I wanted to share it with you. Have you seen this amazing Ukrainian storyteller? This video has more that 12 million hits on You Tube so very possibly you have. But I just found it on the weekend.

Her name is Kseniya Simonova. She tells stories by animating sand. In this piece, the one she did for Ukraine's Got Talent (a contest she won in 2009), she tells a history of the Ukraine during the what is known in some states of the former Soviet Unions as the Great Patriotic War. The term describes the period of the Second World War from June 22, 1941 to May 9, 1945 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

From the Telegraph:
She begins by creating a scene showing a couple sitting holding hands on a bench under a starry sky, but then warplanes appear and the happy scene is obliterated.

It is replaced by a woman’s face crying, but then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again. Once again war returns and Miss Simonova throws the sand into chaos from which a young woman’s face appears.

She quickly becomes an old widow, her face wrinkled and sad, before the image turns into a monument to an Unknown Soldier.

This outdoor scene becomes framed by a window as if the viewer is looking out on the monument from within a house.

In the final scene, a mother and child appear inside and a man standing outside, with his hands pressed against the glass, saying goodbye.

The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Ukraine, resulted in one in four of the population being killed with eight to 11 million deaths out of a population of 42 million.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a history of the world in 100 objects

A History of the World BadgeHere is something fun ... a series of 100 short (15 minute) podcasts from the BBC that tell a history of the world through a hundred objects from the British Museum.

Telling history through things, whether it's an Egyptian mummy or a credit card, is what museums are for, and because the British Museum has collected things from all over the globe, it's not a bad place to try to tell a world history. Of course, it can only be "a" history of the world, not "the" history. When people come to the museum they choose their own objects and make their own journey round the world and through time, but I think what they will find is that their own histories quickly intersect with everybody elses, and when that happens, you no longer have a history of a particular people or nation, but a story of endless connections.

Series writer and presenter, British Museum director Neil MacGregor, speaks briefly to the issue of imperialism and why all these objects are at the British Museum instead of a in museum in the region where they were discovered but does not dwell on the politics of ownership.

You can subscribe to the podcasts or download individual episodes here: www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ahow/

You can see the gallery of objects here: www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/explorerflash/#

The website gives users the opportunity to to submit items of their own for a place in world history and offers detailed information on all the objects featured in the radio programs and links to 350 other museum collections across the United Kingdom. The podcasts will be available on the website permanently for listening or downloading. There is a game called Relic, a site for schools with activities and lesson plans, and a blog that goes with the series.

The home page is a flashy mess. All the objects float around in circles that I suppose is supposed to reflect the interconnectedness of everything but it is very difficult to navigate if you are looking for a specific objects. If you want to see the objects that go with each podcast, go to the 'Programmes' page. There you will see a 'see object' link to the far right of each episode. If you click on this link, it will take you to the specific object in the AHOW gallery.

Someone has created a Wikipedia page about the series. If you scroll down to the Objects list you can see all the objects in the order of the podcasts.

  • If you click on the blue words, you will see a wikipedia page about that place or thing.
  • If you click on the first number after the the name of the object, you will be taken to the AHOW gallery page for that object.
  • If you click on the second number after the name of the object you will be taken to the British Museum page for that object.

Warning: This series can become addictive. Also -- the listening part is only 15 minutes but that 15 minutes can easily turn into hours of clicking through the links associated with each object.

P.S. I just read Wendell's post for today and was reminded that it is Family Literacy Day. To celebrate that, listen to the podcast with someone in your family. Or a friend. Or your cat.

Monday, January 11, 2010

report cards

The news hit the pages of the Globe and Mail under this headline last Friday: Conservatives stop funding for learning organization.

The news is that the federal government will not provide further funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, an organization established in 2004 by a Liberal government with a five-year grant of $85-million to promote lifelong education.

The CCL was established because "In 2004, Canada saw that it had some catching up to do. Canadians were falling behind the rest of the world in some crucial areas. Innovation. Creativity. Skills development. Learning. There was no debate about what we had to do to stop the decline, and begin to improve. We had to figure out what works in education and learning, from early childhood to post-secondary schooling, from job training through adult literacy improvement, and we had to monitor our progress so that we were certain we were always on the right path."

I am not sure that I agree with the basic premise. I see little real world evidence that Canadians are less innovative, creative, skilled and/or learned than their counterparts around the world. In fact, the solutions to our recent economic woes seem to point to a past underuse of the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of many Canadians rather than any deficits in those areas. But the creation of the CCL intrigued me. It seemed to hold promise - perhaps we could create an education think tank that would shine a light on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators in Canada and that this knowledge would inform policy.

The CCL divided its work into 5 knowledge centres: Aboriginal Learning (based in the Prairies, NWT and Nunavut); Adult Learning (based in Atlantic Canada); Early Childhood Learning (based in Quebec); Health and Learning (based in British Columbia and Yukon); and Work and Learning (based in Ontario).

I have had the most experience with the Adult Learning Knowledge Centre. In 2007 I worked on a research-in-practice project that was funded through the ALKC and, in June 2007, I went to an ALKC conference. At the conference I was impressed by the grassroots nature of some of the projects but became aware of a focus on measuring. As time went on, I realized that the CCL was less a "learning organization" and more a measuring organization.

The Globe and Mail article quotes Mr. Cappon about the loss of funding: “What Canada would lose without CCL would be like being a student without a report card of any kind. And we'd be prevented from knowing how far behind the competition we're slipping."

CCL brought us several report cards over the years.

The Composite Learning Index (CLI) measures Canada’s progress in lifelong learning based on statistical indicators that reflect the many ways Canadians learn, whether in school, in the home, at work or within the community. The CLI tells us things like this: "For the first time, Canada's overall score on the Composite Learning Index has declined, dropping two points to 75 in 2009, from 77 in 2008. The decrease is being driven by the Learning to Be pillar, even though there has been an increase on the Learning to Do pillar."

The Projections of Adult Literacy: Measuring Movement (PALMM) provides a statistical “snapshot” of Canada’s adult literacy future through 2031; calculates future adult literacy rates according to province/territory and specific population groups; and generates graphs for incorporating into planning for literacy policy and program interventions. The PALMM tells us things like this: "Although the proportion of immigrants with low literacy skills will decrease by 2031, the actual number of low-skilled immigrants will increase by 61%. However, there will also be an increase in the number of immigrants with higher literacy levels."

The July 2008 literacy educators got a CCL report card. Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s future literacy uses the PALMM to assess the state of adult literacy in Canada and makes recommendations on how literacy programming should be structured and delivered. This report was well discussed on this blog (and here) and in our special bulletin. One of our concerns was that this report makes recommendations about professionalization, teaching methods and time limits that overlook "the rich and varied techniques Canadian practitioners use to teach adults successfully and share in practitioner-based research reports." Reading the Future was a signal to the literacy field that the CCL was not developing knowledge based on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators but was taking a top down approach to develop policy recommendations based on survey data.

In March of last year, CCL presented the adult literacy community with their online literacy assessment tool, also well discussed on this blog. This tool allowed us to develop our own report card on our own IALSS level. CCL told us we could also use the tool to assess learner needs overlooking the fact that the IALSS is a survey tool and is not an appropriate assessment for learning

"In anticipation of renewed funding, CCL had proposed an exciting slate of projects for the coming years."

Many in the list of 10 proposed projects, not surprisingly, seem to be about collecting more data to create more measuring tools. The Literacy Self-Assessments looks to be an expansion of the above mentioned online assessment: "CCL plans to launch a series of free, online tests that will allow individual Canadians to measure their competencies in three areas: prose literacy, document literacy and numeracy. Based on the International Adult Literacy and Skills survey, these tests will also provide teachers and instructors with a convenient means of assessing strengths and weaknesses to ensure programs meet learner needs." Once again CCL is overlooking the folly of using a survey tool to assess for learning and using a standardized test for self-assessment.

That report card argument may resonate in some sectors but I am not sure what literacy workers will think about it. You can probably tell what I think :), but what about you? Do we need these report cards? How do they help us in our work? How do they help learners in their learning? How does the report card argument resonate with you?

Monday, January 4, 2010

my life as a squirrel

I have been thinking about squirrels quite a bit lately so it was nice to see how squirrel behaviour, science and adult learning all come together in this article from the New York Times.

Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.

Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.

This is good news for those of us that work in adult literacy. Many of the learners who come to literacy programs are in middle age as are many of us who work there. We are all familiar with this phenomenon:

Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.

There is more good news -- this dreamy default mode does not mean the internet has killed our attention spans. Even though "neural connections, which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age,":

The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

So what does this mean for adult learners and educators? Even more good news. Keep doing what you have always been doing:

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

Whew! Thank you science. And thank you middle age for my squirrel brain.