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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

who benefits?

In a few weeks I will be in Belfast at the annual conference of Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL). I've been pondering how to convey the realities of literacy work on this side of the Atlantic.

I've also been reading Valuing Literacy: Rhetoric or Reality (Detselig, 2006). This book reports on research by Veeman, Ward and Walker comparing adult literacy in Canada and Sweden. I like the succinct summary included in their conclusion:
In Canada, adult literacy is an individual rather than a community problem and it is dealt with as a charitable cause. There is no universal publicly-funded system of adult basic education to provide compensatory education for adults in any jurisdiction. Instead, undereducated adults must avail themselves of a patchwork of volunteer programs or projects offered by community-based organizations. There is no reliable schedule of adult learning opportunities, nor do all Canadians have access to funding for study at the basic level. The charity nature of literacy and the name literacy itself are disincentives – and often a disservice – to adults who might lack self-confidence or need special help in addressing learning needs. (p.102)

The aim of the research was to explore why Canada and Sweden fared so differently in the OECD's 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey, which found that "adult literacy levels in Scandinavia were significantly higher than those in English-speaking countries." What did the researchers conclude?

The social democratic approach of Northern Europe sees adult education as a public investment that helps raise the educational level of the whole society for the benefit of all. This is in contrast to the economic and social policies of Anglophone countries, where the emphasis has been on sustaining meritocracy rather than on producing social equity. Literacy in countries such as Canada is seen as the individual’s problem to be solved, and the rampant individualism that has damaged trust, fairness, and social bonds has not served to raise literacy levels. (p. 105)

I've often thought that adult literacy programs in the UK had enviable levels of infrastructure and sustained support. At RaPAL I'm sure I'll learn more about how conditions in Ireland, England and Scotland might be similar to Canada. I'll use this space to share what I learn!

Friday, May 25, 2007


"I like the new class we are in because it is big and quiet."
I read this comment on the qualities - communities - literacies blog. It made feel relaxed as I pictured the room and the students who feel that they have the space and calm they need in order to learn. Of course, it also made me think of all the tiny, overcrowded, windowless, noisy classrooms I have worked in and how the students and I would sometimes talk about our dream classroom ~ something big and quiet.

It made me reflect on Wendell's comment about software that does not work. "This is a "small bug" in term of the complexity of the programming, but a huge bug in terms of being useful to learners. Imagine an email system that correctly delivered emails 4 out of 5 times."

We sometimes treat weird, cramped, too hot or too cold, airless rooms as a "small bug." Often there is not much we can do about it, but what a huge difference it makes when we can learn in a comfortable environment. It made me ask myself, "Why do we not DEMAND this for ourselves and our learners?" Of course, I think I know the answer to that but that answer is making me restless for change.

Then I learned that, "In fact, the room is smaller than the previous one this learner experienced. That he thinks it's "bigger" says something about the non-physical factors which go into the creation of an appropriate learning space for adults."

Hmmmmmmm.... food for thought. How do we help students feel that they are in a big, quiet room?

And on a sort of related topic, Kate Nonesuch is doing a survey to find out what people in the ABE/Literacy field think about the relationship between learning and learners’ past or current experience of violence.

The survey will be open until July 1, 2007 and you can find it at www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=145613168996. It only takes a few minutes and it is anonymous.

more bugs

I just used the Babel Fish translator (see the bottom of the sidebar to your right) to translate this page into French. That literal little fish cracks me up. Today she translated Kate Nonesuch as "Kate inégalable." Beautiful babel! I wonder what happens in Korean?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

equal time for the cbc

Have you seen the CBC ESL pages?
They host a series of short video clips. The clips are classic Canadian content. Each clip is accompanied with ideas for activities developed with Carleton University Applied Linguistics to do before listening, during listening and after listening.

You can watch longer documentaries at CBC Home Delivery. This is a service the CBC offered in 2003. They discontinued it but the archive is still available. Amazing topics.

And in case you missed this, here is the lighter side of Canadian content.

Here is the real Hinterland Who's Who site. Sorry about that ;-)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

computers, computers, computers

Aaaaaaargh! If you are having a hard time teaching computers because you cannot be in eight places at once, check out these self-directed online lessons from the BBC WebWise pages.

Learn how to use the internet step-by-step
There are modules on different topics and you can test your knowledge by playing the weakest link game at the end of each module.

Learn how to use a mouse, keyboard and computer screen
There is a guide who takes you slowly and clearly through basic computer skills. The interface is a series of tv game shows. (Hint: in the shooting gallery, if you have no key with this symbol £, use the # symbol.) There is a skip button in case you stop part way through and want to find your place again later. (Warning: it involves quite a bit of clicking if you stop near the end.)

There are more BBC Learning Pages, including this skills practice one. It looks promising but I have not explored it yet. If you have a chance to, please share your review in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

speak up - if you want

Here's a fun way to get back to work after a long weekend...

Voice Your Choice in the Corporate Hall of Shame 2007!

Which corporations are the most abusive, manipulative and harmful? You decide.

Vote for the three nominees that deserve to be inducted this year—or use your votes to write in another corporate candidate. You can even post comments about why these corporations should be inducted.

Would you try this in your literacy program?
What do you think about doing activities like this with students?

Friday, May 18, 2007

may two-four

In Ontario, we call this long weekend the May 2-4 weekend in tribute to the case of beer some of us (not me!) drink over the 3 days. Officially we are celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday, but most of us are celebrating the beginning of summer festivities - patios, barbeques, picnics, swimming, camping, frolicking on beaches, wearing sandals, not having to spend 1/2 an hour layering up in coats, sweaters, socks, mitts, scarves, hats and more just to walk to the corner. ... And of course ~ drinking beer outside!
This is from the Geist Magazine Phrase Book:

I say there are twenty-four beer in a "case." In Ontario, this is also called a two-four, and Victoria Day weekend is called May two-four weekend because at least a case of beer is consumed. Also, in Ontario, forty ounces of alcohol is called a forty-pounder.
Check out the phrasebook for a light-hearted look at why Canadians seem so puzzled whenever they leave their home province.

Whatever you call it and however you celebrate it ...
have a great looooong weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

petition for poverty relief

A group called Avaaz is asking us to sign a petition.
This Friday, the finance ministers from the world's eight richest countries will meet to plan the G8 summit. We will send them an urgent letter on global poverty, signed by key global figures: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson--and, we hope, you. Our message: keep your promise to provide 0.7% of national income in effective aid to relieve extreme poverty. Millions of lives are at stake. The more people sign the letter, the more powerful our demand becomes. Click here to sign: http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_poverty_letter/tf.php

making comments

It has been brought to our attention that trying to make a comment is quite confusing and well, trying.

I have added a link in the sidebar on the right to the blogger "how to add a comment" page. And I have removed the need to type a secret word. The secret word step is there to stop robots from depositing advertising on a blog - you need a person to type in the word. I will leave that out and see if the robots become a problem!

If you have a blogger or gmail account, you can sign in and use that identity to leave a comment. If not, you can choose 'Other' and type in whatever information you would like to share. Or you can keep your identity a secret and choose to be 'Anonymous'.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

asparagus redux

So here is the Mother's Day asparagus dish.

And here is a study about how important mothers are. I really like the Freakonomics blog. It is a treasure trove of odd but oddly relevant information.

Another blog I've wanted to tell you about is Julia's 3 for 365 blog. It is as refreshing as iced lemonade on a warm spring day and as cozy as sweet, milky tea on a frosty winter afternoon.

"Last year, I read about a study that measured the positive effects of writing down three good things everyday. It crossed my mind again on New Year’s Eve. Then and there, I decided I’d blog mine."

The May 14 entry is especially relevant to literacy workers and those who like playing with language.

I read Julia's blog for a while and then started my own 3 for 365. I decided to do an illustrated powerpoint slide each day rather than blog. I have never been a very good diarist but this method makes me reflect in a focussed - and brief - way each day and I find that a useful practice. Reflective practice!

Friday, May 11, 2007

mother's day

I am going to cook some asparagus for my Mum on Sunday (shhhh....don't tell her).

For more great documentaries about food and other social justice stuff, check out Media Matters.

Have a great Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

on the road

We have been off the blog for a couple of days.
We have been working at getting processes in place at OISE/UT.

We are getting ready to attend a couple of conferences.

Tannis will be going to the RaPAL conference in Belfast June 15-17. It will be an interesting time to be in Belfast, not just for literacy but the start of a new era. It seems that there is great hope in Northern Ireland for a peaceful future. She is going a few days early and will visit literacy folks in Glasgow before the conference.

I (Tracey) will be heading to the Adult Learning Knowledge Centre's national symposium in Halifax on June 10-12. I will be going a couple of days early to visit with some of the CASAE folks.

Let us know if you are going to any of these events... we'll bring you a Literacies souvenir.

funding news

And there is this news about funding from our federal government - "$372,000 in funding for two literacy projects that will help approximately 250 adult learners improve their literacy skills and prepare them for employment... As part of two projects entitled Profil des forces et faiblesses en lecture des adultes en formation and Ressources pour les personnes immigrantes en formation, the Coalition francophone pour l'alphabetisation et la formation de base en Ontario will assess learners' reading skills to better understand their strengths and weaknesses, and will improve training for practitioners so they can build on their teaching competencies. Under the second project, the sponsor will develop learning materials that will guide immigrant learners in their training projects by collaborating with other literacy organizations, such as the Centre Moi j'apprends (Ottawa), Alpha-Toronto, ABC Communautaire (Welland), the Centre Alpha Mot de Passe (Windsor) and the FORA Centre."

Friday, May 4, 2007


From the Freire conference.

Chris Cavanaugh from Comeuppance told us the first story from Episode 9.

Thanks Chris for the Ah-hah! moment.
Yep - there were some GATT-Fly folk (now ECEJ) there too.

Read Chris' blog for more about the conference.
And lots of other good stuff.


From the Freire conference.

While waiting for the Freire conference to begin, a colleague told us about being laid off. She was told that the organization could no longer afford her work and then left with a person contracted to escort her from the building. She told us, "They said that is how things are done now - it makes it easier for everybody. I think they thought they were doing the right thing."

In the introduction to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire hopes for "the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love." The conference was about how people remember and reinvent Freire and we were told powerful stories of love and working to keep people at the centre of processes.

Funding cuts are hurting us, our friends and our field. When we say goodbye to our beloved co-workers, we miss them and everybody misses their contribution to our collective wisdom. Often we are unable to find ways for them to stay in literacy and that hurts too. A couple of my Freire conference friends helped me work in literacy during the year Literacies was not funded. It helped me stay connected and energized and, well, it helped me stay. Thank you.

My hope is that we can remember Freire and honour our best literacy traditions by keeping people at the centre of even the most painful processes and treating them with love.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Beading and reading

Last weekend I went to a workshop at the Woodland Cultural Centre. It was led by Sam Thomas, an Iroquois beading artist, and Munuve Mutisya, founder of the Akamba Peace Museum in Kenya. They are working together on a project that will be displayed at the United Nations this summer -- The Great Tree of Long Leaves.

There are fascinating parallels between the beading traditions among the Akamba and Iroquois. Both used beaded belts to record significant events (as in the Akamba replicas on the right in this photo and in Iroquois wampum). Colonization was actively hostile to these practices in both cultures.

This kind of cultural reclamation is not usually included in mainstream definitions of literacy work. It should be.

- Tannis

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


sign of spring ~ my neighbour unearthed his fig trees last night.

now edna, help sheila tip the gender balance at the literacies cafe. try the first fig - could this be ms. millay's take on the literacy version of the 8-hour workday? and for those left craving more, try a second fig.

okay ... i'm off to the aforementioned freire conference.
i'll let you know how it goes.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

happy may day

Happy May Day everyone.
I hope that you are enjoying your 8-hour workday!

Check out what is happening at Mayworks in a city near you. And there are these solidarity marches in Vancouver and Toronto.

This was also the day, in 1927, that the first cooked meals on a scheduled flight were introduced on an Imperial Airways flight from London to Paris. So many reasons to celebrate!

But seriously ...
I think we really need to revisit that 8-hour work day idea.
Here's a little Pete Seeger to get us in the mood.
More rabble rousing songs here.