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.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

o canada 2

Have a great loooooooooooooong weekend.
Everybody take at least one spa day - a whole day to do whatever refreshes and re-energizes you. It is important to all of us that you take good care of yourselves. Me - I'll be in the backyard treating :-) my neighbours to a little of this:

Drop by if you are in the 'hood.

Friday, June 29, 2007

o canada

Today is the Aboriginal Day of Action.
On May 31, the Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine made three core demands of the government:

  • rapid movement toward self-government agreements on the basis of an AFN plan;
  • restoration and expansion of federal funding to First Nations' organizations, removing 2% annual funding caps, implementing the $5 billion Kelowna Accord, and building population growth and inflation into future funding formulas; and
  • accelerated resolution of over 800 outstanding specific claims.

I hope that the day helps us move towards meeting those demands.

I hope that everybody stays safe.

I hope that we all remember our rights and responsibilities as inheritors of the treaties.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

resistance is futile (not!)

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell.

Read all about the "Rubric for Filing" and the "Multi-Modal Pumpkin Unit"
in Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid
by Jonathan Kozol
from Harper’s Magazine, September 2005

In this article, Kozol writes about class and race inequity in the US education system. He also discusses the effects of a curriculum designed to produce 'productive citizens' has on students and teachers.

"Forcing an absurdity on teachers does teach something," said an African-American professor. "It teaches acquiescence. It breaks down the will to thumb your nose at pointless protocols to call absurdity 'absurd'."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

moving and thinking

Well, this seems to be video time at the Literacies Café so here is one more.

In this video, an adult learner from Sierra Leone, speaking in Krio, shares her thoughts about learning to read.

Isutu (sp?) might be one of those people that Sir Ken was talking about - people who need to move to think. Or she might just be very happy. Even though I do not speak Krio and do not understand all of what she is saying, I think I get what she is talking about and I think that you will too.

Embedding has been disabled for this video so you will have to click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

family literacy

Many of us watched this video as the link made the rounds (thank you Maria Moriarty), but in case you missed it or lost the link and need to see it again, here it is.

In this video, Sir Ken Robinson by talks about children at school and how schools can undermine creativity in children. Robinson points out the many ways our schools fail to recognize -- much less cultivate -- the talents of many brilliant people. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says.

He talks about hierarchies in education and which topics are most valued. He talks about how these hierarchies were set up to focus on the creation of industrial workers and how, because the things many people are good at are not valued at school, many people do not see their own brilliance.

He says that creativity is as important as literacy. Well we knew that didn't we? He says something else we know: "If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original."

We know that intelligence is diverse and dynamic.
Sometimes it is nice to hear a guy on the internet say it.
And sometimes it is nice to imagine being in English class with Shakespeare.

Monday, June 25, 2007

love-ly llo

Nancy Friday and I went to the Laubach Literacy Ontario Conference in Waterloo, Ontario to facilitate two workshops (one for tutors and program workers and one for students) about AlphaRoute online courses.

The less-than-highlights:

  • The CIPMS presentation where we were repeatedly told that our perceptions and knowledge were not enough anymore. We were told that our evaluation activities must be 'deliberate and purposeful', 'valid and reliable', and 'internationally recognized' because our new reason for carrying them out is so governments can show the impacts literacy programs have on communities and economies.
  • The CIPMS presentation where we were told to reevaluate our use of resources in order to accommodate our new work. We were told that one program that has been successful in implementing CIPMS has turned all the work with learners over to volunteers so the staff can focus on data collection, analysis and strategic planning.
  • That there was no time or space for critical thinking at the CIPMS presentation. But then again, if our perceptions and knowledge are no longer enough...
  • Well, the whole CIPMS presentation.
But forget about all of that because here come the highlights:
  • The amazing insights, perceptions and knowledge of literacy tutors, workers and students.
  • The way LLO integrates the insights, perceptions and knowledge of all three groups equally into it's work.
  • The way LLO validates the insights, perceptions and knowledge of all three groups equally.
  • The way LLO stays grounded in grassroots, people-centred processes.
  • The way LLO focusses on how its work affects people and how they can work and play in their communities and communities of practice.
  • The way LLO supports and fosters the development of communities of practice.
  • That what the ED, Lana Faessler, called out as she flew past me in the hall was, "Are you having fun?"
  • That what disappointed the President, Helen McLeod, about the morning workshop was that I was not as silly as had been promised.
  • That what the web designer, Sheila Roberts, who came to both workshops, said about the afternoon workshop was that I was funnier.
  • That the food was nutritious and delicious ~ we felt well cared for.
  • That we laughed all the way through the AGM as we learned important stuff.
  • That we cried all the way through the awards ceremony as we cheered people we love and cherish.
  • That they think this work is so important they put together this conference with NO funding!
Thank you LLO.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Have a great weekend!

(Video is here in case above not working.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The learner-centred education approach is a paradigm shift from the traditional underpinning of education where learning is upheld as a result of, and a response to the transmission of authoritarian and coded knowledge. It legitimizes learners’ experiences by allowing the space for the learners to participate in the process of knowledge construction. However, the learner-centred approach does not entail diminished teacher roles. Rather it necessitates teachers to enact their knowledge and resources to co-produce possible and effective learning projects for and with the learners.

As early as 500 BC, Confucius made it clear that an important way of learning is to get the learners involved in the forming of knowledge.

He said: “Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I will understand.”

by Hongxia Shan
from Teachers’ Roles in the Learner-centred Approach --
Empirical Evidence from Two Computer Literacy Courses

about the Democratizing Workplace Learning (DWL) Group, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

we were curious

The students who made the Learning is Power video recommended by Nancy Friday describe their class this way:

A team of 12 players and a coach with no idea where we were going, not even sure of what the goal was. We were curious and so we came. We saw how our fears got in the way of our learning. We moved away from fear and towards hope. We realized that learning is power. Here we are learning not just to read, write and do arithmetic, we are learning to be compassionate to ourselves and to each other.

The B-BALL (Becoming a Better Adult Learner and Leader) Squad at the Read/Write/Now Adult Learning Center at the Springfield City Library in Massachussetts, USA.

Oh the freedom of learning and having no idea no idea where you are going.
Oh the power of learning to be compassionate to each other AND ourselves.
Perhaps this is part of the 'big, quiet room' that literacy workers and learners create together.

But the ground of a man's [sic] culture lies in his nature, not in his calling. His powers are to be unfolded on account of their inherent dignity, not their outward direction. He is to be educated, because he is a man, not because he is to make shoes, nails, or pins.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

spa days

So to the pervasive sadness issue... and what to do.
Here's my best idea. Buy a lottery ticket, win $37 million and start the Foundation for Humane Literacy Practices (humanity in both learning conditions and working conditions).

I know, I know. So until we come up with something better ~ spa days! I am not of the have-a-bubble-bath-with-candles-and-incense school of feeling better, but I think we all need a DAY OFF, with pampering ~ a spa day.

I know, I know. So it might be a spa minute, or a spa half an hour. And it might not take place in a spa.

It might take place in a library.

I spent a library evening with my learners... no, not my learners... with some other adults who are learners like me. We talked about Blake and Milton (we rest don't know nuttin but one lady did), and why the inside angles of a 5-sided figure add up to 540', and how do berries from the Himalayas get to New Brunswick anyhow?, and how do you save a letter in the A-drive again?, and if you plant an onion and all you get is another onion...

and I feel much better. It's the work that keeps us going. The people. Not the politics or the pay.
Or the staff room.
In terms of what we all do to make ourselves feel better, ...when things were really rough for the staff team at a place where I worked (we were trying to be a collective inside of a hierarchy), we took time out at our staff meetings to share stories about what kept us going. It was really affirming and energizing.
Or You Tube!
My most recent lift comes from this YouTube video. It is just so coming from the right place.
Send us your best 'spa day' ideas.
We need your help.

Monday, June 18, 2007

complexity, cohesion and isolation

First of all let me say that the posts about the ALKC meeting in Halifax and Wendell’s comments have involved me in some pretty complex emotions!!! On the one hand I’m proud and happy that some “real” voices of literacy got heard there and on the other I want to cry when I think about the pervasive sense of isolation and sadness.

It seems as though literacy and literacy work is being, and should not be, defined by those who do not work in literacy.

Wouldn’t it make more sense
if policy makers, researchers and
counters of all kinds
would speak directly
to literacy students and literacy workers? Wouldn’t it be more efficient if the experts ~ literacy students and literacy workers ~ were consulted and engaged in decisions? Aren’t they the “experts” “key informants”, “stakeholders” whatever you want to call them?

OK now I got that said….. How can this happen? Well probably with great difficulty ~ but I see Literacies and the Literacies Café as the places where the voices and stories of literacy can be heard.

It seems to me that these places are ours. We can meet here to talk, to explore the complexities of literacies and to educate others about literacy, about the work that is going on, about the real stories and where we can define ourselves and our work on our own terms.

So what can we do to keep this conversation going ~ to learn from and support each other, to explore together why this work continues despite all and what keeps people going?

Words are the voice of the heart.
~ Confucius (c. 551-c. 479 BC)
Maria Moriarty

Thursday, June 14, 2007

champions of complexity and cohesion

The comment has been made, at the ALKC symposium and elsewhere, that the literacy field is not cohesive, that the reason we do not get heard by policy makers is that we do not speak with one voice.

I think the reason we do not get heard by policy makers might have something to do with our lack of economic or electoral clout and that policy making is a political process not a social cohesion process. There is evidence that research has very little influence on policy decisions. But that is another debate for another time.

It seems to me that we are an incredibly cohesive field. I hear the same themes being repeated by literacy workers wherever I go in both cyberspace and meatspace. I think we are a field that recognizes the complexities involved in the learning process. The diversity of communities and individuals in which and with whom we work means that one-size fits all formulae are not workable. No amount of flow charts filled in, boxes ticked, percentages calculated or levels assessed will help anybody learn anything.

As a field, we recognize that literacy best practice (aaargh!) is practice that involves constant deep listening and observation. We know that our best work is done when we can be nimble enough to respond to changing and differing needs and contexts and, at the same time, reflective and engaged enough to provide transformative and relevant learning environments and opportunities.

We are a field that understands that teaching is about knowing how and when to seize the moments (teachable, empowering, reflective) as they arise. The leading at the root of education is about creating space for those moments to evolve and then supporting growth and change.

As a field, we know that the best response to practices that differ from ours is not, "That's wrong," but, "I wonder why they do that. Perhaps if I learn more about why, it will help me in my practice."

We manage to maintain and sustain this cohesive voice even though the shaky infrastructure that tries to support professional development, reflective practice, research & innovation, and dialogue & debate is being vigorously and systematically dismantled and defunded.

For another fantastic example of how the literacy field balances complexity and cohesiveness, check out Towards a Fully Literate Canada: Achieving National Goals through a Comprehensive Pan-Canadian Literacy Strategy. The key points are here.
You can also download the Logic Model (60kb).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

conferencing literacy

I am just back from the Adult Learning Knowledge Centre 2007 National Symposium in Halifax. Still trying to sort through all that I learned.

The highlights:

  1. Invigorating and refreshing conversation with some of the good literacy folks who were able to attend ~ Nancy Jackson, Nadine Sookermany, Suzanne Smythe, Janet Skinner, Sue Shore, Arthur Bull, Charles Ramsey and Wendy DesBrisay (in order of appearance).
  2. Presentations that brought learner voices to the conference.
    • Corrina Craig from Our Place Society, Victoria, BC told us about Street Life’s Creative Turn
    • Arthur Bull of the Marine Resource Centre, Digby, NS told us about Visual Media as a Tool for Community Development; and
    • Jason Brown of the University of Western Ontario, London, ON told us about Adult Learning in Aboriginal Community-Based Inner-City Organizations.
  3. A presentation that brought literacy practitioner voices to the conference.
    • Wendy DesBrisay, Movement for Canadian Literacy, Ottawa, ON told us about A Fully Literate Canada: What does it mean? What is it going to take?
  4. The brave, clear literacy voices. The above group conferenced with passion and compassion and, for those who could not be there, I think that you would be proud of how well our field was represented by this tiny, fierce contingent.
  5. Support. Some of the ALKC people and conference participants responded with passion and compassion.
The less-than-high lights:
  1. The lack of diversity among participants. And along the same lines ~ the reports on projects about work in aboriginal communities not being presented by aboriginal people.
  2. The pervasive view that sets of numbers and/or tiny boxes can describe learning as measurable, quantifiable sets of skills rather than what it actually is: a process of developing self, community and awareness (see the scottish approach).
  3. The pervasive sadness of literacy workers. This ordinarily innovative and brave group is finding it difficult to envision a future for the field. I think that we all know why.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

the scottish approach

Greetings from Scotland! I still have lots to learn about adult basic education in Scotland, but am heartened by the official statements about literacy (which is always referred to in its plural rather than singular form). Adult literacies work is seen as part building "strong communities". I'm sure in the coming days I'll learn more about how everything works, but here is how Communities Scotland describes the work:

The Scottish approach to adult literacies adopts a social practice model, which sees literacies as a key dimension of community regeneration and a part of the wider lifelong learning agenda. Such an approach recognises that:
  • literacy and numeracy are complex capabilities rather than a simple set of basic skills
  • learners are more likely to develop and retain knowledge, skills and understanding if they see them as relevant to their own context and everyday literacy practices.
Tutors are encouraged to negotiate an individual learning plan, selecting the knowledge and skills that are most relevant to the individual learner's goals.

Learners are expected to work on their actual goals. They are not expected to try to fit what they want into criteria set by a central authority. How sensible! How refreshing! How is it working in practice? Stay tuned!

Friday, June 8, 2007

literacy is like water

I read the post about cipms yesterday morning and am (like everyone else??) struggling to get my head around what this will mean for literacy work in Ontario and trying to figure out how it all makes sense.

In the afternoon I had the opportunity to attend part of the MTML Learner’s Conference and the Golden Oak Book Award Ceremony. Here’s the thing…. as I sat in the auditorium with 150 adult literacy students and instructors I realized again that in literacy in Ontario we have fewer and fewer opportunities to come together like that.

It seems to me that when I first became involved in the literacy field there were several such gatherings every year, where instructors and students could come together to share their experience and celebrate their work. Am I being romantic – am I remembering some golden age that never existed??

Sitting in that room yesterday was a powerful experience – the group represented the real cultural diversity of Toronto and many ways of learning, thinking and knowing

As I sat there listening to the presenters speak about the books they had read and watching people joyfully greet each other it brought home to me again my understanding that literacy is not just a word, an artefact– it is a process – process in which people, real people engage together – it is a human activity – and although it can be weighed, measured and counted as an abstraction – that’s only a small part of the story – and if that’s the only part of the story that gets told there is a real distortion of the reality Today I’m going to look again at Naming the Magic by Evelyn Battell from B.C. and I've Opened Up from Ontario to remind myself that numbers are only one way of knowing and that literacy students know what they want and know when they are moving forward. The following quote from a student in the I’ve Opened Up project says it all……..

Literacy is like water. It goes everywhere. You just can't see now. It is very important. Like water, sometimes it goes underground and you can't see it but, it's flowing all the time.
So… my point, if I have one, is – we need to remind ourselves and remind those who make and promote the policies that shape how literacy happens in Ontario that the literacy story is complex and multi-faceted, because it is about real people, there are many ways of knowing and not all of them can or need to be counted - and that merely counting does not always show what is really happening and what matters.

Maria Moriarty

Thursday, June 7, 2007

program evaluation in ontario

Ontario literacy workers are just being told about CIPMS (Continuous Improvement of Performance Management System) and how this is to be implemented in Literacy and Basic Skills programs.

CIPMS includes a performance measurement process made up of three elements: 50% effectiveness (learner skills attainment or essential skills gain), 30% customer satisfaction (?), and 20% efficiency (contract compliance).

I won’t drag you through all the details here – you can read about it at Community Literacy Ontario – Literacy Basics: Outcomes-based Program Evaluation, the May 14, 2007 Update and in Our Voice, Community Literacy Ontario Newsletter, June 2006, p.3.

The short story is that the ministry hired Vubiz Ltd to research how best to measure learner achievement. What they came up with was an eight-point framework for use with all learners and a 500-point test of Reading Text, Document Use and Numeracy (the International Adult Literacy Survey assessment) for use with 5-10% of learners for ‘corporate reporting purposes’.

In 2005, Jo Lobianco wrote in Becoming Policy Literate, (PDF at the Centre for Literacy of Quebec Online Articles):

An ideological shift occurred between 1990 and 1996. During 1990, International Literacy Year, adult literacy thinking was still characterized by reformist social ambition… By the time the International Adult Literacy Survey was conducted [1996 – see Literacies fall 2003 web forum for more about IALS] … the various participating countries … typically replaced social transformation ideologies with prevailing ideas about labour market reforms, efficiency, and enhanced competitiveness in globalizing markets.
Is CIPMS just the next logical step in the shift Jo describes?

Here is the antidote: Making Assessment Personally Relevant
I want my students to realize that learning is not about making your work conform to some standard imposed by the teacher. Learning is about creating your own standards and adjusting them based on your goals. Learning is about setting your own goals and monitoring your own progress. It is about having conversations with yourself and others.
As Stephen Downes says,
There are many things I like about this post, but I'll highlight two: first, assessments are conducted by the students themselves, not some arbiter of learning achievement. Second, the scales use no numbers. They're not needed, not unless you want to portray (inaccurately) learning as some sort of contest. Which it's not.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

blogging with professionalism

Okay - this will be the last blog about blogging for a while. But I wanted to take up the conversation about professionalism on the blog and the question Wendell raised: Whose views am I representing, to whom, and to what end? Blog posts often feel to me like snapshots. They open windows and offer insights that can be deep and wide but also fleeting. Rebecca Blood says in Waging peace: using our powers for good,

The weblog form itself encourages spontaneous blurts. But there are people from all backgrounds on weblogs and beyond, composing carefully considered opinions every day. And that, I think, can be our mandate. To spend a little bit of our weblog time in trying to understand the truth of those who see the same events, differently; in trying to illuminate the inexplicable human beings that surround us.
How to do that? Here are excerpts from RB's 10 Tips:
Determine your purpose. Know your intended audience. ...Knowing for whom you are writing will allow you to adopt an appropriate tone. Be real. ...Speak in a real voice about real things. A weblog is the place for strong opinions, whether about politics, music, social issues, gardening, or your profession. The more engaged you are with your subject, the more interesting your writing will be. Establish your credibility. To the best of your ability, be truthful. ...Understand that on the Internet, your words may live forever, ...I propose a set of Weblog Ethics; think about your own standards, and then adhere to them.
We are experimenting with how to achieve all of this in one space - how to be appropriate and authentic, personal and professional, a strong voice and credible, engaging and respectful of our audience. We are counting on you - our readers - to help us. RB concludes in Waging peace,
In the twenty-first century, the world demands that we broaden our view, not narrow it further. ...The insightful weblogger has an opportunity to elucidate and navigate the unknown for readers instead of pulling the gate shut behind them. The webloggers have always been Web travelers. Let us bring home thoughtful stories of little-understood cultures, especially when that culture belongs to the man [or woman] next door.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

blogging with passion

Judi asks, "Should blogging be more free ranging and not restricted to a topic?"

Some bloggers create what might be termed a web journal and write on daily events or interests. Some bloggers choose a structure, or prism, through which to view the world. They blog on a number of topics but always in relation to, for example, 3 good things that happened today or instances of lowercase l.

Some bloggers choose a participatory or web 2.0 structure. They set out conditions for users to create content such as ideas for improved living, creating vocabulary definitions, secrets, good finds, or resolving ethical dilemmas.

Some select a single topic for their blog and write only about that topic. And some choose a primary topic but give themselves some latitude to digress a little from time to time. Wendell thinks that, "running multiple blogs about multiple topics (e.g., literacy, sports, family news, medical breakthroughs, life on Mars... ) is more reader friendly than one blog with multiple topics."

As with most writing, the type of blogging you do depends upon the audience you wish to reach and your underlying reason for blogging. Your choice of topic(s) and structure(s) will help you create a readership and/or hook into a community of people who have similar interests. Blogging with passion and compassion will both deepen and widen your connection to the networks in which you participate and, perhaps, the transformative potential of blogging.

Monday, June 4, 2007

blog guests and lists

The Literacies Café is proud and happy to welcome our first guest blogger, Nancy Friday from Alpha - see the post Are you a blogger?

If anyone would like to join Nancy, please get in touch. After Nancy and I worked out a couple of bugs we found the process easey peasey.

Judi asked if there was a directory of blogs. Wendell suggested that "maybe Literacies would like to serve as a kind of link-hub for blogs". We are compiling a list of blogs we think may be of interest to literacy people - you can see the link to our blogs of note in the sidebar to the right - but this list is by no means comprehensive. We do not really have the resources to research and maintain a fully fledged directory. We will find out what NALD is doing about this and keep working on our 'blog roll'. We ask our readers to help by contacting us with any good blog links you would like to see included in our list.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Are you a blogger?

In my work world at the AlphaPlus Centre right now, blogs and blogging are very current. The AlphaPlus web site will soon feature a blog and the staff is learning about blogging by checking out blog sites.

A blog (short for web log) is a web site presented in the form of an online journal. Blogs provide reflections or opinions usually on a particular topic. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, media and web pages related to its topic. Readers can leave and read comments in blogs which can create a sense of community.

A blogger is someone who maintains a weblog, or contributes to a blog as a guest or by posting a comment to a blog entry.

I first explored blogging by setting up a free personal blog at Blogger. I learned that I could set up a basic blog fairly easily, but without a topic to commit to, my blog had no future.

I recently discovered that literacy colleagues in Toronto have blogs like this one. Finding colleagues who are bloggers gave me the courage I needed to post my first blog comments in this blog! I feel connected and now I read this blog every day. And look, now I am posting as a guest blogger!!!

Wendell Dryden, a literacy instructor from St. John, New Brunswick has posted comments here and I discovered his blog called qualities – communities – literacies, part of an action-research project where he is learning about using and facilitating online learning and networking within the context of basic adult education.

Last week I found a blog by David Warlick from Raleigh, North Carolina calledLast week I found a blog by David Warlick from Raleigh, North Carolina called 2¢ Worth. His blog banner reads: “2¢ Worth of believing that learning about the world can be as exciting as the world really is.” That’s a blog I can get into!

Tracey and Tannis in Toronto. Wendell in New Brunswick. David in North Carolina. Blogs, I have happily discovered, are places where I can meet up with like-minded people around the world and learn and share in the process.

I am beginning to feel like a blogger - just a baby blogger taking baby steps. I feel that I am in good company and hope you will join us.

Are you a blogger? Do you have a blog journey story to tell? Add your comments and take that first blogging step!

Nancy Friday in Toronto (with a lot of help from Tracey - thanks!)