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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

a huge hug

happy weekend everybody.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

each one

Here is what Charlie Angus wrote about the forum:

Meegwetch to the hundreds of students and activists who made it to Toronto today for the historic "EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT CONFERENCE" hosted by the children of Attawapiskat. It was one of the most inspiring events I have ever attended. We know so many supporters and friends couldn't make it so here are some of my own quick highlights of the day:

16-year-old Serena Koostachin stood up and gave an inspiring speech that invoked the spirit of Rosa Parks. "We are the children who have spent our entire life sitting at the back of the bus. And we aren’t going to sit at the back any longer. Do you know the story of Rosa Parks in Alabama? In those days, Black people had to sit at the back of the bus. It was the way things had been done for years. And then, one day Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus and said she wasn’t going to sit at the back any longer. One person stood up for her rights and she helped change America. All across Canada First Nation children go to school in crappy portables or in buildings that are condemned. This is the way things have been done for years in Canada – ever since the days of the Residential Schools. But the children in our community stood up and said no. We aren’t willing to sit at the back of the education bus any more."

Another highlight was when all the schools present stood up and said why they were there. It took over 20 minutes to list off the schools -- London, Ottawa, Waterloo, Woodstock, Mississauga, Timmins, Exeter, plus so many schools from Toronto.

Chief Terry Waboose of Nishnabi Aski Nation gave a powerful talk where he thanked the children of Attawapiskat for their pride and refusal to give up hope. Then he said, but what about all the children in the rest of our territories? "If we can fill a room with so many people who care about Attawapiskat then we need to fill Toronto stadium to help the children of Pikangikum, North Spirit Lake, Cat Lake, etc."

The leadership from all the school boards and education leaders was inspiring. But the real leaders were the students. The Attawapiskat youth leaders made us so proud but we were also so proud of the hundreds and hundreds of students who committed to take the campaign into their schools and their communities. The Attawapiskat campaign has been called the largest youth-driven children's rights movement in Canadian history. It just got a whole lot bigger today.

Looking forward to the students and activists who will be posting great photos and video of the event.

Every student left this event with the task: EACH ONE REACH ONE - -EACH ONE TEACH ONE.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

attawapiskat update

We first wrote about the situation with the elementary school in Attawapiskat in March here.

Since then a lot has happened. People have been working hard, organizing and campaigning.

The children of Attawapiskat have formally put the Canadian government on notice that they intend to challenge Canada’s record at the upcoming United Nations review of the Rights Of the Child Convention. (click here to read more)

Thirteen-year-old Shannen Koostachin has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her fight to get a school built in her impoverished Cree community of Attawapiskat. (click here to read more)

Today the Attawapiskat Human Rights Youth Forum will take place at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

They invited Chuck Strahl, the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister to join them. He sends his regrets.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Do you know about ELMO?

No not that Elmo.

The Exemplary Literacy Material Online Reviews site by Literacy BC.

It is a "is a free, interactive, online database of adult and family literacy resources and reviews. It was developed to meet the ongoing need adult literacy providers and learners have for appropriate and high quality instructional and learning resources."

At ELMO you can:

  • Use ELMO Reviews to find resources - such as a novel for an adult learner, curriculum for literacy instructors, a tutor toolkit, a family literacy DVD, or a useful ESL Web site.
  • Discover which resources have proven useful - read reviews (and comments on the reviews). Check for mini-reviews (opinions) and field-reviews (how effective a resource is in practice.)
  • Add your voice - log in and writing your own review, comment on a review, or suggest a new resource for the ELMO reviewers to read.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2nd career?

"Just some hope" from Geek and Poke.

Second Career refers to an Employment Ontario initiative.
Literacy and Basic Skills
is another Employment Ontario program.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

one x one

I have been a quite off schedule on the blog lately. I am very sorry about that. I have been doing a bit of other work and that has taken me away. And I just am not sure what to say about literacy these days. I think it has to do with the fact that some of us, because of funding cuts, are not sure what the future holds and when we talk about literacy in general or our own work we always come back to that question. Many who work in literacy -- or in any publicly funded community development work -- spend a good bit of our working lives in this space. Planning for things that may or may not happen. Trying to figure out how to make things happen with no money. Trying to figure out how to make a living and do literacy work at the same time.

In thinking through some of these things, not very effectively so far I will admit, I keep going back to an article by Umair Hague: Obama's Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators.

The seven lessons are:

1. Have a self-organization design.

2. Seek elasticity of resilience.

3. Minimize strategy.

4. Maximize purpose.

5. Broaden unity.

6. Thicken power.

7. Remember that there is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal.

Right now I am thinking a lot about number 3.

"Obama's campaign took a scalpel to strategy - because they realized that strategy, too often, kills a deeply-lived sense of purpose, destroys credibility, and corrupts meaning."

More and more, literacy programs and organizations are being expected to or are asking to engage in strategic planning processes. We think of it as a way of finding answers to how to move forward in uncertain times. We hire consultants and post the result of our 3-day planning retreats on our websites. And then what? How do we do long term planning when we know that will probably never have the resources to carry out the plans? Or that circumstances change almost daily and the plan that made so much sense just a few months ago seems quite irrelevant to the purpose of today? And what about the heartbreak of engaging in these processes with partners to find the results of our work, the hard won compromises and recommendations shelved and soon to be forgotten?

Many literacy workers choose literacy because they want to live their lives with "a deeply-lived sense of purpose" and what Hague seems to be saying is in order to achieve number 4, maximize purpose, we must do number 3, minimize strategy. Perhaps number 3 also gets us more easily to number 2, the elasticity of resilience that would help us sustain our purpose in the face of changing governments and each administrations' strategic planning and ensuing policy whims. Do we respond to the barrage of strategies with little strategy of our own but with deep purpose and resilience? What if instead of speaking back to policy with strategies and recommendations of our own, we broadened our unity and thickened power of the whole field?

Some would say that many already do. I agree. I see it and I hear about it all the time but I see it happening program by program. I wonder how we could do this as a field and what would happen if we tried.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

bringing pomo to life

Inspired by MFlavin and the haiku writing students, I made a movie at xtranormal. It is pretty cool, reasonably straight forward and, for now, free.

I wanted to practice so I used a cartoon that Tracy Westell and I did in 2004 for the Literacy Enquirer called PoMo (PostModern) Cloze.

The result is below or you can go to xtranormal and see it here: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch?e=20081112192610609

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

shame to be at war

On Remembrance Day, the National Film Board's Front Lines will be available for viewing online.

A tribute to the combatants in the First World War, this film traces the conflict through the war diary and private letters of five Canadian soldiers and a nurse. Hearing them, the listener detects between the lines an unspoken horror censored by war and propriety.

The film mingles war footage, historical photos and readings of excerpts from the diary and letters. The directorial talent of Claude Guilmain breathes life into these 90-year-old documents and accompanying archival images so that we experience the human face and heart of the conflict.

For the educational sector, five documentary vignettes have been drawn from the film: Nurses at the Front, The Officer's Role, The Life of the Soldier, Faith and Hope and The Trenches, each with further information on its particular subject.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Here are a few definitions of literacy.
Do you agree with any of these? What would your definition of literacy be?

Go to our Jottit page and click on edit to help create a definition. We can keep editing the definition until we get it to where we are happy with it. You can always see the history if we want to revert to an earlier version or recapture an idea that gets deleted.

Jottit uses a formatting system called Markdown. To see how to format your writing, click on the formating help link in the top right corner.

Anyone can edit anything here so let's see what happens.

If you want to learn more about Jottit and see how to use this tool with students and coworkers, there is a demo here.


A person is literate who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on his/her everyday life.
United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1951
Literacy work, like education in general, is a political act. It is not neutral, for the act of revealing social reality in order to transform it, or of concealing it in order to preserve it, is political. Literacy is not an end in itself. It is a fundamental human right.
International Symposium for Literacy, Persepolis, 3-8 September 1975
Literacy is a person’s ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work, and in the community in order to reach one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.
International Adult Literacy Survey, 1995
Literacy is a complex set of abilities needed to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture – alphabets, numbers, visual icons - for personal and community development. The nature of these abilities, and the demand for them, vary from one context to another. In a technological society, literacy extends beyond the functional skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to include multiple literacies such as visual, media and information literacy. These new literacies focus on an individual’s capacity to use and make critical judgements about the information they encounter on a daily basis. However a culture defines it, literacy touches every aspect of individual and community life. It is an essential foundation for learning through life, and must be valued as a human right.
Centre for Literacy of Quebec, currently at http://www.centreforliteracy.qc.ca/def.htm

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


via www.patrickmoberg.com

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


happy election day american cousins!

Monday, November 3, 2008

literacy unknown

Wow. That was a long break. I went to Calgary to the Health Literacy Institute hosted by the Centre for Literacy of Quebec and Bow Valley College. I spent three days in Calgary at the institute, three days in Edmonton meeting with Literacies colleagues and touring the city and then two days on the train travelling from Edmonton back to Toronto. You can see some of what I saw over at storyjuice.

The institute was an amazing event. I wish that you all could have been there. It was a meeting of people who brought academic theory, practical experience and wide and deep understanding of how to put research into practice and how to develop research out of practice. The one caveat that struck me is one that often strikes with regards to terms such as health literacy, information literacy, computer literacy, financial literacy, etc. It seems that there is always a point where general literacy, in the reading and writing sense of that word, gets mixed in with the concept of comunicating complex and complicated information in ways that can be understood, evaluated and used by a diverse group of people. I think that we need to be careful to ensure that health literacy (and all of those other kinds of literacy) is not be dependant upon or integrated with reading-and-writing literacy. People have a right to good information that they can use to manage their health and other aspects of tehir lives regardless of their ability to get information from print materials.

And that always leads to questions about the word literacy: what does it mean? does it now mean so many things that it actually means nothing? In the history of the English language, no group has had much longterm success in trying to control meaning and usage so it is unlikely that the literacy field will ever be the place where the definition of literacy lives, but how well does the word serve us now? How well does it describe the work, the learning, the research, the teachers and the learners?