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.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

merry merry y'all

I hope you all get some of that Christmasy feeling ... a little music, something nice to eat and, best of all, time with friends and family.

Monday, December 21, 2009

more time to think

This is how Simon [a young student and son of the author Anne Trubek] describes why he hates to handwrite: "I have it all in my memory bank, and then I stop, and my memory bank gets wiped out."

As a great follow up to Letters Of Note, here is an article about the art and history of handwriting. In Handwriting Is History, Anne Trubek starts by discussing how we connect handwriting to "personal identity (handwriting signals something unique about each of us), intelligence (good handwriting reflects good thinking) and virtue (a civilized culture requires handwriting)." She traces the history of writing to try to understand how we got to the point where the technology of forming letters on paper with an ink-delivery device came to mean so much to us.

Handwriting slowly became a form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication. When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable. So too today: Conventional wisdom holds that computers are devoid of emotion and personality, and handwriting is the province of intimacy, originality and authenticity.

Our romanticism of handwriting has led to the "handwriting effect" where assessors rank elegantly scripted prose much higher than the same prose written in chicken scrawl.

"...[T]yping in school has a democratizing effect, as did the typewriter. It levels the look of prose to allow expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage."

But more than that, using a keyboard rather than handscripting allows us "cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts. ... This is what typing does for millions. It allows us to go faster, not because we want everything faster in our hyped-up age, but for the opposite reason: We want more time to think."

Monday, December 14, 2009

social media old school

Letters Of Note is a blog that celebrates the way people have used their literacy skills over the years to tell their friends and colleagues what they think about stuff.

For example, Joe Strummer wrote this about Bruce Springsteen:

Bruce is great... If you don’t agree with that you're a pretentious Martian from Venus. Bruce looks great... Like he's about to crawl underneath the chords with a spanner & sock the starter motor one time so that a engine starts up - humming & ready to take us on a golden ride way out somewhere in the yonder...

Lilian Gollan wrote this love letter to her new baby in 1934:
Thankyou for coming, Baby dear, and giving me the greatest happiness I have ever known. My dreams of you are nearly as old as I am, for every dolly was my would-be baby and yesterday, just as the sun rose above a golden shaft into the room, the dream child became a real child and you were born - A whole 8lbs of you, with soft dark, hair, curly eyelashes, perfect half moons on your tiny fingers and the funniest little wriggling feet! Oh, the wonder of you!

And a primary school student, Anthony Ferreira, wrote to President Gerald Ford in 1974 about his pardon of disgraced president Richard Nixon:

I think you are half Right and half wrong.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

on a boat on a river

Over on Facebook, a colleague posted a link to Connectivism as Learning Theory by Eyal Sivan and said this:

Just came across info on "connectivism", a theory of "network learning" based on principles of chaos, complexity and emergent meaning-making ... and it was a Manitoban that came up with it! Here's some brain food about social and educational connectivism, sparked by the new theory. In case you're bored. :)

Connectivism is a learning theory (or is it?) developed by George Siemans and Stephen Downes.

So is it a learning theory? I am not sure (as Eyal says, "I’ll leave that to the teachers.") but here is what Mr. Siemans says:

Connectivism’s relevance increases when we consider a new method (or metaphor) of learning. The achilles heel of existing theories rests in the pace of knowledge growth. All existing theories place processing (or interpretation) of information squarely on the individual doing the learning. This model works well if the knowledge flow is moderate. A constructivist, for example, can process, interpret, and derive personal meaning from different information formats…as long as the flow doesn’t overwhelm the learner. What happens, however, when information is more of a deluge than a trickle? What happens when information flows too fast for processing or interpreting?

Once knowledge/information flow becomes too rapid and complex, we need to conceptualize a learning model that allows individuals to learn and function in spite of the pace and flow. A network model of learning (an attribute of connectivism) offloads some of the processing and interpreting functions of knowledge flow to nodes within a learning network. Instead of the learning having to evaluate and process every piece of information, she/he creates a personal network of trusted nodes (people and content). The learner aggregates relevant nodes…and relies on each individual node to provide needed knowledge. The act of learning is offloaded onto the network itself – i.e. the network is the learning. This view of learning scales well with continued complexity and pace of knowledge development.

He also says this:

Our natural capacity for learning is tremendous. We overcome many obstacles and restrictions to achieve our goals. It’s also an example of the short-sighted nature of some learning programs. The problem rests largely in the view that learning is a managed process, not a fostered process. When learning is seen as managed, an LMS is the logical tool. When learning is seen as a function of an ecology, diverse options and opportunities are required.

If you are on Facebook and want to join the connectivism learning circle happening there, click here.

And if you want to see a ecological approach to curriculum, check out the National Film Board site for Waterlife -- a deluge made up of a connected series of trickles where we can forage, explore and connect the trickles we choose to create our own deluge.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Well here it is December already and still no sign of the café blogger. Sheesh. I was laughing the other day because I could not muster up the 5 clicks it would take me to sign in and post a little message here.

I have lots of ideas but I am not sure about any of them. Perhaps I am suffering from brain crack. (Warning: NSFW - Swearing starts at 1:44.)

Or perhaps it is a case of monkey brain.

Unfortunately, I like my monkey brain.

I think it is a bit of monkey brain and a bit of feeling slightly adrift in the literacy field right now. I am working and I am enjoying the work I am doing but I do not feel grounded in practice with literacy learners. Could it be that I am blogless because I am currently part jumpy monkey and part drifting jelly fish? Well, monkeys can learn to collect a perfectly ripe coconut (3:15 - 6:45) ...

and ocean drifters are luminescent ...

so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

see you in september

Hey there café readers,

I hope your summer is going swimmingly. Mine is cranking along. There is some family stuff that I have been attending to and lots of relatives have come to town so I have not found time to blog. I think I am going to take a break until September... before the 21st night for sure ... see you around Literacy Day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

using our literacy skills for good

Last week we reported about the release of the United Nations Millenium Goals Report. The report shows that not enough progress is being made to meet the targets in time.

The G8 summit was also last week. They started, as we all should, with a nice breakfast:
"The official cook of the Italian national soccer team, Claudio Silvestri, was in charge of breakfast and served a staple from Italians' breakfast tables for nearly 65 years -- Nutella. The roasted hazelnut spread was offered in the form of a balanced breakfast -- on bread accompanied by milk and fruit. Fortified by this nutritious breakfast, the world's leaders were then ready to tackle the globe's pressing issues through the rest of the day."

One of the pressing issues they took on was maternal and child health last week. Here is how the Guardian reported the attempt:
"...perhaps believers of the Make Poverty History generation should not give up hope just yet. While the G8 failed to increase their aid for maternal and child health (which currently represents a miniscule 3% of total aid) they were persuaded to commission a new assessment of the finance that is needed to reach the millennium development goals (MDGs). Reportedly this line in the statement was hastily agreed as the meeting was breaking up and a number of leaders were impatient to leave for an earthquake tour."

And so it goes.

Anotonia Zerbisias posted a copy of this ad which exhorts these world "leaders" to use the literacy skills, learned from their mothers, to ensure global health and well-being.

Your mother taught you how to write your name, now she'd expect you to sign it.

Every single minute a mother dies in pregnancy or childbirth. 80% of those deaths are preventable. At this week's G8 Summit in Italy, you are the 8 people who can prevent them -- it's as simple as that. Reduce maternal mortality and make every mother proud of you.

Mothers everywhere are watching and hoping.

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math,
that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the universe.
~ kurt vonnegut ~
in hocus pocus, 1990

But it could mean that we do all we can to help make the universe a humane and beautiful place for all of inhabitants. Hazelnuts and chocolate for all!

Friday, July 10, 2009

women hold up half the union

As many of you may know, the Toronto municipal workers are on strike. Most of what gets talked about is garbage -- where to put it and what to do with it once it is there. Yesterday, Antonia Zerbisias pointed to the gender politics of recent collective bargaining efforts in Toronto the good:

"Did you know that most city workers are women? Did you know that at least half of those are part-timers, who get no sick leave? Did you know that, while the city was relatively generous with male-dominated unions (the police, firefighters etc.), it is demanding all sorts of concessions from those female inside workers now on the picket lines? Did you know that the screw up is by the city which, when it gave SOME workers those controversial sick leaves in exchange for salary concessions, neglected to set aside funding to pay those sick days out?"

Antonia also linked to this video that I thought you might enjoy:

Antonia Zerbisias works for the Toronto Star where this happened on Monday. And this union-busting effort (see #6) is why I canceled my subscription to that paper in 2001.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

esl literacy readings

Here are a couple of good ESL Literacy resources that have been mentioned on the National Institute for Literacy Adult English Language Learners mailing list recently:

1. How Should Adult ESL Reading Instruction Differ from ABE Reading Instruction? by Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, and Carol Van Duzer of the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, March 2005

Increasing the English reading skills of adult immigrants is an important task. Unfortunately, little research exists on how adult immigrants learn to read in English and which instructional practices are the most successful. In order to provide evidence-based suggestions for teaching reading to adult English language learners, this brief summarizes the research base on adult English speakers learning to read and the suggestions for instruction from these studies (Kruidenier, 2002). Then, using findings from a synthesis of research on adult English language learners learning to read (Burt, Peyton, & Adams, 2003), the brief describes how these learners differ from native English speakers and how these differences should affect instruction.
2. Volume 24 of the Minnesota and Wisconsin TESOL Journal is a special issue on Research and Best Practice Concerning the Instruction of ESL Learners with Low Levels of Literacy
Literacies author James Simpson (Skills for Life in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or Be careful what you wish for) especially recommends Patsy Vinogradov's article: “Maestra! The letters speak.” Learning to Read for the First Time: Best Practices in Emergent Reading Instruction.

Monday, July 6, 2009

UN millenium development goals report

"Nine years ago, world leaders set far-sighted goals to free a major portion of humanity from the shackles of extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. They established targets for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, environmental sustainability and a global partnership for development. In short, they adopted a blueprint for a better world – and pledged to spare no effort in fulfilling that vision."

The Development Goals are for:
  1. Ending Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Primary Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. and Developing Global Partnerships.
Good stuff.

"More than halfway to the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), major advances in the fight against poverty and hunger have begun to slow or even reverse as a result of the global economic and food crises, a progress report by the United Nations has found. The assessment, launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, warns that, despite many successes, overall progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015."

And so it goes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sr. Freire is alive and well in...

West Sacramento, California...

For three months, a group of teens in West Sacramento, called the Sactown Heroes, took cameras and microphones to the streets to document what they liked and disliked about the city and talk about changes they would like to see.

Throughout the project, youth documented their views on West Sacramento through videos, photographs, and audio recordings, which are posted on this map.

They presented their work and their ideas at City Hall this week.

Describe your reality.

Reflect upon your reality.

Plan how to change your reality.

Transform your reality.

You can read more at the Sacramento Bee :: West Sacramento teens make their voices heard at City Hall

Thursday, July 2, 2009

last night ...

all over canada...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

life in canada

All about us...

Happy Canada Day tout la gang!

Video from the Grievous Angels One Job Town CD, released in 1990. Band includes: Michelle Rumball (vocals), Charlie Angus (guitar) -- yes, that Charlie Angus!, Tim Hadley (bass), Peter Duffin (drums), Kersti MacLeod (back up vocals), Lynne Symmons (back up vocals), John Switzer (producer filling in on fake piano).

Monday, June 29, 2009

learning iran

For those of us who want to learn more about what has been happening in Iran, check out the Perspolis-style cartoons illustrating the chronicle of #iranelection.

"Since the Revolution in 1979, Iranians have coped with an increasingly repressive regime. Attempts for greater social and political freedoms have resulted in brutal crackdowns by the hardline government. The ensuing apathy and significant boycott of the 2005 presidential elections led to the election of the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Four years later Iran has become increasingly alienated and its people more polarized than ever before. The campaign of former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Moussavi galvanized voters hoping for change, especially among the youth – two thirds of Iran’s population is younger than 32. On June 12th 85% of eligible voters cast their ballots and what happened next changed Iran forever…"

Friday, June 26, 2009

deep in my heart

It has been incredibly harrowing following the news from Iran. We are learning lessons about bravery, commitment and justice.

Joan Baez sings "We Shall Overcome" (with some lyrics in Farsi) for the Iranian people.

We are also learning more about how to navigate the so-called new media. One thing I like about the new media is that it is all critical literacy all the time. As I read along on Twitter, 140 characters or less at a time, it was interesting to watch how some sources came to be trusted(ish) and some were rejected.

Vietnam was the first "television war," the first "living-room war." What did it mean to the war and what did it mean to the people watching?

"The conventional wisdom has generally been that for better or for worse it was an anti-war influence. It brought the "horror of war" night after night into people's living rooms and eventually inspired revulsion and exhaustion. The argument has often been made that any war reported in an unrestricted way by television would eventually lose public support. Researchers, however, have quite consistently told another story... Only during the 1968 Tet and 1972 Spring offensives, when the war came into urban areas, did its suffering and destruction appear with any regularity on TV. For the first few years of the living room war most of the coverage was upbeat. ... By the fall of 1967, polls were already showing a majority of Americans expressing the opinion that it had been a "mistake" to get involved in Vietnam ... television was probably more a follower than a leader in the nation's [United States of America] change of course in Vietnam." -- from the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Television told its story from September 1959 to April 1975. The Winter Soldiers told theirs in February 1971:

"We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out." -- John Kerry at the Winter Soldier hearings :: transcript.

The Winter Soldier Investigation received little media coverage at the time but did prompt the April and May 1973 Fulbright Hearings.

But a revolution was tweeted and You Tubed. We turned our profile pictures green. We navigated amateur and professional news reporters and we tried to find a truth. As reporting gets more and more immediate and we hear more and more perspectives, we work on our media literacy skills so that we can understand our world better and see it more clearly and deeply. I am not happy about the violence and injustice in Iran but I am happy that everybody seems to be questioning everything again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

pro se (& poetry)

The last in the series of artifacts from Rebecca Commisso is a poem. (See the post from Wednesday, July 17, 2009 to see her brochure and why she is making these things.) :

My final artifact is a reworking of the poem “Don’t dress your cat in an apron” from the book (and album) Free to Be You and Me.

I wanted to include at least one artifact that exemplified the optimism and respect for the rights of young people to make their own choices about how and what they learn. This album always represented that for me, growing up as I did in the 1970s and 1980s.

I am hesitant to criticize the status quo without making a suggestion about how to improve the situation, and while my poem does not actually do that, the spirit of the original poem and book do concur with ways of living and learning with which I agree.

I want to conclude this paper and my artifacts with a look at the more organic, respectful ways of learning explored in articles about learning circles and the attributes of democratic versus hegemonic learning. I believe that it is possible for learning to occur in a way that allows even the very young to direct how they learn, and to respect the gifts we all bring from our families and backgrounds. The school system might be too big to accommodate these respectful ways of teaching, but as individual educators, and as learners, I think we can use the ideas of this course and a trust in our own intuition to help us find space for new ways of learning and teaching.

The Poem (mine)

Don’t make your kid do equations
‘Cause you want him to be an MD

Don’t think your kid isn’t brilliant
Just because she can’t stand history

Don’t ignore what your kids are quite good at
While wondering why they won’t learn

Useless crap that they just can’t make sense of
‘Cause you said it would help them to earn

A person should learn what he wants to
And not just what other folks say

A person should learn what she likes to
A person’s a person that way


The original poem

Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron
By Dan Greenburg

Don’t dress your cat in an apron
Just ‘cause he’s learning to bake.

Don’t put your horse in a nightgown
Just ‘cause he can’t stay awake.

Don’t dress your snake in a muu-muu
Just ‘cause he’s off on a cruise.

Don’t dress your whale in galoshes
If she really prefers overshoes.

A person should wear what he wants to
And not just what other folks say.

A person should do what she likes to-
A person’s a person that way.


Friday, June 19, 2009

pro games

Another in the series of artifacts that Rebecca Commisso is going to make is a Snakes and Ladders game. (See the post from Wednesday, July 17, 2009 to see her brochure and why she is making these things.) :

I chose the medium of the board game because I saw a Bingo-style game in the Careers course textbook entitled “Bingo for Life”. In this game, the students randomly assign numbers to a variety of life choices or trajectories, such as being a single parent, going to university and traveling the world. The caller then calls out the numbers, as in traditional Bingo, and when the student gets a line, the “choices” are put together to form the picture of the future life of the player. The message of this game, as indicated by the reflection exercise intended to be done after the game is played, is that leaving life to chance is not a good idea.

This message is problematic because it assumes that most things which influence an individual’s options are choices, and not luck. But many things which are rewarded in the world of work and school are not governed by choices. Even in the game, it is not clear which of the items is a choice and which just happens to a person. For example, is it poor planning or poor luck to be a single parent? Is it even correct to assume that there is a problem with being a single parent at all?
Here is the scheme:

Snakes and Ladders

This late 18th century snakes and ladders board was then known as the game of Heaven and Hell (Jnana Bagi).The longest ladder reaches from square 17 'Compassionate Love' to 69 'The World of the Absolute'.

The board game will advance, as does the original game, based on the roll of a die, and players will land on “Snakes”, which will give them disadvantages in their careers, and “Ladders”, which will give them advantages. As in life, these events are entirely random, although the fact that any particular event is a snake rather than a ladder is based on the inequities of our society.


Your parents are so busy with their poorly paid part time jobs that they cannot help you with your homework.

You have a mental illness that goes undiagnosed until your thirties.

Your professional credentials are from a country other than the US or Canada.

Your professional education finishes just when an unexpected slump in the job market occurs in your chosen career. Poor planning on your part!

Your cultural background makes it difficult for you to ask the teacher for help, so you end up looking lazy and not very bright.

You come to school tired and afraid after watching your Dad beat the crap out of your Mum the night before.

The manners that your culture has taught you inadvertently rub your boss the wrong way, which prevents your skills from being recognized in the work place.

You spend your twenties and thirties raising your children.

Your parents become ill in your fifties and you are the only one to care for them.

About five years before you are eligible to retire, your plant closes down. You have to start school all over again.

You are born with a disability.


Your parents were both educated in a Canadian university.

You are able to perform complex but inherently meaningless tasks well, such as quadratic equations and five paragraph essays, which gives you a real advantage in your education.

“School” skills, such as text interrogation, are practiced regularly in your home, so it is easy for you.

You are fluent in the Queen’s English, and can pick up quickly on the jargon of any workplace.

Your cultural background gives you the unearned ability to impress your teachers with your intelligence and good manners.

Your parents are both teachers and can advocate on your behalf throughout your educational career.

A perceptive teacher or boss recognizes your potential and takes you under her wing.

You are able-bodied and healthy, attractive and either white or able to “pass” for white by virtue of your speech, dress and deportment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

pro tips

Rebecca Commisso is a student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. She is taking a course with Guy Ewing in Adult Education about The New Literacy Studies.

Guy sent us some work Rebecca did in preparation for an essay so that we could share it with you.

Workers in Ontario are expected to be prepared, from an early age, to compete in the global marketplace. As part of this preparation, the Ontario secondary school curriculum requires all students to partake in a half-credit course in Career studies in order to graduate with a high school diploma. The Careers course, and the larger mandate of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), aims to prepare Ontario citizens with the skills required for economic success in this country.

The course and the assumptions behind it are problematic for me, because they make a number of assumptions with which I have always been uncomfortable.

The first assumption made is that there are certain transferable, or “essential” skills which lead to career success, and that these are learned in the formal school setting.

The second assumption made is that everyone can and should learn them, no matter what their background or culture.

The third, and to me the most insidious assumption, behind the way in which we prepare young people for the world of work, is that the individual has almost complete control over his or her success, and that a lack of success is the fault of the individual alone.

In her essay, Rebecca proposes to "critique a number of artifacts in order to explore these assumptions" and has "created three artifacts of my own in an effort to creatively express my continuing frustrations with these assumptions.

One of the artifacts is a "is a mock brochure, based on the brochures I collected from the guidance departments of the high schools at which I teach."

These brochures are intended to inform adolescents and their parents about which skills are desirable in the twenty-first century workplace, and how students can best acquire these skills. These brochures are in keeping with the message of the HRDC, which lists essential skills: reading text, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, continuous learning, thinking skills and computer use (Essential Skills website). ... Many of the brochures employ a colloquial question and answer format, like a Socratic discussion, which I have imitated.


So You Want to be a Success in Ontario

Q: So what if I cannot get a job in the field for which I have trained?
A: The government has invested millions of dollars in retraining to help prepare you with essential skills for the twenty-first century job market. We have all kinds of web sites which are updated every two or three years with job prospects averaged out across the nation for your chosen field. If you make a poor choice, that is your fault. If conditions change midway through your training, we can help you with more training to transition again. Better luck next time!

Q: I volunteer at a nursing home and I really like seniors and I want to be a nurse someday, but I am not good at math and my guidance counselor says I need to have a lot of math to be a nurse. How does learning quadratic equations help me become a good nurse?
A: It is important to be capable of performing decontextualized skills in order to achieve the flexibility required for twenty-first century success. You never know when you will be laid off, and such skills prepare you to learn all kinds of other things. Just don’t ask us what.

Q: Why would I want to train for a career in the service industry when I made more money working for GM? Why can’t I get another job like that instead? I mean, someone is still making cars, right?
A: Yes, someone is making cars, but you and your union cronies got too big for your britches and started making all kinds of demands for higher wages and safety and all that other fancy stuff, so we moved the plant to China. Now, learn this new skill and remember this lesson so that we don’t move that job, too.

Q: I am fifty years old, and I haven’t been to school in thirty years. How can I compete with the twenty- and thirty- somethings coming out of the same college at which I am retraining?
A: You can’t. Had you made an earlier commitment to lifelong learning, you might at least have had something meaningful to do while you looked for work. At least you can be a highly-skilled, literate unemployed person.

Q: If Canada is supposed to be part of a global economy, how come my education from :: insert country of origin :: is not recognized here?
A: Canada’s economy must compete in an international market. Workers, like oil or lumber, are commodities. A sound economy is based on exporting more commodities than you import. Since you came from somewhere else, you are importing your skills, which undermines our Canadian economy. To balance things, you need to help us export our skills by learning them all over again. If this does not make sense, don’t worry. The global marketplace is very complex, and only a few very rich white men are capable of understanding it.

Q: If the twenty-first century economy is supposed to be a knowledge-based economy, how come most of the new jobs are in the service sector?
A: With ever-rising minimum wages and troublesome workers demanding things like respect and benefits, it is necessary to place educational barriers in place to regulate the number of people eligible for such privileges. You would know this if you had more essential skills.

Q: Instead of making me train more at something I don’t really need to earn more, why don’t my employers just pay me more?
A: If you lack the essential skills, as defined by your employer, you do not deserve more money. If you have the essential skills, you should develop them more.

Q: If everyone all over the world is simultaneously involved in continuous learning, doesn’t that undermine the purpose of upgrading?
A: Not if you are just a little bit faster than the curve. Back to school, slacker.


We can't wait to read your essay Rebecca.
Stay tuned: On Friday, we will publish more of Rebecca Commisso's work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

condors among us

I am...the Great Supersonic Condor. I chose the walking staff as my 'weapon'. Really I think the big stick is something to lean on when the going gets tough...

Monday, June 8, 2009


Teachers' Domain: Poetry Everywhere Collection
"Explore the power of language, look at the world with a fresh sense of wonder, and build reading and writing skills. These video segments, drawn from the PBS Poetry Everywhere series and produced in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, capture some of the voices of poetry, past and present."

Friday, June 5, 2009


The reading and research I have done this week has left me feeling a little out of sorts. I just wrote a post about how everything is changing and nothing is changing but I now do not want to publish it. Maybe some other time.

So instead I am going to re-publish something I wrote for the The National Institute for Literacy (NIFL - US) Technology List discussion about integrating technology. (You can sign up here.)

I do not feel like this today but I did on Thursday and I will again soon I am sure. I face the weekend with hope.

Some people have talked about how integrating technology changes the role of the teacher.

In some ways, I think that integrating technology allows teachers to do some of the things they have long wanted to do but found challenging.

One thing I have been thinking about lately is the role of the canon — that “dead white guys canon” we deride but that still gives us currency we use daily.

We used to talk a lot about how to bring the canon to literacy – how to balance giving literacy learners access to the canon that lets us be part of the Western Judeo-Christian discourse with creating an alternative canon that includes a more diverse range of contributors. We valued the alternative canon and wanted to promote a more democratic, post-colonial canon but we knew this canon is not valued in some of the places literacy learners want to go.

Literacy students come to programs to change the access they have. I remember an occasion when we read Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and the next day, Pierre Trudeau’s (former prime minister of Canada) son paraphrased the poem at his father’s funeral. The students knew the reference which made the quote more meaningful to them and also made them feel they were part of a conversation – not onlookers or outsiders. I think that is an important role for literacy education.

The challenge in finding the balance was always access to resources and the ways in which resources were organized. We used libraries and indexes that were developed by experts. They were useful but we had no ownership and no way to contribute. Most of what students saw was stuff we brought. Most of what students thought was valuable was the stuff we brought. They trusted us to know the index and to choose wisely.

I think that the internet and publishing tools help us find a better balance – or a better way of creating balance. It allows us (compels us?), teachers and students alike, to create our own resource lists and index them in ways that are useful to us. It allows us to index items from the revered canon with items from our own personal canons side-by-side. It allows us to publish our own work and see it beside, linked to, and with reference to any other work we choose. It allows us to join a discourse and create a discourse. And it means that each teacher and each student can create their own balance.

And the great thing for those of us working in literacy, those lists and canons and conversations can be less print-based and people who are not primarily reader-learners can participate in them more easily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

getting ready for web 3.0

This post will probably take even longer to load than usual because of the audio/visual content.

Just as most of feel we are finally getting our heads around Web 2.0, here comes Web 3.0.

There are parts of Web 3.0 that sound like a giant leap forward in terms of organizing data so that the internet is less of a great library where all the books are lying on the floor. It should make the routes to the information you are looking for more transparent and easier to follow.

There are parts of the "semantic" web that sound a little Big Brother to me.

If you use Gmail, Facebook, or Google, you will have seen the beginnings of the personalization that is part of Web 3.0. Gmail and Facebook use "behavioral advertising" -- those little sidebar ads based on keywords in your emails or your Facebook profile (try changing the information in your profile and see how the ads change). Google is starting to introduce "intelligent search" where the items that get top ranking are based less on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies implemented by companies and more on what you have searched for before, what you have clicked on and what you have ranked yourself.

Digital Inspiration has collected a series of slideshows of Web 3.0 Concepts Explained in Plain English. I have embedded my favourite two below. The first one explains the concept clearly and simply IMHO. The second part is the "behind the scenes" look at how the semantic web is built. It is a bit techy but it explains the alphabet soup that is Web 3.0 so we will be less baffled by acronyms.

I have included Michael Wesch's InformationR/evolution video which is another look at indexing in the semantic web.

Unfortunately, you have to read all these presentations. And the Wesch video has that anxiety-producing music that seems to accompany all videos about technological change.

Monday, June 1, 2009


If you are lucky enough to have worked in literacy, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for literacy work is a moveable feast.
                             paraphrasing A. Hotchner 

Here in Toronto, literacy workers used to get together quite a bit. The Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy and the Festival of Literacies used to provide us with many opportunities to meet and share professional wisdom. Neither of these organizations have been able to continue this and for a while we just stopped meeting.

Guy Ewing and Joy Lehman asked why. They asked, "Do we really need funding to get together and learn from each other?" Of course, the answer was no. They started to convene literacy workers at Moveable Feasts.

On Friday, Johanna Pax-Milic, coordinator of the Adult Education Program at LAMP, and a photographer, invited us to an evening of photography and discussion about creativity and community.

We met at a café in the community where Johanna lives, Parkdale. The city was well represented - there were people from all corners. And so was literacy work - there were people who work or volunteer at school board, community based, network and resource programs. They were Leo, Carol, Sue, Linda, David, Phylicia, Nancy, Joy, Johanna, Linda and me.

As usual, we spent some time catching up with each other about how our work is going. And then we talked about creatvity and photography. The theme Johanna suggested was "What moves you when you’re walking in Toronto’s neighbourhoods?"

We went out and took photographs and then returned to the café to discuss what we saw and learned. Those of us with digital cameras shared our photos.

I walked with David, Phylicia, Carol and Joy. Joy used up all her film and David did not bring his camera so the three of us used mine. These are the photos we took. The first three are by David. His pictures show the rainy night.

Then Joy photographed a window with the blind and bottles. She said it was a picture of need and want. That became our theme.

We saw that the Goodwill was still open and decided to get out of the rain. Serendipity because the Goodwill is a palace of need and want. You will see that there were a few raindrops on the lens that I did not notice at first. You will see that an out-of-control witch is only $24.99. You will see need and want comes in all shapes and sizes and is always "as is." You will see why Joy is called Joy.

The photos are in the order we took them so you can see the need and want unfold as we did.

The last three pictures are of a literacy moment that made us all laugh.

If you are interested in hosting a feast or want to be on the feast mailing list contact Guy Ewing - ewingguy [at] gmail [dot] com - or Joy Lehmann - jlehmann [at] idirect [dot] ca.

The song is "Roll On Oblivion" from the album Here's to Being Here by Jason Collett --- a beloved Toronto musician. You gotta love a guy who lists Nick Lowe as an influence. I have bought a few copies of his new CD for me and my friends. You buy one too so he does not get mad at me for putting his song in our slideshow.

feasting 2

Here are some more photos from that great night in Parkdale. The first 4 were sent in by the great, themeless photographer, Sue. The rest came from the great, experimental photographer, Nancy.

The song is "A New Name for Everything" from the album Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans -- a beloved band from Winnipeg. I have bought a few copies of their new CD for me and my friends. You buy one too so they do not get mad at me for putting their song in our slideshow.

Friday, May 29, 2009

it is all about me!

Hey there tout la gang,

I have not posted for a week now. I have lots to say but haven't managed to type it up here. I think all you bloggers know the syndrome.

There is a website called cardsofchange. Here is what it is all about:

Our mission is to collect as many business cards and stories of positive change of people who have recently been laid off and connect them with new opportunities from potential employers, business partners and people who make the effort to look on the bright side of life.

I am not quite ready to upload my card because things have not quite gelled into something I could call "change" yet. Unless rolling up my loose change for grocery money counts :P

I am kidding of course. The cupboard is far from bare. So no big changes yet but I have been gardening and that is new for me.

In case you have been missing my blah blah blah, I am podcast #6 in the AlphaPlus Tech Podcasts series. I hope that you have been following this series. There are some great interviews and thanks to Alpha (and most especially Maria Moriarty) for documenting some craaaazy wisdom.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

wonderful world

Well it has been a busy week running around trying to move ideas and things. In these stalled times, it can be hard to keep hope alive. When I feel as though the technocrats are crushing all the fun and talent out of everything, I watch this video to remind myself that the default setting for most people is to wish, bring, share and embody love.

On November 16, 2006, MadV posted a video on YouTube called One World. In the video, MadV was holding a hand up to the camera, on which was written 'One World'. This text accompanied the video:
"This is an invitation, to make a stand, to make a statement, to make a difference. Join in. Be part of something. Post your response now."

This is a compilation of the responses:

What a nice place it can be...

Friday, May 15, 2009

the beauty that you are

faster than a speeding rainbow,
more powerful than the wind, the rain and the sunset,
and able to leap a slough of despond (or the *Slough of Despond) in a single bound.

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror

Thursday, May 14, 2009

lonesome no more

Here's my super literacy hero, courageous walking wizard...


Henrietta is a Twitter friend.

faster than a speeding book cart,
more powerful than Imperial Leather,
and able to leap a proscenium arch in a single bound.

and she is definitely not scared of the dark...

a groove that is NEVER out of fashion

The Strange Avenger is ready to join the Community of Heroes in the Literacies blog! (I assume I got the strange label because I was minimalist and chose no weapon).

Nancy :)

faster than a speeding technocrat,
more powerful than a Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment,
and able to leap the corridors of power in a single bound.

I wake up every morning
I hear your feet on the stairs
You're in the next apartment
I hear you singing over there--

This groove is out of fashion
These beats are 20 years old
I saw you lend a hand to
The ones out standing in the cold--

Strange Overtones
In the music you are playing
I'll harmonize
It is strong and you are tough
But a heart is not enough-

Put on your socks and mittens
It's getting colder tonight
A snowball in my kitchen
I watched it melt before my eyes--

Your song still needs a chorus
I know you'll figure it out
The rising of the verses
A change of key will let you out--

Strange overtones
Though they're slightly out of fashion
I'll harmonize
I see the music in your face
That your words cannot explain

Strange Overtones
In the music you are playing
We're not alone
It is strong and you are tough
But a heart is not enough--

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the literacy avengers

faster than a speeding social capitalist,
more powerful than a knowledge manager,
and able to leap the zone of proximal development in a single bound.

Let everyone see your inner superhero at the Hero Factory.

You build your heroine/hero and the Factory folk name her/him. I think it is pretty apropos that the café hero is called the Thoughtful Philanthropist.

Send us your comic book cover or a link to it so we can see the Literacy Avengers Community of Practice.

Monday, May 11, 2009

family math resources

I just got this message from Kate Nonesuch:

Family Math Groups: An Exploration of Content and Style has just been made available at NALD (The National Adult Literacy Database).

It reports on a project in which I worked with parents to develop a manual of math activities for parents and kids to do together.

This new report outlines the project and discusses the effects of the group: parents had fun, grew more interested and less frustrated with math, and learned specific strategies to help their kids with math, which often resulted in improved communication and smoother relationships with their kids. The report finishes with recommendations for facilitating family math groups.

It be downloaded free of charge at http://www.nald.ca/library/research/fammatgro/fammatgro.pdf

The manual, called Family Math Fun!, is full of family math activities, ready to use in early literacy programs, day care centres, primary grades and Adult Basic Education/Literacy programs. Patterns, recipes, and hand-outs all included (109 pages). http://www.nald.ca/library/learning/familymath/familymath.pdf

For more information: Kate [dot] Nonesuch [at] viu [dot] ca

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

frankly, my tweet

Not sure what Dave would think about this, but if you are still feeling twittery and need a little more help on hump day -- check out Frankenstory. It is kinda like those collaborative story games where one person starts a story and then passes it to the next person who adds the next bit. The group continues to pass the story from person to person, each one reading only the last entry and adding something new.

In the Frankenstory version you only get 40 words (that is the Twitter part). You write the first part of a story. You send it on to your friend but they can only see the last few words you wrote. They write the next part in 40 words, send it back to you and you are done.

rethinking twitter

I really enjoy Twitter. So does the Alpha blogger. Plus it is great for learning. But ever since I found out that it is radioactive I have been having second thoughts...

Happy Hump Day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

announcement: RIP augusto boal

Augusto Boal passsed away in Rio de Janeiro early Saturday morning.

Born in 1931 in the Rio suburb of Penha, Boal graduated in chemical engineering and was the founder of Theater of the Oppressed.

Arrested and exiled during the military dictatorship in 1971, Boal returned to Brazil after 15 years at the invitation of then Secretary of Education of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Darcy Ribeiro.

Here is what Chris over at Comeuppance had to say:

Augusto was one of the titans of modern theatre and his work has spawned hundreds, if not thousands of theatre companies and projects around the world using Theatre of the Oppressed to effect social change. He has made many trips to Canada and the US to do trainings for actors, educators and activists of all kinds. In 1986 he co-founded the Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio. He was one of the most influential teachers i have ever had and i credit my training and practice of Theatre of the Oppressed with having taught me more about facilitation and teaching than any other single practice/theory.

announcement: endangered languages program

Sacred Earth Network - Endangered Languages Program
by Jane Simpson
[passed on from the Foundation for Endangered Languages]

Media release:

Sacred Earth Network, a non-profit organization located in Petersham, Massachusetts, is continuing its Endangered Languages Program after its successful launch in 2008. Endangered Languages Program aims to support preservation and revival of those indigenous languages which are threatened with extinction and which are vital to indigenous cultures of Siberia and North/Central America. One of the components of the Program is financial assistance to projects working towards these goals. In 2008 we offered assistance to eight grassroots language preservation projects in Russia and the US.

With the deadline approaching soon - May 15th 2009, we would like to spread the word out to underfunded grassroots initiatives about financial assistance that we are offering to projects that work towards preservation of indigenous languages particularly in North America.

We are very much hoping for your assistance in dissemination of this information among interested organizations and individuals. If you would like to post this information on your website or newsletter you are encouraged to do this. If you would like to point out further contacts the coordinator would be very grateful as well.

Please address inquiries about the Endangered Languages Program to the Program's Coordinator, Mariyam Medovaya, at mariyamsacredearth AT gmail.com

film shorts as text

From Bill Boyd @ the Literacy Advisor:

The short film is an ideal medium for developing the “traditional” literacies of reading, writing, talking and listening, a “short” film being a complete text lasting anything up to 30 minutes, but for our purposes ideally no more than ten or fifteen minutes, which means it can be shown two or three times in the course of a lesson if necessary. This is preferable to using an extract from a feature film as it doesn’t require an understanding of the whole work from which it has been taken, and there is a huge range of texts available, from animation to live action, fiction to documentary.

With a minimal understanding of the language of film, teachers can use short films to introduce and reinforce concepts related to reading and writing printed texts, such as narrative viewpoint, plot, characters and setting, as well as developing a greater understanding of the medium of film itself, the medium with which most of us engage most frequently. It is important to emphasise the similarities between printed and moving image texts, as well as the differences, since ultimately they are both about telling stories, and why we tell stories is arguably the reason for studying any kind of texts at all!

At the National Film Board site you can watch full-length NFB documentaries, animations and dramas online - beta.nfb.ca/

Friday, May 1, 2009

story circles

Happy May Day Everybody! International Solidarity!

May 16th is the 2nd International Day for Sharing Life Stories.
This day is an opportunity to celebrate and promote life stories, as a way to encourage critical thinking, cultural democratization and social transformation. The International Day is organized by The Museum of the Person International Network (Brazil, Portugal, USA and Canada) and the Center for Digital Storytelling (USA, Canada, Denmark, Czech Republic, Ireland and Portugal)

The chosen theme for this years' Day is Journey for Justice – Migration and Refugees. The Human Rights Commission of U.N. estimates that there are currently 21 million refugees in the world. According to the International Organization for Migration, there are 200 million international immigrants all over the world. We want to hear the stories of people who have experienced migration in order to develop dialogue about this important matter in our societies and promote social change.

Besides that, we could not leave aside the importance of any other person’s life stories. So, whatever your work with life stories is, join us! The idea of this website is to show these stories and to promote a space for listening and exchanging experiences. Post your stories, listen to other stories, and celebrate this day with us!
Find out more and add your activity for this year at ausculti.org.

Here is a video from an international story circle that happened last month.
Queen Rania of Jordan was announced as the Honorary Chair of the Global Campaign for Education's Big Read in Johannesburg. She met Basetsane Khumalo, Gcina Mhlope and Simphiwe Dana before reading her story to children from Soweto and Alex.

Find out more and add your stories at www.campaignforeducation.org/bigread