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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

tried, tested and true

from Where's Freire?, Literacies #1

Where I really saw Freire in action was in Nicaragua during the time of the Sandinista government. The materials were very rudimentary and the curriculum was clearly based on Freire. The topics were always very, very close to their own reality. They were coffee farmers. Each lesson followed the same steps:

  • observe your reality,
  • discuss your reality,
  • read about it,
  • analyse it and finally,
  • transform it.

These steps were part of every single lesson – and they always ended with transform your reality – they didn’t stop with just read or write about it – the last part of every lesson was always action. I have never seen it so clear cut.

from the Beginner's Guide to Learning Circles, Chapter 7,
The Learning Circles Project

Diane Hill, an adult educator who specializes in working with aboriginal adults says, “All learning moves through a cycle.” Aboriginal people understand that there are four stages in learning:
  • see
  • feel/relate
  • think
  • and act
All learning begins with awareness. Insights, intuitions and dreams activate the learning process and challenge the way we feel/relate, think, and act.

The next stage in the learning cycle is to examine how one feels or relates to their new awareness, their self, and others. It is about our relationships and connectedness. Here we express and articulate our feelings about self and how we relate to the total environment. The learning process can evoke a range of feelings from joy to sorrow as people work to make changes, adjust to the challenges of learning something new, or engage in examining their lived experiences. In this stage we bring new light to the factors that contribute to our experiences, making difficult situations manageable.

The third stage is thinking and learning how our thinking creates change in our lives. It is what we have come to know and understand about ourselves and the world through information and facts. It is also the integration of new patterns that are the result of positive life experiences. This stage exemplifies our skill, our ability to solve problems and to make informed decisions.

The final stage is the actualization of one’s learning. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes (beliefs and feelings) are internalized and used to maintain positive patterns. It is what we do and how we act (or react) in the face of the challenges that present themselves in our day to day lives.

from Our class on how we run our class,
Digital Ethnography, April 24, 2009

First off, we organize it as a research group, not a class.

The basic format is this:

  • First 3 weeks: exploration stage
  • Second 3 weeks: guided introduction to the field
  • Next 4 weeks: self-guided research
  • Due at 11th week: Research paper (followed by collaboration exercises)
  • Final (16th week): Share with world (video, website, etc.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

places to learn - coming soon?

Hey Wendell. Hey Nancy. Hey Bonnie. Hey everybody. Places to learn!!!!

In 1998, when the UK Labour party was less than a year into it's current 12 year run of electoral success, David Blunkett, then the education secretary, wrote The Learning Age green paper.

As well as securing our economic future, learning has a wider contribution. It helps make ours a civilised society, develops the spiritual side of our lives and promotes active citizenship ... It helps us fulfil our potential, and opens doors to a love of music, art and literature. That is why we value learning for its own sake as well as for the equality of opportunity it brings.

It was a great paper, but nothing happened until last month when John Denham, the secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, issued an adult learning white paper called The Learning Revolution.

The white paper announces £20m of new money. This "transformational fund" will invest in "innovative new approaches to reach and engage new learners".

People who want to organise their own groups and classes will be supported by a new national campaign for learning, Government announced today. Public and private buildings all over the country will throw open their doors to learners in the evening and weekends, from pubs, shops, cafes and churches to workplaces, libraries and galleries. The buildings will be identified by the new "Learning Revolution" logo and at least 7,000 rooms will be available, with the number expected to grow.

Learning in all its many forms improves our quality of life, happiness and personal wellbeing. While improving people’s skills is one of the most powerful things they can do to realise their career aspirations, we recognise the importance of learning for pleasure and the enormous contribution it makes to the well-being of individuals, neighbourhoods and wider society.

Over the past few years, there has been a quiet learning revolution, but the Government wants to ignite this, raising the profile and take-up of learning wherever it happens, so that all adults and communities can benefit from high-quality, innovative learning that is accessible to all.

It all seems a little more back-to-the-future than revolutionary, but who in these parts really wants a revolution anyway. I will gladly forgive them the hyperbole, plus all the sins of Skills for Life, if they make this work. Or better yet, just let this work.

Wouldn't it be nice to hear something similar from any of our governments? If anyone knows of anything along these lines happening anywhere in Canada, please let us know.

Thanks to Nancy Jackson for telling us about this exciting development.

Guardian Article >>
Wanted: a learning revolution

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) response >>
Realising The Learning Revolution

Friday, April 24, 2009

leading lights

I am not sure whether adult education teachers are most appropriately grouped with the artists (people-oriented, open-minded, intuitive, and visionary) or the craftspeople (humane, dedicated, knowledgeable, and wise). Probably a little of both. Actually, definitely a LOT of both.

I do know that adult educators do have a lot to offer the “recovery,” -- to the creation and nourishment of strong communities. And so does Dr. Stephen Brookfield, co-author with Stephen Preskill of Learning as a Way of Leading: Lessons from the Struggle for Social Justice. You can listen to what he says about adult educators as leaders here*. You can download a chapter of the book here. (Thanks again to Nancy Friday for linking me to this fantastic, and as she says, affirming resource.)

To get you started, here are what Brookfield and Preskill refer to as the nine learning tasks of leadership:

1. Learning how to be open to the contributions of others

2. Learning how to reflect critically on one’s practice

3. Learning how to support the growth of others

4. Learning how to develop collective leadership

5. Learning how to analyze experience

6. Learning how to question oneself and others

7. Learning democracy

8. Learning to sustain hope in the face of struggle

9. Learning to create community

It seems to me that this comes pretty close to the list of the skills required of adult literacy workers. These are the skills and learning – the crazy wisdom – literacy teachers and learners demonstrate strongly and daily everywhere they work together. It is certainly this list of learning tasks that shows up in the articles in Literacies.

I wonder when literacy workers and learners will take their rightful places in the corridors of power. I do not think that invitations are coming any time soon. I think that the artists and craftspeople and learning leaders are going to have to collaborate and sneak in the back door while the technocrats are busy guarding the front door.

*Sometimes this site requests a user name and password.
I entered abc for both and it let me in.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

arts and crafts

Last week Nancy Friday commented on the post titled Pennywise. She told us about Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats by Patricia Pitcher.

Here's a blurb from the book cover that gives an idea of what's inside ...

Pitcher paints the portraits of the three types of leaders found in organizations: the Artist, the Craftsman, and the Technocrat.

The Artist is people-oriented, open-minded, intuitive, and visionary.

The Craftsman is humane, dedicated, knowledgeable, and wise.

The Artist and Craftsman are "fellow-travellers".

But the Technocrat is another story. Detail-oriented, rigid, methodical, and hardheaded, the Technocrat is the enemy of both the Artist and the Craftsman. His/her analytical thinking leaves no room for fresh ideas and new pathways; he/she follows an uncompromising set of rules he/she believes are right.

To the Technocrat, the Artist is out of control, "nuts", and the Craftsman is old-fashioned.

Too many Technocrats are admitted into the corridors of power.

This week Suzanne Ahearne sent me this link to this video about "Cultural Recovery." (There is a text version here.)

Suzanne also told me that Arlene Goldbard and other community artists and craftspeople have been invited to the White House in mid-May to discuss the ways in which art and craft can help heal what the technocrats have wreaked (my words :P ).

No sign of any artists and craftspeople being invited into the corridors of power on this side of the border but Yann Martel continues, unbidden, to send Stephen Harper good books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

huffing and puffing part 2

I was catching up on some blog reading and enjoyed this post from Peter Olm over at thought control.

He wrote about accountability and assessment ...and PIGS! in a post called You don’t fatten pigs by weighing them . . .

I apologise in advance if should be crediting someone with coming up with the figurative phrase that happens to be the title of this post. Neither do I liken students to pigs! But the phrase “you don’t fatten pigs by weighing them” has been one that’s come to mind a lot recently, when considering the growing trend towards over-assessment in the education system. It seems that more and more time is being devoted to assessment and data collection and analysis, than there is devoted to developing good pedagogy, curriculum and teaching practices.

Monday, April 20, 2009

huffing and puffing

On Friday I wrote about the National Union of Teachers' position on standardized testing for elementary students in England.

That afternoon I received a newsletter from the Ontario Literacy Coalition pointing me to this release from the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities about a "a study on the feasibility of creating an assessment tool, or suite of tools, for the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program."


  • Because no single tool currently exists that meets the assessment needs of all streams and transition pathways;
  • To provide a means that is compatible with the Adult Literacy Curriculum [due in 2010] of assessing learner skill attainment as part of the Continuous Improvement Performance Management System (CIPMS);
  • To advance the work of the Learning Ministries in developing a common assessment environment based on the Essential Skills between MTCU, Ministry of Education (EDU) and Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI)
  • To provide Ontario with the capability of measuring literacy gains across LBS streams and sectors in a way that is compatible with other jurisdictions in Canada and worldwide, building on the 500-point scale common to both the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Essential Skills.
And in plain English?
  • we want to create a test that will work in all the learning programs funded by the government
  • we want to measure students' achievements against a standard developed by the government
  • we want the standard to be the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Essential Skills
  • we want to be able to compare student achievement in Ontario with student achievement in other provinces and other countries
  • Evaluate the requirements of the Learner Skill Attainment assessment framework that will form part of the Adult Literacy Curriculum;
  • Analyze MTCU, EDU and MCI assessment needs and requirements;
  • Identify the range of assessment needs that could be met through a tool or suite of tools;
  • Determine stakeholder assessment requirements, considering factors such as ease of use and length of time for test administration;
  • Gauge the capacity of stakeholders to deliver assessment services, their training requirements, and ongoing support needs.
In plain English?
  • we will make sure that the test will measure student achievement against standards developed by the government
  • we will make sure that the test will meet the needs of the government
  • we will make sure that the test is easy to administer
  • we will determine what training and support literacy workers (?*) need to learn how to administer the test
Professor Smithers will be truly chuffed.

And just to continue with this incredibly garbled metaphor, here is one of my very favourite You Tube videos:

*I am never quite sure what the term "stakeholder" means from place to place.
In this document it seems to refer to different groups in different sentences.

Friday, April 17, 2009


The workshop yesterday went well. I think. In the morning session people were chatting with each other and with me. People wanted help setting up chat rooms and blogs and the room was buzzing with activity. The afternoon group quietly surfed and clicked. It was a little harder for me to tell what they were getting out of the time. On the other hand, when I reminded them that they had been working for an hour without a break and that they should take one if they felt the need, no one did.

The contrast in the responses of these two groups reminded me that a big part of assessing for learning means enhancing our observation skills so that we can see the subtleties and complexities. And then learning to accept that, in the very best way, there will always be some of it we can't know. I will never know exactly all the ripples that were started yesterday, but I do know that I can trust the wisdom of literacy workers and that they will create something fantastic with and for learners.

Before I went into the workshop, I had been listening to a BBC interview with Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Professor Alan Smithers, of the University of Buckingham about Sats (standardized tests) for seven and 11-year-olds in England.

Ms. Blower discussed the teachers' position that these tests result in a teaching-to-the-test that has narrowed the curriculum and puts unnecessary pressure and constraints on teachers and students. She made an argument for assessment for learning as opposed to assessment of learning. She quoted an interview in The Independent with Professor Peter Tymms who warns that the Sats are having "a serious negative impact on the education system" and that they mislead parents as to the performance of their children's schools.

Professor Smithers posited that teachers are too close to students to assess them properly, that the proper people to be determining the shape of education are elected officials, and that it is not the place of providers of education "to attempt to bully their way into having their interests put before those of pupils, parents and the general public."

Whew. The objective testing mantra again. I guess we will be hearing this as long as we work for people who refer to us as service providers, the people who come to learn as clients and the work we do together as service delivery.

You may wonder why I think this video belongs here but somehow this man in wolf's clothing chasing a papier maché pig around his apartment seems appropriate to me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

blogs, websites and ... ?

I hope that everybody had a nice loooong weekend. I did. I am facilitating a workshop about online learning at the Toronto District School Board tomorrow. I made this blog for the workshop: tdsbliteracy.blogspot.com. It was fun. I love a blog start-up. I hope the instructors take it on. I'll let you know how it goes.

The other thing I did was put all of the Issue #10 article PDFs up on the Literacies site so circulate them about the literacy community as you wish.

Thank you to those who left the lovely messages on the last blog post. It means so much to us. And what about this blog? I am not sure. On the one hand, I would like to keep it going. I like writing about literacy practice and research here but am not sure how to maintain that. Partly because I am not sure what I will be doing and partly because I know that when I am not working in literacy I start to become a bit un-connected.

I think I will keep thinking about it and play it by ear. Will that work?

Friday, April 3, 2009


There has been a hiatus on the blog. Probably partly because I have been out-of-town on a little trip with my family. The other part I am less sure about. I feel as though I have a lot to say and nothing to say.

We were officially laid off last Friday. I banked some of the March hours for work that needs to be done in April and May closing the grant and making sure that Issue #10 gets to people.

Another group of colleagues are working their last day today. Their work was funded by both Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). HRSDC bailed out a while ago and MTCU has whittled away at funding until now they are left without funds and no commitment for the future.

Last week, our federal government announced this:

The federal government will hire hundreds of people as its spends an additional $60 million to help process the growing number of claims for employment insurance [EI], Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Tuesday [March 24].

Our grant from HRSDC was about $160,000 per year. This grant employs 2 people, provides contracts for 5 other people and two other organizations -- one a literacy program -- and supports the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education through an administration fee. We produce two magazines a year, two bulletins, two web forums, a web site and a blog. I will let you be the judge of the value of these 'products' and how these activities enhanced practice in Canada and helped us engage in the national and international conversations about research, practice and professional judgement.

I am not sure what grants my colleagues got but I do know that those grants helped employ about 8 people and supported a library, online learning and countless other professional development opportunities for learners and practitioners.

We are all probably EI eligible so HRSDC will keep paying us for a number of weeks. And they will use some of that $60 million to process and administer our claims. But we won't be getting any fantastic articles about research, accessible resources, professional development support, conversation, debate, innovative approaches to learning, and so on.

The pretzel logic of unfunding programs and projects that produce resources and advance the so-called knowledge society in favour of funding the administration of income support systems has made me think more about the Guaranteed Annual Income program. The first person I heard talking about GAI was Hugh Segal, a Progressive Conservative Senator. Part of his argument is that we would spend less money ensuring that every Canadian had a liveable income than we do now on administering and policing EI and welfare claims -- that more tax dollars fund the processing of claims, ensuring compliance and the social costs of poverty than income redistribution.

Detractors of a guaranteed annual income will invariably point to its price tag. However, the municipal, provincial and federal governments are currently footing the rather hefty price tag of poverty as it translates into health-care costs, an overburdened judicial system, a myriad of social services that often duplicate each other and the basic loss of human productivity.
Welfare study shows need for guaranteed income, Toronto Star,
by HUGH SEGAL, Sep. 2, 2006

So as you can see, I have nothing to say and a lot to say.


More reading on GAI:
Investing in well-being: A guaranteed livable income for Canada
, Citizens for Public Justice, Feb 19, 2008
Senator urges debate on plight of poor,
Toronto Star, Feb 11, 2008
Guaranteed income, guaranteed dignity,
Toronto Star, Mar 05, 2007
Improving Social Security in Canada Guaranteed Annual Income: A Supplementary Paper,
Government of Canada, 1994
Plus this list of articles at Liveable Income for Everyone - News.