Monday, October 8, 2007

welcome to the forum

working in adult literacy

In this issue of Literacies we open up discussion about what it means to work in adult literacy. We think this collection of articles raises interesting questions about what is expected of literacy workers.

What does it mean to work under the conditions of isolation, mounting accountability and lack of supports?
Why do we keep doing this work?
What do these poor working conditions reflect? How did we get here?

We want to continue to explore these questions and others, such as:
Who can afford to do this work?
Is there a next generation of literacy workers?
What needs to happen to improve working conditions?

What do you think about the issues raised in these pages? What did the articles make you think about?

To get us started please comment to this post. Tell us who you are, where you work, how you participate in adult literacy ... and why. Be as specific or as general as you wish. When you have posted your comment, try out our where-do-you-work poll questions in the right hand sidebar.


  1. First off CONGRATULATIONS on being back - Literacies journal is SO important to me in my work - really value the connections it creates and sustains.
    Reading the articles, much resonated for me & I had lots of flashes to the various places I have worked in literacy - small town Duncan on Vancouver Island, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and presently in east Vancouver. My literacy work has included student researcher doing an ethnography for a Masters thesis, short term teacher at Duncan's Reading & Writing Centre, then development worker & action researcher in Belfast, and now I am working for a family literacy organization - HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters), hired to bring in an adult literacy component into the program.
    In my work at these different places, I've seen some sad similarities amongst literacy practitioners - they are mainly women who are low paid, or on short term projects without any hope of sustainable funding. In Duncan, Belfast & Vancouver, many of the literacy folks feel quite isolated in their work, 'specially in both Northern Ireland and the southern Republic of Ireland, where there are no professional organizations or literacy workers groups - the only places people come together are at the training colleges or universities. So when I talked with them about Canada's research in practice network, many were in awe and keen to know more. Recently there has been more connections amongst the UK literacy practitioners through RaPAL, they had a conference in Belfast this past year. I see that literacy folks are hungry to connect, to share stories, to find out that they are not alone in their working conditions. And I was blown away at how literacy folks speak the same language (ignoring the strong accents), I felt so at home with literacy instructors in Belfast, we had much in common once we started talking about our work. The huge bond is how much people care about what they do, about the people they work with - that's huge.
    Anyways, I'll stop for now, and look forward to see how this blogging works, all new to me.
    Thanks again for being back, Literacies!!
    Bonnie Soroke

  2. Is there a problem with the comments in this "Welcome" post?

    I've heard that people are having difficulty getting their comments to 'take'.

    Too, I see there's a "comment" hotlink in the blog text itself, in addition to the standard comment link at the bottom of the blog post. Presumably, they were meant to link to the same place. But...

    I used the comment link in the body of the text. My comment showed up when I clicked that same link a second time (i.e., the comment was successfully added), but my comment doesn't show up here.

    It's as if there are two distinct comment streams for one post.

    Just an FYI. Hope your blog-as-forum idea works out(?).


    P.s. - there will be a "post removed by this author" note because I deleted and reposted (an edited version of) this comment,

  3. O - I see the problem.
    The link IN the post is to a page that talks about commenting in this forum - one of the 'how to' pages I prepared.

    But I see how that is creating confusion. Sorry everybody and thanks Wendell for letting me know.

    I took the link out of the post.

  4. Hi!

    This is Wendell from Saint John, New Brunswick.

    I work in a variety of contexts - some paid, some volunteer. Right now I'm working under contract in a gov't funded program and that will constrain many of my comments.

    In my various contexts I do early childhood literacy work, family literacy work, adult literacy work, and what I call "adult basic education" which means helping people with the academics needed to pass a test like the GED.

    I have created literacy materials, developed and evaluated programs and projects, managed staff, and helped organize promotional events or materials. Currently, I am very involved in learning to use the internet to both reflect on my practice and to scaffold learning.

    Now, I want to brag a bit (but see below!): I've won two awards (a provincial award for early childhood lit. and a Canada Post educator award) and co-developed two award winning programs (provincial family lit. awards).

    BUT, I didn't finish my Arts degree, and have no university accredited certification in adult education. Therefore I am at, and will remain at, the lowest pay rate the province of New Brunswick provides for literacy workers. I also have no social capital to spend on influencing, or even changing, the way literacy is presented in my province.

    So... when I talk here, it will as someone who has done a lot, and has heard that he knows what he's doing in literacy ("Have an award, Wendell!") but who is also financially marginalized and feels more than a little unwelcome at those big "tables" we're forever setting for "stakeholders" and other rich white guys in suits.

    (Wendell - your comment was attached to the 'commenting on the forum' post - see above - so I copied it and reposted it here.)

  5. Hi everyone,

    My name is Cheryl Brown and I work in New Brunswick. I started working in teh adult literacy field the same year Community Academic Services Programs started - moved to Family LIteracy stuff later on (after I had kids) and now do community literacy in a housing project in Saint John (mostly we work outside and increase access to books for children and adults). THrough these programs I also dabble in ESL and adult tutoring work - sort of a mixed bag - very rewarding though - the best literacy work of the whole 15 years I've been involved in literacy.

    Anyway, I used to work in literacy full time, but THAT doesn't buy groceries for three kids, pay mortgage, etc. I started counselling about 5 years ago - all part time. My literacy work is short term contract and/or part time.

    The literacy situation is interestign here in NB and I'm looking forward to blogging about it.

    Thanls for creating this blog and using this topic - BTW the journal really resonated with me...
    Cheryl :)

  6. Hi Everyone,

    Nancy Friday here. You will quickly learn through my post times, that I tend to be a night hawk. An older version of a discussion system we have in Ontario now called AlphaCom, but earlier called Cosy, used to show who was online and I knew who my little late night community was. At that time I was working frontline in literacy and didn't have time to be in online discussions during the workday, so I went on late at night and met up with my "group". It countered the isolation in some ways. AlphaCom doesn't show who is online at the same time anymore, so I have lost my late night "group" connection! I will be watching everyone's post times to see who else is a night hawk like me!

    I currently work at the AlphaPlus Centre in Toronto. It used to be easier to say what we do at the AlphaPlus Centre a year and a bit ago - before the September 2006 Federal funding changes to literacy. As a result of those we lost half our staff and our incredible adult literacy library. This is a time of many disconnects, transitions and change in literacy in Ontario. I feel uncertain about where I fit in the changes and where AlphaPlus were I work fits in.

    It is so wonderful to see Literacies back in business again!

    I have worked as the Coordinator of an online learning environment for adult literacy students for 8 years now. It is called AlphaRoute. This work has included supporting the development of online learning activities, training and supporting the 300 literacy programs across Ontario who use (or not) AlphaRoute, and over the past couple years supporting practitioners who develop short online courses for literacy students through AlphaRoute. I am currently on the learning edge of Moodle, an open-source online course environment. Anyone else familiar with Moodle?

    I continue as an adult literacy tutor working one-to-one with a young woman through the YMCA literacy program.

    Prior to joining the AlphaPlus team I worked for 10 years as a front line literacy worker and/or literacy program coordinator at 3 different community-based literacy programs in Toronto. During that time I engaged with others in research into literacy and homelessness, literacy and disability, and literacy work with people who are survivors of the psychiatric system.

    Prior to that I worked for a couple years as an Advisor with the board of People First of Ontario, a self-advocacy movement of people who have been labelled as developmentally disabled. Members of that board didn't read and write and so we advisors were engaged in literacy work within a very specific and business-oriented context with the members. I loved the reversal of power in some aspects - I reported to a person who didn't read but who was responsible for a provincial budget and was accountable to a board for whom literacy was a huge issue. We advisors often conferred on the very thin line we walked - advising without controlling. It was an amazing learning experience.

    I am very heartened to meet up with People First members participating in literacy programs across Ontario. There was a time when People First members used to tell me how they were not welcomed in literacy programs - program staff would tell them that they didn't have the skills to teach people with disabilities. My early mission in literacy work was to change that exclusion. Inclusion is my passion.

    Prior to that I did communtiy development work and teaching in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in Sierra Leone.

    When I reflect on why I participate in adult literacy, I have to go back to why I studied Art History at university. It touches on a range of subjects, it draws on my creativity and innovation, it involves teaching adults, it is visual (most of my work in Art History involved researching and giving seminars supported by visual slide presentations. By choosing Art History at university I got to study history, classical art, religion, geography, folk art, literature, architecture - so many subjects all with a visual and tactile presentation. I feel the same way about literacy work - just so many facets, every learner is different and bring so much to each learning experience.

    I had a lot of trouble finding meaning in Art History after university as a career path.

    My university degree was the ticket I needed to go to Sierra Leone to teach. But the many skills I learned studying Art History are put to very good use in my literacy work. It is through teaching that I found a meaningful way to apply those skills.

    Learning changes lives - mine and others.

    Being able to learn with others roots me in this work.