Welcome to the crazy wisdom parade.

This is where Literacies readers shared their literacy wisdom until July 31, 2008. We had a great time. Please feel free to explore and comment and continue to add floats.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Reflective Reading

They asked (We asked) "What do you do when you come to something in your literacy work that is puzzling or problematic? How do you work to solve the puzzle? How does the process of research, experimentation and reflection enhance your practice?"

I'm a reader, and so, when I've got troubles, I hit the books.

Several weeks back, Ballet Girl and I were musing about the books we read for professional reasons. In writing and thinking about that, I realized I have three different book lists in my head.

The Officially "Important" Books

One list is made up of the books I think I ought to read - books I've learned second-hand to call "important". Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) is a good example of one. Everybody around here says its a good book, an important book. So, I own a copy. But, truth is, it's not that important to me.

The Books that are Important to Me

The important (to me) books are books that help me reflect on my work and this field in a general way. Most of Denny Taylor's books fall into this category. I re-read, say, Learning Denied (1990) or Toxic Literacies (1996) or Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science (1998) because they help me make sense of my efforts by setting them in a larger, often conflictual framework.

James Herndon's The Way It Spozed To Be (1968) and How To Survive In Your Native Land (1971) fit under this heading. So do Ivan Illich's admittedly dense Deschooling Society (1970), and Jonathan Kozol's The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home (1975).

I notice these are mostly American books about schooling or the literacy development and education of children and youth in the U.S. Where are the Canadian books on adult literacy? Is basic adult education in Canada still too fragile a field to produce comprehensive, practice-based critical reflection?

Two books that do come to mind are Something to Think About - Please Think About This (1997) by Susan Hoddinott, and Literacy and Labels: A Look at Literacy Policy and People with a Mental Handicap (1990) compiled by G. Allan Roeher Institute (pictured above). Yet, neither of these books reaches me the way I'm reached by the stories and simply worded self-reflections in (American school teacher) John Holt's How Children Fail. The second edition of How Children Fail (1983) is a wonderful example of how to share on-going reflective practice.

The Books I Don't Stop Reading

Then there are the books I return to every few weeks or months because they help me reflect on specific challenges. There are may be a dozen of these, I suppose. Jenny Horsman's Too Scared To Learn (1999) is one. Another is Tracy Carpenter's The Right To Read (1986). Another is Pat Campbell's Teaching Reading to Adults (2003). Another is Anabel Newman's Adult Basic Education: Reading (1980).

There are other books. I won't make a complete list here. I'm not sure how well these books translate: they are valuable to me partly because they match the way I scaffold reading and basic education. Also, they have value because they address the sort of things I've been reflecting on over the past couple of years.

For example, at one time, last year, 100% of the female learners in my learning group were being actively harassed or abused by current or former male partners. Not surprisingly, I re-read Horsman a lot that year. I spent a lot of time re-reading William Glasser's Choice Theory / Reality Therapy books as well. I read, wrote side-notes, reflected, tried things, read more....

Does that mean everyone should read these books? No. These just happen to be the books that have helped my reflection in practice.

Your Turn

What about you? Never mind the "officially important" books - tell me about the books or essays out there that support your reflections. What books and essays you re-read? Do you mine them for ideas or encouragement? for grand overviews or specific challenges? Are they the same titles you would put on a recommended reading list for a new literacy worker or your Member of Parliament? How many are Canadian titles?

Let us know in the comments, or post then here. (Instructions are over there in the right-hand sidebar under "How To".)


literacies publisher said...

The first 2 literacy books I read were Something in my mind besides the everyday by Jenny Horsman and the land that we dream of... by Elaine Gaber-Katz and Gladys M. Watson. They remain important to me because these books opened up a whole new way of thinking about literacy and learning to me. Just the titles alone made the new world I was learning about seem to be so exciting and a place I wanted to stay for a very long time. I keep these two books on my desk because looking at them always reminds me of how it was when all of this was fresh for me and even now, as i am starting to think that I have perhaps overstayed my welcome :-), the titles can still set me to dreaming and imagining places and ways and things to learn.


Anonymous said...

Could we pick a non-book? As a non-practitioner, I find this poem by Barbara Adler very moving. It tells the story in words and pictures of Florence's experience in a literate world. I'd like everyone who wonders "What do you mean, there's a literacy problem?" to see it. It's at http://www2.literacy.bc.ca/videos/barbara_adler/barbara_adler_florence.htm and you need to turn on your speakers to hear it.

Anonymous said...

Oops, the link for "Florence" doesn't show up (even when I tried again.) So I'll tell you how to find it.

Go to

Near the bottom of the page is a link to "Florence."

bsoroke said...

When I need a hit or am working through something puzzling, or just want inspiration, I open or leaf through dian marino's book 'Wild Garden', I always find a gem - either words or her wonderful visuals.
such a treat