Tag Archives: Community

Language and Literacy and Connecting Community

I  (Yiola) am sitting in a Tim Horton’s, sipping on a double double with milk, and very (yes I just used the word very when it was completely unnecessary!) suddenly feel inspired. I was in the midst of writing about this terrible “work to rule” strike happening in our public schools when a topic far more inspiring came to mind… the power of language and its connection to community.

Moments ago, as I had my head buried in the lap top focused on my blog, out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of older men chatting in their native language… a language that happens to be my own native language, Greek.  I felt a sweet spring of inspiration and connection to these men who gather around the table, sipping their coffees and socializing. It brought back the stories my parents shared of my grandfather walking 2 kilometres each day to the local “cafenio” where he would meet his friends and chat the afternoon away.  I visualized the cobble stone road that led from my Papous’ (grandfathers) house in his village (Yermasoyia); the narrow, hilly road that was lined with small villas and heritage homes. The more I heard the Greek phrases channel through their discourse the more at home I felt in this generic Tim Horton’s shop. I tried not to stare at them as they spoke. What occurred to me, and what may seem obvious and yet not entirely understood until felt, was the intensity of connection and understanding I experienced simply based on my understanding of language. I felt empowered because I knew their language. I felt connected. It felt familiar and safe.

Shortly after another group of men entered the Tim Horton’s and they too began socializing over coffee. This time I did not recognize the language spoken and yet I deeply appreciated the value of their connection. How wonderful to have people in your life that you are able to connect to through shared language. Shared language = understanding.

I look behind me. A couple sits in the booth in silence, each reading a section of the newspaper. Again, a strong sense of literacy at play; a strong sense of cultural connection.

Language and literacy is everywhere. Our language identifies us and connects us to the world.  How magnificently simple and yet so directly relevant to literacy and language development. Immersion in language, opportunities for sharing, talking, communicating, relevant reasons for reading and writing… a simple class field trip to Timmy’s may be in order…

Visiting the Rishi Valley School…Part 2


While at the Rishi Valley School I had the opportunity of visiting the Rishi Valley Institute for Education Resources (RIVER), a teacher training and development wing of Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre. The school serves children from the surrounding rural communities, several of which are impoverished. At first glance the RIVER school appears to be like many rural schools in India; one large classroom, one teacher, twenty-five students spanning across 5 grades. However, after spending an afternoon in the classroom it became clear that this classroom was not like the others. First, there are no desks or chairs; rather, there are four large tables with students purposefully seated at them. Second, Kala, the classroom teacher, does not do any stand-up teaching. Instead, she moves from table to table working with small groups of kids or one-on-one with a child with laminated graded cards. Kala is using the multi-grade, multi-level methodology which the Rishi Valley School has spent years developing, and she has spent years perfecting. At the RIVER school a “community-based curriculum is taught…where the academic curriculum is graded for individual levels of learning, grounded in up-to-date information, and framed in the local idiom, and…where the curriculum is integrated with activities.” (http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)


The classroom

I was most interested in the pride the students took in their graded cards they had completed, as well as their designated space on the wall to record their progress (pictures below). They were all very aware of what level they were at for each of their subject. The graded cards are part of an educational kit the RIVER school has created.

This is how the educational kit works:

The education kit, a series of carefully graded cards, replaces textbooks in the area of language, mathematics and environmental science. Each card in the graded series is marked with a logo (rabbit, elephant, dog) and mapped on to a subject-specific “Learning Ladder”, a progress guide which traces out the learning trajectory for students.

Spaces on the Ladder are sub-divided into a set of milestones. These milestones consist of  cards that explain a concept;  the applications of the concept;  evaluation of students’ understanding and, finally, provide means of testing, remediation or  enrichment. A student identifies her own place on the ladder, and creates, within the broad confines of the milestones,  her own path from grade one to grade five. 

Blank spaces on the ladder allow teachers to introduce independent content into the learning process. Indeed the Ladder can be designed in flexible ways to allow for multiple trajectories between which teachers and students are able to choose so long as the sequencing required by the academic disciplines is maintained.(Source: http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)

 Although I only spent an afternoon in the classroom, it left a lasting impression on me. The MGML approach seemed to really have been working, and effectively addressing the prevalent issue of mutli-grade classroom across rural India. The MGML approach is being used in rural school across Andhra Pradesh, and has been adopted by many school in the state of Tamil Naidu. The creators are advocating for the approach in several other states in India. Take a look at some photos below!


Kala (the teacher) working with the students. 

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Students working on Math problems at their own individual levels. 

The Milestones Chart


Student progress for the week. 

The Danger of Silence

I came across this short yet powerful TED talk. Educator Clint Smith delivers a power piece of spoken word on what he believes  to be  the dangers of silence. Smith, like many educators, values students’ voices and opinions. He believes we must encourage our students to speak out against injustices because silence leads to discrimination, violence, and war. Through the use of poetry, Smith helps students shares their stories- share their “truths.” Smith begins his spoken work piece with a powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Smith also shares 4 core principles that he runs his classes by:

1. Read critically

2. Write consciously 

3. Speak clearly

4. Tell your truth

Watch Smith’s 4-minute video here to hear more about the dangers of silence:

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Literacy Teaching in the Community

Reading as an experience takes many forms. We read alone – in the comfort of our homes. We read in groups – shared reading in the classroom and book clubs. We read to connect to the broader community – through social media and the news.   This week I (Yiola) received an invitation to a  Literary Tea from the Yonge Gogos: an opportunity to engage in literacy in the community.

My aunt Valerie is a Yonge Gogo.   “Yonge” for Toronto’s famous Yonge St.  and surrounding area and “Gogo” the  African word for ‘grandmother’.  The Yonge Gogos  (how I love the play on words) are grandmothers in Canada who work with grandmothers in Africa.


The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign raises funds in Canada for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s work with community level organizations in Africa that provide grandmothers and the children in their care with the necessities of life, including counselling, nutrition, shelter, school supplies and income generation activities.

This year’s literary tea features Sally Armstrong, journalist, filmmaker, and award-winning author.  There will be a reading from her book Uprising and time to socialize.

I think an event such as this is simply amazing:  hosted by strong women in our local community who are committed to and working with strong women abroad; bringing the community together through literacy to raise money for a wonderful organization – the Stephen Lewis Foundation.


I find this literary event of interest because of the visiting author, the featured book, and the focus: the empowerment of women around the world.  Here is a description of the book:

Uprising: A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother’s Daughter

From Africa to Asia to the Americas, women are the key to progress on ending poverty, violence, and conflict. Award-winning humanitarian and journalist Sally Armstrong shows us why empowering women and girls is the way forward, and she introduces us to the leading females who are making change happen, from Nobel Prize winners to little girls suing from justice. Uprising tells dramatic and empowering stories of change-makers and examines the stunning courage, tenacity and wit they are using to alter the status quo. In this landmark book that ties together feminism and our global economy, Sally Armstrong brings us the voices of the women all over the world whose bravery and strength is changing the world as we know it.

Retrieved from: http://www.speakers.ca/speakers/sally-armstrong/

Attached is the flyer for the Literary Tea. The event takes place October 19th at 2pm in Toronto.  I will be there. You too are invited to join as well. If you are able to attend please contact Ena @ 416-485-0753.  Perhaps I will see you there to share literacy teaching in the community.

sally 1 pdf

A Strong Tradition of Inuit Oral History

This month Parks Canada announced the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition. The two ships from the Franklin expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and their crews disappeared during a search for the Northwest Passage in 1846. Recent sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island in Nunavut, revealed the wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

The discovery of the Franklin ship demonstrates the strength and reliability of Inuit oral history. For more than 30 years local historian Louie Kamookak has been interviewing elders to collect the stories about the Franklin expedition. According to Inuit oral history the two ships appeared on the northwest side of King William Island. One of the ships was crushed in ice and the other ship floated further south. The Parks Canada team may not have discovered the Franklin ship without Inuit knowledge and the strong tradition of Inuit oral history. Kamookak noted, “for us Inuit it means that oral history is very strong in knowledge, not only for searching for Franklin’s ships but also for environment and other issues.”



Reading Circles

Last week CBC news profiled the organization Literature for Life, which offers weekly Reading Circle programs to young mothers in various shelters and community centres across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The Literature for Life website explains that the program is committed to helping young moms in high-needs neighborhoods across the city “develop a practice of reading in order to access opportunities and achieve economic stability”. The moms participating in the Reading Circles meet weekly, along with a program facilitator, to engage in discussions and writing activities about books that are relevant to their lives. The program also hopes that participating moms will share their enthusiasm for reading with their children. To date, approximately “2,200 moms have participated in the Reading Circles and more than 20,000 books have been distributed” (http://www.literatureforlife.org).

Reading Circles2