LFO Literacy Network
The goal of the LFO Literacy Network is to connect educators across the province and facilitate meaningful conversations and collaborations about the pressing literacy issues of our time.
Learning Forward Ontario Literacy Network, Year 2
By Michelle Parrish
Winter, with its frigid temperatures and windy days, was momentarily paused this February when a panel discussion focused on Anti-Oppressive Teaching and Learning brought educators from across the province together. Centred on the guiding question, “How can our literacy practices serve our goal of greater equity?” panelists spoke to the moral imperative of aligning practice, building relationships and engaging in personal learning to shape equity in our classrooms and school communities.
Host Brian Weisher (@brianweishar) opened the evening with a panel introduction that was quickly indicative of the wealth of knowledge and experience attendees were soon to learn from. The panel, Dr. Rashmee Karnad-Jani (York Region DSB), Jonelle St. Aubyn (Peel DSB), @Ms_St_Aubyn), Hanaa Elmi (Greater Essex County DSB) and Michael Mohammed (Toronto DSB), @TheMikeMohammed ) were also joined by TDSB occasional teacher and education and equity consultant Rabia Khokhar (@Rabia_Khokhar1) who closed the evening with a conclusion that drew attendees back to the shared stories of the evening, reminding attendees, “We want universal stories that show people living their complete stories...It is very important that we take the theory and create change, some ways will be loud, some quiet, but all work is in relationship with each other.”
The Value of Relationships
Panelists echoed each other’s value of relationship building with first our students and then our parent and guardian community. Dr. Rashmee advised the group that this begins with an examination of self asking the questions, “how do I view people, how do I make sure I am not doing to other people what they are doing to me?”. This set the evening’s tone with the reminder that anti-oppressive teaching and learning begins with self-reflection that examines bias, privilege, power and norms. It’s within this personal journey that we begin to understand that this is not a singular issue, as Hanaa noted, but rather many things that encapsulate the harm. Valuing all individuals, backgrounds, experiences (individual and collective) is paramount to ending harm and achieving equity.
Resources to Support the Journey and Work
Attendees were reminded that while our literacy practices can serve our goal of greater equity, we are also able to access texts that can support our learning. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario outlines eight guiding principles that educators and administrators can consider in their work to build anti-oppressive learning environments (read article here). Jonelle also shared the Canadian School Libraries Collection Diversity Toolkit (view site here) and reminded listeners that the books we select for our school and classroom libraries must be diverse, noting that “Library collections, the stories we select, the way we set up spaces, the displays, the things that say things without saying a word...this is how we move forward, how we challenge bias, dismantle and break down systems.”
Forward with Intention
Supporting teachers is a multi-faceted process that requires various tools and strategies that equip teachers to refine their pedagogical practices, speak to their decisions and select appropriate texts. Michael reminded attendees that of utmost importance is student learning and we need to think about how we, educators, garner an understanding of what students know. This might mean abandoning traditional demonstration of learning (ie: written response) and having conversations with our students. To this, Dr. Rashmee reminded the group that there are both individual and collective experiences, and that in our pursuit of educating children, we need to “value the family, where they come from and where they will return”. Teaching with intention, then, begins with the educator examining self, reconsidering traditional practices, learning from others and above all, valuing the roles all adults have in shaping the life of children.
Theory to Change
The evening closed with Rabia summarizing the panelists’ experiences and bringing the group back to Dr. Rashmee’s earlier reminder that relationships are of utmost importance in our pursuit of equitable learning environments. The work of equity will be both quiet and loud but all is in relationship to one another. Capturing the thoughts of the attendees, Rabia noted, “it was a beautiful honor to listen”, and indeed it truly was. As a former classroom educator and current school administrator I’m convinced all education stakeholders can play a role in achieving the goal of greater, all-encompassing equity. While literacy practices naturally lend themselves to this work, we shouldn’t forget that all curriculum and classroom practice can be examined, challenged and transformed through anti-oppressive teaching and learning.
Learning Forward Ontario Literacy Network, Year 1
During the 2021-2022 school year, Learning Forward Ontario hosted the Ontario Literacy Learning Network through a series of online sessions. The need for a network came about in the context of
Emerging questions about literacy instruction, particularly those posed about early literacy learning through the Right to Read inquiry
The lack of opportunities for professional learning about literacy due to the pandemic
the perception that previous professional learning opportunities focused on literacy have been lost leaving a large group of educators without this training and support
The focus on mathematics learning and the shift in Ministry of Education priorities toward STEM
Bringing educators from across the province was a way for educators to re-engage in the literacy learning discussion, and to build a network for educators to support each other in both learning and exploring next steps related to supporting literacy learning.
Through the network discussions, there were a number of questions that were generated by the network, that is the participants who were involved in the sessions, based on the kinds of thinking that came to mind when they thought about literacy learning in Ontario. These questions included
What are the foundational aspects of literacy instruction?
How might professional learning be supported, especially in the absence of release time and structures to support professional learning (e.g., due to the pandemic and/or shifting priorities)?
How do educators ensure that a framework and strategies of literacy instruction is serving students with special needs equitably?
How do educators use the range of assessment practices to improve students’ literacy learning (e.g., especially during periods of online learning)?
How does the work of equity and anti-oppressive education merge with and alongside literacy learning?
What impact will the “science of reading” and the Right to Read inquiry have on literacy learning in Ontario?
Although all of the questions carried significance, and there was certainly overlap among the questions, the last question, in particular, seemed to preoccupy educators because it presented a number of unknowns in the literacy learning landscape. This at a time when there seemed to be little in the way of professional learning related to literacy (when more of the focus seemed to be on mathematics).
What emerged from the network discussions were some principles of what literacy means and what the work going forward.
The Literacy Network invited a number of guests to foster thinking about what it means to support literacy learning.
Kathleen Gould Lundy
Dr. Katleen Gould Lundy reminded us that educators need to center literacy in everything they do. Although there is a growing emphasis on aspects of literacy, Lundy stresses that code breaking is only one aspect, and though important, we need to find ways that allow students to connect (and see the connections) between code breaking and meaning making. Further to this, Lundy stated that engagement needs to come before comprehension, and that educators should not forget about appealing to the heart. This means finding students’ voices, listening to them and learning from them.
Jenny Kay Dupuis
In her talk, Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis described her process of creating her book, I am not a Number, as a journey as a storyteller and a journey of finding and revealing truth. Although they must be treated with care, Dupuis states that we must not shy away from difficult stories, otherwise we continue to perpetuate the silences that conceal the truth. She reminds educators that part of the work of literacy is to be trauma-infomed, and that we need to be respectful of where the stories come from, the community that holds them, and the way the should appropriately be shared.
Amy Hsiao posed an important question for educators to reflect on. “Is it possible that I am perpetrating oppressive ideologies in my practice?” For Hsiao, the work of literacy means disrupting systems and practices that do not lead to students flourishing. At the same time, borrowing from the work of Gholdy Muhammad, a rich approach to literacy provides an opportunity for our students to adopt the tools and and actions that on one hand helps them interrogate injustices and on the other help to lead social change. This means using culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy to, in part, carefully acknowledge, respect and understand difference and its complexities.
Brenda Corchis & Rabia Khokhar
The last pair of speakers for the series, Brenda Corchis and Rabia Kohkhar reminded the network that despite the changes that may be coming in terms of literacy education, educators should not lose sight of what is important when it comes to literacy learning. Despite any shifts that might need to be made, for example related to structured literacy, Corchis and Khokhar reminded the network that literacy is about honouring a variety of ways to be literate, about students finding engaging texts and making meaning with those texts, and about literacy as a means of liberation and social justice.