Where have we come from?
Recent developments in literacy research in practice in Canada
An excerpt adapted from “It simply makes us better”: Learning from Literacy
Research in Practice Networks in the UK, Australia and the United
States, A Resource for Literacy Research in Practice in
Canada. Allan Quigley and Mary Norton, The Learning Centre, Edmonton,
In February 1996, the National Literacy
Secretariat, Ottawa, hosted a policy
conversation on literacy research. The
participants identified a need to recognize, link,
support and advance literacy research and practice
in Canada. Following the policy conversation, Mary
Norton and Yvon Laberge, who had participated in
it, surveyed six consultants about practitioner
research in Canada. The consultation identified
both an interest in research in practice and a
number of potential challenges to practitioners
engaging in research, including practitioners’ need
for support and resources to do research.
Potential challenges include
for support and
resources to do research.
The survey led to an October 1997 research in
practice seminar in Edmonton. Eighteen literacy
researchers, practitioners and consultants met to
discuss the potential and possible future
applications of literacy research in practice in
Canada. Literacy practitioner research networks and
projects that had been discussed or attempted in
parts of Canada were reviewed, as were some of the
established networks in Australia, the UK and the
USA. The seminar heightened interest in developing
organized approaches to supporting or sustaining
research in practice initiatives.
In February 1998, the National Literacy Secretariat
produced Enhancing literacy research in Canada, which
highlighted the need for research capacity building in
Canada. This report outlined a framework for supporting research in literacy
practitioner research as one important direction for
literacy research in Canada. By this time, organized
literacy research in practice efforts had been
introduced in Alberta and British Columbia.
In 1997, The Learning Centre, Edmonton,
in partnership with the University of Alberta Faculty of
Education, initiated an NLS-funded practitioner
research project that explored participatory
approaches in literacy education. Building on this
project, a Research in Practice in Adult Literacy
(RiPAL) Network was initiated in 2000 by the Literacy
Coordinators of Alberta, the Learning Centre, and the
University of Alberta Centre for Research on Literacy.
Both of these projects used web-based and internet
communication to help practitioners read, apply and
conduct research about practice. The later project
incorporated approaches described in a framework
developed by Jenny Horsman and Mary Norton (1999).
Projects used web-based and internet
communication to help practitioners
read, apply and conduct research
In 1998, a course on adult
research was offered as part of Literacy BC’s summer institute. Twenty-seven
practitioners attended from BC, Alberta, Manitoba ,
Ontario and the Territories. This was followed in
the fall by a workshop on practitioner research ,
sponsored by the BC Ministry of Advanced
Education. An on-line research conference is now
accessible to conference subscribers in BC and the
western provinces and territories.
In 2000 a Research Circles project was initiated at
Simon Fraser University with Literacy BC
involvement. Its aim was to support and build the
capacity for literacy practitioner research. This project
was discontinued in 2001. A collaborative research in
practice project, initiated in 2001, involved five
practitioners who are researching how adults with
little formal education learn. A university-based
consultant is providing research workshops and
support for the research team.
Elsewhere in Canada, the Ontario Field Research
Group of literacy practitioners and researchers,
although disbanded on a formal level, continued to
function in an informal manner. The Canadian
Association for the Study of Adult Education
Regional Conference held in Halifax in March 1998
was dedicated to practitioners action research. A
national project, based at the University of Ottawa,
involved 10 practitioners in action research about
workplace literacy. Reports about each project are
included in the project report (Taylor 2002) which
also includes a guide to doing action research.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Education and Work in
Winnipeg held consultations across Manitoba in 2002
about the feasibility of conducting research within
In the summer of 2001, a gathering in Edmonton
about adult literacy research in practice attracted
sixty people from various contexts across Canada,
along with some participants from the UK, Australia
and the USA. Researchers in practice facilitated
workshops and inquiry groups about their research
and engaged in discussions about research in practice.
Another gathering was held in the summer of 2002
in conjunction with a literacy conference in
Vancouver, and the 2003 research and practice
institute will be held in St. John’s.
(2002) Looking back. Looking in. Reports from Bearing blossoms...
Sowing seeds. A Gathering about literacy research in practice. Edmonton:
Learning at the
Horsman, Jenny and Mary Norton (1999). A framework to encourage
and support practitioner involvement in adult literacy research
in practice in Canada.
Edmonton: The Learning Centre. Available from The Learning Centre, 10116 105
Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5H 0K2.
Millar, Robin (2002). Contextualizing Literacy
Research in Manitoba. Winnipeg: Centre for Education and Work. Available
online at www.cewca.org.
Quigley, Allan and Mary Norton (2002). “It
simply makes us better”: Learning
Literacy Research in Practice Networks in the UK, Australia and the United
States, A Resource for Literacy Research in Practice in Canada. Edmonton:
The Learning Centre.
Taylor, Maurice (2002). Action research in workplace
education: a handbook for literacy instructors. Ottawa: Partnerships