Forever Learning: Beyond Classroom Walls

This is a guest post by Mario Pasteris, executive director of the Quebec Association for Lifelong Learning

Mark Twain once said, “ I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”


Mark Twain - 1908

In today’s world, lifelong learning is an essential part of a person’s intellectual development. No more are we limited to a formal education to learn. Lifelong learning can be considered like a walk down a path and not being certain where it will lead you. Lifelong learning by its very nature provides the learner with a myriad of informal learning opportunities.

The reality is that often the formal educational institutions do not recognize the acquired competencies and learning that has occurred in an informal environment. A paradigm shift is necessary.

When one speaks of lifelong learning it can be as basic as learning how a PIN number and debit card work, developing computer skills, learning a new language.

In many communities throughout Quebec, community groups are gathering together in community theatre action. For example, in the western region of Quebec, the Theatre Wakefield, which is an all-volunteer organization, is developing English-language arts and cultural activities with a focus on the theatre. This is an excellent way of fostering lifelong learning.

Throughout Quebec, many of these sorts of activities are occurring which not only help develop talents on an individual basis but the community itself becomes a cradle of lifelong learning. This sort of practice also emphasizes to youth that learning doesn’t stop when one leaves school. Learning is lifelong from cradle to grave.

The Quebec Association for Lifelong Learning (QALL), for example, fosters the culture of lifelong learning by raising public awareness, facilitating the exchange of information and resources and bringing together individuals for whom a learning society is a shared ideal. QALL believes that learning is a lifelong endeavour and a human right.


Mario Pasteris

Executive Director of QALL


For more information about lifelong learning, visit the QALL website:

A Critical Conversation About Literacy, Part II: Critical Literacy Defined

(c) Ricardo Romanoff

by Melanie Stonebanks

My husband and I have spent years discussing and debating our perspectives and understanding of every aspect of the field of education.  We met when we were in high school, and went our separate ways for a time being, reconnecting in our mid twenties. Our debates have ranged from which method of unit design is most effective to the covert predominance of white privilege that permeates the school system.  We recently found ourselves revisiting one such discussion about my awakening to critical literacy, the result of it being the following post about the topic.

Lying around late one lazy Saturday morning in the Fall of 1998, a conversation on the topic of memories of elementary school and favourite childhood storybooks was featured.  We had both attended elementary school at the same time and only a short two-minute drive between our respective institutions. We both spoke fondly of a visiting storyteller who captured our imaginations with his lively rendition of Robert Service’s poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.  As our recollections meandered along to discussing our love of Roald Dahl’s classic “James and the Giant Peach”, I threw out how much C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” had me completely obsessed with the adventures of four British children in this fanciful land.  Christopher gave me a sideways look, sighed and tightened his mouth (which I knew signalled that a serious discussion was about to take place).

What followed was an eye-opening shattering of my favourite childhood past-time; a dawning realization that I fought against that morning and many mornings after until emotion was set aside and thoughtful contemplation of this alternative perspective was allowed to be considered.

Christopher took no time in recounting an episode he had shared with a former girlfriend.  She, an artist, had been hired to design a store window display based on C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  She had been sitting reading the novel (my favourite of the series) when she had asked Christopher if he had ever read the book.  Christopher replied that he hadn’t but recalled it often lovingly described by many people as simply an endearing children’s tale.  She then began to read passages from the book; all of which contained blatant and unmistakable Islamophobic language and imagery that depicted a whole race of villainous characters “The Calormene” simply born evil.  Christopher recalled criticism of the depiction of Fagan from Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” denouncing the anti-Semitic overtones but was completely surprised that with such  transparent and obvious demonization of people from the Middle East, that no one had ever spoken of it in these terms.

Looking back, I am embarrassed that it took so long for me to engage in a critical literacy discussion; and one that I did not initiate myself but was forced into kicking and screaming the whole way.  It does make me wonder, that if not for my intimate relationship with this person from a background so distinctly different from my own, would I ever have contemplated the validity of an opposing “reading” of my cherished texts?  Most probably not.  I strongly believe that this form of personal connection is the catalyst to the majority of critical literacy awakenings in teachers coming from a White Christian upper-middle class upbringing like my own.  It is not that we are evil people or bad teachers, it’s just that being constantly surrounded and reaffirmed by a homogeneous majority viewpoint does not promote the average person to question what has always been presented as the one way to see the world.

Critical Literacy Defined

For many, it is sometimes easier to understand what something is not before grappling with what it is.  I have used this pedagogical approach in my classroom when teaching my students about how to phrase an ethical question or the use of acceptable email and internet etiquette.  This method can therefore be applied to one’s understanding of Critical Literacy.   Comber (2001) assists us in our fluency by offering what reads as almost a heeding warning to professionals in the field

…it is not being negative and cynical about everything.  It is not political correctedness.  It is not about censoring the bad books and only reading the good books.  It is not indoctrination.  It is not developmental.  It is not about identifying racism, sexism, prejudice, and homophobia somewhere else or in texts that have little relevance for readers.  It is not whole language with social justice themes. (pp 271-272)

Margaret Meek (1987) writes about the importance of not simply teaching children to decode the words but to actually engage in dialogue about what the text means to them.  It is much more than the technical acquisition of reading skills. It is through this active process of thinking critically and taking part in rich discussion with others that a deep and powerful comprehension of the reading unfolds.  What stands out is the need for the readings to “have significance”, not only in the eyes of the teacher but in those of the student as well.  They are equal players here; joint partners in the game where no one has the upper hand and each learns from the other.

Luke, (1997) describes Critical Literacy as a “commitment to reshape literacy education in the interests of marginalized groups of learners, who on the basis of gender, cultural and socioeconomic background have been excluded from access to the discourses and texts of dominant economics and cultures” (p.143).  Critical literacy can be more simply defined as well as “the ability to read texts in an active, reflective manner in order to better understand power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships” (Coffey, 2008). In the elementary classroom setting, illustrated picture books, novels, conversations, songs, pictures, movies and the like are all considered texts. Central to critical literacy is the notion of dialogue around the texts, or in Freire’s terms, “reading the word” and “reading the world” (Freire and Macedo, 1987).



The development of critical literacy skills enables people to interpret messages in the modern world through a critical lens and to challenge the power relations within those messages.  Teachers who facilitate the development of critical literacy encourage students to interrogate societal issues and institutions like family, poverty, education, equity, and equality in order to critique the structures that serve as norms as well as to demonstrate how these norms are not experienced by all members of society (Coffey, 2008).

Critical literacy is a way to use texts to help children better understand themselves, others, and the world around them.  Using children’s literature, teachers can help their class through difficult situations, enable individual students to transcend their own challenges, and teach students to consider all viewpoints, respect differences, and become more self-aware.

There are many activities that are already going on in our classrooms that build critical literacy.  Reading novels written from the point of view of a child from another culture or set in another country; sharing stories about families and their religious traditions or considering the lives of young people like them who lived through war, persecution or poverty; as well, when we ask our students to write from the point of view of someone else; all of these classroom experiences are ways of developing critical literacy. As Melissa Thibault (2004) reminds us, these activities all serve the same purpose: they help the student to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to learn to understand other people’s circumstances and perspectives and to empathize with them.

My next post in the series about Critical Literacy will forward many examples of how to actively weave this type of literacy approach into your classroom.

Melanie Stonebanks


References for further reading can be found here:

Coffey, H. “Critical literacy.” LEARN North Carolina, 2008. Retrieved from

Comber, B. (2001). Critical Literacies and Local Action: Teacher Knowledge and a “New” Research Agenda in B. Comber & A. Simpson (Eds.), Negotiating Critical Literacies in Classrooms. (pp.271-282). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987).  Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. London: Routledge.

Luke, A. (1997).  Critical approaches to literacy. In V. Edwards & D. Corson (Eds), Encyclopedia of language and education, Vol. 2: Literacy (pp. 143-151). The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Meek, M.  (1987).  How Texts Teach What Readers Learn. Gloucestershire:Thimble Press.

Thibault, M. Children’s literature promotes understanding. LEARN North Carolina, 2004. Retrieved from



Howard Gardner at the Global Education Conference

I recently had the privilege to hear Howard Gardner interviewed by his son, Andrew Gardner, at the Global Education Conference. I did not have to go to the conference; it came to me through Blackboard / Collaborate.

I was aware of Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences. I was not aware of all the work he has done on ethical issues. He is part of  Project Zero at Harvard.  Two projects, Good Work and Good Play were of particular interest.

Good Work

“The GoodWork™ Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work – work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners – and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.”

He talked about the three “E’s” – technically Excellent, personally Engaging and carried out in an Ethical way. This is very pertinent in today’s society.

Out of this project came their Good Play project which looked at people participating in new media. The five aspects they looked at are

  • What does it mean to have a sense of identity in an online world
  • What happens to a sense of privacy
  • Ownership and authorship
  • Trustworthiness and credibility
  • What does it mean in the digital era to participate in a community

This project led to a digital ethics curriculum aimed at high school students: Our Space: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World. The book is available to be downloaded in pdf form under a Creative Commons license.

It looks at the issues listed above through moral dilemmas.

From the introduction

“Our Space is inspired by the belief that young people need to think habitually about online life in ethical terms. In this casebook, we define ethical thinking as the capacity to think about one’s roles and responsibilities in the communities in which one participates, offline and online. Such thinking requires the capacity to think abstractly about one’s roles; to do so in a nonpartisan, disinterested way; and to consider the impact of one’s actions beyond the self and on a larger collective—such as one’s school, community, state, nation, and world. Research conducted by the GoodPlay Project suggests that young people rarely think in ethical ways about their online activities

Part of the problem is that young people have had little mentoring in living in the digital world. In the Our Space Curriculum, there are suggestions to teachers as to how to use the dilemmas and guide discussions. It is not enough to tell students that things are wrong; the discussions around these dilemmas will help students to see the multi-dimensional aspects of these issues. I think this will be a valuable asset to teachers.

You can watch and listen to the session here.
You will be asked to download an app which will then give you the recorded session in Blackboard Collaborate

Some of Dr. Gardner’s books include:

Frames of Mind (1993)
Five Minds for the Future (2006)
Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (2001) with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon
Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century (2011)

He has written many more.

Links to all archived sessions from the 2011 Global Education Conference



Learning any time anywhere,
Susan van Gelder



Life stories in the classroom, and beyond!

Everyone has a story and I am no exception.  History teacher, father, wanderer, dreamer, collector of ideas — a story seemingly made up of events sewn into a social-web patchwork quilt, the edges occasionally frayed and torn.  But this year, for a workshop I recently gave at QPAT, I had to temporarily shelve my experiences and learn to listen.  The myriad oral history resources coming out of the CURA Life Stories Project seemed overwhelming.   Over 500 new Montrealers were interviewed during this five year project, all of them witnesses of mass atrocities, genocides, all people who had lived unwanted and forced displacements.  A workshop about hearing their stories and listening to their voices couldn’t simply be about how events fit into our provincial curriculum, though that somehow had to be part of it.  It needed to cover the whole process and experience.  It had to bring it all into the classroom, yes, but more than that, it needed to go beyond.

I started as I often tend to do with form.  What was their procedure, around the microphone, and what shape did it take?  Oral history had always fascinated me – the legends of First Nations transmitted down through timepersonal accounts from the Great War, those who lived through Katrina and shared their views by the thousands.  Why, I asked myself, were the techniques surrounding these oral histories not found in our history programs, in an age when the listening and recording technologies are literally in our pockets?  The CURA Life Stories Project had a methodology to share.   “A life story interview includes the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ of significant events in someone’s life, and this approach finds meaning in the context of a life lived rather than focusing on a traumatic moment or turning point,” says Steve High the project’s coordinator, and this implies recognizing a much longer personal history and a much deeper communication process.  (Many interviews lasted several hours!)  Also, given the personal nature of the subject matter, a well-defined ethical commitment was essential.  “Around the microphone” now meant in front of the camera, documenting the silences, the memories, and doing it all in respectful way.  The Life Stories site includes an “Ethics Guide” that describes ways to… mitigate harm caused by the recollection process, ways to obtain informed consent, considers the participants’ rights and options throughout the interview process, and outlines the researcher’s responsibility concerning matters of confidentiality.  Similarly, the particular methods used to record and edit the interviews are documented in the form of oral history training and video guides equally useful for teachers and students.

But what of the historical events, the horrible atrocities described, where would they all fit “in the classroom?”   The Life Stories project brought together several working groups who collected testimonies from Rwandans, Cambodians, Haitians as well as from Holocaust survivors.  These were real stories, disturbing and often quite unfamiliar to our students.  I asked those present how their students might react, and many said that students typically responded quite well, that they often rose to the occasion and recognized not only the horrors but also the strengths and hopes of the survivors.  We watched sections from Life in an Open Prison, an example of the way students in Megan Webster’s class at St. Georges School reacted, not by simply understanding but by doing, by actually finding and interviewing witnesses themselves.  How else to bring these stories into their classrooms?  We then found connections to the Contemporary World program, to the Ethics and Religious Cultures program, and even to subjects such as FSL and ELA.  We toured new Learning Situations, including mine on Rwanda and graphic novelist Rupert Banzambana, and others that the Education Working Group will be presenting in March.   Other connections, via the Broad Areas of Learning were suggested, via the more obvious Citizenship focus, but also through Media Studies, through reflections on the role of television and newspapers in the conflicts in question.

This allowed a segue into the present day, to focus on the the lives of youth in Montreal, recently recorded, who also had stories to share.  Part three of the workshop explored how to go “beyond the classroom.”  For this section I welcomed Michele Luchs, an active member of the Life Stories Refugee Youth working group.  She helped us all tour the group’s new website and book called Mapping Memories.  A truly inspiring site, their “projects” not only included interviews their team conducted, but  also consisted of training for young refugees so they could learn to interview each other.    As with the main Life Stories project, this group produced many usable video resources, but also a wealth of guides and activity suggestions, how to tell a digital story, how to “go public” on an issue, and more.  Theirs was a process that went beyond the classroom and into the community, an oral history methodology that recognized the importance of where the story was being told.  Right through school walls.

In the end I knew oral history was more than just another type of document to explore.  Life stories could connect students to the world, to each other, they could reach out to youth in our communities and bring those communities back into the school.  But even more than that, they could help to bring about significant and necessary change….  I recalled another presentation:  It was a panel discussion I participated in over a year ago, one that included Romeo Dallaire himself.  We were there to critique and help launch the book put out by the “Will to Intervene” project.  Full of detailed stories and contexts for the particular events surrounding the Rwandan genocide and others, the book also outlined concrete plans for how to prevent these atrocities from happening in the future.  One guiding premise was that educators and other public groups had an important role to play.  Students too.  Going beyond the classroom now meant saving real lives, responding effectively against atrocities, averting physical and cultural loss.  Memories, recorded, understood, repeated, these stories were now more concerned with the future than ever before.

What do you think?  Is it possible for students to learn to listen this well?  Can students help make a difference to someone’s future?   Does this fit, in or out of your classroom?