How did that person take what seems like a mess in her life and transform it into something good? Who was involved in that process, and what kinds of things did that person learn? Who or What was their inspiration? It’s like an equation:
Problem to Solve + Difficult Process = Discovery of Best Solution for Myself
Problems seem to have a funny way of resolving themselves, especially with the right tools and direction.
-- Kathlene Steel, Adult Learner and Women's Perspectives Committee Member
Conferences -- (Net)Working & Gathering
Since 2004, WE LEARN has sponsored (inter)national conferences in Boston, Providence, New York, and New Haven. Attendees have come from across all regions of the United States and internationally from Belize, Canada, Mexico, India, and France. We take pride in creating an atmosphere open, welcoming, and accessible to all people, regardless of their English language literacy abilities. Each conference generally has an “intimate” feel with between 100 – 175 attendees. The community created is vibrant and supportive.
Unlike many national U. S. professional literacy conferences, though, WE LEARN has achieved a unique distinction for its appeal to adult learners. We find this statistic especially heartening.
In 2004, 9% of attendees were adult learners, but that attendance spiked to 28% in 2009 and to 40% in 2010.
Since the creation of Women's Perspectives in 2006, we have received 515 writings from 350 students across the United States and Canada, at all levels of literacy (ESOL/ABE/GED). The committee has selected 359 of those writings for publication (70%) and made 55 cash awards for writings demonstrating outstanding effort. Each student whose writing is published receives a free copy of the journal. All participants receive a Certificate of Participation. In conjunction with the (Net)Working Conference, we sponsor a Student Writing Celebration where the published writers have the opportunity to publicly read their writings on stage. On the off year when we don't have a conference, we have encouraged programs to create local celebrations.
However, Women's Perspectives has become more than a publication featuring learner writings. It has become an indispensable opportunity to provide and develop adult learner leadership. Over the years, numbers of students have found their places as volunteers and leaders on several committees, especially for conference and Women's Perspectives. In time, we expect the publication to be developed by adult learners who are alums or current students in literacy services.
Between 2006 - 2010, WE LEARN sponsored several Women Leading Through Reading Discussion Circles in Rhode Island and Greater Boston, MA areas. Through grants from the Women's Fund of Rhode Island and The Boston Women's Fund, we were able to train volunteers, provide Circles in area programs, and update the Women Leading Through Reading Guidebook.
Rhode Island, 2006 - 2007
- 7 Circles in 5 different literacy programs
- 13 trained facilitators of whom 7 could actively participate
- 50+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
Boston, MA, 2007 - 2009
- 19 Circles in 10 different literacy programs
- 26 trained facilitators of whom 17 could actively participate
- 150+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
Boston, MA, 2009 - 2010
In this cycle, we re-vamped the Reading/Discussion Circles to include the use of reading learner writing in Women's Perspectives in order to encourage learner writing and editing. As a result, we saw an increase in the number of learner writings submitted to Women's Perspectives. We also noticed an improvement in the overall quality of writings we received.
- 60 participants attended a writing workshop by Louise Dunlap (author of Undoing the Silence) for learners and teachers
- 3 Circles in 3 literacy programs
- 10 trained facilitators of whom 4 could actively participate
- 30+ students (ESOL & ABE/GED) participated
- 150 community people attended an end-of-year celebration at UMass Boston showcasing current and past learner writers for Women's Perspectives
Over the years, members of WE LEARN have presented at several regional & national conferences. The topics have ranged from general discussions about women and literacy, to specific workshops about our programs (such as Women Leading through Reading or Women's Perspectives) and related topics such as spirituality or sexuality issues in adult basic education. Sample topics can be viewed on our Professional Development page.
- COABE – Commission on Adult Basic Education (2006, 2007, & 2008)
- MCAE – Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (2003, 2004, and every year since 2006)
- NWSA – National Women’s Studies Association (2009)
- NYACCE – New York Association for Continuing/Community Education (2006 & 2009)
- ProLiteracy Worldwide (2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
- Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed (2009)
- Rhode Island State Adult Education Conference (every year since 2003)
- Vermont LearningWorks (2008)
Special Presentations/ Trainings
- “Economics of Literacy” Panel. National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) with International Women’s Policy Institute (IWPR). Women’s Education and Economic Opportunity: The Role of Literacy. Washington, DC
- "Empowering Women Through Literacy." Feminism & Dessert, Center for New Words, Cambridge, MA
- "Creating Spaces for Women." Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy, Adult Learner Leadership Event, Toronto, ON Canada
- "Women & Literacy Book Group." A six-week Discussion Circle for the feminist community, sponsored in collaboration with the Simmons Institute for Leadership & Change, Boston, MA
- "Women’s Activism: Education, Literacy and Human Rights." Classroom Presentation at MIT for a Women's Studies graduate program, Cambridge, MA
- "Discussing Diversity and Power Issues for Professional Development in Adult Literacy." NIFL Listserv February 18 - 29, 2008
- "Undoing the Silence: Bringing New Writers to Powerful Voice." Presenter: Louise Dunlap (author of Undoing the Silence) and sponsored in collaboration with the Simmons Institute for Leadership & Change, Boston, MA
- "Training for Women's Leadership in Literacy." A presentation to the Afghanistan Women’s Literacy Program, sponsored by Institute for Training and Development (ITD), Amherst, MA
- "Women and Literacy: Moving to Power and Participation." A Symposium based on the publication release of Women’s Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32: 1&2 (Feminist Press at CUNY), Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge MA
These professional development resources have been developed as a result of WE LEARN's work and projects.
(2011). Our Stories, OurSelves: The EmBODYment of Women’s Learning. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
(2009). Empowering Women Through Literacy: Views from Experience. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
(2009). Teaching & Learning with Women's Perspectives: A Resource Kit
(2008). Women Leading Through Reading: A Guidebook for Discussion & Action.
(2004). Women & Literacy. Special Issue of The Change Agent: Adult Education for Social Justice: News, Issues, and Ideas, Issue 19. Boston, MA: New England Literacy Resource Center / World Education.
(2004). Women and Literacy: Moving from Power to Participation. Women’s Studies Quarterly. Vol. 32: 1&2. New York, NY: Feminist Press at CUNY.