Building Story

Emily Robinson Leclair, Community Learning Network

0 1 10 March 2022

Richard Van Camp shares the following about storytelling in his book Gather:

It’s connection, community, and purpose, plain and simple. It’s giving someone the same goose bumps I receive after I retell an incredible story that gives me a soul sigh. It’s seeing someone tear up with a story I’ve retold that moves my heart, as well. It’s being human; it’s the gentle reminder that we are all children of the great mystery of life.

I am a storyteller, and I’m a good storyteller because I am a good listener.

This year, I have been immersed in storytelling. First with Richard's book and meet-the-author session. And most recently, I had the privilege of working on a brand new e-Learning that includes narrative from the author Dr. Allan Quigley. If you are familiar with Dr. Quigley and his work – articles, books, speaking engagements – you will know that he has a distinct voice. It was important to ensure that his voice was included in the Building Literacy Guide.

Dr. Allan Quigley has compiled a lifetime of knowledge and experience into this Guide. The Building Literacy Guide highlights proven methods and research-based approaches to the field of adult literacy and foundational learning. Within each section you will find practical tools and useable approaches you can use tomorrow and into the future. It is an incredible resource.


Throughout this resource you can ‘hear’ Allan’s voice and it was our shared vision that his recollections, anecdotes and lived experience would bring the guide to life. And they do – listeners have the opportunity to spend well over 100 minutes with Allan Quigley. You will learn from his rookie mistakes and celebrate his transformative learning moment, catch glimpses of his 53-year marriage to Linda, pack a bag and travel internationally to India, and then more regionally to Fort McMurray. You will laugh, you will be encouraged to pause and reflect, and you will be privy to some mild exasperation. All this with a hope that you will be inspired to continue this important work.

Allan’s voice brings this guide to life. Through story, Allan becomes relatable as both an academic, literacy practitioner and volunteer board member. In his words “To use the academic jargon, I hope the stories of actual people brought theory and practice closer together.”

Like any good storyteller, Allan’s stories remind us that learning journeys are not linear and learners do not fit into a box. This is often the challenge of our work. How do we explain the field of literacy or truly reflect the size and scope of literacy in Canada?  We rely on learners to bring these stories to life in the same way Allan asks Big Bill, Evelyn, Tom, and Marie to breathe life into the Building Literacy Guide.

A graphic showing Allan's smiling face indicating an audio clip is available. It is labeled 'Want to hear more from Allan?".

Learner stories are powerful and plentiful. As Allan explains:

There are thousands of Maries. Thousands of learner success stories. But behind these stories lie so many other stories. Stories of how learners have been caused to feel shame, embarrassment and defensiveness due to low literacy.

These are stories worthy of celebration and yet they are vulnerable. In his musings towards a better future Allan calls for a better way to highlight the field of adult literacy and the work of its modern day heroes. He encourages practitioners to consider how their voice and practice can be used to increase visibility of the field. I appreciate Allan’s encouragement to engage more learners to share their stories and celebrate their successes.  

To borrow from Fraser Green’s article ‘Telling the Perfect Story” we are only the cast of characters. We are not the protagonist of these stories. As CALP staff we invite learners to share their stories in safe and respectful ways. Wherever possible we want to engage the ‘star of the story’ to control their narrative. There are some fantastic examples of learner stories shared on the CALP Portal:

SARAW Book of Stories 

The Way In 

Searching for Words: A Woman’s Fight to Learn 

Roger’s Story 

Emily Robinson Leclair


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