Improving your teaching practice: What do you do next?

Since you’ve started down this path with embedding literacy and numeracy you might be wondering what you need to do next. The answer is simple. But it’s not simplistic.

Increase embedded literacy and numeracy

How can design thinking improve teaching practice and education outcomes?

Just like Lean Thinking could work within adult education to improve teaching practice, so too could Design Thinking. Again, I’m particularly interested in my own perspective which is the professional development relating to adult literacy and numeracy education for trades and vocational training.

Design thinking

According to the Wikipedia entry:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

This approach seem perfect to me for engineering solutions to teaching contexts where there are complex issues such as with foundation education.

What would it look like if we applied a design thinking paradigm to a narrow educational context like embedding literacy and numeracy into trades and vocational training? Again, from the Wikipedia entry:

An example of a design thinking process could have seven stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. Within these seven steps, problems can be framed, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen. The steps aren’t linear; they can occur simultaneously and can be repeated.

Let’s see how these steps fit. The following is adapted to for my context in education so I’m talking about learners rather than consumers, but the idea is the same.


  • Decide what underpinning literacy, numeracy, or foundation skills issue we are trying to resolve.
  • Agree on who the specific learners or other target group is.
  • Prioritize this project in terms of urgency.
  • Determine what will make this project successful.
  • Establish a glossary of terms as required.


  • Review the history of the issue; remember any existing obstacles.
  • Collect examples of other attempts to solve the same issue.
  • Note the project supporters, investors, and critics.
  • Talk to students in order to get the most fruitful ideas for later design.
  • Take into account thought leaders’ opinions.


  • Identify the needs and motivations of your learners.
  • Generate as many ideas as possible to serve these identified needs.
  • Log your brainstorming session.
  • Do not judge or debate ideas.
  • During brainstorming, have one conversation at a time.


  • Combine, expand, and refine ideas.
  • Create multiple drafts.
  • Seek feedback from a diverse group of people, include your learners (the end users).
  • Present a selection of ideas to the learners, or other stakeholders.
  • Reserve judgment and maintain neutrality.
  • Create and present actual working prototype(s)


  • Review the objective.
  • Set aside emotion and ownership of ideas.
  • Avoid consensus thinking.
  • Remember: the most practical solution isn’t always the best.
  • Select the powerful ideas.


  • Make task descriptions.
  • Plan tasks.
  • Determine resources.
  • Assign tasks.
  • Execute.
  • Deliver to learners and stakeholders.


  • Gather feedback from learners and stakeholders.
  • Determine if the solution met its goals.
  • Discuss what could be improved.
  • Measure success; collect data.
  • Document.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments…


The Hero’s Journey is the Educator’s Journey: Star Wars versus Educator Professional Development

I’m just riffing here… Building on my idea that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth connects with professional development pathways in education.

You are Luke Skywalker… ALEC is Obi-Wan… Embedded Literacy and Numeracy is the Force

Here are the 12  stages of the hero’s journey with reference to Star Wars and Adult Literacy & Numeracy professional development…

  1. The ordinary world – limited awareness of a problem [ACT 1]
    • The Evil Empire oppresses the galaxy. Luke dreams of joining the academy but feels he is going nowhere on his uncle’s desolate farm.
    • The forces of bureaucracy, compliance, as well as student attrition, not to mention poor student motivation and attitude oppress you as well as tutors and trainers everywhere. You’re insecure about your background as an educator or a teacher, but you suspect there are better ways of teaching and that you should be able to make a difference in your learners’ lives. You just don’t know how.
  2. The call to adventure – increased awareness
    • R2D2 plays a portion of Princess Leia’s call for help. Luke is smitten by the vision and wants to help the maiden in distress.
    • Someone sends you on a professional development course or you attend a workshop somewhere. You realise that part of the problem with your learners relates to the fact that they lack certain underpinning foundational skills. You begin to realise that there is a better way to teach by embedding literacy and numeracy skill development into your context and content. 
  3. Refusal of the call – reluctance to change
    • Luke refuses to follow Obi-Wan because he feels obligated to stay and help his aunt and uncle on the farm.
    • You analyse the differences between where your learners need to be versus where they are actually at in terms of the specific underpinning literacy and numeracy skills. The extend of the problem disturbs you and you resist the call to embed literacy and numeracy into your training. You can see the amount of work you might have to do, or worse still, how you might have to change your teaching practice.
  4. Meeting with the mentor – overcoming reluctance
    • R2D2 plays the entire message revealing that Luke holds the plans of the Death Star. Obi-Wan gives Like his father’s lightsaber and tells him of his heritage. Luke wants to help.
    • You embark on your professional development pathway regardless. Your PD tutors inspire you to overcome your initial hesitation and just make a start on changing how you plan and deliver your training. You get a glimpse of some of the new tools that you will be able to use.
  5. Crossing the threshold – committing to change
    • Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed so he is free to deliver the secret plans to Alderran. He and Obi-Wan travel to Mos Eisley to hire a ship for their journey.
    • You learn that new compliance requirements, a tough job market, a reduced funding environment, and tricky students all adds up to the fact that you don’t really have any choice. You need to start working smarter and commit to changing the way you teach and train.
  6. Tests, allies, and enemies – experimenting with first change
    • In the cantina, Luke is saved by Obi-Wan’s use of the Force. The two hire Han Solo and Chewbacca, who become their allies. They evade Imperial Stormtroopers who try to prevent their escape.
    • You start to experiment with some of the new teaching approaches, concepts, activities, and strategies that you have been learning about through your professional development pathway. You design and administer a simple literacy and numeracy diagnostic tool. The results both shatter and confirm some of your long-held suspicions concerning your own students. One of these is that they don’t understand as much as they really need to. You realise that you have to stop making assumptions about your learners and get informed.
  7. Approach the innermost cave – preparing for big change
    • On the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan teaches Luke about the Force. The ship is captured by the Death Star, and the group finds itself inside the enemy’s stronghold.
    • You plunge into the world of adult literacy and numeracy education. Fortunately for you, your background is in trades or vocational training and the people facilitating your professional development make the work relevant and applicable to your context. You start planning and delivering embedded literacy and numeracy learning to your own students. But you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by the demands of your job and everything else in your life. 
  8. Ordeal – Attempting a big change
    • On the Death Star, they dress as Storm Troopers, discover the princess, and attempt to rescue her. They are discovered and tested as the engage with enemy troops.
    • You’re in deep now. You can’t sleep at night because you keep thinking of new and interesting ways of teaching your content and the relevant underpinning literacy and numeracy skills. You’ve got a bunch of very specific embedded literacy and numeracy resources underway, you’ve started to see your students perk up when you use your embedded activities, but the demands of family life and other work stresses are weakening your immune system. You have critical assessments and assignments due for your professional development course, but you get sick. You have reports to write. Your in-laws come to stay. The family pet dies. And your resolve is tested.
  9. Reward (seizing the sword) – Consequences of the attempt (improvements and setbacks)
    • In the trash compactor, Luke is pulled underwater by a creature, but is rescued by his friends. They begin to work together as a team to escape the Death Star.
    • You manage to claw back the sleep you’ve been missing, take extra vitamins, kick out the in-laws, write your reports, deal with your personal issues, and stop procrastinating long enough to complete the big embedded literacy and numeracy project that you started on. Despite the setbacks on multiple fronts including personal and work stresses, you push through and complete the big project that you started. 
  10. The road back – rededication to change
    • Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to help the team escape. The Death Star follows them to the Rebels, determined to destroy their base. Luke joins the Rebel’s attack on the Death Star. 
    • You’ve made some sacrifices to get this far but you realise that your work has made a difference to your learners. And that’s what makes you want to get up in the morning. The timeframe has actually been too short, you realise. You’re tired, but you’re excited to think that you saw improvements in your students’ literacy and numeracy skills in such a short timeframe. You wish that you’d done a better job on the project or had more time, but you’ve done enough to graduate with the rest of your cohort. 
  11. Resurrection – final attempt at a big change
    • In the final battle, Luke hears Obi-Wan’s voice and uses the Force to make an impossible shot that destroys the Death Star.
    • You graduate with your colleagues and begin to initiate the structural changes that you know your organisation needs to make to the way that their programmes are designed and delivered. Together, you take the tools that you’ve been given through the professional development and training, and one at a time, you help reinvigorate your organisation’s programme, courses, and modules by embedding the underpinning literacy and numeracy skills that your learners need.
  12. Return with the elixir – final mastery of the problem
    • The power of the Evil Empire is destroyed. The team members are honoured as heroes and peace is restored to the galaxy.
    • Adult literacy and numeracy levels are raised across the country. You and your colleagues live quiet and fulfilled lives knowing that you made a significant and measurable difference to the lives of your students. The world is a better place.

Reasons for low levels of literacy and numeracy in the adult population

There’s plenty of reasons why we see low levels of literacy and numeracy skills in the adult population. However, the problem is that none of them have really been empirically studied. This short poll isn’t going to fix that.

Questions… Questions… Questions…

However, I’m interested… What do you think? Choose up to three from the list below.

Do you want to find out about the NCALNE (Voc) qualification for embedding literacy and numeracy?

If you do, then fill out the form below and we’ll see if we can answer your questions.

No experience necessary

Don’t worry if you’re a complete beginner when it comes to this whole literacy and numeracy thing. Our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy does not require any prior knowledge or experience about embedding. In fact, sometimes it’s better if you come to the training without preconceived ideas about what it means.

We won’t assume that you’re a high-level educator with a black belt in literacy and numeracy who can do ninja level embedding in their sleep.  Most likely we’ll assume that you are pretty much like every other trainer or tutor that we’ve worked with.

  • You probably find it surprising that you work in education or training. If pressed, you’ll probably tell us that it’s an “accident” that you’re a tutor or trainer.
  • Your background is most likely in your trade, industry, or business – that’s what you identify with. Not the eclectic and confusing world of academia. In fact, you’re kind of suspicious about that whole academic thing (and to be honest, so are we).

If you do have some teaching experience it certainly helps. You’ll find the information contained in the Embedding LN Baseline Knowledge framework more valuable and practical than anything you could learn doing an academic degree or in some mind-numbing professional development workshop somewhere.

With us, we can explore seven simple knowledge and skill areas that will help you think about your teaching and training in an entirely new way. After doing our course, you’ll have a much more comprehensive and accurate understanding of what embedding literacy and numeracy is all about, and what you need to do to change and improve your practice.