That’s it in a nutshell. Sure we don’t need to spell accurately or write clear coherent sentences to pass courses or even to survive in the world these days.
We have tools that enable us to get on with life with poor spelling and bad grammar. That’s fine most of the time. However…
Don’t try and apply for a job or a promotion with a letter or CV containing spelling mistakes or poor grammar. You won’t get hired. And forget about any kind of credibility in a business writing context.
Also, just in general:
In situations where your writing is highly visible (such as on the internet), people will judge you based on your ability to spell and write well.
Poor spelling and crappy writing don’t indicate low intelligence so don’t get me wrong. However, I do think that clear, coherent writing of any kind does reflect good thinking skills.
And it’s something you can learn and teach. Now… any spelling mistakes here? let me know in the comments.
This longstanding work that we’ve been doing with the Department of Corrections, to teach some of what we know about embedded literacy and numeracy to prison trainers and instructors, has confirmed something that I’ve always known… something that resonates with my background in teaching writing and grammar:
A few people have asked me to write coaching emails to guide people through the various parts of our training. This is particularly relevant for participants who are working by distance. I’ve been putting this off for a while, but it’s a great idea.
Here’s the first draft/batch… these relate to writing the 1500 word report that is the first assessment task in the NCALNE (Voc). So, on the one hand this is a very specific set of instructions for our trainees. But on the other hand, it reflects a process that you could apply to any kind of formal writing task.
Task 1 Part 1: Preparing to write the 1500 word report
Right-oh…! You’ve signed up for this NCALNE (Voc) training – or perhaps someone has signed you up – and now you have to write a 1500 word report. There are four short coaching emails designed to help you move things along. This is number one.
The main thing here is that you need to get ready to do the writing. In a nut shell you need to do these things in the list below:
Have a look at the two checklists on pages 7 and 8 of the Assessment Guide. The first of these checklists relates to the content of your report. The second relates to the structure. The content checklist tells you what you need to cover (e.g. definitions for literacy and numeracy). The structure checklist tells you what features your report should include (e.g. an introduction, body, and summary). Knowing these key points will help you when you do your reading, planning, and composing.
Skim Section 1 of the Study Guide. Then go back and read the pages below in more detail. As you read you’ll see references to further material in the book of Readings. Check these out for extra bonus points. And yes we can tell…
Definitions: Page 15
Initiatives: Pages 8 – 14
Reasons and impact: Pages: 17-23
Resources and organisations: Page 24
Take notes, underline, or use a highlighter as you read.
Task 1 Part 2: Brainstorming and planning your report
Ok, by now you should have done your reading from last time and familiarised yourself with both the content and structure of the report. Here’s what you need to do next:
Have a look at the report template that starts on page 9 of the Assessment Guide. You can download a copy of this from www.alec.ac.nz or we can send you one. Or just follow the structure when you start writing.
Start organising your thoughts and notes. We think that the best way to do this is by using mindmaps. If you are not familiar with mindmaps you should google the term and look at some of the examples. You will need to organise your thinking around the following parts of the report:
Definitions: What are the similarities and differences between the definitions?
Initiatives: What initiatives relate to your work or learners?
Reasons and impact: Why do your learners have low literacy and numeracy levels? What does this mean for them? What is the impact on your industry?
Resources and organisations: What literacy and numeracy resources do you already have access to? What organisations can you access that provide literacy and numeracy expertise?
Start with an initial brainstorm for each of these key aspects of the report… a kind of brain dump, if you like. Then, start to categorise and organise what you have brainstormed or mindmapped… Use colours, codes, or a key if that helps you. Then do a second brainstorm with the major categories as the new main branches of your new mindmap. This reorganisation of your ideas is critical to writing a coherent report that flows well. As you categorise or reorganise your ideas, you should redraw your mindmaps or redraft your lists of key points and subpoints to reflect how you are organising your thoughts.
Once you have got your thoughts and ideas categorised and organised you should put them in order. We’ve already given you a structure for the report… so use it. Start ordering your sub-points. Look for logical structures like “general to specific” or “most important to least important”. You may feel at times that some of this feels a bit arbitrary. It might be… but what you are doing is trying to bring logic and coherence to your scrambled thoughts. It’s obvious who has done this when we read these reports.
Write all this up in an outline. Keep in mind the report template… this is really your master outline. But you can outline your key sections and paragraphs. Your outline will become your roadmap for writing the report.
Task 1 Part 3: Composing your report
Now that you have done your reading and some in-depth planning, it’s time to write your report. If you have done the reading and planning work previously this won’t be too difficult as you’ve got your roadmap (the outline) to work from. If you are struggling here, you will need to go back to Parts 1 and 2 and see what you’ve missed. If you are ready to go:
Revisit the report template. This is your master outline and writing frame. You should be clear by now and what you are going to write in each of the sections, and what the structure of the report looks like.
Check out the model report: There’s a model report available on www.alec.ac.nz for you to download if you want. This is to give you an idea of what we’re expecting.
Divide your writing into bursts. Focus on “just writing” to start with and don’t worry about editing. Seriously… put all that stuff about sentence structure and spelling out of your head. We’ll deal with that in our last email.
Definitions: This is basically just a regurgitation of the same definitions provided in the Study Guide. Start by just typing these in. Make sure you reference them. Also, you do need to provide some commentary around what you see as the major similarities and differences between the four definitions provided. The best way to do this is to focus on the differences between the three TEC definitions versus the Māori literacy definition.
Initiatives: We think that it makes sense to start this section by summarising some key data from the ALLS survey. This is one good way of setting the scene. ALLS is also a major literacy and numeracy initiative. You should then follow this up with a couple of initiatives that relate to you and the work you do. You can always add this course of study as one of the initiatives if you are short on ideas.
Reasons and impact: Pick several key reasons and several key impacts from your planning and write these up. It’s always better for us if you connect these with your own learners or context.
Resources and organisations: If you can’t think of any resources or you don’t know of any… read up on the Learning Progressions and summarise. Also, feel free to write up ALEC as an organisation here. Otherwise, just write up one resource you know about and one organisation that fits the bill.
Task 1 Part 4: Revising and editing your report
At this point, what you probably have is a draft. From here you need to revise and edit… basically, you want to polish up your report so it looks good and reads well. Here are a couple of practical things that you can do:
Go back to the checklists in the Assessment Guide. If you can tick all the boxes then it’s probably all good…!
Read your report outloud to yourself. If you find that some sentences are difficult to read, then this is probably an indication that you need to revise them. Put a circle around them and read on. You can come back to them later.
Ask someone else to read your report and give you some feedback. This could be a colleague or family member. As an interested non-expert, they’ll quickly tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t.
Here’s some other guidelines:
Identify the main point, purpose, or idea of a sentence or paragraph. Move it to the beginning if it’s not already there.
Root out passive voice. Passive voice is easy to identify. Look for one of the forms of BE plus the VERB ending in -en or –ed E.g. am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been plus the -en or -ed word. E.g. is requested, were eaten. Change these sentences to active voice. It’s fine to use “I”, “we”, “he”, “she”, or “they”.
Find long or unnecessary words or jargon. Change to simple words of three syllables or less.
Avoid long sentences. Cut long sentences into shorter sentences of less than 15 words.
Avoid long paragraphs. Split up your long paragraphs. They should be less than 2cm deep on the pages or no more than 5 sentences as a rule.
Watch out for any distracting spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Ask someone, use a spell checker, find a dictionary, or look online for help.
If you’re like me you probably find it hard to get things done. I tend to procrastinate unless I have very specific goals to achieve and usually need time pressure to accomplish these as well.
Ove the last year or so I’ve been using – off and on – an online “to do” list called Teamly to help me with this. I’ve tried a whole bunch of “To do” list apps on iphone and ipad and I think this one, which is online, suits me the best.
It’s a simple idea. Basically, you set your top 5 priorities for the day. You can set them for other time periods as well, such as for the month or quarter, but I have other systems for that. Teamly works best for me when it comes to setting the 5 main things I need to get done right now.
I’ve got it booked marked on my phone as a web app and I can update it directly on the go. I’d like a dedicated app, but I’m happy to work with the web app for now.
Recently, I’ve started experimenting with using this with my team. And I think it’s going to work great. I wouldn’t expect them to use or do anything that I wouldn’t use or do myself… and I think that a year has been a good trial period for me. Now with my team, I can suggest tasks to them and vice versa.
So far, it hasn’t cost me anything. Hence, this unsolicited free plug for their great app.
Have you tried Teamly? Used anything great for this kind of thing? Let me know in the comments.
I love this slide… I use it when we kick off the training we deliver around embedded literacy and numeracy. I also use it at the end of our training when I wrap things up. For me it really summarises what happens when people engage with the content and concepts.
We get to work with a lot of great tutors and trainers. These guys and gals often know intuitively what to do when it comes to making their training content comprehensible for their learners.
This is just something that good tutors and trainers do. It often happens automatically and at an unconscious level for the trainer.
Our mission is to create the shift that moves it from automatic to explicit. What we want to see is a shift from an intuitive and automatic approach to embedding literacy and numeracy to one that is more deliberate and systematic. This is what gets the literacy and numeracy out of stealth mode.
What causes this shift? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s some or all of these:
Examining unquestioned assumptions about learners and learning.
Discovering new systems for learning, teaching, and assessing.
Being a literacy kind of guy, I really like metaphors. I was thinking about this recently, and I realised that there are a whole bunch of metaphors that I constantly use and refer to. I just haven’t really made them explicit with my learners. However, I did today.
These metaphors work for me with the literacy and numeracy professional development training that we do for the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace)… often thankfully abbreviated to the NCALNE (Voc).
Basically, what we’re trying to do is show people a system for embedding (i.e. integrating) literacy and numeracy into their trades or other vocational training content.
Here’s the list:
It’s like building a house (Hey, they don’t call it foundation learning for nothing).
It’s a toolbox… or at least some new teaching tools to go in your existing toolbox.
It’s like a sniper rifle (instead of a shotgun approach).
It’s a game… like chess or draughts.
It’s a business… what are your key performance indicators?
It’s a team sport. How are you going to play?
It’s like starting a mini-apprenticeship.
All of these metaphors (Ok… two are similes) are quite powerful ways of thinking about training. The one I’m most fixated on right now though is the last one: Professional development as a kind of mini-apprenticeship. This helps to explain the kind of journey that our tutors go through.
And in the short time that we have with them I’ve come to realise that all we have to do is shift them one step along the way. Mastery is possibly too lofty a goal. However, shifting them from LN apprentices to LN practitioners is a reasonable and achievable goal. What they do from there on is their own business.
Right… work to do. Thoughts? Let me know below. Cheers, Graeme
Ok… first day of training today for the year with our literacy and numeracy professional development course. We’re over in Whakatane with a group of trades and vocational training tutors from several private training providers.
They’re quite a funny bunch… picked up a couple of new jokes from them for my (eventual) literacy numeracy stand up comedy routine. Probably these won’t make sense to anyone else but for the record:
At one point today I asked: What’s a metaphor? The building tutor directly opposite me piped up with out hesitation: “I know what a hammer for, but I don’t know what a metaphor…”
And at another point I was painstakingly trying to unpack some of the hellish acronyms that my industry insists on using. They’d already guessed that “LN” stood for literacy and numeracy. I put up my slide with the list of about 10 common education-related acronyms that I like to make sure everyone understands. I pointed to “LLN” which was next to “LN”. “What’s that”, I said… “You know what LN is. What’s LLN”. From beside me I hear: “Easy… it’s LN said by someone with a stutter…”
In other news from today, I had the good fortune to bump into the proprietor of the hotel I’m staying in this evening. I was playing table tennis with my daughter and I guess we’d been making a bit of noise. Obviously, he was unaccustomed to hearing the sounds of laughter and fun in his establishment and he felt the need to press me for a few more details.
“So… Graeme”, he said. “What are you doing here?” At that stage I still thought he was trying to work out how I got into the games room. But after an uncomfortable pause I realised that he was asking me what I was actually doing over in Whakatane.
So, I launched into my standard explanation of what I do. Immediately, I could hear it in the tone of my own voice… the sound of his eyes glazing over. Nevertheless, I pressed on diligently and gave him the full treatment… An excellent, and concise summary of the joys of literacy and numeracy professional development and training.
Needless to say, he left quite quickly after that…