What is embedded literacy and numeracy?

Embedded literacy and numeracy combines the development of literacy and numeracy skills with vocational and other skills.

An embedded approach situates relevant and meaningful literacy and numeracy skill development firmly in the context of some other content such as a trade. An example would be teaching the underpinning numeracy knowledge and skills required to estimate and then measure the m2 of farm paddock.

An embedded approach to teaching adult literacy and numeracy is explicit. Literacy and numeracy are not in “stealth mode” in an embedded approach, although sometimes educators have to be “stealthy” about how they get to the stage of making it explicit with learners. Learners and educators should be able to point to the literacy and numeracy in the curriculum and say “there it is…!”

An embedded approach is also deliberate. What we mean by that is that the focus that the educator brings to important literacy and numeracy skills is not an accident. Sometimes, these learning moments just occur in the course of everyday teaching. And at other times, the teacher sets them up in advance.

However, they arise in an explicit embedded approach the educator is self conscious about doing literacy and numeracy. The educator’s approach is informed by all the aspects in our model.

As a subject experts in their trades or vocational training areas with further developing specialised knowledge in literacy and numeracy, educators need to:

  • Understand relevant issues and contexts
  • Assess literacy and numeracy needs
  • Design embedded literacy and numeracy skills development and resources
  • Deliver embedded literacy and numeracy outcomes in the context of trades or vocational training.
  • Assess learner literacy and numeracy gains
  • Evaluate embedded literacy and numeracy training.

Professional Reading

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) recently summarised key research findings relating to effective practice for embedding literacy and numeracy. This was their conclusion:

  • Embedding (the practice of combining / integrating literacy and numeracy into vocational and workplace training) improves the likelihood of retention and success when:
    • vocational and literacy tutors work together;
    • literacy and numeracy content is deliberately connected to vocational or real life contexts; and
    • there is a whole of organisation approach.

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Casey, H., Cara, O., Eldred, J., Grief, S., Hodge, R., Ivanic, R., Jupp, T., Lopez, D., and McNeil, B. (2006) “You wouldn’t expect a maths teacher to teach plastering…”: Embedding literacy, language and numeracy in post-16 vocational programmes – the impact on learning and achievement. London: National Research and Development Centre.

The research took place with around 200 learners in 15 Further Education Colleges and one large training provider in five regions in the UK . It looked at students whose primary aim was to achieve a vocational qualification . The key factors related to embedding that contributed to students’ retention, achievement and attitudes included:

  • teamwork between literacy, ESOL, numeracy teachers, and vocational teachers (note, in this work this sometimes meant literacy/numeracy specialists working in classrooms alongside vocational tutors) – where a single teacher was asked to take dual responsibility for teaching vocational skills and LLN, learners were less likely to succeed;
  • staff understandings, values and beliefs – positive attitudes towards the learners and the subject matter makes a difference;
  • aspects of teaching and learning that connect literacy, ESOL and numeracy to vocational content; and
  • policies and organisational features at institutional level, such as support from senior management, means that resources can be directed into embedded programmes .

This was one of the few reports sourced for this bibliography that reported on outcomes for learners. Here the researchers found that:

  • where LLN skills were embedded in courses, there were more positive outcomes than in courses in which these skills were treated separately; and
  • there was a positive impact on retention, achievement and success rates, particularly at level 2, and success rates were higher in embedded than in non-embedded courses .

Higher retention rates were attributed to two factors:

  • embedding literacy, ESOL and numeracy skills in vocational programmes reduced the stigma associated with these areas; and
  • teaching LLN within programmes enabled learners to cope more effectively with the content of the course .

This can be considered one of the seminal works on embedding literacy and numeracy. The findings of this research were used to inform much of the TEC’s work to date on LLN . The findings of this research are also cited in other publications in this bibliography that attest to the impact of embedding

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Journal Task

Write at least 250 words on how an embedded approach to teaching literacy and numeracy underpins your teaching.

If you need a prompt to get started, answer one or more of these questions:


  • How do you understand an embedded approach?
  • How do you work to embed literacy and numeracy into your trade or vocational training?
  • What are the key literacy and numeracy demands that your education programme requires you to embed?
  • What are the kinds of literacy and numeracy weaknesses and challenges that your learners face, and that you need to try and embed into your work?
  • Has your experience been positive or negative when trying to embed key aspects of literacy and numeracy skills development into your training?


Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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