Numeracy diagnostic questions: Before there was the Assessment Tool there was this…

Before the assessment tool we had this handy set of questions (see the Youtube clip below). You can still use it and it works great…!

Just click below to watch it as a movie with 5 sec intervals between questions. No audio on this one. If you use it with your learners just read the questions out loud to them. If I get time I’ll record one with audio as well.

Each pair of questions for each section focuses on one step from that particular Number Progression.

Just a note: The questions in the Place Value Progression – that’s the middle set of questions – start at step 2. That’s why there are less questions. This implies that the other knowledge from Number Sequence and Number facts for step 1 is already in place.

If you are working on your NCALNE (Voc) qualification, this diagnostic could be part of your work for Assessment 4 which is all about Knowing the Learner and undertaking literacy and numeracy diagnostic assessments.

If you have a Mac you can download my Keynote file for the slides here:

I also have a PDF version that you can print out and use as a paper-based version of the diagnostic. It’s the same as the images below – 2 pages:

Hat tip: Thanks to Janet Hogan for her initial set of slides for this. Also, you can find this content in the Teaching Adults to Make Sense of Number to Solve Problems support guide for the Learning Progressions.

Num Diagnostic pt 1Num Diagnostic pt 2

Let’s just sort out the confusion around steps versus levels when it comes to literacy and numeracy


I didn’t create this confusion, but I’d like to clear it up…

One of the things that people I meet seem constantly confused about is the difference between some very similar sounding language that we use in education, and in particular, in the field of literacy and numeracy, to describe things like skills.

Here are the two problem words: Steps and Levels.

Now here’s where the confusion sets in. There are at least three different things that these two words get used for, often interchangeably:

  • ALLS: The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) Survey data from 2006 talks about Skill Levels on a scale of 1 to 5. For example, to function well in society you need to be at or above Level 3 which is generally considered to be the baseline in terms of the literacy and numeracy skills that you need to function at work, in study, or just in general.
  • Progressions: The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions talks about Steps on a scale of 1 to 6. Step 1 means low literacy or numeracy skills. Step 6 in a particular progression means that you are highly literate or numeracy in terms of that progression. For example, Step 6 for the Vocabulary Progression in the Reading Strand means that you have large vocabulary that includes not just everyday words, but also a large number of academic and specialised words as well. We use Steps to talk about the assessment results that learners get from the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool that is a requirement for most foundation level learners in tertiary training. E.g. “She got step 5 in Numeracy”.
  • Qualifications: The New Zealand Qualifications Framework talks about qualifications in terms of Levels on a scale of 1 to 9. For example, the qualifications that young people do often at high school in New Zealand – the National Certificate in Education Achievement (NCEA) starts at level 1 (usually year 11) and goes through to level 3 (usually year 13). The course that I teach is Level 5. A Masters level degree would be Level 8 or 9.

So that’s it. Here’s the short version:

  • ALLS Survey 2006 ==> Skill Levels
  • Learning Progressions and Assessment Tool Results ==> Steps
  • Qualifications ==> Qualification Levels

And if you are someone who needs to talk about any or all of these things, here’s what I suggest. You can help clear up other people’s confusion by doing the following:

  • If you have to talk about the ALLS Survey data or courses and qualifications and the context is not really clear, make sure you expand the word “Levels” to either “ALLS Skill Level” for the ALLS or “Qualification Level” for qualifications.
  • If you have to talk about Assessment Tool results or anything to do with the Learning Progressions, make sure that you use “Steps” and not “Levels”. As an alternative word altogether, you may also want to use the word “Koru” instead of Step. These are the little images down the side of the Progressions charts. For example, “She got koru 5 in Numeracy”.

Someone tell me if this makes sense…

How to get started embedding vocabulary into your training by creating a word bank


Vocabulary rocks…!

If you’re going to focus on just one thing when it comes to embedding literacy into your trades or vocational training it has to be vocabulary.

Vocabulary runs through all of the literacy progressions and it’s probably the best bang for your buck in terms of time spent embedding anything on the literacy side of things.

If your learners have a basic vocabulary of 2,000 high frequency words, it’s likely that they can understand  roughly 80% of the words in an academic text.

But they need to know around 95% of the words in a text before they can successfully guess the meanings of unknown words and actually make sense of a text.

The best way to get started with embedding vocabulary is to develop your own Word Banks that are focused around very specific content areas that you have to teach. Here I’m particularly talking about aspects of your teaching or training programme where there are a lot of academic, specialised, or technical words.

Once you have a Word Bank for a particular chunk of teaching, there are all sorts of things you can use it for. This includes:

  • Creating mini vocabulary diagnostic assessments for pre and post testing of learner knowledge
  • Creating all kinds of fun activities to teach and practise the language.

More on that in another post still to come.

So here’s how you go about creating the Word Bank. Think in terms of the following three categories and follow the instructions below:

  • Everyday Words
  • Academic Words
  • Specialised or Technical Words

Everyday Words – Step 3 on the Vocabulary Progression

  1. List the high-use, everyday words that relate to the content you intend to teach.
  2. You can include some less common words as long as they don’t belong in the Academic or Specialised lists.
  3. You can include words from the second thousand (2K) word list.

Academic Words – Step 4/5 on the Vocabulary Progression

  1. List the academic words you need for the content you intend to teach. Think of words that describe processes or academic tasks.
  2. You can include some of the high-use specialised words you need.
  3. And you can include words from the academic word list (AWL). Highly specialised or technical words should be in the list below.

Specialised Words – Step 6 on the Vocabulary Progression

  1. List the more highly specialised and technical words you need for the content you intend to teach.
  2. Think of the jargon of your trade or content area including specialised acronyms and informal language.
  3. You can include words outside of the 1K, 2K, and AWL.

Here’s a handy worksheet you can use to do all of this. It’s the same as the image above. I suggest you print it out A3 size or as large as you can. Click the download link below:

Printable learner attitude questions for reading and maths for adult literacy and numeracy learners

There are some great resources in the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy. Unfortunately, many of them are simply buried.

Here’s my variations on a couple of things that I think are really useful: Learner attitude survey questions for Maths and Reading.

Just click the links below to open them as printable PDFs. The images below are just screenshots. Here are the download links:

If you’re doing your NCALNE (Voc) professional development you may want to consider using these as part of your diagnostic assessment. And depending on your timeframe, perhaps again after you’ve delivered the teaching interventions that you’re working on.

Let me know if these are useful.



What can you actually do if your tutors are not embedding literacy and numeracy as well as they should be?


Well that’s a curly question…

The other day I reposted part of a transcript between a prosecuting lawyer and the CEO of large tertiary organisation. It was one of the scariest things that I’ve read in this field all year.

Spoiler Alert: In case you didn’t realise, it was fiction.

But I didn’t realise that when I read through it the first time. I had to ask writer and education blogger Damon Whitten who it was. You can read the whole thing here on Damon’s blog (minus the shock value).

Afterwards, (once I had recovered from the near heart attack) I realised that Damon had made me really start thinking hard about what managers and others could actually do to fix their organisations if things weren’t the way the should be.

Professional development is obviously key, but here aren’t any easy answers. Luckily though, Damon had already been working on this as well. Like I said, you should read his whole post here, but one of the things that he advocates is having a really robust system of observing tutors.

I’d really recommend you click through and read the whole thing, but if you’re just too lazy or busy here’s my reductionist bullet point summary.

How to set up a robust system of observing tutors that is safe and effective

  1. Select an experienced, trusted, and respected staff member. Or distribute the tasks to all staff members.
  2. Ensure that tutors know it’s not about checking up on people, but that it is about developing skills, improving performance, and providing positive feedback.
  3. Address concerns.
  4. Give rewarding and encouraging feedback to participants and ask them what they could have done to improve.
  5. Ensure findings are confidential and anonymous.
  6. Summarise findings for management into themes that cannot be traced back to particular tutors.
  7. Circulate the broad findings with tutors first and ask for feedback.
  8. Finalise the report and present to management.
  9. Repeat at key milestones through the year.
  10. Design professional development based on themes that emerge over the long term

Adult Literacy and Numeracy Initiatives Update from the TEC

tec logo (black base colour jpg)_as of 9june10

The TEC have updated their website with a handy list of the adult literacy and numeracy initiatives including funds that they have developed and support currently.

I’ve pasted the whole thing in below including hyperlinks. The original page is here.

For those of you working on your NCALNE (Voc) professional development, this information is relevant for the first assessment task which looks at the context of adult literacy and numeracy in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Adult Literacy and Numeracy

This webpage gives you more information about the TEC’s work in lifting adult literacy and numeracy, including the TEC’s literacy and numeracy funds, and resources to help educators and lift sector capability.


Literacy and numeracy skills are crucial for building a competitive, skilled and productive workforce. However, internationally benchmarked (OECD, 2006) research shows that more than a million New Zealand adults have  less than optimal literacy skills (43 per cent) and numeracy skills (51 per cent) for a knowledge-based economy. New Zealand’s low levels of literacy and numeracy have been identified as contributing to our relatively low productivity.

Improving adult literacy and numeracy underpins several of the Government’s Better Public Services results and is a priority in the Tertiary Education Strategy 2014 – 2019. The TEC has an implementation strategy which sets out how the TEC will work with and across the tertiary sector, industry, government, iwi and the community to help strengthen and raise the literacy and numeracy skills of adults.  The strategy was released in late 2012 and has been developed in consultation with sector stakeholders and other government agencies. The strategy will be refreshed in 2015.

The TEC has developed and supports a range of initiatives to help raise adult literacy and numeracy skills for a knowledge-based economy. These include developing high-quality resources to support educators, providing opportunities for learning through funding and programmes, and introducing professional development for the tertiary workforce.

Below are some of ways the TEC works to improve adult literacy and numeracy outcomes.

Dedicated literacy and numeracy funds

Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Fund

This fund supports the intensive provision of quality fees-free literacy, language and numeracy learning opportunities for learners with low-level literacy and numeracy skills.

Intensive Literacy and Numeracy – Targeted English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Fund

This fund supports fees-free ESOL programmes for adult refugees and migrants who are pre-literate learners or learners who have very low levels of English language and literacy. Pre-literate learners are those whose first language has no written form and who need exposure to the purposes and uses of literacy.

Workplace Literacy and Numeracy

This fund supports training programmes that are delivered within the context of workplace learning. The programmes are offered in two ways:

  1. TEO led – tertiary providers who either work with a specific workplace to develop and implement a literacy and numeracy programme tailored to that workplace, or work with self-referred employees on a one-to-one basis or in small groups of up to five employees (from one or more employers).
  2. Employer led – employers are directly funded to deliver programmes to their eligible staff.

Adult Literacy Educator (ALE) Fund

This fund provides support for educators studying for qualifications in teaching adult literacy and numeracy. The purpose of ALE funding is to build the capability of educators and trainers to effectively teach adult literacy and numeracy.

Additional funding support

Tertiary education organisation funding

The TEC funds foundation learning through a number of funding sources, including the Student Achievement Component (SAC) levels 1 to 3, Youth Guarantee, Adult and Community Education, and Gateway. One of the key purposes of foundation learning is to raise the literacy and numeracy skills of learners.

The TEC requires all education funded through SAC at levels 1 to 3 and Youth Guarantee to have embedded literacy and numeracy content and for learners to be assessed using the Assessment Tool.

Industry Training Fund

Industry training organisations (ITOs) must have embedded literacy and numeracy as part of their training programmes at levels 1 to 3 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. This includes literacy and numeracy support through New Zealand Apprenticeships if needed.

Supporting the sector and building capability

National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults

The National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults (National Centre) is funded by the TEC to lead a national programme of professional development and educational services to improve the effectiveness of providers and educators.

The National Centre’s activities include face-to-face and online professional development, literacy and numeracy resources and workshops, and providing advisory and whole-of-organisation capability support to tertiary education providers.

Skills Highway

The TEC manages the Skills Highway programme to identify best practice and assist employers with developing and maintaining workplace literacy and numeracy programmes.

Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (Assessment Tool)

The Assessment Tool is an online adaptive tool that provides reliable information on the reading, writing and numeracy skills of adults. Use of the Assessment Tool is a funding condition for tertiary education organisations receiving foundation education funding through the TEC.

Learning Progressions

Learning Progressions, a theoretical framework of literacy and numeracy skills, details competencies in adult literacy and numeracy.  This includes advice and information on what adult learners know and can do at successive points as they develop their skills.

Pathways Awarua

This online self-directed literacy and numeracy learning resource is made up of pathways of modules for learners to complete at their own pace, based on competencies set out by the Learning Progressions. It can be used as a digital learning tool and as a teaching supplement.

National literacy and numeracy qualifications for educators

The TEC has worked with New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the sector to create qualification pathways for literacy and numeracy educators. These qualifications range from certificates to masters’ degrees.

Check individual funds to see if there are any qualification requirements for educators.

Whakapapa is a “Wh” Word


We often use the “Wh” words as a quick way of teaching the basics of a research or inquiry process. These five words give you a quick and easy formula for getting the basics of a story, a report, or getting your head around some subject.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

Sometimes we add a sixth word to the sequence:

  • “How”

I’d like to suggest that there is another “Wh” word that we could add to round off this set which possibly sums up all of the words and actually provides a great framing tool. This word comes from Maori, one of the official languages of New Zealand. Here it is:

  • Whakapapa.

Whakapapa refers to history, background, and genealogy. However, it is so much more than that.

Exploring the whakapapa of something, e.g. a subject, a discipline, an object, a person, a group of people, an organisation, or your own genealogy allows you to actually deal with all of the “Wh” words mentioned above and to investigate the relationships between the parts and the whole.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but I think that by adding whakapapa to the traditional list of “Wh” words we could add another dimension to the kinds of conversations and teaching we typically do around this.

What do you think…?