Literacy and numeracy definitions: What’s the difference?


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Similarities and differences

We’ve looked a few different meanings for literacy and numeracy. Now we need to look at how these definitions are the same or different. This is so that you can see how they apply to your teaching or to your learners.

Knowing the similarities and differences is going to help you decide what aspects of each you want to absorb into your own approach. That’s one of the things that is going to help you teach better. So while it’s the application that counts, for starters you need to think about some of the differences.

Just like you need to figure out what’s relevant for your context, you need to figure out what you think the similarities and differences are.

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you work through this process.

Literacy

  • Is the focus just on literacy?
  • People who have good literacy skills behave in certain ways. What does this behaviour look like?

Numeracy

  • Is the focus just on numeracy?
  • People who have good numeracy skills also behave differently to people who don’t. What does this behaviour look like?

Literacy and Numeracy

  • Is there a focus on both literacy and numeracy?
  • We’re most interested in the definition for embedded literacy and numeracy. There are reasons for that. What do you think they are?

Holistic

  • Is there a more holistic approach? Where does this come from?
  • How can a more holistic definition of literacy, such as from Māori and Pasifika help us in our teaching?

Economics

  • Definitions that come from government funding agencies are likely to have economic drivers. This means that under the surface there are likely to be economic incentives behind the drive to encourage and strengthen literacy and numeracy in the population.
  • Let’s assume that this is a good thing. What’s the motivation?

Social

  • Are there social consequences?
  • In other words, if we adopt a particular focus to literacy and numeracy, how can this make our communities better or worse?

Political

  • When leaders talk about literacy and numeracy in a national context – even if they don’t say so – which definition(s) are they likely to be referring to?
  • What kind of political action do you think is associated with this?

ESOL

  • Does it incorporate English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)?
  • If this is not already relevant for you, how could it be important in the future?

Time to do some work

Let’s pause for a few moments. Here’s your task:

  • Download the PDF worksheet, or use the chart below to make notes on how the six definitions we’ve discussed are similar or different.
  • Make sure you think about the questions above.

This task is not assessed, but it will help you with your assessment.

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