Under the hood: The Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy

Lit ProgsThe Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy are one of the main frameworks we use for understanding how to embed literacy. We often refer to it as just the Literacy Progressions.

It’s part of a pair of progressions we use in adult teaching. The other one is the Learning Progressions for Adult Numeracy. More on that in the next section, though.

Where does it come from?

The Learning Progressions were created by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The TEC directs and funds much of tertiary education in New Zealand.

What’s it for?

The Literacy Progressions are

  • A guide to identifying the next literacy steps for adult learners.

The progressions provide a framework that shows what adult learners know and can do at successive points as they develop their expertise in literacy learning.

The progressions also describe what is learned in the order that it is usually learned. This means it’s a tool for helping us teach better. This includes:

  • Identifying the English-language demands of a specific workplace, community, or personal tasks and texts.
  • Working out a basic picture of an adult learner’s current skills, strategies and knowledge in oral and written English.
  • Deciding on a sequence for teaching and learning specific literacy skills.

What is it?

The easiest way to understand what the Literacy Progressions are is to see them. There are four grids. One for each of listening, reading, listening and speaking. These four grids are called strands. Together they are the framework we use for literacy.

Here is the reading strand.

screenshot-2017-02-15-21-29-49In the reading strand above you can see five columns. These columns are the progressions. If you look across the top, you can see what they are called. For example, in the reading strand above, the second column is the Vocabulary Progression.

Each progression has several boxes. These boxes are numbered. At the top, the first box is called koru 1 or step 1. As we go down, the koru or steps increase. At the bottom of the progression is step 6.

Sometimes several koru or steps are combined. For example, in the vocabulary progression you can see koru 1, 2 and 3, but then a combined koru 4/5 which is a larger box. These double steps mean that the learning at this step takes some time to develop and really sink in.

Here’s the writing strand.screenshot-2017-02-15-21-33-29

Again, you can see some single steps and some double. The full version of each strand has a lot of information at each step. We’ve taken out all the details for now. We just want you to get the idea without getting bogged down. We’ll come back to this detail in module 3. Feel free to skip ahead if you think you need it, though.

We’ll come back to this detail in module 3. Feel free to skip ahead if you think you need it, though.

To sum up, The Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy are organised into four strands:

  • Listen with Understanding
  • Speak to Communicate
  • Read with Understanding
  • Write to Communicate.

Each strand contains a group of progressions. Each progression highlights a particular area of learning within a strand, for example,  vocabulary. And each step or koru in a progression represents a development step as learners build their expertise.

How is it relevant?

The literacy progressions are relevant because they can help you teach better. In this course, you’ll learn how to use the literacy progressions framework to help you do the following.

  • Work out the literacy demands of your teaching (Module 3 – Demands).
  • Design strategies for embedding literacy into your programme (Module 4).
  • Understand your learners’ literacy needs better (Module 5 – Before).
  • Plan how to embed literacy into teaching and activities (Module 6 – Teaching).
  • Assess learner literacy progress (Module 7 – After).

What does it mean for me?

What it means for you is that you can better understand the demands of your training, the needs of your learners, and what you need to do to bridge any gaps between where the course is at and where your learners are at.

Another implication for you relates to assessment. Many tutors already assess their learners using the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (LNAAT).

This assessment tool generates a detailed literacy report for each learner that looks like this.


Some tutors assess their learners using the tool but never get to see the results like this. If that you, then ask for the reports. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity for better teaching and learning.

As a teacher or a trainer, you can’t make sense of this information if you don’t understand the literacy progressions. If you do understand how the progressions work, then you can use the information to help you make better decisions in your teaching.

Better decisions mean better teaching.

We’ll take a good look at this assessment tool and how it works in Module 5. This is when we’ll look at how you assess your learners’ literacy needs. And this includes using the LNAAT, but also using your own tools for your own context.

Author: Graeme Smith

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

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