How do you write really good instructions? Lego versus Meccano


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If you’ve read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, you’ll know that one of the questions that Sophie receives during her mysterious philosophical journey is this:

  • “Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”

The writer didn’t ask why Meccano was the most ingenious toy.

And clearly, the answer has to do with the creativity that Lego inspires. But I also think part of the ingenuity of lego is to do with the instructions.

I should declare my biases up front. I’m 45 and I’ve been playing with Lego for a long time.

This includes for the last 17 years with three kids. Two girls and a boy. In this time I’ve tried a handful of Meccano projects compared with countless lego kits including Duplo.

Meccano, if you don’t know, predates Lego. My Dad grew up with Meccano before they invented Lego.

Think nuts and bolts and metal struts. Except now it’s plastic.

Meccano used to be the bomb. At least in 1950. Or something. But man… now Lego is the bomb. Lego rules over Meccano.

And not just in terms of versatility. I’m talking about how they write instructions.

Giving clear instructions is really hard. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had to follow anyone else’s.

First off though, you have to pitch your instructions at the right level. And that means you need to know who you’re writing to. The audience in other words.

Lego totally nails this. I have total confidence that if I buy a Lego kit that says for age 8 to 10 it will absolutely work for this age group.

The Meccano set my wife came home with the other day was for my son.

He’s just turned eight. Which seemed perfect because that’s what the kit said on the packet. For 8 years old.

Normally, he can concentrate for hours on stuff like Lego. And to give him credit, he persisted for a decent amount of time.

But eventually, he gave up in frustration. There were tears… there were raised voices… Crying etc.

So I gave it a go the other day. The outcome was basically the same.

Not only would I need four hands to complete the task, it was like I couldn’t understand the instructions and there seemed to be pieces missing or that didn’t match.

Comparatively speaking, there is no comparison. Granted, it’s not all about the instructions.

But if you want to learn how to write instructions, you need to go no further than the Lego best practice playbook which must read something like this:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Pitch the instructions at their level.
  3. Use colour, diagrams, images.
  4. Include all the resources the audience needs.
  5. Use words only when necessary.
  6. Love the product.

APPROACHES – New Content for the new NZCALNE Assessment 2 with ALEC


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As we’ve said elsewhere, this is a transition year from the old NCALNE (Voc) to the new NZCALNE (Voc). We’re in the middle of writing new material which will be available in a new format on Pathways Awarua shortly.

The first draft of this is available here on my blog. If you’re up to the second assessment task in the new and improved NZCALNE (Voc) here’s what you need to know below.

The new Assessment 2 still focuses on concepts on approaches from a Māori perspective, but because of the new structure, we can include other concepts from mainstream adult teaching.

There are only two areas to compete in the new assessment task. Down below you’ll find all the links you need for all of the content including:

  • Approaches: How should we look at teaching and learning?
  • Concepts: What are some other key ideas you need to know?

Follow the links below

Approaches: How should we look at teaching and learning?

Concepts: What are some other key ideas you need to know?

If you’re stuck, please get in touch with us by email here: assess@alec.ac.nz or by calling Graeme on 0800-ALEC-1-2

 

New Adult Literacy and Numeracy Standards Released for the New Qualifications


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Well, it’s taken a while… but it’s finally official. Here’s what you need to know:

  • We have a new suite of unit standards for adult literacy and numeracy education.
  • These new standards are for the new qualifications including the New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace).
  • The old standards are now expiring, but are still fit for purpose for assessment until 31 December 2018. So there is roughly a two-year transition period.
  • The content for Unit Standard 21204 has been broken up.
  • The new NZCALNE (Voc) will eventually replace the current NCALNE (Voc), just like the current NCALNE (Voc) replaced the original NCALE (Voc).

In terms of the new NZCALNE (Voc), there are four new standards. These are:

  • Unit 29622. Describe adult literacy and numeracy education in Aotearoa New Zealand. 5 credits
  • Unit 2962. Design strategies to embed adult literacy and numeracy in the delivery of a training or education programme. 10 credits
  • Unit 29624. Plan and facilitate embedded adult literacy and numeracy skills development in a training or education programme. 15 credits
  • Unit 2962. Use assessment to strengthen adult literacy and numeracy teaching and learning. 10 credits

A caution:

  • These standards are not the roadmap to delivering the new qualification. But they do provide a clear guide to what content the new NZCALNE (Voc) should assess as part of programme delivery. It will be up to providers to determine what that delivery roadmap should look like.

The good news:

  • As ALEC already has consent to assess the ALNE standards to level 6, we’ll automatically get this consent extended to the new standards.
  • We submitted our course approval documentation to the NZQA months ago for delivery of the new qualification but it’s been in limbo land pending the release of these new standards. This is now underway again on the NZQA side and we’re waiting to hear on its status.
  • I’ve worked on both the new qualification and the new standards as part of the subject expert group. This means any new content will incorporate the best of what ALEC has had to offer to date, as well as our most current thinking and knowledge about embedding literacy and numeracy into training.

The plan:

  • Our plan is to begin delivering the new version of the qualification with the new standards as soon as we can. Hopefully, this will be by the start of the academic year in 2017. This will depend on how much longer the course approval process takes and then how quickly we can move to develop the new content required.
  • We’ll keep you updated here on any progress.

Any questions? Please let me know.

 

 

Numeracy For ESOL Teachers: You Might Not Even Realise You’re Doing It


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This might seem like a challenge. But it’s not. The real challenge is to think about what ESOL teachers already do through a  different lens.

If you teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or have Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) learners you might be surprised to realise that you are possibly already embedding numeracy into your teaching.

Here are some examples in different ESOL-specific contexts:

Everyday life in NZ

In an “Everyday life in NZ” or similar ESOL course, you might discuss and teach any of the following:

  • Telling the time including doing time calculations.
  • Reading a bus timetable or schedule of some kind. This can also include calculations if you have to work out when you will arrive at a destination.
  • Giving, receiving and following directions.
  • Reading maps; navigation tasks are all numeracy.

Even if you don’t deal with these, there are lots of tasks relating to time, space, and location that are essential for basic survival ESOL teaching.

Workplace literacy and ESOL

In a workplace ESOL environment, it’s even easier to make the connection to numeracy. Many workplaces require staff to undertake tasks involving measurement or do calculations. If you are a workplace ESOL tutor, you’ll already be aware of the numeracy demands. Here are some examples:

  • Understanding and working with weights and measures, The context here might include weighing flour using grams and kilograms on a metric scale with up to three decimal places, for example.
  • Understanding personal benchmarks for numeracy. This might include recognising key measurements or weights for specific purposes, e.g. knowing what 20kg “feels like”.
  • Using partitioning strategies for doing mental calculations. Here a worker might need to work out how many boxes are stacked on a pallet in a warehouse. Counting all the boxes is less efficient than understanding basic area and volume.

Academic ESOL

In an academic preparation course, you might require your learners to use numeracy skills for any of these:

  • Interpreting data in a graph or table and then writing this down in words. The demands here might relate to achieving an IELTS band 5 for writing with an attached set of descriptors, for example.
  • Conducting an informal research project which involves gathering data and presenting it back in some way.

Why is this relevant?

If you teach ESOL as part of TEC funded workplace literacy or as part of SAC 1 and 2 funded training, you are now required to gain the NCALNE (Voc) qualification. Also, if you teach ESOL as part of TEC funded ILN-targeted ESOL you may also find yourself under pressure to upskill in the same way.

Connection to the NCALNE (Voc) training

If you need to complete the NCALNE (Voc) qualification you will need to provide evidence that you have analysed the literacy and numeracy demands of your training. We’re working on an NCALNE (Voc) – ESOL option specifically to help with this. There’s a preliminary Q & A page here.

Knowing the demands

If you are an ESOL teacher, you might not think that your course has any numeracy demands. If you can’t provide evidence of any numeracy demands your assessor will not be able to sign off on particular aspects of the NCALNE (Voc). You won’t be able to pass in other words.

However, if you can take a fresh look at your work in the light of the examples above, you might find that, yes… actually, there are numeracy demands. And yes, you do embed numeracy.

Do you have any other examples of numeracy teaching occurring naturally within ESOL contexts? I’d love to hear about them. Please let me know in the comments.

NCALNE (Voc): Essential But Not Sufficient


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Skip this post unless you manage foundation tutors or work as a tutor in the adult literacy and numeracy sector.

Here’s the question:

  • Will the NCALNE training help my organisation develop more mature embedded literacy and numeracy practices?

Here’s the answer:

  • Yes. It’s a great start. But it’s the beginning of the journey. Not the end.

The criteria above have been out for a couple of years now. And the NCALNE training and credentials will help your tutors and your organisation move from emergent practices, towards more mature embedded literacy and numeracy practices.

I’ll do a breakdown of this with more detail as to what and how at some stage. But that will be a different post.

Just remember: the NCALNE on its own is not a silver bullet. You need to have full organisations support to get the kind of mature practice that the TEC describe in the table above.

Some further ideas:

  • What about measuring literacy and numeracy gains over a much longer time period.
  • What about measuring changes in what tutors actually do?
  • Think about what milestones tutors have to reach before you start to see improvements in learner outcomes? For example, NCALNE (Voc) plus… stuff: resources, organisational support, ongoing professional development.

The table is here below if you’re looking for a PDF version to share or print.

Hat Tip: Thanks, Damon Whitten for the wording in the heading and some of the ideas here.

Gamification 101: How To Turn The Course I Teach Into A Game


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Technical stuff is hard to teach. This is because it’s… well… technical. As a trainer you have to work hard to make things understandable.

One way to do this is to turn it into a game. Or a series of games.

I’m interested in this at the moment because I’m experimenting with Cashflow 101. This is a game that teaches financial literacy.

My goal is to gamify the course and qualification that I teach. I want to incorporate some teaching of the concepts people need. But I want most of the emphasis to be on the game play.

I haven’t given up on my idea for Tutoropoly or some kind of cooperative board game where players have to work together to collectively win (or lose).

But I thought I’d tackle something a bit easier first. So I’ve devised a prototype. It’s more of a card game. And much easier to design and play.

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The purpose of the game is to get people using the vocabulary that we use when we talk about our stuff. It’s kind of teacher vocabulary. It’s not very interesting to civilians. But it is the language of our trade.

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So far, I’ve produced a paper version of the card game. We’ve had a couple of goes at this at home. The game play is Fish. But the next iteration will incorporate a few rules from Canasta to liven things up.

If I get around the finishing it, I might post the templates here. Anyone interested in a copy? Let me know in the comments.

Damon Says: Do We Need A Literacy of Learning? A Kind of Meta-Literacy?


I think i’m going to start a new series of posts that all start with “Damon Says”.

My family frequently hear this refrain around the house when the conversation turns to learning (which it does a lot since we work in education and we homeschool as well).

My friend and colleague Damon Whiten really has his finger on the pulse of current research, theory, and what works in education, and in particular literacy and numeracy.

Click through to read his post and my comments as well. If you’ve got thoughts on this, then head over to Damon’s blog and post there.