New TEC Publication: Adult Literacy & Numeracy: An Overview of the Evidence

An overview of the evidenceThe Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) have released a new summary of the available evidence on adult literacy and numeracy. It’s kind of a meta-review – a summary of a lot of other literature reviews, but it’s quite brief and worth a look if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

They’re not going to print it, but you can access the PDF version here. If you’re thinking of printing, it runs to 46 pages.

There’s also a small version of our giant poster – Embedding LN: Baseline Knowledge on the very last page and back cover.

You may be able to blow it up and print on A3 if you have a copier that will do it. Otherwise, you’ll still need to contact us if you want a copy of the giant sized A1 version. Email if you do. Still working on pricing, but if someone orders one we’ll have to make a decision.

Here’s a low res version below if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Embdding LN Baseline Knowledge

Thanks TEC for including the poster and citing us in the list of references. Any thoughts and comments…? Let me know below.


Why improve your teaching? Why embed literacy and numeracy?

I’ve just started reading The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. His introduction struck me as exactly what I would like to write for the book I’d like to write on how to improve your teaching practice by embedding literacy and numeracy.

This is not Josh Kaufman… But this is his book.

So I’ve cannibalised it. Here’s my version and the introduction to my mythical book below. Tell me what you think in the comments… Would you read such a book if I wrote the rest of it?


Since you’re reading this blog post, chances are that you want to make some change to your teaching or training practice: understanding the demands of your training in more depth, know your learners better, teach better, hack your subject, increase your productivity, flip your classroom, or feel more creative in your work.

What you need to do is look at ways of improving your teaching practice. One great way of hacking your teaching is to embed literacy and numeracy. However, it’s likely that a few things are holding you back from doing any of this:

  • Teaching anxiety: The feeling that you “don’t really know much about teaching, let alone literacy and numeracy” and therefore could never implement new or different teaching approaches, or do more work due to all the other pressures in your life. Better to maintain the status quo than fear the unknown.
  • Certification intimidation: The idea that “embedding literacy and numeracy is really complicated” and is a subject best left to highly trained “experts.” If you don’t have advanced qualifications in education, adult teaching, or literacy and numeracy, who are you to say you know what to do?
  • Imposter syndrome: The fear that you’re already “in over your head” in this teaching game and it’s only a matter of time before you’re unmasked as a total fraud of a trainer. For goodness sake, your background is in industry or business… No one likes a phoney tutor or trainer, right?

Here’s the good news: everyone in education has these unfounded fears, and they can be eliminated quickly. All you have to do is learn a few simple concepts and approaches that will change the way you think about your teaching and training.

If you’re someone with a background in trades, industry, or business AND you work in education in some way, this book is for you. This might mean that you teach your trade or vocational content in a traditional training environment, or you might work in a business or other organisation where training, coaching, or some form of education is integral to the products you sell or the services you provide.

No matter if you are new to teaching, an old hand, an instructional designer, content creator, or other person who knows they need to teach, train, or coach to do their work, you’re about to discover a useful new way of looking at your teaching that will help you spend less time fighting your fears and more time doing things that make a difference to your learners and customers.

Is it possible to apply lean thinking and lean methodology to adult education and teaching?

I’m not sure if this works or not, but I’m interested in the idea of applying the principles of Lean Thinking and Lean Manufacturing to adult teaching, and to adult literacy and numeracy education in particular which is my field.

I’m not an expert on Lean, but I have read and listened to bits and pieces on the subject including Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup which applies the principles to entrepreneurship and business development.

The Lean Startup

I like Ries’ model as it’s simple enough to get my head around. What I’m going to do below is probably guilty of wrenching it out of context, but I want to see if I can make it apply to my own teaching context. So, the framework is from The Lean Startup, but the content is from my own work doing professional development in the field of adult literacy and numeracy education.

Here’s the result below. I’m paraphrasing Ries in places and copying his words directly in others. Tell me what you think in the comments.

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere/Innovative teachers are everywhere.
    • Here’s my take on Principle 1: Teachers, trainers, and tutors are entrepreneurial in the sense that they are often innovative and creative in their jobs for education providers. And you don’t have to work in a school or traditional education or training provider to be “in education”. Perhaps I could cannibalise Reis’ definition for a startup and transfer it into education… It might go something like this: “An education provider is any human institution designed to facilitate learning and teaching often under conditions of extreme uncertainty. That means that innovative teachers and trainers are everywhere including inside companies as well as more traditional training providers, and that this approach can work in any size organisation, in any sector or industry.
    • Application to adult literacy and numeracy education: trades trainers and vocational tutors often work with difficult learners. The same is true of industry trainers working in company settings. This forces them to be innovative. By focusing on the underpinning literacy and numeracy skills as well as the key content areas, educators increase the likelihood of learning taking place.
  2. Entrepreneurship is management/Education innovation is management
    • Here’s my take on Principle 2: An education provider is an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a specific kind of management. Education is undergoing a transformation and so is our society. These changes are social and technological, but they mean that education management should be geared to contexts of extreme uncertainty with regards to everything from knowledge, to methods and approaches, to attitudes, to ways of engaging learners, to funding. The term “Educational Entrepreneur” should be part of someone’s job title in any education provider, especially as the organisation will depend on innovation for their future growth in the education market.
    • Application to adult literacy and numeracy education: Owners and managers of training organisations and companies that rely on education to sell their products need to create conditions for teachers, trainers, tutors, and others to experiment with new ways of doing things. For this to happen there must be an investment of time and awareness that some approaches will not work. There should also be an awareness that even in sectors where knowledge and skills are rapidly shifting and evolving there are basic underpinning and foundational skills around reading, writing, listening, speaking, numeracy, and critical thinking that are teachable and transferable, and that should be embedded into the content delivery.
  3. Validated learning.
    • Here’s my take on Principle 3: Education providers exist not just to produce graduates, disseminate knowledge about industries, products or other stuff, make money, or even serve their students. They exist to learn how to learn, teach and communicate their niche skills and knowledge areas more effectively, more efficiently, and in a way that helps them build sustainable education businesses. This learning can be validated scientifically by running frequent experiments with teaching and learning approaches that allow innovative teachers and educators to test specific elements of particular approaches, strategies, or learning activities.
    • Application to adult literacy and numeracy education: Education has had some version of this for awhile. We call it action research. What we need to do is link it to evolving new business models as well as extending expertise in our chosen fields. In terms of adult literacy and numeracy professional development we recognised early on that traditional lecture-based delivery was not going to cut it for trades and vocational tutors, so we rapidly switched to workshop delivery. Now that we need to get much of the training online we’re faced with a new dilemma: Our target clientele pretty much hate the idea of online learning. So how can we do this work online in a way that still resonates with our target learners?
  4. Innovation accounting.
    • Here’s my take on Principle 4: Education is now a performance managed industry. Measurement of every kind is everywhere and we’re not talking particularly about funding here. To improve educational outcomes and hold innovative educators and trainers accountable, we need to focus on the boring stuff: how to measure progress, how to set up educational milestones, how to help educators prioritise work. This requires a new kind of accounting designed for education providers – and the people who hold them accountable.
    • Application to adult literacy and numeracy education: Again, none of this is new to education. We have business goals set by our funding agency, the TEC. One of these is to deliver around 100 NCALNE (Voc) qualifications. However, what’s the best way to do this moving forward? We need smaller, more focused experiments that help us stay informed about how our most recent learners like to learn. Also, we teach that tutors need to use learning plans with their learners to focus teaching and learning on specific negotiated goals. We also have diagnostic and formative assessment tools to measure learner progress. But what’s the best way to stitch this together in a comprehensive framework for educators?
  5. Build-Measure-Learn.
    • Here’s my take on Principle 5: The fundamental activity of an education provider is to facilitate learning around particular niche knowledge and skills, measure how learners respond to training or interventions, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful processes within the education provider should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop. Sometimes in education we see this as follows: Test-Teach-Test.
    • Application to adult literacy and numeracy education: The great thing about working with trades tutors and vocational trainers is that they don’t care about all the academic BS. They often don’t have preconceived ideas about how to do certain things, such as teach essential literacy and numeracy skills. What this means is that once they are aware of what the issues are, and we’ve given them some tools to use to analyse their courses and training materials they often think of quite innovative ways of bridging the gaps between where their learners are and where they need to be. The trouble is that this process is not usually explicit, and it’s often invisible inside and organisation. It’s our job to make this process explicit, put some structure around it, and help those educators help themselves, their learners, and their organisations.

6 reasons why you should back Kevin Kelly’s Graphic Novel on KickStarter

I just joined Kickstarter the other day and I backed a couple of projects. It didn’t cost me very much money and I got a real… kick out of it.

Now… Kevin Kelly – who is one of my heroes and probably one of the world’s most amazing technology commentators has produced a graphic novel. It’s beyond cool…. And the best thing is that the first part is available for free. You can download from their website for free in a bunch of different formats.

However, I just wanted to point out that there are less than 60 hours to go before they meet their deadline. Currently, they don’t have enough funding to produce Part 2.

Here are my reasons why you should back Kevin Kelly’s kickstarter project called The Silver Cord:

  1. They need the funding to produce part 2. No funding = no part two. I won’t get to find out what happens. A selfish motivation to be sure.
  2. This is a story about robots, half breeds, and angels. It’s science fiction. I love science fiction. It’s a story remember, not anyone’s particular religious views.
  3. It’s posing a really interesting philosophical and religious question: What if Robots had souls? Have you ever seen the movie the Matrix? One of Kevin’s books was required reading for all the cast. Interested in learning a bit more about the artificial intelligence?
  4. The story brings together theology, science, and all sorts of geek stuff like quantum physics. Even if you’re not interested in the intersection of philosophy, theology, and technology like I am it’s just a darn good yarn.
  5. The illustrations are amazing. Download the free Part 1 and check it out.
  6. This approach, which is called crowdsourcing or crowdfunding, is possibly the future of publishing. And perhaps the future of everything.

Check out the kickstarter link here and support this great project. If you want to hear Kevin Kelly speak then check out his presentations on They are also pretty darn amazing.

Let me know in the comments if you backed it. Cheers, Graeme

Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy

This is actually a skinny book… Michael Fullan – the author of Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy – is a Canadian expert in educational reform, and in this short book (A5 size and about 85 pages) he sets out the ‘skinny’ – the basics, the straight dope – if you like – on how to move people through the change required to improve learning within educational organisations. It’s a recent book – published in 2010 and was recommended to me by someone who should know.

If you have ever pondered the question of how to ‘move’ individuals, institutions, and whole systems forward you might be interested. Fullan has written the book as a precursor to an online product he is developing, but it’s designed to be “the skinny naked truth” on change including eight elements that he has identified. These are:

  • Change problems
  • Change itself
  • Connecting peers with purpose
  • Capacity building trumps judgementalism
  • Learning is the work
  • Transparency rules
  • Love, trust and resistance
  • Leadership for all

I’m interested in this book on a couple of levels. On one level, in our sector – the field of adult literacy and numeracy – we have seen incredible change over the last few years. Whether this change will now slow down or stabilize is anyone’s guess, but making people change is damn hard – as Fullan notes. Not all change is good change, but we don’t always have control over the changing tertiary landscape. So, the book is interesting from that perspective. From another perspective, I’m interested in the idea of the book… What’s the skinny on my business – ALEC? What’s the skinny on my training the NCALNE (Voc)? What’s the skinny on professional development, or teaching literacy and numeracy, or edtech?

At the expense of sounding reductionist, I think it’s it’s generally helpful for non-experts when experts can strip their content down to the naked unadorned facts – the “core unobscured essence of the matter” as Fullan says. This is one of our goals at ALEC, but we’ve never expressed it quite as eloquently.

The basic idea with the book and Fullan’s main thesis is that educational reform and change are something that you just “get into” and that a practice into theory model is the best way to go as it represents the real world of change – perhaps rather than an ivory tower academic approach. Don’t get me wrong, the theory is there, but it’s developed and informed by practical experience. And then refined. I quite like that as a model for literacy and numeracy professional development as well.

Another thing that I like is that Fullan identifies champions of change and tells their stories. As brief as they are, these illustrate the various points he’s trying to make. One example, included the changes set in place by Jamie Oliver with regards to the appalling food served in UK schools. Is there a Jamie Oliver of educational change in NZ? The idea would probably seem odd to the literacy and numeracy Establishment, but why not? Personalities sell change. Wouldn’t it be great to have a few champions of literacy and numeracy with the marketing savvy of Jamie Oliver or the personality of Steve Irwin…?

Fullan’s basic claim is that the skinny is about “simplexity” – something that he says is about this:

  • finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences.

Sounds like something that literacy and numeracy tutors should be doing… and in many cases are doing, with largely unheralded and perhaps not quite understood results. And if we’re not doing just that – identifying the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences in someone’s literacy and numeracy learning, then what are we doing…?

It was helpful to me to substitute “tutor” everytime I read the word leader and think of these in the context of LN teaching and training, and I’m not normally one for the one liners… but here they are any way.

  • You can’t wait for success (with learners), you have to kick-start it.
  • If you want to get anything done (in education), you have to combine assertiveness and humility.
  • The best leaders (tutors) make people (their learners) feel good about working on and making progress relative to a tough problem or set of circumstances (LN skill needs and demands).
  • Assessment for learning prevails in successful schools (PTEs, ITPs, and other training environments) so that teachers can tailor-make appropriate instruction to individual needs.

And this next one’s quite a good recipe for an approach to developing LN as well:

  • To get anywhere, you have to do something.
  • In doing something, you need to focus on developing skills.
  • Acquisition of skills increases clarity.
  • Clarity results in ownership.
  • Doing this together with others generates shared ownership.
  • Persist no matter what. Resilience is your best friend.

A great skinny little book… I feel quite inspired actually…

If you like the sound of this book you can click the image below to add it to your Amazon wish list, read more about it, or buy it.

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion

This book by by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis falls towards the glass is half empty side of the argument about the influence of technology on our lives. If you’re concerned about the negative effects of the new digital landscape then this book could be for you. The authors’ primary concern relates to a common theme in the media these days: personal control of information, privacy, and identity in a digital world.

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion

Click the picture to buy the book

Here are some of the questions they are trying to answer… You should read this book if you find yourself asking the same questions…

  • Can you control who sees all that personal information about you?
  • Can email be truly confidential, when nothing seems to be private?
  • Shouldn’t the internet be censored the way radio and TV are?
  • Is it really a crime to download music for free?
  • When you use Google or Yahoo!, how do they decide which sites to show you?
  • Do you still have free speech in the digital world?
  • Do you have a voice in shaping government or corporate policies about any of this?

The basic idea is that information freedom is a very tricky business. Some of our fundamental assumptions about privacy, business, and identity are in the process of being shattered. The authors are computer scientists writing for a more general audience… and at times they succeed but I don’t find them as hopeful, accessible, or convincing as Grown Up Digital which I reviewed previously.

I do like the fact that they stress how technological changes and social changes reinforce one another. We often don’t see these changes as clearly as we should when we are caught up in the middle of them. In the end, the authors take a typical academic escape route and hedge their bets by stating that we don’t really know what’s going to happen or whether future changes to information control will be positive or negative.

Here’s an overview of the chapters for those who are interested:

  1. Digital explosion: Why is it happening and what is at stake?
  2. Naked in the sunight: Privacy lost, privacy abandoned
  3. Ghosts in the machine: Secrets and surprises of electronic documents
  4. Needles in the haystack: Google and other brokers in the bits bazaar
  5. Secret bits: How codes become unbreakable
  6. Balance toppled: Who owns the bits?
  7. You can’t say that on the internet: Guarding the frontiers of digital expression
  8. Bits in the air: Old metaphors, new technologies, and free speech
    Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion
    Click the picture to buy the book

How to increase your knowledge of Maori literacy in one easy read: Te Marae

This short book by Hiwi and Pat Tauroa is an excellent introduction and summary of what happens on the marae including the various stages that visitors are led through during the powhiri process. It also covers different kinds of marae and other aspects of Maori community life that often connect with the marae including the church (te whare karakia), the cemetery (te urupa), funerals (tangi), and weddings (marena).

Te Marae: A Guide to Customs and Protocol

 You can buy this book. Click the image to purchase 

I bought this because someone recommended it to me. I had asked for some follow up material after watching the TEC’s “Know the learner” DVD with the focus on Maori learning and teaching. The DVD covers the powhiri as a kind of model for educational processes and I wanted to do a bit more reading around this. If you are interested in learning more about any of these aspects of Maori culture then this book is an excellent introduction. The focus is more general than the DVD of course.

There is an introduction by Sir James Henare and then the basic flow of the book is a walk through of the various stages of the powhiri process. It’s not a dry academic treatment though. The writers draw on their own life experiences, Marae (Te Patunga) and stories to set the scene and provide a context for the book. Some of the complexities of Marae visits are covered, but by and large the material is easy to understand and pakeha-friendly. Some waiata are included and translated and these were interesting and heartwarming to read.

Obviously, there is no “one size fits all” approach and each marae and iwi is likely to have their own particular practices. However, this book is probably a good place to start if – like me – you are an interested, but mostly uninformed citizen…

Also, there is some nice detail around some of the specifics like saying grace before eating and the authors include some simple karakia. Such as this one:

E te Karaiti – O Lord,

Whakapaingia enei kai- Bless this food

Hei oranga mo o matou tinana – For the sustenance of our bodies,

Whangaia o matou wairua – Feed our souls

Ki te taro o te ora – With Thy spiritual food

Nau hoki nga mea katoa – For all things are from You

Amine – Amen

Te Marae: A Guide to Customs and Protocol

 You can buy this book. Click the image to purchase