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

numeracy for esol teachers

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.

Adobe Illustrator Is Transforming How I Develop Teaching Materials

Screenshot 2015-09-04 16.21.47

I’m really slow at this, but I’m enjoying how using Adobe Illustrator is changing and improving how I go about developing teaching resources.

There’s a lot jammed on this page, but it’s also high definition. It’s designed to be printed at A3 or larger if possible.

This is everything that my students need to know about the requirements for the biggest assessment in our course. It’s also the assessment that confuses people the most often.

What this conveys (hopefully), is that the teaching component boils down to 8 activities that sit under two learning outcomes. And all of this has to be backed up with supporting evidence that they’ve done the work.

This is not something I’d use as a slide obviously. But I’m a big believer in giving out one-page handouts.

Even if it’s an enormous one page.

NCALNE (Voc) => NZCALNE (Voc) Update

NCALNE Voc Replacement?

For anyone who’s interested in the progress of the replacement qualification for the NCALNE (Voc), my summary of the work to date happening on the NZQA side is below:

  • Towards the end of last year the Teacher Education Governance Group, based on a summary of sector feedback recommended that the NZCALNE (Voc) was submitted for “Application to List”. This was published on the NZQA website here.
  • This approval to list was noted here on the NZQA update page for TROQ review of teacher quals.
  • The update also shows the newly drafted NZCALNE (Voc) as worked on by myself and others in the working group with a reference in the file name to the final version being uploaded in Feb 2015.

From the updates on the NZQA website, it looks like everything is in order. But the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly and I don’t expect much to change in the near future.

Normally, there is a significant lead in time when introducing a new qualification to allow providers and others to make adjustments needed to deliver and assess against a replacement.

For now, the current version of the NCALNE (Voc) is still fit for purpose in our view and we’re likely to keep delivering in it’s current format until new arrangements on all sides are finalised.

Are you battling low literacy and numeracy on the front lines of foundation education?


This metaphor always makes me slightly nervous. I don’t like to paint education as a war, with teachers as soldiers.

However, this is what it seems like for many tutors and trainers… an uphill battle against enemies seen and unseen.

Let’s get things clear though. While some days you might feel that your learners are the enemy. They’re not.

The struggle and resistance we often feel is real. But the enemy is something else.

It’s the fight against whatever swampy quagmire of events and forces shaped the sum total of past learning experiences that your learners (and you) drag in the door with them every day.

And you have to connect with them, motivate them, and teach them.

What they want is not to be on your side. What they want is for you to be on their side.

2015 NCALNE (Voc) Options with Pathways Awarua and ALEC

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Pathways Awarua NCALNE (Voc) 2015

Introducing the NCALNE (Voc)

The National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace) is a 40 credit level 5 entry level professional development qualification for trades, vocational and other specialist content-area tutors required to embed literacy and numeracy into their training.

This qualification, abbreviated to the NCALNE (Voc), is now a minimum compulsory requirement for organisations and tutors delivering Student Achievement Component (SAC) funded training at levels 1 and 2.

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) considers the qualification best practice for tutors delivering all foundations focused training.

Quick links

If you need more information, please read on below. However, if you just want the relevant links:

Pathways Awarua

The NCALNE (Voc) qualification is available via Pathways Awarua, New Zealand’s only online literacy and numeracy teaching and learning platform.

The NCALNE (Voc) professional development pathway is a collaboration between Pathways Awarua and Adult Literacy Education & Consulting (ALEC), a leading provider of literacy and numeracy professional development.

The NCALNE (Voc) collaboration between Pathways Awarua and ALEC hosts a growing library of audio, video, and interactive educational material across a series of content and assessment modules covering the following key content areas:

  1. The New Zealand context for literacy and numeracy.
  2. Maori literacy and numeracy.
  3. Mapping literacy and numeracy demands with the Learning Progressions.
  4. Literacy and numeracy diagnostic assessment.
  5. Embedding literacy and numeracy into training.
  6. Assessing learner literacy and numeracy progress.
  7. Evaluating embedded literacy and numeracy training.

From 2015, the Pathways Awarua platform will become the core of the NCALNE (Voc) delivery for all ALEC’s online and blended modes.

How do tutors access the NCALNE (Voc) Pathway?

Currently, access to the NCALNE (Voc) professional development pathway is free for New Zealand educators. To register, complete the two-step registration process online here:

Once registered, tutors have access to all eight NCALNE (Voc) content modules and two of the seven assessment modules.

While access to all of the content and two of the assessments in the NCALNE (Voc) pathway is fully subsidised by the TEC and free to New Zealand users, there are TEC approved course fees for educators who wish to submit evidence for assessment in order to gain the qualification.

Assessments 3 – 7 remain locked until the online Enrol module is completed and course fees are paid.

How much does it cost to gain the NCALNE (Voc) qualification?

The TEC subsidises a portion of the cost of the NCALNE (Voc) qualification through allocation of a limited number of Adult Literacy Educator Grants. These grants are available through ALEC and are a once-only grant for the 12 months  in which the participant is enrolled.

ALEC’s experience is that the requirement for tutors’ employers to cover the per participant fees for their employees increases the accountability between both parties and leads to better outcomes for everyone.

From 2015 there are three main options for gaining the NCALNE (Voc) qualification through Pathways Awarua and ALEC.These are listed below. Each of the options and related fee assumes that the TEC subsidy via the educator study grant is already in place.

Fees for 2015 NCALNE (Voc)

Option 1: Online. Assessment Only

  • $750 + GST per participant (in addition to the Adult Literacy Educator Grant). Participants get assessment of NCALNE (Voc) evidence only, and according to the model in Pathways Awarua. This model does not include feedback or coaching.
  • ALEC’s expectation is that participants complete the training within 12 months of starting. If not, a base fee for Assessment Only of $750 + GST will apply again in the following year. The purpose of this is to incentivise participants to finish in the year that they are enrolled.
  • The advantage of this option is that employers and other groups can manage adult literacy and numeracy professional development internally and work with ALEC for assessment purposes only and according to their own timetables. This could suit some PTEs and ITPs. Because of the way the assessment modules are set up in Pathways Awarua, employers and organisations can wait until their tutors are up to Assessment 3 before they engage ALEC and unlock the rest of the assessment content.

Option 2: Online. With Coaching and Assessment

  • $1500 + GST per participant (in addition to the Adult Literacy Educator Grant).
  • This option includes feedback on assessments as well as email and phone support, online coaching, additional audio, video, and as well as other support resources and materials.
  • ALEC’s expectation is that participants complete the training within 12 months of starting. If not, an Assessment Only base fee of $750 + GST will apply again in the following year. The purpose of this is to incentivise participants to finish in the year that they are enrolled.
  • The advantage of this option is that it may suit tutors who are unable to join a group because of time or distance constraints, or who do not have internal support. All participants will have access to online support, coaching, feedback, and additional resources from ALEC through their NCALNE (Voc) training and assessment journey.

Option 3: Online. With Coaching, Assessment and up to Five Days Face-to-Face Training

  • $2000 + GST per participant (in addition to the Adult Literacy Educator Grant).
  • This option is based on a minimum of 12 participants per group.
  • The format is two x two day intensive workshops followed by a final wrap up session where participants present their embedded project work. The workshops and training are spread out over approximately 4 months.
  • Includes email and phone support, online coaching, additional audio, video, and other support resources and materials, as well as feedback on assessment tasks.
  • ALEC’s Expectation is that participants complete the training within 12 months of starting. If not, the Assessment Only base fee of $750 will apply again in the following year. The purpose of this is to incentivise participants to finish in the year that they are enrolled.
  • The 5 days of facilitated workshop training has been ALEC’s standard model of face-to-face, facilitated training delivered successfully to a wide range of groups since starting this work in 2007. Now we’re able to offer the same model enhanced with new layers of online support including via Pathways Awarua. This option would suit industry groups, private training establishments, and polytechs who are able to put together groups of at least 12 participants.
  • We may require some groups to demonstrate their commitment to this study and the investment represented by the ALEG funding by completing the first one or two assessment tasks prior to starting the face to face training. The purpose of this would be to gauge the level of commitment amongst the participants, to ensure that they are able to produce the right kind of assessment evidence at level 5, and kick start the workshop training in a more effective way.

4 Things I Can Do to Become Antifragile in Education


Nassem Taleb is an expert on risk and probability and he recommends in his latest book that we become less fragile, more robust, and actually antifragile.

This is more than just Sissy Resilience… and this means that when the stuff hits the fan you actually bounce back stronger than before, and actually made stronger by the disorder around you.

Education is fragile. And working in education opens you, your career, your mortgage up to all kinds of fragility by implication. This is bad.

Education, of course, is good. But if we want to survive as educators in this increasingly fragile landscape we need to embrace the fact that it’s fraught with risks and randomness of all kinds.

And we need to do things to mitigate the risks to ourselves and our businesses where we can.

One of the lessons from Taleb’s Antifragile for me seems to be that rather than avoiding things like risk, uncertainty and variability we should be embracing them. And in fact, seeking them out.

With that in mind, here’s my take on 4 things I can do in education and in my work that hopefully increase my ability to be really resilient by intentionally playing around with risk, randomness, uncertainty, and variability.

I’m not saying that they’ll work for you… but if they work for me I’ll let you know.

1. Disrupt my education business model


The idea here is that either I can wait for someone to disrupt my work or I can disrupt it myself and maintain some slight control (even if it’s illusory) over the disruptive factors.

Our education business models are pretty much a last century paradigm. Mostly the old-school business model goes something like this:

  • Someone pays a fee + I deliver training. I might possibly award some kind of credential if the stakes are a bit higher.

Leaving aside the problems with our current models of education, let’s focus on messing with the business model.

My real business model is the unique package of things that allows me to sell education and training and generate revenue. This would still hold true even if I worked for a non-profit or charitable organisation.

But consider the new business models though… They’re online. They require people to transact online. That either means a shopping cart or a subscription-based approach.

Bothered by that…? Me too. But disturbing thoughts like these have been nagging at me for awhile. It’s time to do something about it.

If you’re curious about business models Alex Osterwalder’s book really helped clear things up for me in term of what a business model is and gives some great examples. There’s also an iPad app you can play around with.

2. Open source my expertise and knowledge


Am I the only one who has noticed that the world I live in is radically different to the one I grew up in, even the world I started working in…?

Everything is being disrupted and education isn’t any exception. Aside from firing middle management and cutting dead wood, I think we’re going to see changes everywhere in education resulting in education products for learners that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and more convenient.

What’s more, as we move forward, education will most likely become open sourced, and possibly crowd sourced. This will come at a cost, of course. Some of us won’t survive.

But one of the things that has changed for certain in my mind is that there is no longer a competitive advantage in sitting on any kind of “secret sauce”. The new secret sauce is open source.

And that has implications for my job. And my expertise. What I know and can do is not just information, but a big chunk of it probably is. And that information really wants to make itself freely available to others. This is just the nature of the web.

And the thing is, if I don’t open source what I know, then someone else will do it for me. Either they know they same stuff and they’ll open source that, or they’ll just upload what they’ve learned off me.

So I need to do it first. That’s why I’ve open sourced what I know about our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy via Pathways Awarua and through making our course content freely available to everyone.

Doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing while everyone and everything around you moves forward is pretty much the same as going backwards.

3. Design the way I want to work


I think that another part of the solution is to design the way that I want to work. For me this means:

  • treating everything as a project
  • working on these projects with a small agile team
  • being mobile and “always on” (except when I switch everything off)
  • working from home (or anywhere)
  • having a team that is geographically dispersed,
  • and mostly ignoring conventional establishment wisdom relating to what I do.

To expand on these, everything in education can be a project. This includes training, resource development, writing and publishing, and running conferences. If I make everything a project then I can project manage. I use Basecamp for this.

“Always on” means that I can work on my projects anywhere. Most of my work is written on laptops and devices in various cities and towns in New Zealand. I now use cloud-based applications almost exclusively for this including Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to manage it all.

4. Look for new ways to do the same stuff


Another part of the solution for me is to do education and training in new ways that meet the needs and demands of 21st century work and life. This is where expertise needs to collide with new opportunities and disruptive technologies.

And this is hard because it means I have to learn new stuff. And sometimes things don’t work out.

I’m not quite sure where to go with this in all honesty, but something that I’ve done intentionally is to mess around with different online platforms used for authoring education and training materials. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but the one that stuck was the Bracken platform that we used to write up our course and assessment modules.

Authoring software is kind of tricky… and it’s time consuming to learn how to use… but something that is a whole lot simpler and still incredibly disruptive is video and audio. The incredible success of Kahn Academy continues to testify to the disruptive power of video.

I’m hoping to make this year the year I really get serious about capturing much more of our training, resources, knowledge, and expertise via niche audio and video content.

What have I missed? What do you have planned for 2015 that is going to make you stronger, more resilient, resistant to risk, and ultimately more antifragile?


How do I get started on Assessment 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) and demonstrating that I’m actually embedding literacy and numeracy into my training?

embedding 02

If you’re up to this stage, you’re actually about, or even over, half way. This section is a big chunk… but it’s also the teaching component of the qualification.

Basically, after having mapped the literacy and numeracy demands, and diagnosed your learners literacy and numeracy needs, you actually need to get out there and do some embedded literacy and numeracy teaching.

These are your interventions, in other words. You have to come up with embedded literacy and numeracy focused learning outcomes, activities, and strategies. We’ve got a very specific format for doing this, so make sure you pay attention to what’s in your Assessment Guide or in Pathways Awarua in Assessment Module 5.

Here’s a list of various links and articles that might support you through this part of the training:

  1. As always, if you haven’t already, all of our course content is available for free in interactive modules on the Pathways Awarua literacy and numeracy learning platform. You can find the instructions on how to register here if you haven’t already. We have a unique ALEC join code so email us for it if you need it (
  2. I know I said it already, but don’t forget to check what’s already in your ALEC Study Guide and Assessment Guide for this part of the course.
  3. We’ve also got a great one-page handout that summarises the connections between assessments 4, 5, 6 – email us for a copy if you haven’t got it already.
  4. You can listen to an audio-only podcast of me talking through Assessment 5 here if you need a refresh on the requirements.
  5. There are video clips on Section 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) here on our Youtube channel.
  6. If you need ideas for activities for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and numeracy there is a wealth of material including teaching points, guided learning sequences, and resources in your ALEC Study Pack in the Learning Progressions support guides. Much of that is also online here if you want to go in and find it.
    • Unfortunately, this great content tends to be buried inside the other content so you have to click through a sequence like this to find an activity: Go to website >> Click Explore the learning progressions for Make Sense of Number to Solve Problems >> this takes you to a page from the learning progressions for multiplicative strategies where you can click on an activity like Multiplication Strategies where you get the actual activity or can download it as a PDF. The alternative is just to turn to page 39 in the Teaching Adults to Make Sense of Number book. I’m going to have a go a progressively dealing with this issue and liberating this material, but it might have to wait until another time.
  7. As well as the massive amount of content and ideas provided in the support materials to the Learning Progressions there is also a wealth of information on LN activities online. For this reason, I haven’t focused so much on the activities on my blog or in the ALEC Study Guide. However, I have posted a few bits and pieces here that are useful. First though you need to make sure that you understand how to write really focused embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes. If you need them, please refer to:
  8. Here are a few numeracy activities that, while they aren’t particularly contextualised, they are fun and they work:
  9. I did also start looking at some ideas for designing independent reading activities based on literacy unit standards 26622 and 26624 here if that’s of interest. There’s a downloadable cover sheet that you could adapt or cannibalise in any way you like here. Just a caution though, if you’re just doing a couple of embedded reading activities for your NCALNE (Voc) and you don’t care about US 26622 and 26624, you’d be well advised to strip back my suggestions to only what you think you really need.
  10. In terms of writing, I also started developing some ideas for a writing workshop here which I did flesh out in a bit more detail here. But again, just pick and choose what you want. If you’re just doing a couple of embedded writing activities for the NCALNE (Voc) you can be very selective here.
  11. Lastly:
    • Don’t forget to collect actual evidence of your learners actually doing the learning that you’ve designed. Think about using the digital camera on your phone. Scan copies of their completed work or drafts. Take a photo of what on the whiteboard at different stages. And send all of this together with your write up of Assessment 5 and copies of the activities that you used.
    • Don’t forget to make at least one of your embedded LN teaching interventions some kind of independent learning activity, i.e. where your learners do it without you (whether at home, in class, or wherever).
    • Don’t forget to think about where and when you will re-assess your learners using the contextualised LN tools you used earlier. You’ll need this for Assessment 6.
    • Don’t forget to build in some kind of evaluation component. You’ll need this for Assessment 7.
  12. If you’re working on this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, your employer will need to have paid your course fee in order to unlock assessment modules (3 – 7)
  13. And if you’re a paid up student and you’re not completing this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, you can email us ( for the latest version of the template for assessment Task 5.
  14. Otherwise, give us a call to discuss (0800-ALEC-1-2) or email us anyway ( and we’ll be in touch to help explain or clarify.