How I accidentally became a published writer in 1998 by authoring a book filled with blank pages


Four score and seven years ago in 1998, I became a published author. It was an accident and I didn’t mean to.

The published book was filled with (mostly) blank pages. That’s the cover up above.

I found a copy yesterday because I have this banana box in my office that I’ve been trying to tidy. Like, for years.

Hashtag relatable, right?

It’s a tricky box full of stuff that I find difficult to throw away. It’s all actually crap. But I have a sentimental attachment to some of the crap. Actually, all of it.

But I’m determined to try and live a more minimalistic lifestyle. You know… have less stuff. Be more zen etc.

Aside from meditating and eating Lima beans, one strategy then, it would seem, is to get rid of all the stuff.

This is much harder than it sounds.

For example, at the moment, I can fit everything I need to run my business and do my work in a 35L backpack. And there’s still room for clothes for a couple of days away.

It’s a great bag. It’s a new one. I got it for my birthday.

I also have too many bags. I need a separate closet just for bags.

But what if I wanted to go away for a long time? That’s what I’ve been mulling over. What about all the other dross that has accumulated? What kinds of bags would I need?

More importantly, what about the box of crap that I can’t seem to unload?

A few years back I when I seemed to be moving house every 18 months I realised that I had more than 25 banana and apple boxes full of books on applied linguistics and language teaching and other stuff that I didn’t really care about anymore.

I don’t even know where I got most of the books from. Some of them I bought. But others just seemed to find me. Piles of them.

I think I read one or two. But mainly they made me feel good.

They looked great on the shelves. It’s another dirty little pleasure of mine. Interesting books on bookshelves.

You can tell a lot about someone by the books on their shelves. That’s what we book snobs tell ourselves.

But really, it’s about as accurate as trying to psychoanalyse your friends by reading meaning into the titles of the songs they listen to on Spotify (yes, I’m watching you).

I tried to sell the 25+ boxes of books to the second-hand university bookshop close to my old university. All I wanted was a hundred bucks.

They just laughed at me. And eventually, they had to ask me to leave the premises. The books had no value they said.

So I dried my tears and went back to the department where I used to work and offloaded all of the boxes of books to Carmen the secretary.

They were, of course, very grateful.

No one said anything, not even Carmen who was of course very happy to see me after so many years and who tried to re-recruit me to the academic staff.

It hadn’t been the same since I left, you see.

It’s also possible that many of the books were actually theirs to start with.

Mea culpa.

I was still a student at the same university in the same department when I accidentally became a published writer of the book with blank pages.

No, it wasn’t a diary.

But that must be a similar kind of thing. I mean, if you write diaries for a living and they’re published, then aren’t you a published writer as well?

Diary writer at a party: “Yeah, man… I usually put a book out every year… Last year, though… that was a toughy. Nearly missed the deadline… But you should see what I’m working on for next year…”

Diaries don’t usually have the author’s name on the front, however. So I’m a step above a writer of diaries.

The cause of my accidental publishing was my students. It was, at least, partially their fault.

As an ESOL teacher, I needed ways of filling in time. You know, in the classes.

Sometimes these fillers also had the added benefit of having pedagogical value. That means people learned as a result.

I had stumbled onto the idea of getting my students to do a journal writing exercise every class for 10 minutes.

Hardly original, but it was brilliant. I set the time and patrolled the class. They stopped talking and started writing.

We had some rules. Such as there were no rules. Apart from the rule that there were no rules.

And they could also ignore pesky things like spelling and grammar. Also a kind of non-rule, rule.

The idea was to focus on pure fluency.

If I still had the 25 banana and apple boxes full of second language acquisition theory and research I could probably justify it some way.

But on a purely pragmatic level, it worked beautifully. That’s all I really care about these days. If something works, do I need to know why?

Not only did the journal writing use up at least 20 minutes by the time they had come in, said hello, settled down, got started, written a bunch, done a word count and graphed their output… but it actually improved their writing.

I had the data to prove it.

And then when I was wracking my brains on what to submit for one of my assignments for the degree I was completing, I decided to write up my journal writing activity.

The lecturer liked it so much that she sent it to a national organisation that worked with refugees and migrants. And they liked it so much that they made a few suggestions and published it.

I was so happy. Especially when I received royalty cheques for years after too.

Once I got a cheque for $1.43.

That must have covered the envelope, paper AND the stamp costs.

If you’ve never received a royalty cheque you wouldn’t understand. Even though it cost me around $10 in fuel to get to the bank and back, I loved depositing those royalty cheques.

Happiness can’t last forever though. And a few years ago I asked them to keep the royalties and donate them to a good cause. Namely themselves.

And today I realised that if I scan and post the last remaining copy here, I can get rid of the last remaining paper copy from the banana box of crap on my floor.

There might be one more copy though, slipped deviously into one of those 25 boxes of books off-loaded to Carmen at the university.

Workbook for Learners of English and their Tutors by Graeme Smith





Talking about NZ’s embedded literacy and numeracy approach with Indonesian vocational teachers at AUT


Recently, I had the tremendous privilege and pleasure of spending a day at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) talking about literacy and numeracy with a group of vocational teachers and tutors from Indonesia.

The group was large. The image above shows half of the team and I need to paste in a second photo below so you can see the other half. Here we go…


My sincere thanks to Dr Adrian Schoone at AUT for inviting me to join these teachers for a day in their busy schedule. Adrian also deserves credit for the two photos above.

These vocational teachers and other support staff were here on a two-week study tour in October looking at how we teach trades and vocational education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

And as part of our introductions and whakawhanaungatana (getting to know each other), I asked them all to place themselves on a giant map I had projected on the wall.

As you can see below, they came from all over Indonesia – from the West to the East.

IMG_8662 2

For my part, it was a brief and hopefully fun introduction to literacy, numeracy and the embedded approach that we’ve developed here over the last 10 years.

IMG_8669 2

We had a play with some of the online tools that we have in New Zealand for literacy and numeracy as well. Luckily, AUT had a computer lab big enough to house us all for an hour or so.

IMG_8671 2

My students for the day were friendly, engaged and worked hard to transcend some of the language barriers between us.

One of the most interesting things for me was realising how integral approaches from Te Ao Māori are now to any discussion I want to have about this work.

Concepts like ako and tuakana-teina seemed to really resonate with the group and their own cultures.

In fact, some had questions about how they could incorporate aspects of their own indigenous ways of knowing and being into their teaching practice.

Just on that note, according to Wikipedia:

  • there are over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 700 living languages across the vast Indonesian archipelago.

So these weren’t questions I felt could readily answer, but hopefully, they will open a door to further positive discussion back home.

This, in turn, should feed into the work these excellent teachers are doing to invigorate and reinvigorate vocational education in Indonesia.

Overall, it was an excellent day,  I loved spending time with this group and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

To my new friends and colleagues:

  • Assalam ‘alaikum. I wish you all the best with your work in Indonesia and hope our paths cross again at some stage.



TEC Literacy and Numeracy Qualification Requirements for Tutors Teaching SAC Funded Levels 1 and 2

white alec rgb

I’ve fielded a few enquires in the past few days about this so I’m re-posting the relevant information from the TEC website. It’s up to date as of 1 Sept 2015.

Instructions are here to sign up to do the NCALNE qualification with Pathways Awarua and ALEC online. You can get started for free.

Email for more info. TEC blurb starts below:

Qualification requirements for literacy and numeracy educators

This page provides information on the ‘appropriate qualification’ requirements for foundation-level tutors, including how the TEC will ensure this requirement is met. The requirement is aimed at improving the effectiveness of embedded literacy and numeracy across foundation education delivered by the tertiary sector.


What is this requirement?

From 2015, the TEC will be transitioning to requiring tutors who teach foundation-level courses to hold an appropriate qualification. Qualifications are considered appropriate if they include content and outcomes related to embedding literacy and numeracy in a New Zealand context.

Why are we introducing this requirement?

The government is committed to lifting adult literacy and numeracy skills and improving the quality and outcomes from foundation-level education.  Whilst we are making good progress with improving learners’ literacy and numeracy skills within foundation education, more can be done to improve outcomes for all learners.

This requirement has been introduced to ensure quality and consistent embedding of literacy and numeracy across all foundation-level education.  The TEC expects all foundation level educators to be skilled at using the TEC’s educational resources (such as the Learning Progressions and the Assessment Tool), to know how to embed literacy and numeracy effectively in teaching activities and to be able to meet the needs of all adult New Zealanders effectively.

What is the TEC’s approach towards this requirement?

The TEC expects TEOs to ensure that the qualifications held by their tutors and educators meet TEC funding conditions. TEOs can meet this requirement by continuing to invest in the up-skilling and professional development of the foundation education workforce.

The TEC expects TEOs to ensure that either:

  • the tutor holds or is in the process of achieving an appropriate qualification such as the NCALNE (Voc) or
  • the tutor can demonstrate competency in teaching literacy and numeracy in a way that is comparable to achieving the NCALNE (Voc) qualification.

We may consider the extent to which TEOs have invested in a suitably qualified foundation level workforce in its funding decisions, such as any future competitive process for SAC Levels 1 and 2.

What funds have this requirement?

The requirement applies to the following funds in 2015:

  • Student Achievement Component (SAC) levels 1 and 2 (competitive and non-competitive, including the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training initiative)
  • Intensive Literacy and Numeracy
  • the Workplace Literacy fund.

TEOs are recommended to consider the need for a suitably qualified workforce across all foundation education, however the requirement it is not currently a condition of funding in the following funds:

  • Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Targeted ESOL
  • English for Migrants
  • Youth Guarantee
  • SAC levels 3+
  • Adult and Community Education
  • Gateway.

The qualification requirement may be extended to other foundation funds in the future as the foundation-level education sector matures and best practice is identified.

What qualifications are considered appropriate and therefore meet this requirement?

Qualifications held by tutors are considered appropriate if they include content and outcomes related to:

  • embedding literacy and numeracy in a New Zealand context
  • the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy
  • the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool.

Qualifications that are considered appropriate include:

  • National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational) (Level 5)
  • National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Educator) (Level 5)
  • National Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Level 6)
  • Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Adult Literacy and Numeracy) (Level 7)
  • Master of Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Level 9).

Tutors who have achieved any of the qualifications listed above have met the qualification requirement and do not need to take any further action.  TEOs should consider the qualifications of their workforce and assess whether further professional development is necessary in order to meet this requirement.

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Which educators does the requirement apply to?

TEOs should consider the extent of the educator/ tutors’ input into course delivery.  The requirement applies to educators and tutors who are responsible for the delivery, oversight, and/or management of an entire programme of study.

Whilst TEOs may want to invest in the capability of all foundation level educators, the requirement does not apply to:

  • subject matter experts, guest educators, or guest tutors with specialised knowledge, skills, or expertise who deliver a specific part of a programme of study, where the specific part makes up no more than 10% of the theory-based component of the entire programme of study
  • guest speakers or lecturers.

How do I get the NCALNE (Voc) qualification?

The NCALNE (Voc) is a good example of a qualification which meets this requirement.

Tutors can complete this qualification face to face or entirely online. Grants are also available to support the financial costs of completing the qualification.

Tutors can earn the NCLANE(Voc) through a number of tertiary providers. More information is available on the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults website.

Each year 145 Adult Literacy Educator grants are available to support the costs of completing the NCALNE (Voc) qualification. Grants are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Email for more information

Tutors can also complete the NCLANE(Voc) online through a TEC-funded Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Pathways Awarua. Tutors can register as an educator to complete this qualification.

Tutors who already have relevant qualifications can apply for a cross-crediting or recognition of prior learning with either Adult Literacy Education and Consulting ( or VisionWest ( Adult Literacy Educator Grants are available to support this process.

What if I have more questions?

This page supersedes information in our TEC Now updates of 30 September 2014, 10 November 2014, and 29 January 2015.

If you have further questions, please email

Group Observation Checklist for Listening & Speaking

This post carries on my collection of a few different diagnostic assessment tools for use with learners with literacy and numeracy issues. So far I’ve looked at:

The one below is a group observation checklist for discussion-based listening and speaking skills. This is also a stripped down, and now heavily modified version of some of the material that you can find in the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

Once again, just so it’s clear: this is an observation checklist for a tutor or trainer to use when observing a group of learners engaged in a discussion task of some kind.

Like the other one, it’s a simple checklist that allows you to check off whether you are observing different kinds of behaviours that may indicate that learners in a group need further training with regards to discussion-based listening and speaking skills.

Again, this checklist could be part of your needs analysis and diagnostic process. Use your findings to target explicit learner and group skill development in the required areas.

You can score the answers with this one as well so you can compare over time. The higher the score, the more likely that the group needs some work in these areas.

Here’s the download link. The PDF should be the same as the images below:

GroupLSP1 GroupLSP2

Learner Observation Checklist for Listening & Speaking Skills

The other day I posted my versions of the some tools to use with learners for numeracy diagnostic assessment. I’ve also written before about creating your own contextualised vocabulary diagnostics including developing a word bank.

This post continues along the same line, but with a learner observation checklist for listening and speaking skills. This is a stripped down version of some of the material that you can find in the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

Just so it’s clear: this is an observation checklist for a tutor or trainer to use when observing a learner. It’s not something to hand out to a learner to complete.

Basically, it’s a very simple checklist that allows you to check off whether you are seeing different kinds of behaviours that may indicate that a learner has listening and speaking difficulties of some kind.

The implication, of course, is that the checklist could be part of your diagnostic process and that you would then use your findings here to target learner skill development in the required areas.

If you want to, you can score the answers so you can compare over time. The higher the score, the more likely that the learner in question has listening and speaking issues in these areas.

Here’s the download link. The PDF should be the same as the images below:


How do I make writing learning outcomes accessible to vocational and trades tutors? FRAME => TARGET => CONTEXTUALISE

LOs mix and match

This question has been plaguing me for several years. The heart of the NCALNE (Voc) relates to the teaching practice that trades and vocational tutors have to do.

For this assessment, the tutors need to have a go at creating and delivering some embedded literacy and numeracy training.

This assessment has diagnostic and formative assessment wrapped around it. And we usually preface it with a discussion and workshop activity around how to write embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes.

And this is where I tend to see people’s eyes glaze over.

So I’ve been working on simplifying the system and trying to come up with a more prescriptive approach to the delivery and evidence collection, but in a way that works for the tutors.

It’s been a great system… but it’s too complicated. Some people just get it. Others never do. So, hopefully, what I’ve been working on here will make it accessible for more tutors as they undertake the professional development work that we do.

Embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes are the key to unlocking really great teaching and training possibilities for our tutors and their learners.

So here’s my plan:

  1. I’ve simplified the system. Here it is in a nutshell: FRAME ==> TARGET ==> CONTEXTUALISE. This means
    • Frame the teaching and learning with an appropriate action verb, e.g. something from Bloom’s revised taxonomy, for example.
    • Target the specific literacy or numeracy skills for your training intervention. This should be informed by the mapping and diagnostic work that you’ve done.
    • Contextualise the learning in terms of the specific subject or narrowly defined training content. This is the trade or vocation-specific subject matter.
  2. I’ve made it more hands on. As you can see in the image above, I’ve designed a set of cards for each of the three areas of Frame, Target, and Contextualise. As a workshop activity, we can spread these out on the table and people can just have a play. It’s basically mix and match. The idea is to have a play with different combinations in different scenarios before they create their own ones. You can download these here: Learning Outcomes – Cutty Uppy Things
  3. I’ve got a lot more examples for people to look at and use as a jumping off point.
  4. I’ve redesigned the worksheet we’re going to use. You can download it here: Assessment5LearningOutcomes. There’s a screenshot of a couple of pages from this below.

LOs worksheet eg

As always, if any of this is useful, please let me know in the comments. Likewise, if it’s not clear… Cheers, G



Will literacy and numeracy professional development qualifications (NCALNE or NZCALNE) be compulsory for level 1 and 2 tutors from 2015?


This could be the writing on the wall with regards to levels 1 and 2 tutors:

  • From 2015, it is a likely requirement of SAC and Youth Guarantee funding that tutors at levels 1 and 2 have gained the National Certificate in Adult Literacy Educator (Vocational or Educator). If this requirement is confirmed we will expect TEOs to show they can meet it (TEC General Plan Guidance for 2015 and 2016 Guidance for TEOs seeking Plan-based funding from the TEC from 1 January 2015, p.17)

This is not actually a bad thing at all. However, it will certainly highlight those organisations and individuals who have strived to up-skill and increase their professional abilities in the area of embedded literacy and numeracy.

Do you need the credentials? Let us know here: