Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Teaching handwriting to adults

I have received the following message from site-contributor Andrew:

Dear Maggie,

I am a literacy tutor and have used your site on many occasions, as well as contributing some materials. I have a query about teaching handwriting for adults and wondered whether you might be able to post it on your comments page, as our internet security system does not allow us to access a ‘blog’.

I believe that it is helpful to teach cursive writing to learners to improve spelling ‘automaticity’, but was wondering what the current thinking on this is within the adult teaching community – is it beneficial to teach this skill at any level, or should I aim to integrate this skill at a specific level, say E2 and above? Would it be counterproductive to teach this skill at all to adult learners? I have had some good results with some learners, but obviously this may not be the case in general and I would like some guidance in this area.

I would really appreciate some insight into this one.

Best regards
I have also posted this query on the comments page. If you can help please respond either by using 'comments' on this blog (which I will forward to Andrew) or by emailing Andrew (or me) via the skillsworkshop comments page.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Can’t read, can’t write - episodes one and two

The original post and comments about this Channel 4 programme are now way down the blog (thread started on July 10th). Rather than bury the comments, I am posting the latest comment here (received last night after the second episode of the program was broadcast).

Rachel Simpson writes:

“Hi Maggie! I'm ranting watching the second episode of this programme tonight. Yikes. He should have spent six months with some Lit tutors before spending six months with students. Doesn't he realise that the curriculum is not the recipe book that they have in schools for literacy hour? Does he want to come to my house or yours or anyone else who teaches SfL (and many other folks I'm sure) and see the piles and piles of stuff we have to help people read and write better?

There were moments when it was really obvious that he usually works with children who have no option but to accept his behaviour as they can't easily get up and go home.

There are so many times that I feel that no-one knows what we do or cares what we do other than ourselves and the learners and the bean counters. This programme just confirms that we are invisible :( ”

Before I respond, can I just say that unfortunately I have no time at the moment to reply in huge detail. This will be redressed in mid August when I’ll have more time for blogging and generally letting off steam. In the meantime I hope this new post will provoke others to share their views.

Rachel, thanks so much for your comment. I couldn’t agree more. I feel the same – that no one much knows or cares what we do…

Does PB really think that we (literacy teachers) don’t know about different learning styles and teaching methods? Doesn’t he realise that he can use kinaesthetic methods (for example) without resorting to treating adults like children (and behaving like a child himself).

Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order, about week 1 of the programme – I'm still so hopping mad (no space-hopper-related pun intended) and speechless about last night’s programme that will have to comment on that later.

True - the Skills for Life literacy materials are not brilliant – although I still think they are better than what we had before from the government (which was nothing!). To be fair to PB, this is, of course, no reason to justify them and I agree that the coverage of phonics (in the free government provided teaching materials) is terrible.

True - the depicted lesson looked more like an ESOL lesson but in that case why did he choose that one to visit / portray on the programme? And I thought showing a lesson where class members were asked to read a piece aloud to the group was again biased and gave the wrong impression of a ‘typical’ adult literacy class.

False – there is copious coverage of phonics in the Adult Literacy Curriculum, indeed the ‘title’ of the entire Word Level - Reading section throughout Entry Level is “Vocabulary, word recognition and phonics”. There is also extensive coverage of phonics in, what was, the Level 4 Certificate of Professional Practice for adult literacy practitioners. I know, from the popularity of phonics resources on my site, that phonics teaching is alive and active in many adult literacy classes. Although from the other perspective, the fact that the phonics resources are so popular is also further proof that there are no decent phonics materials available in the DfES SfL materials.

False - it was unfair to read out and focus solely on the Rt/E1.1 text level element (”Follow a short narrative …”) and to suggest that just because this is the first thing in the curriculum it is the first thing that has to be “done” and in isolation. For all its shortcomings – the curriculum does indeed state that “it is not intended that these three dimensions [text, sentence and word focus] should be taught one after the other; teachers will draw simultaneously on all three….” (page 7)

False – the materials (or the curriculum) are not supposed to be used from beginning to end as implied and we are not compelled by the government to use the learning materials.

I don’t really think it's fair to comment on the students involved but some things just did not ring true and were clearly over-dramatised (so I’m going to comment anyway!).

For example, the ‘can’t find the ham in the shop’ – I find it hard to believe that someone who is clearly very resourceful and has brought up a large family cannot find and recognise a packet of ham in a shop. The bit in the children’s library made me cringe – I suppose because it goes against everything I've been taught and believe about ‘not treating adults as children’. Although others may well look at it from the view that the learner wanted to read to her grandchildren and so it was therefore relevant.

There's a lot more I could say about episode 1 - inappropriate use of paper based intial assessment materials; misguided, inappropriate and insulting use of children's reading ages with adults (with no regard for language development); etc. - but I just don't have time at the moment.

It’s good to see that there has been a response from the Government about the first episode of the programme. John Denham (Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills) had a letter in the Independent on Sunday (July 27, 08) and has also written a piece in the Guardian Education (Monday July 28, 08).

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, results from this programme. If it encourages more adults to get help that can only be a good thing – my fear is that it will have the opposite effect.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Guardian Eyewitness - numeracy resource for film lovers

As mentioned yesterday, I feel this blog has been biased towards literacy lately.

So here's a quick snippet for numeracy teachers.

I bought the Guardian this morning (admittedly, to see if they had a view on last night's 'Can't Read, Can't Write' - more on that at a later date...) and really got hooked in by the graphic appeal of the Eyewitness page (i.e. the centre double page spread).

It's all about the UK Film Industry and there's lots to look at and discuss - from straightforward ordering (top 20 films) through to a giant pie chart (British films from comedy to horror). There's also plenty of percentages, loads of very large sums of money expressed as decimals (e.g. £4.3 billion - estimated contribution of the film industry to the UK's GDP in 2006), currency (some figures are in dollars) and horizontal bar charts. The accompanying article by Helen Pidd also contains further 'numeracy' (intertwined with literacy, of course!).
Printing tricks for PDF files
Don't fret if you didn't buy the paper. The good news is the film graphic is also available as a PDF file.
Now the great thing about PDFs is you can use the 'reduce to printer margins' option when printing. According to my PDF reader / writer (Acrobat) the original Guardian PDF is 25" x 18". This will indeed shrink to A4 but I recommend printing onto at least A3 if you, or your college, has A3 printing facilities.
Of course it's ideal for data projection, and as the file is not write protected you can use the Acrobat snapshot tool to select any area (for example a pie chart) and copy it into another document. This could be useful as the 'whole thing' could be rather overwhelming.
If that's too much trouble then Adobe also has a very useful 'current view' option (under 'print range' - which is by default set to 'all'). This means you can just zoom in (or out) to the bit you want and then whatever you see is what gets printed!
Yes - but how do I use it?
Well I'm running out of time here - my family will starve and the cupboard is bare - but here's a couple of ideas for a quick starter.
Split class (L1-2) into pairs or small groups. Give each group a topic: box office takings, top ten films, genre, Harry Potter (they may have to read the accompanying article for some of these). After an agreed time (10 minutes or so?) each pair to present / talk about their findings to the group.
Or for a quicker activity. Ask each student to compare two different films. E.g. Harry Potter and Stardust, Die Hard 4 and Hairspray, etc. This will involve (amongst other things) subtracting large sums of money.
More ideas
By chance there's also a short article The Guardian gives teachers the full picture (page 2, educational supplement) that describes how several other teachers (not of literacy / numeracy) use the Eyewitness pages in their classes.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Using Wordle in the classroom

I’m addicted to Wordle and, in an attempt to justify the time I’ve spent on it lately, have come up with a few ideas for using it in literacy classes.

Wordle takes a list of words or a piece of text and creates a ‘word cloud’: the more times a word occurs in a text the larger it appears in the cloud. So, if you type ‘the [note lowercase initial letter] cat sat on the mat’ into Wordle the word ‘the’ appears (once) in a font twice the size of the other words.

I first came across Wordle about a month ago and I used it to create a thank you picture for all my site contributors. I extracted the names of all contributors (since January 2005) from the latest
popular downloads listing. I’ve just made a new one (above) which includes all contributors’ names up to July 16 2008. Of course this is just a bit of fun and it does not mean that those who make one or two contributions are any less appreciated than those who make dozens!

A month on since my first use and I see that several improvements have been added: Wordle can now strip out common (i.e. Dolch) words, accept text from live feeds (RSS / Atom) such as a Blog, and can display the word cloud in a separate window (this allows you take large screen grabs, as I have done here, using the Print Screen key).

So, if you ever wanted visible proof that Dolch words are indeed the most common words simply paste a piece of text into Wordle and select the ‘do not remove common words’ from the ‘language’ menu.

Using the live feed feature I input the first 500 (different) words from this blog and you can see the results here. One with Dolch words, one without.

The first thing I noticed was that the word 'numeracy’ does not appear. I’ll have to try to redress that in future posts!

You can do lots of other fancy things in Wordle such as click on and delete particular words from a cloud; play around with fonts and colours; choose between vertical , horizontal or mixed orientation; and ask for words to be in ‘mostly alphabetical order’.

So, to return to my opening sentence...
Here’s just a few ideas I came up with. None took me more than 5 or 10 minutes to prepare and I’m sure there are lots more possibilities - if you have any you’d like to share please let me know.

Write two sentences using as many of these words as you can. (Entry 2 upwards)

Use coloured pencils to circle the matching words. (Milestone 8 – Entry 1)

How many compound words can you make? Tip: the larger the word the more times you may be able to use it. (Entry 3 upwards) Answers at the bottom.

Which of these words and phrases would you be most likely to use in a formal letter? (Levels 1 and 2)

Now admittedly, you might be thinking that any of these could just as easily be created in a standard word processor. Well yes, they could, but if you have access to a data projector in your class room and have the text file ready to paste into Wordle you can create instant ‘exercises’ for your students. It adds a little pizzazz to the lesson and can prompt students to use Wordle for themselves – they could make up their own word games, devise lists of synonyms or difficult spellings, or perhaps even analyse their writing for word repetition.


This is the list of compound words I used for the resource above but there may well be other possible answers.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

What is complete illiteracy?

I’ve been thinking about Chris Jackson’s comment. In fact, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time going round and round the web, finding more and more to ponder…

Since I started teaching I’ve thought quite a lot about Skills for Life literacy levels and how they really compare to the survival, functional and operational descriptors they are matched with.
The screenshot right is taken from a PPT I used at Oxford Brookes in 2005 – it’s
still available on site but be warned that many of the references and links may be out of date.

However, I admit that, despite being a literacy teacher, I had not previously reflected on what ‘complete illiteracy’ means; the image in my head was simply that of an anonymous figure signing his name with a cross.

My search for a single, superior definition has not been successful but I’ve certainly got a clearer image now than I had a week ago!

The first explanation (found via the ‘type-illiteracy-into-Google-then-click-the-definition-link’ route) was: The exact nature of the criterion varies, so that illiteracy must be defined in each case before the term can be used in a meaningful way.
"illiteracy." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press., 2003. 12 Jul. 2008.

So… nothing new there then!

However the same source continues with some helpful history, explaining that in 1930 the US Census Bureau defined ‘illiterate’ as anyone over 10 years of age who could not read and write.

At this point, I diverted to the UK Statistics Authority and the UK-Census Online but could find only scant references to literacy – and certainly no UK definition of ‘illiteracy’.

So, I continued with the Columbia listing which went on to say that by the 1940s the idea of functional illiteracy (unable to engage in social activities in which literacy is assumed) was alive and well in the US and that in 1990 the US census results showed that 5% of adults were considered not to be functionally literate (which was then classed as the expected level of attainment after attending between 6 and 8 years of school).

Columbia continues with this: The United Nations defines illiteracy as the inability to read and write a simple message … ‘Ah ha,’ I thought, ‘now perhaps I’m getting somewhere! Although how do you define a simple message?’

Further use of Google took me to a table of statistics from the United Nations Statistics Division site. There was no mention of the UK in the table (or the US) and if you scroll down (below the footnotes) to the technical notes you will find a list of possible reasons:
For many countries or areas, literacy rates are not available for one or more of the following reasons: (a) illiteracy is believed to have been reduced to minimal levels through several decades of universal primary education, (b) it has not been possible to establish revised estimates following recent mass literacy campaigns, (c) not even a minimal database is available for making rough estimates, or (d) countries have preferred that no estimate be published.

But, hey presto, there was also some useful information in the technical notes: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines a literate person as someone who can both read and write with understanding, a short, simple statement on his or her everyday life. A person who can only read but not write, or can write but not read is considered to be illiterate. A person who can only write figures, his or her name or a memorized ritual phrase is also not considered literate.

Now, as someone who loves the Language Experience Approach with beginning adult readers I rather like this definition of a literate person!

After this I got completely sidetracked (still on the UNESCO site) by information about the LAMP (Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme) project which measures reading skills over 5 levels in three different text categories (prose, document and quantitative). The ‘International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS): Understanding What Was Measured’, Irwin Kirsch (2001), PDF is an absolute mine of information on this and I hope to return to this in another post.

Finally, to get back down to earth, I tried Wikipedia. Functional Illiteracy is defined as ‘the inability of an individual to use reading, writing, and computational skills efficiently in everyday life situations’ and Illiteracy as ‘the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language’. (Note the mention of IT skills here).

By this time I’d almost forgotten that the original spark for this discussion and research was my uneasiness with Phil Beadle’s sweeping statement that ‘people who work in adult literacy’ say that complete illiteracy doesn’t exist.

So, I’m still not sure what ‘complete illiteracy’ means but I am very sure about something. Using any one of the six definitions listed, here’s one person who works in adult literacy that has never said that complete illiteracy doesn’t exist. Surely I’m not alone?

Sunday's Independent (July 13, 08) had an interesting article
'We've seen the future ... and we may not be doomed' which talks about a new UN report '2008 State of the Future' to be published later this month. What first caught my eye was the large accompanying world statistics graphic (unfortunately not included in the online report) in which one of the headings, under 'Where we are winning' (rather than 'Where we are losing') is Literacy. It says: '[Literacy] is a key factor in countries being able to move towards democracy and enjoy economic growth. The number of people aged 15 or above that can read and write has increased from 72 percent in 1985 to 82 percent today and is projected to reach 85 percent by 2017.'

So we've got that report (6,300 pages!) to look forward to as well as the upcoming Can't Read, Can't Write programme...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

wiki How to draw an 'S' from straight lines

I use iGoogle as my home page (after being introduced to it by my youngest son about a year ago).

One of the things I enjoy about my current iGoogle desktop is the ‘How to for the day’ listing (see middle column on screen shot right).

Everyone knows about
Wikipedia and Wiktionary - but it seems that wikiHow is not so well known (as an aside, I have just today discovered that although it is powered by MediaWiki, it isn’t actually part of the Wikimedia 'family' of projects).

I have no idea how long it’s been around for, but something on the daily ‘How to …’ listing often catches my eye. Yesterday it was
How to Draw an S Made Entirely of Straight Lines. If you’re thinking the same as me - that it looks more like an 8 than an S - keep reading.

Now the trouble with being a basic skills tutor is that you tend to look at almost everything, especially texts, from the ‘can I use this in my classes’ or ‘would this make a good resource?’ point of view.

The answer is yes, and two ideas spring to mind.

For numeracy I would adapt the instructions to include measurement (e.g. Draw three parallel lines, each 2cm apart and 4cm long, etc.) and insist upon a ruler. I might even be generous and provide some 1cm squared paper!
Depending on the learner group, I would either read the instructions aloud, or display them on the board (with or without pictures). It makes a good crossover from ‘common measures’ to ‘shape and space’.
MSS2/E1.2 Understand everyday positional vocabulary (e.g. between, inside or near to). MSS1/E2.5 Read, estimate, measure and compare length using common non-standard and standard units (g) know how to use a ruler to draw and measure lines to the nearest cm. MSS2/L1.2 draw 2-D shapes in different orientations using grids (e.g. in diagrams or plans). MSS2/L2.2 solve problems involving 2-D shapes and parallel lines.

For literacy the instructions would make good paired listening practice. You know the thing: students sit back to back, one reads and other attempts to draw (without being told the title of the piece). SLlr/E2.4 listen to and follow short, straightforward explanations and instructions.

Alternatively, I might read it to the whole group, see how they fare, then show them the picture.
SLlr/E3.2 Listen for detail in explanations, instructions and narratives in different contexts

or, give the ‘speaker’ the finished S (or 8!) picture and ask them to make up and deliver their own instructions to their partner SLc/L1.3 Express clearly statements of fact and give short explanations, instructions, accounts and descriptions

or, compose, write down and edit their own instructions then swap and check carefully for ambiguity, conciseness, etc. Wt/L2.7 Proof-read and revise writing for accuracy and meaning (a) understand that, as well as checking for errors or spelling, grammar and general sense, proof-reading enable the writer to spot: unintended ambiguity (where meaning can be taken in more than one way); long-windedness or repetition (where the same point could be made more concisely); compression (where too many points are pushed into to few words and the sense is muddled).

or, you never know, I might just give out copies (or ask learners to go online) and use the text for some good old fashioned reading practice! Rt/E2.1 Trace and understand the main events of chronological and instructional texts.

Any or all of these is bound to lead to discussion of why a picture can be worth a thousand words.
Rt/E3.9 relate an image to print and use it to obtain meaning Rt/E2.4 Use illustrations and captions to locate information (a) understand that illustrations contribute to meaning and can help locate and interpret information.

Of course, the thing about Wikis is that they are editable by all. This idea is itself a lesson in the power of group proof reading! Wt/L2.7 Proof-read and revise writing for accuracy and meaning b) understand that revising these might involve rewriting some sentences as well as adding or removing individual words.

I started writing this last night - this morning I noticed that the text in question had changed. There’s now an extra picture at the bottom showing how to draw transform the shape from an 8 to an S, and the introductory paragraph has also been changed to reflect this. So, I recommend that if you find a good wikiHow text that suits your learner group (or you), you make a copy of it because it might be completely different next time you look – or not even be there at all!

A final note. Just as I’m about to post this, what do I see on iGoogle?
A new “How To of the Day...”:
How to Spell

If you have any teaching ideas that involve wikiHow – please share them via this Blog or email them to me from

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Can’t read, can’t write

This Channel 4 series (3 x 1 hour) starts on July 21st. In the meantime Channel 4 is inviting interested parties to come to a public debate about this topic (July 15, London, 6-9.30).
‘Can’t Read Can’t Write is a shocking and moving Channel 4 series, which reveals the hidden realities of Britain’s adult literacy crisis. Nine illiterate adults enrol for a six-month reading course taught by inspirational, controversial and award-winning teacher Phil Beadle, which they hope will change their lives. Each has spent over ten years in the education system and yet has failed to learn the most basic skills.’
At the bottom of the ‘
event listing’ some well-known names appear. These include Alan Wells, former director of the Basic Skills Agency; Ursula Howard from the NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy); and the series presenter Phil Beadle (whom I had not heard of until yesterday).

Now, if you want to hear more about PB he was interviewed by Andrew Marr in his
Start the Week Radio 4 show on Monday (July 7th). Don’t worry if you missed it – you can listen, like I did, to the podcast. The podcast is 45 minutes long but if, after listening to the introduction, you press the 15-minute fast forward button twice you’ll get to the start of the interview (it follows on from an interview with David Blunkett).

Parts of the interview are rather alarming and I await the TV show with interest. It begins with a brief mention of the kinaesthetic methods (pipe cleaners, plastic, and balletic hand movements) used with an Oxford woman, Linda, who had a library of classics but was unable to ‘read a single letter sound’. After working with PB for 6 months she was ‘…reading Shakespeare and writing Shakespearean sonnets’ and ‘literally danced her way into literacy’.

PB goes on to state that ‘people who work in adult literacy’ say that complete illiteracy doesn’t exist and that ‘they have an interesting approach to the truth’. The discussion also covers synthetic phonics, skewed funding and quite a bit more! If you’re interested PB also has his own web site and he writes for the Education Guardian.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

RaPAL ... and deliberate irony

The latest edition of the RaPAL (Research and Practice in Adult Literacy) journal dropped on my door mat this morning. I must say it’s great to have end-of-term time to sit down and have more than just a quick browse.

The first thing that caught my eye was Genevieve Clarke; I recognised her name from the Vital Link site (see my earlier post on ‘Sandals’). She writes about 2008 a National Year of Reading and is clearly passionate about promoting reading for pleasure. She finishes her piece with this rather sweeping statement: ‘The continuing challenge is to make this [a love of books] a regular part of every Skills for Life learner’s experience.’

Then, as I continued skimming, I thought I was seeing things! Each time I flicked a page I noticed that the emboldened headings within a rather long article looked remarkably similar - in fact, identical - to half a dozen
Adult Literacy Curriculum speaking and listening elements.

This, of course, immediately drew me in. In fact I ditched my almost finished Grisham paperback and took the journal to read on the X3 into Oxford. Could there be another person out there as obsessed with curriculum elements as me? I turned back to the start of the article to make sense of it.

The author is Bob Hill, a Skills for Life tutor, and he writes a clever, tongue-in-cheek piece (or as he says ‘…deliberately ironic’). It turns out that each heading of ‘Who’s Speaking, Who’s Listening? Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment’ is a subtle dig at the government’s shortcomings. The underlying message being that they (the government) are not making a very good job of following the curriculum – especially the listening elements!

In case you’re wondering, here are the headings used in the article (curriculum levels and numbering provided by me). Note that most are (only) at Entry Level 2!
Follow and contribute to discussions on a range of straightforward topics. SLd/L1.1
Speak clearly to be heard and understood in straightforward exchanges. SLc/E2.1
Follow the main points and make appropriate contributions to the discussion. SLd/E2.2
Make requests and ask questions to obtain information in familiar and unfamiliar contexts. SLc/E2.2
Express clearly statements of fact and give short explanations, accounts and
descriptions. SLc/E2.3
Support opinions and arguments with evidence. SLd/L2.4
Of course, there’s more than this to the article. For example, the author is very disgruntled (with good reasons supplied) about the removal of funding for short 3 hour and 6 hour courses.

There’s lots more to read in Volume 65 including useful information on how Leicester College takes a WOA (whole organisation approach) to embedding Skills for Life. Don’t forget the embedded / contextualised section on the site - I’m always looking for new materials!

A moving piece on ‘…violence, literacy and learning’ left me feeling totally unable and unqualified to comment - so I won’t even try.

There’s also an eye-opening perspective on broadsheets and why it’s hopeless trying to catch a girl’s eye on the train if you’re hidden behind the Guardian (but the Sun’s all right)! Several other very lengthy tomes, that I haven’t read yet, discuss basic education in the British army, and Christian Science.

So, it really is (as it says on the cover) a bumper issue! I’ve been a member since 2005, when I was studying for the Level 4 Literacy Certificate in Professional Practice, and it nearly always provides food for thought. If you don’t subscribe have a look in your college library and see if it’s on the shelf.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Missing elements

I’m cock-a-hoop about numeracy elements today. At long last - after more than seven years - the site has complete coverage of every single adult numeracy element (Entry 1- Level 2).

Thanks must go to Jane Kay for providing
two separate resources that between them cover the last three ‘missing elements’.

MSS1/E2.8 Read and compare positive temperatures in everyday situations such as weather charts (a) understand that temperature is a measure of heat (or cold) (b) understand that weather temperature is measured in degrees Celsius in the UK (but that different scales exist).
MSS1/E2.9 Read simple scales to the nearest labelled division (a) understand that scales measure in different units (b) understand labelled divisions on different scales.

MSS1/E3.9 Read, measure and compare temperature using common units and instruments (a) know how to read a thermometer (b) understand that temperature can be measured on different scales, but that Celsius is the standard scale in the UK.

It wasn’t pure chance of course. Everyone who has contributed to the site receives a monthly newsletter which now includes a ‘wanted’ list. This month it was emailed to more than 150 contributors. The number of contributors now increases by about 8-10 per month although that will doubtlessly slow down over the summer break.

The monthly site stats are always updated just before the email is sent out and this sly tactic provokes friendly competition between some contributors (you know you are!).

For those of you that are not contributors - I have summarised this month's wish list (having first joyfully omitted the now redundant list of 'missing numeracy elements').

We now have resources for most elements of the adult literacy and numeracy curricula. However, elements that are not covered (or only covered briefly) include:
preEntry milestones 6, 7 (many literacy and numeracy elements)
Entry 2 listening, speaking and discussion resources.
SLlr/E2.1 listen for and follow the gist of explanations, instructions and narratives.
SLd/E2.1 follow the gist of discussions.
SLlr/E2.5 listen to and identify simply expressed feelings and opinions.
SLlr/E2.3 listen for and identify the main points of short explanations or presentations.
Level 2 speaking and discussion resources. Especially:
SLc/L2.2 make requests and ask questions to obtain detailed information in familiar and unfamiliar circumstances.
SLd all discussion elements i.e.
SLd/L2.1 make relevant contributions and help to move discussions forward.
SLd/L2.2 adapt contributions to discussions to suit audience, context, purpose and situation.
SLd/L2.3 use appropriate phrases for interruption and change of topic.
SLd/L2.4 support opinions and arguments with evidence.
SLd/L2.5 use strategies intended to reassure, e.g. body language and appropriate phraseology.
Level 2 reading
Rt/L2.4 Read an argument and identify the points of view.
Rt/L2.5 Read critically to evaluate information and compare information, ideas and opinions from different sources.
Rt/L2.8 summarise information from longer documents.
Handwriting resources for higher levels. Produce legible text Ww/E3.3 L1.1 L2.1

So - there's no cause for me to rest on my laurels just yet!

In fact, I have a funny feeling that even if complete coverage was ever achieved - that glorious day would be instantly followed by the swapover to Functional Skills with a whole bunch of new curriculum elements describing the same old basic skills we all know and love...

I'll finish with the final, less-daunting section of this month's wish list.

Topical resources also needed for:
Beijing Olympics or general Olympics
General spring/summer resources e.g. camping, beaches, air flights, barbecues, swimming, etc.
Contextual resources for any vocational areas. E.g. beauty therapy, construction, motor vehicles, catering, hairdressing, care, plumbing, etc.
Any help with any of these (or any other) topics is always VERY MUCH appreciated

Thursday, 3 July 2008


… am feeling rather chuffed. A case study I wrote a long time ago, about a lovely group of learners, has just appeared on the Vital Link site (part of the National Literacy Trust).

I describe how I used one of the wonderful New Leaf Books ‘The Sandals’ (well, actually a set of 6 identical books and the accompanying audio CD) with a group of Entry Level, 16-19 year olds. If you’re not familiar with New Leaf Publishing then do visit their swishy new site where you can order books and related resources online – from only £4 per title – and listen to audio clips (including part of the one mentioned in the case study). They have recently published beautiful new editions of many titles previously published by The Gatehouse Publishing Charity (including old favourites such as The Cardigan and The Bin Men – and my all time choice, The Kit Kat).

I remember these titles fondly from those pre-Moser days back in the late 90s when I was a volunteer basic skills tutor. A lot has changed since then but decent books for adult beginners are just as important now as then, despite sparse references to fiction within the literacy curriculum...

Although the ‘Sandals session’ took place well over a year ago I still remember parts of it vividly – because the book was such a surprising hit with the group. The ‘facing pairs of pages’ plan worked well as there are 6 double page spreads in the book and I think I had 8 students (two pairs, and the other four worked individually). The pictures were a great hit. Some learners spent a lot of time analysing the exact time on the clock in the background of one picture (page 9 of the book if you’re lucky enough to have a copy). As mentioned in the case study the audio CD worked a treat too – I played it after the paired reading session. I also recall that there were some interesting misunderstandings in comprehension. Most students thought the writer’s sister had asked the stall holder for a boxed set in a different size – not because she wanted a clean non-display pair. Interesting! Some were also convinced she bought the shoes on the day of the wedding and couldn’t understand how the stall holder had got to Spain so quickly.

The case study can be found in one of a series of nine downloadable (PDF) booklets entitled ‘Reading for Pleasure: ideas to inspire’. The booklet in question (see pages 7-9) is for ‘New Readers’ (Entry 1-2) but the series is full of ideas for all levels and types of readers. For example, at the other end of the spectrum, the booklet for HE students has ideas on ‘Using fiction to help students’ dissertations’ and ‘Helping a student with dyslexia read for pleasure’. The other seven titles cover ESOL, dads and male carers, FE, prisons, etc.

On screen tests for Entry Level 3

Thanks to site contributor Ruth who alerted me to the on-screen tests now available from Edexcel for Entry Level 3.

Two literacy and two numeracy practice versions are available at
I've tried out one of each and they appear to be robust and challenging. Each test has 30 multiple choice questions and the pass mark is 26. The time allowed is 1 hour. The layout and navigation tools are very clear: learners can flag questions to return to later and, after marking, can go back and review any questions they got wrong.

The numeracy test has an on-screen calculator for several questions.

The literacy test is based on six short texts (5 questions per text) and interestingly states that it is only a reading test and that learners will also have to do speaking & listening and writing tests (not available on-screen).

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Pronouns, clip art, and moulds.

The first resource for July is a delightful E1-2 pronoun resource from Amanda Burgess. We had a bit of trouble tracking down the original source of the royalty free clip art she had used but found it eventually at Purdue University (scroll down and click ‘Pronouns - by Mr B H Bill’).

I mention this here because the same site also includes some very useful, clear monochrome line drawings depicting verbs (100+), adjectives, transport, etc.

When I add curriculum links I know many of them off by heart (sad – eh!) but pronouns have not been covered in detail on the site. Searching for the correct references (*I use the handy DIUS online versions of the curricula to search – see bottom) threw up a somewhat irritating discrepancy between the ESOL curriculum and the Literacy curriculum – not the first by any means!

ESOL learners are introduced to pronouns at E1-2; at Entry 3 they are expected to know the name ‘pronoun’ and understand how and when pronouns are used. (Rs/E3.1a - know the names and understand the use of key grammatical forms, such as tenses, conjunctions, articles, adverbs, adjectives, negative, pronoun, phrase at this level and, how they carry meaning…).

In the Literacy Curriculum there is no mention of pronouns until Level 1 (Rs/L1.1 - understand the terms tense, negative, adverb, pronoun, phrase …).

At Level 2 the focus, for Literacy and ESOL, is on the accurate use of pronouns and clarity of writing. Nonetheless, there are intriguing differences in the wording of the descriptors.

ESOL (Ws/L2.3a) use pronouns to lessen repetition and improve the clarity of writing
-know the term pronoun and be able to identify personal and relative
pronouns, e.g. I, me, we, us, who, which
-understand and be able to apply the knowledge that pronouns are used to replace and refer to nouns, to avoid repetition
-know that, when using pronouns, it must be clear to what or to whom they refer, and to check this when proof-reading
-know that pronouns can be over-used, leading to confusion and repetitiveness, and that there are other linguistic strategies that can be employed to avoid this, e.g. referring to a person by name or title, using the former/the latter, alternating these with the pronoun

Literacy (Ws/L2.3) use pronouns so that their meaning is clear
-understand that pronouns are used to refer to nouns, to avoid having to repeat the noun each time
-know that, when using pronouns, it must be clear to what or to whom they refer, and to check this when proof-reading
-know the term pronoun and be able to identify personal pronouns: I, me, we, us, you, they, them
-understand how these link to the concept of first, second and third person, singular and plural, and subject-verb agreement

You might be thinking: ‘So what?’

Well, if the two curricula are different (which is fair enough) then why is one (ESOL) squeezed, stretched and cajoled to fit the Adult Literacy mould? Note that the ‘mould’ is the National Standards for Adult Literacy - not the Adult Literacy Curriculum.
There again - maybe I am just too pernickety!

* To search the various adult curricula - use these links and then the search box

Finally – after all that sidetracking - if you have any Level 2 pronoun resources (Literacy and/or ESOL!) that you would like to share please email them to me via

Thanks (if you've actually read this far!)

June 08 Site Stats

I posted up the new site stats yesterday evening. Each month, I never cease to be fascinated by what's popular and what's not!

For June, TV programmes were obviously the clear favourite with Andrea McCulloch's Dr Who resource (2000+ downloads) and Karen Bruin's Coronation Street (1300+) proving very popular. Close behind was Ginette Kriche's Spelling and Sentence Building (1200+).
It's interesting to note that between them these resources cover all five levels of the adult literacy curriculum from E1 to L2.