Friday, 27 November 2009

LSIS Star Awards - thanks to all

Wow! I am in complete shock and have had very little sleep. No official photographs yet but here's two taken before the awards ceremony last night at Old Billingsgate, London (a most amazing venue).

I'm pictured with my nominator and manager, Anne Haig Smith, and my 'personal guest' (my husband!).

All I can say at the moment is a big thank you to all of my site users - especially those of you that have contributed resources and made the site so successful. I couldn't have done it without you.

I'd also like to thank everyone at Abingdon and Witney College for their support, and, of course, the students whose individual learning needs inspired me to create many of the original site resources.

Thanks also to LSIS for putting on such a magnificent event and many congratulations to all the nominees who attended last night.

Postscript 03/12/09
The offical photos are now on the Star Awards site
Here's one of them!

I am over the moon and the prize money will mean that, in time, you will notice some changes (for the better) on

Friday, 14 August 2009

Literacy help needed: reading comprehension progression from Entry 1 to Entry 2

I have received the following request from a site user. If you can help please post a comment or, if you prefer, email and I will forward any messages to Sarah.

Dear Maggie

I wondered if you could post this query on your blog. I would really value any advice or help that any of your blog readers could give me.

I am a literacy tutor for a fifteen year old boy. He had a serious head injury as a baby and has experienced learning difficulties. He is also partially sighted.

When I started working with him at age thirteen, he still really could not read (he could synthesise cvc words very slowly) but, following a strong synthetic phonics approach, he has made significant progress since.

He now has word decoding skills equivalent to approximately age 10 but his reading comprehension is less that this (maybe age 7-8 equivalence). I have been trying to do a lot of reading comprehension work with him using adult literacy resources (as obviously this is more akin to his interest levels and I am hoping that he will be able to slot into the adult literacy programme at his sixth form college next year).

He copes really well with comprehension at Entry Level 1 but struggles with Entry Level 2. There seems to be a big increase in the amount of text to be read at EL2 compared with EL1. He does have some memory problems and so finds it difficult to remember information from several
paragraphs at a time. (He can usually find the answer if I tell him which paragraph/sentence it is in.) He also finds scanning text really hard (not sure if this is because of his partial sight) and is reluctant to re-read entire texts to find answers, preferring to guess instead!

I'm wondering if anyone had any thoughts or ideas as to how I could help him to progress towards Entry 2 comprehension levels?

Thank you so much


Monday, 10 August 2009

Help wanted re. ESOL job interview

I have received a request from a site user who has an upcoming job interview. I am not sure how many basic skills / ESOL teachers will be reading this in the middle of August but have offered to share the question on this blog in the hope of receiving a range of teaching ideas / responses.

My gut feeling would be to use a Language Experience approach and, I guess, explain how this strategy could be used in the presentation – giving examples of teaching resources, activities, etc. However, I am not a qualified ESOL teacher and have only used this approach with Entry Level 1-2 literacy students.

The writer thinks they are expecting a PowerPoint presentation which will be followed by a panel interview.

If you have any ideas please share them by leaving a comment - or, if you prefer, email and I will forward any messages to the site user.

Thank you.

Dear Maggie

I hope you don’t mind me e-mailing you but I hope you can give me some help or point me in the right direction. I’ve tried emailing some teaching forums and have had no replies or anything.

Basically, I’ve got an interview for an ESOL Lecturer position at a local FE college but they want me to do a presentation and this is something I’ve no experience of. Also, I don’t know how long or what format the presentation is supposed to take. Surely they aren’t expecting an all singing all dancing one?

The presentation question is "If you had one or more Level 2 students whose speaking skills were very good but whose reading and writing skills were a lot weaker, what strategies would you use to assist the students in bringing up those skills to Level 2?"

To me, this sounds like a question that could be asked during an interview so I’m not sure how I would go about doing a presentation on it. I’ve been teaching ESOL for 3 years in Liverpool and I have the experience for the job but the idea of a presentation has knocked me for six!

Any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Monday, 27 July 2009

If the UK were a village of 100 people - or - How to embed adult numeracy / functional mathematics in vocational learning

Little Britain - Portrait of the nation as a neighbourhood appeared in last week's Independent (July 21st) along with a set of 11 wonderful illustrations from Laurent Taubin.
One quick glance and I immediately earmarked the entire 'Independent Life' pullout as an addition to my small but select stack of saved newspapers.

My stack includes: last month's flu graphic from The Times - which I fear will be gravely old hat before term starts (but I still think it's a great resource!); several newspapers from 9/11, 7/7, New Year's Day 2000, etc. I used to cut out just the relevant sections of newspapers / magazines but have discovered that it's a better idea to save the entire document. This gives the text real-life credibility and students get a much better idea of its source / purpose.

Anyway, to return to the UK Village report: I'm convinced it will come in handy next term for teaching percentages, fractions, data handling and goodness-knows-what.

The report has come in for quite a bit of flack from Independent readers (see the comments below the online version). OK, so the statistics might not be the most reliable (you could discuss this with your students) but I still think there's a lot of mileage in them.

There's an abundance of obvious links with vocational courses (and probably quite a few not-so-obvious ones).

If Britain were a village of 100 people:

  • Seventy-eight of the villagers would have a passport.
  • The people of the village would have made 107 trips abroad, spending £60, 055 between them.

Leisure, Travel and Tourism

  • Fifty-five would have a driving licence.
  • There would be 56 motor vehicles in the village, including 44 cars and two motorbikes.
  • Of the 42 households in the village, 18 would have one car, 13 would have two or more cars and 10 would not have a car at all.

Motor Vehicles

  • If Britain were a village of 100 people, 17 of the villagers would smoke, of whom 11 would like to give up.
  • Nineteen adults and three children would be classified as obese (that is they would have a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater).
  • Sixteen men and eight women would usually exceed the Government's daily sensible drinking benchmark (3-4 units per day for men; 2-3 units a day for women).
  • Eight men and four women would have taken an illicit drug in the past year.
  • One person would have dementia.
  • The village would welcome one new baby this year. The baby would expect to live for 76 years and six months (if it was a boy), or 81 years and seven months (if it was a girl).

Health and Social Care

  • Five villagers would be employed in the food industry.
  • Three of the villagers would be vegetarians and a further five would be partly vegetarian.
  • Between them, the villagers would spend £2,955 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks. They would spend £1,154 a week on food eaten outside the home, of which £355 would go towards alcohol.


(If you look hard enough you'll also find statistics related to media, sport, animal care, and business studies.)

OK. So, we've got the links to vocational topics there for possible embedded teaching. What next?

Well, I like the idea of using the UK Village as a general introduction to percentages. It clearly demonstrates that 'percentage' means out of one hundred.

Then there's the possibility of simplifying all those percentages / fractions (and thus demonstrate that fractions and percentages are just alternative ways of expressing the same number).

E.g. What fraction of villagers / Britons have a driving licence?
55% - 55/100 - 11/20

Or, how about working out the average cost of a trip abroad?

Or, creating a pie chart (in Excel) depicting the ethnicity of the village? (You'll need to read the report to get these stats).

Or, for Entry 3 Numeracy (which now includes percentages) you could get students to come up with their own 'fun' statistics based on one of the illustrations.

This brings me on to a (vaguely) related topic: Functional Maths standards.

I am rather mystified by some of the Functional Maths standards (admittedly still in draft format). As I've just mentioned, someone has seen fit to introduce percentages at Entry 3 in the new online adult numeracy core curriculum curriculum (you'll need to register with the Excellence Gateway to get access). This seems a sensible idea to me - after all, percentages are very commonplace and knowing that 50% = 1/2 seems like a suitable Entry 3 skill.

N2/E3.2 Recognise and use equivalent forms

  • Understand that equivalent fractions look different but have the same value, e.g. 5/10 = 1/2
  • Understand that when the top and bottom number of a fraction are the same, this is equivalent to 1
  • Understand common simple percentages in familiar context, e.g. 25% and 50%
  • Understand common fraction/decimal/percentage equivalencies, e.g. 1/2 and 1/4 are equivalent to 50% and 25% respectively

Activities and examples

  • Circle equivalent fractions in a list e.g. 1/2 5/10 50/100
  • Investigation - look for a pattern in fractions equivalent to 1/2 e.g. 2/4 3/6 4/8 5/10 10/20 50/100 Write more fractions equivalent to 1/2.
  • Circle fractions in a list equal to 1.
  • Recognise relationships in the context of measure, e.g. that 5mm is half a centimetre, 50cm is half a metre, 500g is half a kilo, 500ml is half a litre.
  • In the context of money, recognise that 50p is half of £1 and appears on the calculator as 0.5.
  • Use the table function in Word to split cells to make a fraction wall and demonstrate equivalent fractions

Online Adult Numeracy Curriculum, Entry 3 Numeracy - N2/E3.2. (You need to register with the Excellence Gateway to access this link)

Interestingly, the Functional Maths standards seem to have gone the other way.The Amplified FS Standards make no mention of percentages until Level 1 where it briefly states:

Understand and use equivalencies between common fractions, decimals and percentages
• Read, write, order and compare common fractions, including mixed numbers, decimals with up to three decimal places and percentages.
(p.66, Amplified Functional Skills Standards, Level 1 Maths)

Now I fully take on board the fact that

'The level of demand of mathematical activities increases when it is contextualised in 'real life' scenarios. For this reason, the mathematical skills and techniques that are expected to be utilised and applied in functional skills activities are slightly lower than the usual band equivalences in the national curriculum levels.' (p53, Amplified Functional Skills Standards)

but it still seems strange that percentages are not actually 'used' until Level 2 FS Maths where the standards state:

Understand and use equivalencies between fractions, decimals and percentages
• Understand that fractions, decimals and percentages are different ways of expressing the same thing.

Use fractions, decimals and percentages to order and compare amounts or quantities and to solve practical problems. For example, what decimal must I multiply by to find the cost after a reduction of 25%? Choose to use a fraction, decimal or percentage to work out VAT.
• Know how to change fractions to equivalent fractions with a common denominator.
• Identify equivalences between fractions, decimals and percentages.
• Evaluate one number as a fraction or percentage of another.
• Understand that quantities must be in the same units to evaluate and compare.

Add and subtract fractions; add, subtract, multiply and divide decimals and percentages
• Add and subtract using halves, thirds, quarters, fifths and tenths.
• Add, subtract, multiply and divide decimals up to three places and check answers in the context of measurements and money, for example a bill for £32.67 shared equally among three people.

(pp.70-71, Amplified Functional Skills Standards, Level 2 Maths)

Seems like a big jump to me? And not at all clear exactly what is expected at L1 and what at Level 2?

I'll finish with one more statistic from the UK village:

'One person in the village would be illiterate'.

I'm not going to get into a discussion about what 'illiterate' means. You'll have to read my post of last July, What is complete illiteracy?.

If you have any further idea on using the UK Village in embedded teaching do share! Likewise, if you have any ideas for using it in literacy classes.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Fabulous flu graphic in yesterday's Times

This caught my eye yesterday (someone was reading it at the newspaper stand in Waitrose, Abingdon, and it looked so interesting I just had to buy the paper).

The good news is it is also available as a PDF file from the Times web site where you can also read the related report: 'Britain is braced for mass school closures in the autumn'.

It's ideal for displaying on an interactive whiteboard and also prints out very clearly onto an A4 sheet. There's so much to absorb that it's hard to know where to look first...

but remember the great thing about PDF files is that you can zoom into particular bits. Once you have got the area you want to see lined up in the window (see screenshot, below left) you can print just the 'current view' onto an A4 sheet to make an instant worksheet (see screenshot of the Adobe Acrobat print dialogue box below right - you can click on this screen shot to zoom in if needed).

Unfortunately a) it's almost the end of term and b) I'm teaching E1-2 at the moment so I don't think I'm going to get a chance to use the graphic in class. BUT if you do and want to share your ideas please leave a blog comment or email me via

Here's just a few starter ideas (for L1-L2) using the enlarged part of the graphic shown above:

Pictograms - look at the pictogram and read the surrounding text.

  1. How many doses of flu vaccine does each syringe represent?
  2. Why are there 12 syringes in the pictogram?
  3. Explain why there are only 10 anti-viral drug icons.

For more ideas on using newspaper graphics in numeracy classes have a look at my Guardian Eyewitness - numeracy resource for film lovers post of last July.

Swine flu - literacy resources galore

In light of yesterday's news about the now pandemic status of swine flu anything that helps to spread accurate information and advice can only be a good thing.

So, unsurprisingly, swine flu resources are very popular on thisAdd Image month (overtaken only by the Susan Boyle and Diversity resources!).

The latest, a set of 10 L1-L2 multiple choice reading comprehension questions (contributed by Elaine Slingsby) based on the Official UK Government leaflet, will be added to the site later today. (See large picture, right).

A further two resources (pictures below left and middle) have been available for the past month. One gives general teaching ideas for using the official leaflet with E2-L1 readers (3600 downloads since May 5th) and the second, contributed by Pam Benfold (Victoria, Australia), is a set of web research questions for L1-L2 learners (2100 downloads since May 10th).

I have also been informed of a useful simplified version of the UK leaflet (picture, above right) which looks ideal for reading work with E1-E2 learners (please note this is an ‘unoffical translation’). It's on a fascinating site, Simply Understand, run by Corinne Pritchard whose aim in life is to get rid of 'gobblydegook and jargon'.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

What's in a Name?

A regular site user (thanks Ruth) has alerted me to the news that the DIUS (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills) is no longer

Further and higher education are now grouped with business under the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (headed by Lord Mandelson).

Ruth points out that just in this century the name has changed from the DfEE (Department for Education and Employment) to the DfES (Department for Education and Skills, 2001) to the DIUS (2007) and now to the DBIS. Previous to 1995 the name remained unchanged for 30 years (Department of Education and Science, 1964-1995).

She goes on to comment:
“The way it goes is: when it isn't working, change the name!”

Having just emerged from a year of heavy Harvard referencing (whilst studying for the Level 5 Numeracy Diploma) I have also noticed all these name changes. They were particularly evident in the references used in my first essay (The History and Developing Role of Mathematics / Numeracy) and my final presentation (Changes in the Mathematics / Numeracy Curriculum).

I will be sharing many of these references with site users later in the summer when I intend to set up a new section of Level 5 Numeracy links. These will mirror the existing Level 4-5 Literacy Links section I set up after my literacy studies in 2004-5.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Site down due to server problems - not available, not running ...

Apologies to all site users but the site has been down all day. I have no idea when it will be available again but fingers crossed it will be up and running soon.
The problem is with my hosting company 4U Hosting (4UH Ltd) and is out of my control. It does happen occasionally although not normally for such a long period of time.
Please excuse the strange repetitive nature of my English but I am trying to include as many 'down' / 'not running' / 'unavailable' synonyms as possible in this post so that site users typing 'skillsworkshop down' or 'skillsworkshop not running' or 'skillsworkshop not working' will find this blog in their Google search results.
Please don't email me on my email to tell me as that is down too! You can, however, send messages via this blog.