One of the greatest challenges to include LLN into vocational education is that these learners are here for a reason, this may be a generalization but certainly in my teaching context LLN is not a refined skillset held by most. Lifelong Learning UK agree that “many learners with literacy, numeracy and ICT skills gaps, however, may not be attracted to discrete English, Mathematics and ICT” they go on to explain that “they may want to work towards a different qualification, for example, in a college or a more informal context”. This skills gap makes a very unique and challenging task for the vocational teacher to overcome. What happens if I embed opportunities for literacy and numeracy but the fundamentals are missing; is that my responsibility? Do I have the skillset myself to teach LLN?
This year I have acknowledged these downfalls and taken a slightly different approach to embedding LLN; I have spent time reflecting upon my current and previous practice as well as my own experiences as a student. My Math’s teacher once explained algebra to me as ‘something you need to do to pass’; it certainly motivated me but was it right? Whether right or wrong I feel the missing element to any embedded LLN in vocational education is currency; the what and the why. I have spent the past few months thinking about these two questions, what do I need to know and why do I need to know it. I have found instead of embedding or hiding LLN (which is painfully obvious) I have been honest and upfront with my learners. Highlighting areas where we are using LLN positively rather than shoe horning it into an activity. For example, whilst performing resuscitation during a first aid course, all learners are using ratios, thirty chest compressions to two breaths. When asked to simplify learners write ‘30:2’, I then have a great opportunity to explain what a ratio is and its usefulness. The flow charts synonymous with first aid ‘DR ABC’ and so on are in actual fact simple algorithms and the rate of chest compressions can be expressed in beats per minute, all great examples of using numeracy.
Literacy on the other hand is a slightly more difficult area to embed into the subjects I teach. There are obvious areas such as: communication, note taking and verbal reasoning but the more common (and often missing) literacy skills such as punctuation are more difficult to embed. Looking at my own ability these are skills in which I need to improve on as well and as such find it difficult to find the opportunities and the confidence to include this in my practice; this was a common theme amongst my peers.
The Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) note and support my view that “In the past, teachers have recognised the need to contextualise literacy, language and numeracy teaching but this has not gone far enough.” (QIA 2009:6) Contextualising literacy and numeracy add value and currency. Lave and Wenger’s theory of communities of practice has real gravity to my subjects especially in the context of embedding LLN. According to Lave and Wenger a community of practice has three main features:
- All its members understand and support the ‘joint enterprise’ the community of practice is involved in.
- Its members are bound together into a community by a shared engagement.
- There is shared knowledge and artefacts, which are used or created by the group, for example its routines, resources, tools, vocabulary, practices, history etc.
By encouraging and supporting a community of practice will ensure any embedded LLN or indeed any other skill for that matter will be relevant to the industry or role the individual learner wishes to achieve. Forcing potentially irrelevant LLN can be damaging to the teacher learner relationship and in my experience can often be a very sensitive subject for older learners.
The QIA suggest that embedded learning is successful when:
- “There is clear mapping and identification of the Literacy, Language and Numeracy (LLN) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills to vocational and other course requirements.
- There is teaching of explicit LLN and ICT skills on courses.
- Learners are given clear information about the LLN and ICT requirements of the courses.
- All staff have the appropriate training and support to deliver high quality courses.
- Materials are developed and referenced to cover two sets of learning targets, for LLN and ICT and the requirements of the course, and that these targets aid the learners’ development of transferable skills.”
However, I would, in my context disagree with a couple of points including teaching explicit LLN skills; there is neither the time nor inclination of vocationally oriented learners to be forced explicit LLN sessions; particularly on short courses. I have found that by encouraging a community of practice the learner sees any areas for improvement by comparing themselves to masters within their community. It is then my job to be equipped to use that realization as an opportunity to sign post the learner to explicit LLN sessions. From my experience and reflection over the past two years, an adaption of the QIA’s list is more relevant to my own practice and has formed a checklist for my lesson planning:
- Provide clear identification of opportunities to explore LLN
- That opportunities / sign posting for explicit LLN learning are made available
- Teachers have the appropriate level of understanding of LLN with reference to their community of practice
Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press
Lawton, T. (2008) Inclusive learning approaches for literacy, language, numeracy and ICT companion guide to the minimum core November 2007. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/LLUK-00680-2007.pdf (Accessed: 19 April 2016).
Roberts, C., Baynham, M., Shrubshall, P., Brittan, J., Cooper, B., Gidley, N., Windsor, V., Eldred, J., Grief, S., Castillino, C., and Walsh, M. (2005) Research Summary Embedded teaching and learning of adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL: seven case studies.
Available at: http://www.nrdc.org.uk/publications_details.asp?ID=21# (Accessed: 19 April 2016)
Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) (2008) Raising Standards: A contextual Guide to Support Success in Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL Provision. Nottingham: QIA