Adult language, literacy and numeracy
Ross Woods, rev. 2018
This e-book comprises:
- A general strategy for recognizing the core language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) demands of training and assessment, and for assessing LLN students
- How to work with specialists
- How to adapt your training and assessment for students with LLN difficulties
- Some questions on general legislation
You won’t, however, learn how to be a qualified adult LLN specialist in this unit. These notes are not an exhaustive guide; they only cover what you will need to know and be able to do for your role.
Why this unit?
First, about 50% of Australian employees don’t have the full range of LLN skills they need to do their jobs:
- Some are learning English as a second language. Difficulties with English are often compounded by cultural adjustment and cultural misunderstandings.
- Many others find ways of avoiding LLN. For example, people with activist-relater learning styles normally want to communicate orally and avoid reading and writing as much as possible. Some people always "forget" their glasses and ask others to read it for them.
- A few have disabilities, and diagnosis requires specialist advice.
Second, you often can't circumvent LLN. For example, some students with very weak English had to learn how to use dangerous chemicals. The RTO trained them to use the colors of labels to identify the correct chemicals, but came unstuck when manufacturers changed their labels.
Third, admitting students who don’t have enough LLN skills for their courses creates difficulties for everybody.
- As an instructor, you'll regret it later on. Your group is harder to teach because students have widely varying ability levels, and you must give some students unreasonable amounts of extra help.
- As an assessor, you will be under pressure to spend lots of effort getting weak students over the line and to pass borderline students. The students generally do poorly anyway, and are more likely to either drop out or be assessed as Not yet competent for many units.
- Other students get reduced attention because you are propping up students who shouldn’t have been admitted to the course.
The flowchart below is a summary of this unit. In short it says:
- What kinds of LLN skills do students need to do your course?
- Assign each category a level in the core skills framework
- Get LLN assessment tools. Write them if necessary.
- Assess students’ LLN skills.
- Decide on a response.
Stage one: Determine the LLN requirements of the training Link
Who are you assessing for LLN? (i.e. A population of students in a particular qualification)
Find out the LLN skill requirements of the course’s units
Consult industry about their LLN requirements
Determine LLN requirements of the training context
Stage two: Assign each category an ACSF level Link
Sort these LLN requirements into categories
Assign each category an ACSF level
Stage three: Get LLN assessment tools Link Stage four: Assess students’ LLN skills Link
Use other sources of information
Find out how to use the assessment tools
Do the assessments
Stage five: Decide on a response 1
This person can take this course with no extra help
This person should be placed in a different course
This person should be denied admission to this course and referred to specialist support
This person can be admitted to the course and referred for concurrent support
This person can take this course in a normal class if the instructor customizes the program
No extra action required Refer to relevant course Refer to specialist learning support Access specialist learning support and work with the specialist Customize your program for LLN students No extra action required Link Link Link Link
Stage 1: Determine LLN requirements
Step 1: Who are you assessing for LLN?
You first need to figure out whose LLN skills you will check. For example:
- A particular course might have a history of a high percentage of students who have LLN issues. In this case, your manager might simply decide to assess all prospective students before admission, or risk-assess all applicants and refer high-risk students for assessment.
- You might have some struggling students in a course that is already running.
Next, what is the course? Don’t forget to include the electives offered.
Learning activity questions
- What is the name of the course? (E.g. Certificate IV in Business, Diploma of Management (Construction)
- What units are being offered in this course? List them.
- Which students need to be assessed?
- Why were these students identified as needing LLN assessment?
Step 2: Find out the core LLN skill requirements of the course units
Read through the units and identify the actual LLN skills they require. You can colour code them, or make a list of them.
Include all the following LLN skills.
- Speaking/oral communication
The ACSF uses these categories, even though, strictly speaking, learning is not actually part of LLN.
Step 3: Consult industry about their LLN requirements.
You also need to address industry LLN requirements in your training.
As in general course preparation, "consulting industry" depends a great deal on the kind of workplace. An enterprise RTO trains people to work in a specific company and often for specific jobs. Several suitable informants or a review of job descriptions might be enough to give you an adequate picture. By contrast, a general campus program often prepares students to work anywhere in the industry, which could mean anything from a centralized association to a network of small businesses, to a loose network of self-employed people.
You should also do a literature review (e.g. an Internet search) showing what the literature says about LLN requirements for this kind of employment.
Step 4: Determine the LLN requirements of the training context
What LLN skills will students need in their particular training context? Students might be learning on the job or in a campus, imposing its own requirement.
For example, a campus or classroom situation might require reading skills for using a library, writing skills for assignments, discussion skills for class participation, or note-taking skills for classes. By contrast, a workplace might require students to write reports, to use numbers and estimate quantities, and to read procedures and labels. If you’re working in the community, you might need very good oral communication skills to talk to people, listen to them, encourage them, and resolve problems.
The interesting point is that campus-style study, unlike the community or workplace, might require LLN skills that are not necessarily used for work. For example, most employees don’t write essays at work.
The training context can introduce a set of skills that is quite divorced from the job requirements, essay-writing skills being one of the most common. Check that your assessments are still valid, otherwise you could be assessing student’s skills in course-taking rather than doing a particular job.
Stage two: Assign each category an ACSF level
You now have a list of LLN skills that students need to learn from the units in the course, from industry, and from the training environment.
Step 1: Sort these list items into categories
Your task is now to collate all these skills in to one list based on the categories of the ACSF, that is: Learning, Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking/oral communication, and Numeracy. Perhaps the best way to present your categorization is as a simple set of lists.
Step 2: Assign each category an ACSF level
Next to each category, assign each kind of skill a performance level according to the ACSF. It must be written. Although it is not a requirement, some organizations also use these numerical levels to produce bar charts.
Learning activity questions
- Write a definition in your own words of each core LLN skill according to the ACSF
- What is the current national policy on integrating LLN into training package competencies?
Stage three: Get some LLN assessment tools
You now need some LLN assessment tools. You can use existing tools or write your own.
Option: Published tools
Published tools have usually been thoroughly tested and validated by educational psychologists. If so, they will always come with a full set of instructions, a statement of how they were validated and what they are valid for, and a grading key for interpreting test results. You will not be able to change these tests without making them invalid. As they are always designed for a specific purpose, you need to be able to show that the tool you choose is suitable for your students.
You often need to pay for their use, either by buying individual copies or a license. You might be lucky enough to find this kind of tool that is free of copyright and for which you do not need to pay, or copyrighted but freely available for your use. If so, go with it.
You already have tools
You or your RTO might already have assessment tools that address your students’ requirements. You need to check whether they are already validated, and if so, whether the validation applies to your particular population of students. If not, you will need to edit them and validate them for your students, as long as the copyright permits.
Write your own tools
Write your own tools and validate them. You will probably need to be able to write simple tools anyway, so that is the approach taken here.
About LLN assessment tools
- Most tools will assess only one of the following: speaking, listening, reading, writing, or mathematics.
- Skills are at different levels. LLN skills can range from very basic to very advanced, and they are not the same as the qualification level.
- For the purpose of this course, the tools will assess skills required in the student’s actual workplace as part of their job.
The tricks and traps
- If you have a series of tasks, start with simple, easy stuff. This puts your student at ease so you get a better view of what they can do. You can progress to the more difficult tasks later.
- Make sure your tests are valid. The mode of assessment must match the skill to be assessed. For example, you cannot assess writing solely by interview or by identifying writing errors. A test on writing must require the students to write something.
- Except for larger tasks, cover every point at least twice.
- Do not try to use complicated statistical systems for marking. The chances of getting it right are quite low unless you have had some specialist training.
Steps for writing assessment tools
- Identify your student(s)
- Identify the particular LLN skill that appears to need assessment
- Identify the particular VET course.
- Go through the units and job descriptions and look for the LLN skills required.
- Choose a specific workplace task that requires an LLN skill. For example:
- Numeracy: Calculate or estimate quantities
- Numeracy: Calculate prices or costs
- Numeracy: Count money
- Writing: Write proposals or reports
- Writing: Write business letters for particular kinds of situations
- Reading: Read procedures and explain what they have to do when following it
- Listening: Listen to instructions and explain what they have to do when following them
- Speaking: Give a sales pitch or speech
- Speaking: Answer a series of client questions
- Speaking and listening: Negotiate client problems
- Check that the task is the right length and complexity for the workplace requirement.
- Identify the level of that skill on the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF).
- Write one or more assessment tasks that require the skill. For example, if the skill is to fill in a particular form:
- Give students:
- a copy of the form,
- a particular set of circumstances, and
- a set of instructions so they know what is expected and what is the difference between satisfactory and not good enough.
- Ask them to fill the form in, preferably more than once.
- Check that someone else could use the tool as is. If not, write a set of instructions on how to use it.
- Get someone else to check the tool.
Note that the steps listed above above are repeated down the left of the table below.
Procedure Example 1. Identify your student(s): Joe Bloggs is doing a general Certificate III course. 2. Identify the particular LLN skill that appears to need assessment: Joe’s job mainly involves working with people, but we noticed several weaknesses in his literacy skills. 3. Identify the particular VET course. Joe’s Certificate III course. 4. Go through the units and job descriptions and look for the LLN skills required. The OHS unit came to our attention.< 5. Choose a specific workplace task that requires an LLN skill. We noticed the literacy requirements of the OHS unit. It involves basic workplace tasks in reading (e.g. procedures and rules) and writing (workplace forms). 6. Check that the task is the right length and complexity for the workplace requirement. The tasks are based directly on the unit requirements. 7. Identify the level of that skill on the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF). Learning
Level 2.02 Applies a limited range of learning strategies in structured and familiar contexts (Not at level three, because does not have to begin to seek new challenges.)
Level 2.03 Identifies and interprets relevant information and ideas from texts on familiar topics (No higher as the student does not have to use a number of reading strategies.)
Level 2.05 Conveys intended meaning on familiar topics for a limited range of purposes and audiences
Level 2.07 Uses everyday language to provide information or maintain a conversation in familiar spoken contexts
N/a No particular numeracy skills are required in this unit.
8. Write one or more assessment tasks that require the skill. Click here to see an example
Stage four: Assess students’ LLN skills
Step 1: Use other sources of information
What other sources of information are available to you on the students’ LLN skills? For example, was there any feedback from an admissions interview? Is there feedback from the students current instructor? Do you have a CV of the student or a reference from a third party?
Step 2: Find out how to use the assessment tools
Ask an LLN specialist about how to use the assessment tool, and get any results or feedback from assessments already done.
Step 3: Do the assessments
Then use your tools to assess students’ LLN skills. Simply follow your normal assessment protocols.
Stage five: Decide on a response
You now need to interpret the assessment results and decide on a response for each student. (2.1, Rqs 3)
Your main options are:
- Can this person take this course and bridge the gaps as they go with no extra assistance?
- Should this person be placed in a different course?
- Should this person be denied admission to this course and referred to specialist support?
- Can this prospective student be admitted to the course and referred to a specialist for concurrent support?
- Can this person take this course in a normal class as long as the instructor customizes the program?
In many cases, your decision will be fairly straightforward.
In the more borderline cases, however, it is best to confer with another staff member or your supervisor. As you test your assessment tool with more students, you will build up a set of criteria that will make your decisions easier. However, you will probably find that people tend to respond according to how risk-averse they are; some want to take a risk on borderline students and admit them to the course while others won’t.
Assessment trapYou are assessing for skills they should have at the end of the course. Be careful not to require those skills simply to get into the course. | Tutor tip 1Tutors might feel that they need to teach everything all over again, or to do the student’s work for them.
Perhaps the tutor’s best role is to listen to the student’s explanation of each lesson, answer questions and work extra examples of tasks. | Tutor tip 2When students’ problems are primarily attitudinal, finding the right person to be tutor is the key, and the role is more as a personal mentor. Unless the student changes their attitude, there is probably nothing that a tutor can achieve.
Learning activity question: Do you have all five options in your RTO?
Response: Refer to a relevant course (el. 2)
If the student needs specialist learning support, you can refer the student to a suitable course. Your main options could be:
- Link the student to a tutor or mentor
- Link the student to specialist in-house support services (if you are a larger RTO) such as courses in English, essay writing, or study skills.
- Refer the student to the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program
- Refer the student to the Read Write Now program.
Access specialist learning support
If you think that you need to refer the student to a specialist, your main options are:
- Link the student to specialist consultants
- Team teach with another instructor who has some specialist skills
- Link the student to government and community support services.
Your first level of support is a tutor with suitable skills in the particular kind of need. This avenue works best for students who simply never learned something when they were younger. It might be the best solution for many students.
However, some cases need specialist diagnosis and treatment. LLN difficulties can be very complex, so it is not your job to diagnose them. For example,
- Dyslexia and dysgraphia are two of the hundreds of literacy-related disabilities.
- Students with poor eyesight have difficulty reading and writing.
- Some have poor hearing, which affects their listening skills. MoreHearing difficulties obviously affect learning and might not have been picked up before. They can be difficult to identify precisely. Partially deaf people often don't know that their hearing is diminished, and it could also be a language problem. (Having said that, deafness is classified as a physical disability rather than a learning disability.)
In any case, the commonsense response is to refer it.
- People with a high score on the autism spectrum have difficulty communicating orally with other people.
- Some medications have side effects such as drowsiness, poor concentration or altered emotional state.
Unfortunately, there is no particular job as an LLN specialist. Instead, the role is spread over various specializations and qualifications, and it is very uncommon for one person to cover them all:
Area of difficulty Relevant qualifications Learning difficulties Bachelor of Education in special education
Master of Education specializing in special education
Poor English as a Second Language (ESL) skills Certificate in teaching English as a second language. Many variations on nomenclature e.g. Cert. TEFLA, CELTA, Cert. TESOL
Units in a Bachelor of Education or a BA Linguistics
Master degree in Teaching English to Speaker of Other Languages (TESOL) Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), or Applied Linguistics
Students with non-ESL difficulties in oral language Speech pathologist
Specialized units in a Bachelor of Education
Literacy difficulties Bachelor of Education with specialized literacy units
Master of Education specializing in literacy or reading education
Numeracy difficulties Bachelor of Education with specialized units in mathematics education
Master of Education specializing in mathematics education
A small RTO might keep a list of referral specialists, while a very large RTO might have some of them in-house.
Except for ESL, most literacy and numeracy specialists are trained to teach children and not adults. If necessary, you might need to also include a person with specialized skills in adult education. Besides, simply having the qualification doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is the best person for a referral, because they might not have been working in the area for a long period.
Other specializations are more of a paramedical nature. Refer hearing difficulties to a GP, abnormal speech patterns to a speech pathologist (rare for adults), and vision difficulties to an optometrist. If these specialists cannot help your student, they might refer on to a neurologist or a clinical psychologist consulting in educational psychology.
- You must be able to liaise with personnel, including managers or supervisors, from your RTO (Rqs 5)
- You must also be able to liaise with appropriate external authorities (Rqs 6)
Step 2: Work with the specialist
The kind of specialist will determine how you relate to them. For example:
- You might monitor the student’s progress with an internal tutor or team teacher.
- The outside specialist might give you a course of action and then regularly discuss the effectiveness of the approach.
- You might discuss the case with an outside specialist once on the telephone and then hand the student over.
You will need a confidentiality clearance to discuss the details of a student’s case with someone external to your organization.
Customizing your program for LLN students
This is what happens if you answered "Yes" to the question "Can this student take this course in a normal class as long as the instructor customizes the program?" You are now the instructor who needs to customize your program.
You need to come up with training and assessment materials that suit the LLN skills you have identified. You have several options to acquire them.
- You might be able to select materials that already meet your needs.
- You might be able to customize existing materials.
- You might be forced to develop new materials from scratch. learning
You also need to choose the learning support strategies that will work for your students. For example:
- Use plain, simple English without speaking too slowly or being pedantic.
- Use good diagrams and visual aids.
- Demonstrate LLN practices to be learned in a workplace context.
- Use video material or audio recordings of texts.
- Start with simplified explanations of underpinning principles and concepts. When you are satisfied that they have the basics, consider implications to build up to a more complete version.
- Give explanations and examples of different kinds of texts.
- Check that students are sharing their decision-making responsibilities.
- To master unfamiliar vocabulary, encourage students to make their own personal word lists and dictionaries.
- Give mentoring after class. It could be informal or for a regular time each week.
- Review the sequencing of your lessons.
- Acknowledge students’ individual strengths and build on them.
- Give students opportunities to discuss different culturally-based behaviors and values. Treat them as important and build on them.
- Pictograms work for some low-level skills where low levels of English proficiency are permissible.
- Use Socratic questioning techniques.
- Find out what they expect. For example, people in some cultures expect you simply to give them information to memorize. In some cultures, people want a clear set of steps to follow. Others don’t really know what to expect.
Whichever approaches you use, you will need good interpersonal skills to encourage students’ development, and be sensitive to cultural issues.
After you’ve implemented your approach, keep an eye on whether your approaches are working. Looks for ways of improving.
TipKeep a log of lessons you have learned on the way. If you are writing your own materials, incorporate what you learn into the next version.