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E801: Action 1.15: Views on adult literacy learning

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Action 1.15: Views on Adult Literacy Learning

Freedom to Learn is the report of the working group looking into the basic skills needs of adults with learning difficulties and disabilities. It sets out ways in which access to good basic skills teaching and learning could be improved for adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.


From executive summary:

"sufferers from dyslexia" Sir Claus Moser (1999) - medical model or charity model of disability

"basic skills needed for employment or further education" - employment focus

Low self-esteem/low self confidence - a major barrier and one that prevents learners approaching colleges, community support is vital.

"Learning difficulties such as those caused by poor short-term memory, poor sequencing skills or language dysfunction require specialist high-quality teaching. Currently, this is not available to many learners because of a shortage of skilled and qualified teachers." - This is not recognised and specialist staff have low status which comes from relying on volunteers and low level training courses.

Staff need to be aware of facilities for disabled learners - legalities too!

Community education should be recognised - I really agree with this as working with learners on a simple aromatherapy course allowed them to realise that adult education was not like school and they were then ready to move into learning literacy/numeracy skills.

"alternative ways to demonstrate achievement" - yes, Key Skills are not appropriate as too high to achieve in some cases and too close to school experiences in many.


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E801: Action 1.14: Dyslexia and adult literacy learning

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Action 1.14: Dyslexia and Adult Literacy Learning

The Skills for Life Improvement Programme came to an end on
31 August 2009 but their materials are still available to download from:


Kerr, H. (2001) Dyslexia and adult literacy: does dyslexia disempower? In Fletcher-Campbell, F., Soler, J. & Reid, G. (2009) Approaching Difficulties in Literacy Development: Assessment, Pedagogy and Programmes. London, Sage.

Issues to be included in courses aimed at people working with adults with dyslexia

  • Tendency to use term 'dyslexia' for all difficulties with literacy (p.280)
  • Intelligence/achievement discrepancies not pathognomic (p.280)
  • Established dyslexia industry - vested interest (p.281)
  • Illogicalities/inconsistencies in science (p.281)
  • Diagnosis - preferable to being stupid but leads to reduced expectations (p.281)
  • No gene for literacy: "The first literate acts (clay tablet invoices) were only about 6000 years ago. This is some 94,000 years too short a time for a skill or aptitude to be encoded in our DNA." (p.283)
  • It is feasible that a gene effects literacy (p.283)
  • Genetic sex-linkage not demonstrated (p.283)



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E801: Action 1.13: Policy Context

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Hamilton, M., Macrae, C. & Tett, L. (2009) Powerful literacies: the policy context. In Solar, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (2009) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts. London, Sage.


International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS)

  • cognitive, independent of context
  • primarily reading: prose, document & quantitative literacy

Serious critiques of methods/validity but relied on in policy

England and Wales

1970s The Right to Read - first adult national literacy policy

1:1 and small group tuition

Basic Skills Agency - 1975 (materials, events, good practice)

Many volunteers at first, increasing professionalism

Late 1980s accreditation framework produced - related to NVQs

Increasingly formalised

UK - Creating a skilled workforce; Europe - informed citizens

Moser (1999) - tighter control

Integration with other education provision; no link to research

Wales - bilingual materials and tuition; more flexibility and local discretion


Mainly 1:1 with volunteers, locally

Writing and numeracy more popular than reading

Scottish Adult Basic Education Unit (SABEU) - wanted broader skills programmes; generally ignored by regional councils

Since mid 1980s no national agency and wide disparity across country; mainly volunteers; mainly 1:1

Broad remit encouraged

NDP (2000) survey - poor quality and capacity were concerns

Literacy 2000 - task group

Northern Ireland

Further education colleges- adult literacy organiser + group tutors + volunteer tutors for 1:1

Also voluntary/community groups and prisons

Adult literacy liaison group (ALLG) + Adult literacy and Basic Education Committee (ALBEC) - material, guides, courses, standards

General education is mainly grammar, secondary highs/colleges, denominational, single sex

Economistic emphasis


Long history of voluntary literacy schemes

>1985 paid literacy organisers

Locally based

Research on participation and access - increased quality

Literacy has high priority; multidimensional approach

My Thoughts

I cannot equate the picture of the provision in England with the adult literacy teaching that I did in 2003. This was organised by a small local college and it was led by a qualified teacher with help from volunteers and trainees. The group consisted of people who were learning either literacy, numeracy or IT skills. The focus was on social aspects of learning although some people were hoping that it would also improve their job prospects. Certification was not a focus and people generally left the course without any extra qualifications although many moved on to take Key Skills or GCSE qualifications at the same college. It was a really relaxed atmosphere with coffee and biscuits available at any time. It was very student focused: one man was trying to learn to read in order to read to his grandchildren and so he wanted to practice with children's books; another wanted to be able to write to his children in Australia so he was concentrating on typing on the computer, not handwriting.

I would agree that ABE professionals are not valued or supported and certainly not listened to when it comes to designing provision. The people with whom I was working were ashamed of progressing to qualifications with the same name as those their children/grandchildren were doing, but at a lower level. The college were not interested in what we were saying about this fact as they were being encouraged to standardise the qualifications.


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E801: Action 1.12: Policy and Reading Research

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Edited by Lynn Hunt, Wednesday, 3 Nov 2010, 11:12

E801: Action 1.12: Policy and Reading Research

Clackmannanshire Synthetic Phonics Initiative:

  • 19 primary schools - some very small
  • Lead researcher = teacher for some groups (2nd study)
  • 7 year study
  • Initially synthetic/analytic/phoneme + analytic groups
  • Synthetic progressed fast so all changed to synthetic
  • End of study: decoding words - on av. 3 ½ yrs ahead; spelling - 1yr 9 months ahead; comprehension- 3 ½ months ahead


  • No national curriculum
  • 5 broad national priorities
  • Local Authority has to justify policies to meet local needs
  • Devolved decision-making so in hands of those that deliver it
  • National tests for internal monitoring; taken when child is ready; teacher can award on class work


  • Gov. money; extra to budget
  • Home-school liaison set up

Staff development

  • Specific content and teaching methods
  • Group support
  • Head teachers and management involved
  • Staff monitored and supported
  • Children monitored and support groups for those falling behind
  • Extra training for teachers moving into the school

I have been trying to find the research that discusses the effect of synthetic phonics on producing children that can read words accurately but no longer read for pleasure and so their comprehension and general knowledge is suffering.I cannot find the exact article but there is research that argues both sides i.e. that synthetic phonics benefits reading comprehension and also that it detracts from it!



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E801: Action 1.11: The Rose Report

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E801: Action 1.11: The Rose Report

'start 'guessing' at words and end up dyslexic.' (Palmer, 2006, p.23) - What! So guessing at words changes learners' genetic structure does it? You learn something new every day!

Having pointed this out, I have to say I agree with the vast majority of both the reports.

  • Young children do not have the attention span required for whole class learning of something they find difficult/uninteresting
  • Many young children do not have the discrimination skills to identify individual letters
  • Children are individuals: some will be bored at the level of teaching and some will be out of their depth

I have never understood why we cannot put the money into supporting teacher training and CPD and then trust them to be professionals and choose the right approach for each child.

Home educating my children has taught me to trust them. They know what they need and I just kept trying approaches until they clearly indicated that they were happy with it. Interestingly I later took qualifications in teaching basic skills to adults and this was the method recommended all the way through - an individualised response and plenty of variety until the learner found something that helped them understand. For example, I was teaching maths to a 40 year old blind student with 6 children. She was having great difficulty in understanding the concept of equivalency of fractions so I compared it to a large chocolate bar. If it had 24 squares and she broke it in half, how many squares would she have for her and her husband? So 12/24 was the same as 1/2 . She immediately came back with the fact that 1/6 was the same as 4/24 because she could relate it to sharing chocolate between her children. She progressed rapidly from there.

I think that individualised, personalised, concrete experiences are the best way for all learners, no matter what age they are. Learners need to move from concrete experiences to abstract experiences and may need to move back to concrete again at points in their learning when they encounter problems. I return to concrete experiences on this course when I read about a concept and then relate it to my own experiences before I can truly understand how the concept functions and then move on the constructively criticise it. Synthetic phonics from the start is trying to teach the abstract without putting the concrete in place first.


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E801: Action 1.10: Models of Reading in the National Literacy Strategy

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E801: Action 1.10: Models of Reading in the National Literacy Strategy

Introduction: definitions of literacy and approaches to reading

I had to read and re-read this. I was horrified! I just hope individual teachers vary their approach to suit individual learners more than these guidelines suggest. How on earth do they expect reception class to all be ready for writing? Some of them have very limited vocabularies and cannot colour match. If colour matching is not yet mastered, how can they discern letter shapes and copy them? It is my understanding that becoming able to write is a process that comes into play much later than reading. It certainly was with all my children so why is it introduced at the same time?

Literacy hour and its structure

An hour, when universities keep their sessions to 45-50 mins to improve concentration? There are several reports that suggest that young children have a maximum attention span of 30 mins and this is when they already understand the material and they are interested and engaged. This has a lot of implications for the method of whole class teaching which includes those who are struggling with the concept or disinterested as it does not contain material they are interested in or the material is outside their reach.

What is the model for teaching reading and the associated approaches to the teaching of reading that are advocated in this document?

Searchlights model - explained by a simple diagram with a circle labelled text in the middle of the page. Around it are four boxes: phonics; grammatical knowledge; word recognition and graphic knowledge; and knowledge of content. From each box an arrow points to the text in the middle - showing that readers can use four aspects in their reading. It gives the impression that the techniques are equally useful but Ofsted (4 years after introduction of the NLS) reported that the searchlights should fall in different places at different stages of learning to read.

Accessed from: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2213282 [2nd November 2010]

What could be some of the problems of implementing 'interactive whole-class teaching' for children who have difficulties in literacy?

  • Comparison to other children
  • Competition
  • Work done by more able children

What do you feel are the implications of these aspects of the NLS for students with special educational needs?

I commented above  on some of my thoughts but I think that this quote says it all!

A small study of teacher and pupils discourse in the literacy hour showed that the longest utterances were made by the teacher with only 2% of pupil utterances exceeding ten words and 90% of these being no longer than five words. For children with special educational needs, nearly 90% of their utterances were of one to three words. The contributions made by children with SEN were not only fewer than might be expected from their numbers in the class, they also tended to be of the shortest length. (Lee and Eke, 2004)

Accessed from: http://www.ite.org.uk/ite_topics/special_needs_KS1-2/013.html [2nd November 2010]


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E801: Action 1.9: Ehri's model of learning to read

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E801: Action 1.9: Ehri's model of learning to read

Beech, J. R. (2009) 'Ehri's model of phases of learning to read: a brief critique' in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.


Based on Frith's model

Pre-alphabetic phase (=Frith's logographic stage)

  • Connection between'cues' (visual features) and pronunciation/semantic representation
  • Strong visual element
  • Example: word recognised as part of advertising feature

Partial alphabetic phase/Novice alphabetic phase/phonic cue reading

  • Recognise some letters e.g. first and last
  • Phonological information is important feature

Full alphabetic phase / mature alphabetic/cipher reading

  • Map graphemes to phonemes of 'sight words'
  • Blending
  • Note silent letters

Consolidated alphabetic phase (=Frith's orthographic stage)

  • E.g. chest recognised as 'ch' and 'est'
  • Reduces memory load

Ehri does not state whether progressive, but may indicate it
No mention of how teaching style interacts
No mention of underlying cognitive structures required or age norms
No strict definitions for researchers to investigate
'Sight word reading' is not rote memorisation

1998 paper: reading and spelling have interactive reciprocal relationship i.e. memorising words helps spelling and writing develops reading

2002 paper: each stage not pre-requisite for following stage; word reading does not contribute to later processing through alphabetic stages; proposes parallel processing of alphabetic stages

My Thoughts on Younger Learners
My thoughts on this come from helping my own children to read when they were ready. I home educated them and followed their needs. Two of them followed this model very closely. They initially recognised words with great help from the context e.g. name associated with picture on wellie peg! They built up a large vocabulary of 'sight words' and enjoyed reading and listening to others read. They moved on to decoding new words by playing with letter sounds in words that they knew as sight words and quickly moved through the stages.

o   My eldest was deaf and was keen to read at the age of three when she had a limited spoken vocabulary of mainly nouns. She ended up learning to read new nouns and also adjectives and conjunctions that she was not yet using in speech and then introducing them to her speech. As her mother, I was at an advantage as I knew her speech patterns intimately and so always knew when she was encountering new words. Having consulted with a teacher of the deaf, I realise that this is a much more difficult process between a teacher and a deaf child. By the age of 4 years she was fluently reading Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton and gaining much of her general knowledge from reading.

o   My second was keen to read like her sister and actually it was her sister who introduced her first sight words. She progressed rapidly through the same stages and was reading fluently and rapidly at the age of 3 years which gave me problems in finding suitable books. She attended nursery school for a while at 4 years and confounded the teacher by insisting on doing her own research, happily using indexes and the encyclopaedia.

o   My third child was also desperate to read by the age of 3 years but was frustrated when he could not remember words. With a very small vocabulary of sight words, he found it much easier to try to use his knowledge of phonics to try to decode. It was very difficult to help him to increase his knowledge of phonics with his short-term memory problems until we looked at Letterland. The concentration on fun stories with constant repetition of the sounds helped move the information into long term memory and he started to progress more rapidly. Looking at Ehri's model, he had a much shorter version of the Partial Alphabetic stage due to short term memory problems but he still progressed through the same stages as his siblings although at a slower pace as he fought much harder to move things to long term memory.

If these stages are progressive and do rely on underlying cognitive structures, both of which are not mentioned by Ehri, then the teaching style could have a major effect on literacy development. Forcing young children to progress at a faster rate than their brain is ready for, could cause problems. As could concentrating on areas they have already mastered as this will increase boredom and encourage them to 'switch off' at school.

In her 1998 paper she suggests that reading and spelling have interactive reciprocal relationship i.e. memorising words helps spelling and writing develops reading. With the limited evidence available to me, I do agree that writing develops reading. Unfortunately the short term memory problems experienced by my son meant that he also had problems memorising letter formation. Trying to work at both writing and reading at the same time produced cognitive overload and stress. Eventually we reduced all emphasis on writing and concentrated on reading first; writing followed later.

In her 2002 paper, Ehri suggests that word reading does not contribute to later processing through alphabetic stages but I am not convinced about this. All three children used their knowledge of sight words and how these related to phonemes to help them analyse other words. The elder two children had a large bank of sight words to help them in this task. My son had a much smaller bank and this contributed to his difficulties.


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E801: Action 1.6: Socio cultural and new literacy perspectives

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Action 1.6: Literacy difficulties: socio-cultural and new literacy perspectives

  • Ways in which issues raised by these authors highlight barriers to literacy acquisition which you encounter in your own professional contexts

I have encountered quite a lot of work based on Vygotsky's ideas. I am especially interested in Engeström's work on contradictions and how these stimulate major advances in learning. After reading this paper I was in total agreement with Green & Kosogriz's ideas but I am having problems trying to work out how to apply them in practice. I home educated my three children and it was relatively easy to personalise approaches to learning, treat them as individuals and value their previous experiences. I encouraged their learning to extend their zone of proximal development and this was so easy with the knowledge I had of their lives and learning. My daughter was deaf and I knew her experiences intimately so I knew when I had to explain words when she had not encountered the concept before. I cannot work out how this is possible with a group of 35-40 in my colleague's reception class.

Regarding LD as deviations from a norm - this struck a chord with me - models are useful to formulate generalised teaching plans but surely we should be moving away from 'one size fits all' teaching to inclusive teaching. It reminded me of Sfard's comments on using metaphors for learning:

'A metaphor that has been given hegemony serves as an exclusive basis for deciding what should count as "normal" and what is "anomolous"...'

Sfard, A. (1998) 'On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one', Educational Researcher, vol.27, no.2, pp.4-13.

I have been doing some notetaking for a student who has been studying how language sustains attitude to gender and I could see many similarities. Our language sets a standard for what we believe and how we act and we need to be aware of this when designing course material.

  • What the implications are of a socio-cultural view of literacy difficulties for the ways we think about pedagogy and practice

Regarding literacy as a practice that is embedded in social and cultural life, results in a complete change of ideas as how to approach teaching and learning. As social and cultural practices vary, so do literacies. We cannot discuss a single literacy and so we have to abandon the idea of a 'norm' with which to compare learners and also abandon the idea of a single strategy for teaching reading. Each learner requires strategies that fit with their social and cultural situation and these strategies should be implemented within their community or social network.

The community provides the scaffolding needed to site the literacy skills. People require different skills depending on their social life and culture. The skills are much easier to achieve when motivation is high and this motivation can be achieved when the literacy tasks are relevant to a person's life.


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E801: Action 1.5: Socio cultural contexts

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Activity 1.5: Socio-cultural contexts and difficulties in literacy

Fernando Diniz, University of Edinburgh (from audio CD)


Cultural influences - languages in home, status given to language in home. Ethnicity/race complicate these

Ethnicity is a term to describe a cultural group; infers power (ethnic minority);

Race is a term used to describe systemic racism,

Bilingualism - descriptor for those of non-indigenous origin, in classroom is identity descriptor for non-white children

Over-representation of these children in low literacy group

Dyslexia - higher status assessment than slow learner

Teacher is not sure whether difficulties arise from first language (home) or second language (school) or whether from special educational need

Child with severe communication problems receives speech therapy in English. Language at home will be different. Double negative. Language at school disconnected from home.

Teacher puts difficulties down to lack of English; some children have genuine difficulties

Asian girls: polite, quiet, work hard and difficulties not identified

Education - preoccupation with standards rather than with the difficulties understanding curriculum

Poor performance with Pakistani background; good from India

"Accommodation" - home keeps culture of home country; in school you should concentrate on being good in English.

Class comes in here as well

Power - decisions as to which children do what; who is valued; teachers own values come into play.

Power examples from my own experience with children:

  • "You can't have a speaking part in the play; people will not understand you"
  • "I will not ask you to 'show and tell' because the group do not understand you"
  • "You can go out to play when you can tell me these letters correctly"

My practice is with adults in higher education and power examples still abound:

  • All students have to take the same spelling and grammar test in the history department. Grades are published in order according to student number but friends know each other numbers. It is demoralising for students to see how low they are on the list.
  • Field notebooks are marked on neatness and spelling. It is possible to put a dyslexia sticker on the book but lecturers still comment on these points.
  • Using a notetaker in the field is difficult. Books are marked down because the information has not been written by the student but by someone who is trained to record all the information.
  • Field trips often have marks for quizzes that rely on short term memory skills and so students with dyslexia get lower marks than they deserve.

I was interested in the fact that bilingual is used as a derogatory term nowadays. Back in the 1980s it was admired if children were brought up bilingual.

Working in student support it can be difficult to address these issues directly but it is possible to assist the student to discuss issues with the lecturers. For example, prior to the field trip, a joint meeting between lecturer, student and support worker can clarify the method of writing the notebook and its assessment. At this meeting the support worker can emphasise the background needs that make these adjustments necessary so that the lecturer is kept fully informed and does not think that the student is just being lazy.


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E801: Week 1: Action 1.4: Siblings bridging literacies in multilingual contexts

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Week 1: Activity 1.4 Siblings bridging literacies in multilingual contexts

Williams, A. & Gregory, E. (1999) 'Siblings bridging literacies in multilingual contexts' in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.

I have very little knowledge from my current practice which is in a university setting but a few years ago I worked with a colleague who was a primary school teacher and home-school liaison representative for a school in an area where many families were disadvantaged. She told me that they could not send reading books home from school as they were immediately sold by many of their families. When she visited families, there was generally no reading material in the house but in one case she was proudly shown the one book they possessed.

I think that the belief systems of families do play a part in literacy practices. I was speaking to a young lady today whose four year old daughter has been at school for a month. She was complaining that the teacher was sending home reading books and spellings. She said that she and her husband were annoyed that they had sent their daughter to school to be taught how to read and write and they were expected to do it themselves at home. I have encountered this perception with families in other circumstances. They believe that their taxes pay for teachers and that teachers should do their jobs properly - it should not involve them.

In contrast I have worked with some Muslim families in similar financial and social situations who strongly believe that education is the responsibility of the parents and schools are there to help (or hinder!) this process. Two of the young female Muslim students with whom I work, have problems studying at home. They have responsibilities to look after younger siblings and entertain the family and they are not expected to study. On the other hand their brothers are encouraged to study and this has set up family tensions in both cases.

Looking at the research that was done in the paper, I was not too convinced that instructing the siblings to audio tape themselves in a setting that involved literacy-type games would give very valuable information.  Would the children normally play these games? Or are they staged just because they have been asked to record this. Interviews may prove valuable and so could small group work but either may introduce a competitive aspect in which children are trying to impress their peers or the interviewer with how 'good' they are with their younger siblings.

Despite my reservations I still feel that the paper provides relevant information which could help educators plan and develop pedagogies to achieve multi-literacies. Investigating the cultural background and the impact that it has on language in the home and at play is important to determine which other areas of literacy will require development.


Identify a problem which is linked directly to your involvement in facilitating learning and developing teaching strategies for learners who experience difficulties in literacy which could be investigated by gathering qualitative evidence.

My context is working at university level with students who have various disabilities including dyslexia. Many of them have problems accessing journal literature and I currently believe that this could be investigated by semi-structured questionnaire to investigate the previous experience they have had with searching for information; how they look for relevant journal resources and how they approach reading the papers that they find.

I think that recording any relevant information in my blog with the tag 'ECA research' would prove useful when I need to refer back to it. I also intend to use Delicious bookmarks to note blogs/papers etc. and using the same tag would be helpful.


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E801: Week 1: Action 1.3: What is Literacy?

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Week 1: Activity 1.3: 'What is Literacy?': Consequences for Practice and Policy

Task 1: My Thoughts

Functional Literacy - learning to read and write for the purpose of work and training. An economic objective that will vary from culture to culture. To be functionally literate in the UK would be very different to being functionally literate in a rural area of India. In these two contexts the government would have different objectives in legislating or producing guidelines for educational institutions. In the UK, an adult who was having literacy difficulties would face a daily barrage of paperwork that they would struggle to understand and thus their self-perception would diminish; in rural India this would not pose as much of a concern as they would not face as much written information.

Cultural Literacy - the ability to understand a broad set of knowledge which defines the culture of the area in which the person is living or has come from. Everything from road signs, to slang, to historical references. This does not depend on educational levels. Taking into account a person's cultural literacy can assist a teacher to help them choose appropriate reading material. Policy-makers who closely prescribe texts and methods for literacy development can disadvantage learners who are unfamiliar with the cultural context and will need to first understand this before they can understand the text.

Critical Literacy - the ability to be able to engage with a text, think about it, discuss it, apply it to your own life and argue with it. I regard this as a developmental process which can begin with young children engaging with images and discussing them. Synthetic phonics and the literacy hour have been criticised as leading to children who can read effectively but do not chose to do so because they do not enjoy it. The prescription of the method by which they are taught does not lead to them engaging with the texts. Hirsch (1987) thought that education for the young should focus on content so that all learners could achieve cultural literacy.

Hirsch, E. D. Jr.(1987) Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Literacy Standards - are used to describe a literate person at various educational levels. The UK government have been criticised as equating the increase in points scores on tests to an increase in standards achieved by primary school pupils.


Literacy Crises - when the literacy achievements (or lack of them) come to public attention and force the government or policy makers to change pedagogies to satisfy public opinion. This link to sociological and political issues can cause change or lack of change despite the actual circumstances. In the UK only a small proportion of teaching involved whole book methods but when the attention of the public was drawn to literacy levels, the government discouraged this approach. In NZ the whole book method was widely praised and brought prestige and money to the country so the government ignored research reports that suggested that phonics may help improve literacy levels.

Task 2: Literacy: In Search of a Paradigm

Basic literacy skills must be emphasised over other literacy skills
Technical skills / experimental psychology

We must emphasise phonics based approaches rather than whole language approaches for early literacy development
Technical skills / experimental psychology
Ideological process - the dominant approach at the moment

We must prioritise higher literacy achievement for boys
Political purposes - men are still main wage-earner in our society, reinforces cultural stereotype
Social psychology / social anthropology

We need to use mixed methods and a variety of literacy programmes rather than one literacy programme
Could be psycholinguistic depending on methods used (cannot separate graphophonic, syntactic and semantic)
Probably sociolinguistic when writing for different purposes

Literacy difficulties must be addressed so that employers will have literate employees
Functional literacy
Political purposes - government wants to keep support of business sector
Human capital theory - people need to invest in themselves to make themselves more employable
Social anthropology

Teaching the decoding text should be our main priority, because literacy standards are falling
Technical literacy/experimental psychology, functional literacy, cultural literacy (our society perceives the need for 100% literacy)
Political purposes -  Government under public and media pressure to raise standards
Social anthropology

My initial field, biochemistry, research was paradigm-driven and I have found it challenging to come to terms with the debates and disputes in educational research. In order to justify an area (and thus funding) for research, educationalists have to prove that their idea is valid and different from other ideas. In my opinion this leads to disconnected and disparate research and not to the joined-up thinking that is required to examine an area such as literacy where it is so complex and inter-related so I believe I tend to agree with Rassool (2009) that literacy needs to be examined as a regionalised field of enquiry.

So much of teaching in universities now concentrates on giving the students alternative perspectives of their courses so that those who work best once they have an overview of the whole picture can see this at the start of a course; and those who prefer the course to work from the detail upwards can also do this. It works well when both learning styles are suited. Students are also encouraged to bring their life experiences into the course and these are valued.

Surely both of these also apply to learning literacy skills. Some learners like to see the whole picture and then break it down into parts. My daughters both loved reading words by 'look and say' and then breaking them down into sounds. My son could not always do this and spent more time going the other way and building up words from the phonemes. All of them loved having their experiences valued and pictures of their experiences made into books with writing underneath for them to read to friends and relatives.

Rassool, N. (1999) 'Literacy: in Search of a Paradigm' in in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.



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E801: Week 1: Action 1.2: Different Approaches to Addressing Literacy Difficulties

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Week 1: Activity 1.2 Different Approaches to Addressing Literacy Difficulties

Basic Literacy - the acquisition of technical skills involving the decoding of written text and the writing of simple statements in everyday life.

Functional Literacy - is the process and content of learning to read and write to the preparation for work and vocational training.

[UNESCO quoted in Rassool, N. (1999) 'Literacy: in Search of a Paradigm' in in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.]

With these simple definitions we can still envisage barriers to literacy being either within the individual (so need individual tuition) or beyond the individual (so need pedagogical change). If we regard literacy as a more complex cultural and social process then the complexity of addressing these barriers expand.

Literacy Programmes/Approaches

  • THRASS - teaching handwriting, reading and spelling skills
    Multi-sensory synthetic phonics; whole school approach; basic and functional literacy
  • Reading recovery
    Small group/individual; basic literacy
  • Individual tuition
    Individual, basic literacy
  • Small group tuition
    Small group, basic literacy
  • Jolly Phonics
    Whole school approach, some individual, synthetic phonics, basic literacy
  • Alpha to Omega
    Specialist, individual or small group, basic literacy
  • Family Literacy
    Small group, basic and functional literacy


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E801: Week 1: Action 1.1: Politics of Teaching Reading

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Edited by Lynn Hunt, Tuesday, 5 Oct 2010, 16:37

Week 1: Activity 1.1 Politics of Teaching Reading

Soler, J. & Openshaw, R. (2009) ''To Be or Not to Be?': The Politics of Teaching Phonics in England and New Zealand' in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.

'All initiatives related to teaching reading and early literacy arise from pressures, tensions and crises embedded in the particular national and regional contexts.' p.162

Key differences between early literacy instruction

The UK uses a method of synthetic phonics with prescribed and structured methods to teach children
New Zealand uses a whole language method
Synthetic phonics - children taught a few individual letter sounds and then blends before introduced to books

What has shaped and led to differences in viewpoints and practices?

<1990 No set national method for teaching reading but whole language/real book method favoured
1991 key tests results showed 28% 7yr olds could not read - crisis BUT only 5% teachers actually used method
1992 'Three Wise Men Report' - traditional methods/less diversity
Literacy teaching as regulation, performance, technical skill
1996 Back to basics drive inc. Phonics
1997 Literacy Task Force emphasised phonics (Searchlight method)
2002 Synthetic phonics advocated by OFSTED/Reading Reform Foundation
2006 Synthetic phonics advocated by Rose Report and structured teaching methods prescribed

Late 1960s-early 1970s Reading Recovery starts (based on whole language approach) said to be more suitable for indigenous population
Late 1970s unease over low attainment rates for Maoris
1976 Dept. Of Ed. invests in Reading Recovery
1989 NZ held up as example of high literacy standards from whole language approach
1989 Administrative change reinforces strength of RR
1993 Chamberlain said reading was big business - people visiting NZ to investigate success and buying books - persuaded people to ignore statistics
1995 Breach widening between research and teaching
1997 Report confirmed poor results; public concern
1998 Two reports recommend moving away from whole language; gov. ignores for political reasons
2004 Differences in ethnic achievements blamed on teacher expectation

The way history has influenced my practice and context

Local schools in the late 1980s used a whole books method where there were coloured stickers on the books to indicate which ones they could choose from in their 'free reading' hour. I could not see the logic in this as many of the children were bored in 'free reading' as they could not understand the books and my friends were investing in private tuition or teaching their children to read at home in the evenings. I loved the idea of children choosing their own books and reading what they liked but I was really concerned about the perception of failure that went with sitting for an hour with a book that you could not read. I investigated what was available and decided that 'look and say' was the way forward but I was not certain because of all the rhetoric in published papers and in the press. I decided to go with my instincts and trust the children.

From birth I read to my children and they made up stories to go with pictures in the books. When my eldest daughter was 3 years old, severely deaf with unclear speech which mainly consisted of nouns and a few verbs, I introduced her to the Ladybird series 'Peter and Jane'. She loved the first book and started reading rapidly by 'look and say' methods and her speech increased at the same rate. By books 3a/b she was still progressing rapidly but wanted to write these words too so I tentatively introduced phonics which she loved and this further speeded her reading progress. By the age of 4 she was reading fluently and loving Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton; by 5 years she had taught her 2 year old sister the basics of reading; and her reading age was assessed to be 15+ at the age of 7 years.

Her brother was clearly having sequencing and short term memory problems by the age of three. He loved books and making up stories but could not recognise words at all although he was desperate to read like his sisters. I introduced him to 'Letterland' which he immediately fell in love with and we spent years using not only the initial letter sounds but the blends etc. Once he had learnt to recognise the phonemes from the written graphemes, his reading progressed at speed. He still had short term memory problems but I never allowed him to struggle. If he could not work out a word, I told him immediately. I introduced him to audio books and continued to read to him and his sisters. His later diagnosis was that he was severely dyslexic but his assessor was amazed at his spoken vocabulary which was several years in advance of his age. He never went to school so most learning was done without much writing at all. He was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as well as the dyslexia which can complicate the situation in school. He got a C for English GCSE at 14 years old. He is now at university studying BSc Computer Networks and Security.

As all three children were not in school, they were not affected by government changes in literacy strategy. My eldest would have been initially taught by a whole books method; then some phonics added in. She is severely deaf and has Asperger syndrome. The mixture of methods would have caused her great stress and she would not have heard much of what was going on anyway. Her friend of the same age who went through the system was eventually taught at home for 6 months in order that her mother, a primary teacher, could teach her to read properly before she went to middle school.

History has affected my practice as it influenced me to home educate my children and taught me to trust their instincts as to what they needed at the time. I have also taught basic literacy skills to adults and those experiences have allowed me to trust them and go with their instincts. All the books say that adults should be given adult reading material to read but the 60 year old man I taught, wanted to read children's books as his aim was to read to his grandchild when they were born.


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