Literacy and numeracy

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Students enter tertiary study with variable skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy skills. If they do not have strong skills in these areas, this can impact on their success when studying and in transitioning smoothly to further study or employment. Even students who have good literacy and numeracy skills may never have had to read or write the type of material, or had to do the particular calculations that your course requires.

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Reflect on the following important questions

i. What assumptions do you make about your learners' reading, writing and numeracy skills?

How accurate are these assumptions?

ii. Why do you believe the level of these skills will affect learners' ability to manage the course material and tasks?

iii. What can you do to help scaffold your learners?

Read about Six Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students.

In most certificate level programmes, learners come with a wide range of literacy and numeracy skills. A variety of approaches can be used to assess or get to know your learners' literacy and numeracy skills early in the programme, so you know who may need additional support. The main purpose of initial literacy and numeracy assessment should be to support learning. These approaches may include:

  • individual interviews;
  • embedding contextualised literacy and numeracy tasks and assessments early in the course that allow you to get a snapshot of students' literacy and numeracy skills;
  • using the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool. (In tertiary education in NZ, this is a requirement for students enrolled in programmes with courses at level 1-3.)

Getting to know your learners' literacy and numeracy skills is part of a wider process of identifying students' needs and factors for success. An Ako Aotearoa project at Weltec: Profiling your student illustrates this. How to engage Maori learners in literacy and numeracy is explained in this video, Using Maori pedagogies (15.11 mins).

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  1. Ask a question about something that is puzzling you about students' requirements and needs for literacy and numeracy.
  2. Share this question on the Moodle discussion forum to stimulate discussion.
  3. Describe the approaches you currently use to get a snapshot of your learners' literacy and numeracy skills.
  4. Share at least three things you have learned about your students' skills from using these approaches.
  5. Discuss the challenges with meeting the literacy and numeracy needs of your students.

Using the Assessment Tool at Otago Polytechnic

All students on certificate level programmes at Otago Polytechnic (and other tertiary institutions in New Zealand) are required to use at least one of the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tools. If you are not familiar with the Assessment Tool, work through the background information for Educators here. This gives detailed information about how to set up assessments and analyse reports.


Extra resources

These resources contain some other suggestions for getting to know learners' literacy and numeracy.