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Identifying Literacy, Understanding Literacy Outcomes, and Math Literacy!

By Taylor Holtzheimer!
(A Workshop for AHE 570)!

In this workshop, I want to describe what weve learned this week as well as dig a little deeper,
using math literacy as a vehicle for exploration.!

Ive decided to first identify the key concepts from the readings and then move into a discussion
in which the concepts can be applied to an argument for greater math literacy in adult basic
education. I had originally considered weaving the topics together, but decided that a foundation
of knowledge from the Lytle reading as well as from the St. Clair reading would be
advantageous for a deeper discussion.!

I asked you, the class, to complete two assessments, one more numerical than the other. In
doing so, I hoped to have raised some meta-cognitive flags. I had hoped you would begin to
develop a self-awareness of your own quantitative reasoning in both numerical and nonnumerical terms. This will be important when discussing the questions at the end of this

In the readings of Lytle and of St. Clair, the primary concept was one of identification: the
identification of learning. The Lytle reading begins with a discussion of locating literacy and the
way in which we identify it as related to the way we construct learning based on that
identification. Lytle describes her Four Dimensions of Adult Literacy as a model for a more
holistic literacy identification process. In the St. Clair readings, the concern is evaluation of the
results of literacy instruction. St. Clair raises questions as to what results should really look like
when evaluating a process as broad as literacy. He describes initial problems and three
approaches. !

First well look at the Lytle reading. Lytle describes four primary modes of locating literacy:
literacy as skills, literacy as tasks, literacy as practice, and literacy as critical reflection/action. !

Lytle describes the identification of Literacy as Skills as the concept of literacy as a neutral or
objective set of skills, independent of any specific social context or ideology (p. 380) Lytle
asserts that the view of literacy as skills objectifies and universalizes deficits as remediable
through linear progress, optimally occurring without noticeable plateaus. (p.381) As tasks, the
perceived deficits are relative to daily activities, such as filling out forms and in this way, more
contextualized (p. 381). As practices, using knowledge and experience to make sense and act
on the world is the primary feature, still more contextualized. And finally, as critical reflection
and action, literacy is identified as interpretation of the the learners self and their environment,
fully contextualized. This level of identification is seeking to observe meta-cognition in learners,
applying declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge (Schraw, 1998).!

Further, this level of literacy identification involves the observation of literacy as a discourse as
described by James Paul Gee, who had delineated two forms of discourse: Primary and
Secondary. The primary form is the most casual and natural of the learners literacy, while the
second, of which there can be many, is a more formal, learned literacy.!

Discourses, primary and secondary, can be studied, in some ways, like languages. And,
in fact, some of what we know about second language acquisition is relevant to them, if

only in a metaphorical way. Two Discourses can interfere with one another, like two
languages; aspects of one Discourse can be transferred to another Discourse, as one
can transfer a grammatical feature from one language to another. For instance, the
primary Discourse of many middle-class homes has been influenced by secondary
Discourses like those used in schools and businesses. This is much less true of the
primary Discourse in many lower socio-economic black homes, though the primary
Discourse has influenced the secondary Discourse used in black churches. (Gee, 1989)!

This understanding of Discourse as it relates to the acquisition of second languages will be

important in the discussion of math literacy ahead. As for its role in Lytles article it is important
in the establishment of rationale behind her model of constructed learning as serving to
enhance learners awareness of underlying assumptions and the cultural construction of their
lives in order to promote consideration of an elaborated set of purposes. Rather than simply
meeting adult needs, adult education programs need to offer diverse ways of thinking and
acting so that learners can make more informed choices. (p.384) Lytle presents a model she
calls Four Dimensions of Literacy. These dimensions are: Beliefs, Practices, Processes, and
Plans (p. 386).!

Beliefs include adults theories or knowledge about language, literacy, teaching, and
learning. Practices refer to the range and variation of learners literacy-related activities
in their everyday lives. Processes mean adult learners repertoires of ways to manage
reading and writing tasks and the products of these transactions. Finally, plans signal
what adults themselves indicate they want to learn, including their short-term and longterm goals. (p. 386)!

As these dimensions might build a clearer picture and method for identifying and observing
literacy in adults, we may move forward to the St. Clair reading, in which a new problem is
posed. The problem being the appropriate method of outcome evaluation for literacy programs.
Now that we have seen some ways of locating literacy, we must now find ways to observe
growth. St. Clair lists three initial assumptions:!

1. There is a specific population of individuals at whom the intervention is aimed.!

2. Any improvements in the educational outcomes of the target individuals as result of

the intervention are measurable.!


3. The evaluation needs to discern the effect of the intervention on the outcome measure
of interest. (p. 48)!

St. Clair describes three approaches for observing outcomes in adult literacy programs:
Statistical, Naturalistic, and Theory-Based (p.53-58). In a Statistical approach the outcome is
measured quantitatively. St. Clair jests that in a perfect world for statisticians, the entire
population would be split completely randomly into two groups, and one group would have the
chance to learn literacy while the other would not. (p. 53) I would argue that this is not a
statisticians perfect world, as they would likely despise such a boring problem.!

The second approach described by St. Clair is the Naturalistic or interpretive one. This
approach includes case studies as a way of identifying outcomes that were not explicitly built
into the programme design, and may be more open to more complex sets of outcomes. (p.57)!

The third approach is the Theory-Based approach. As St. Clair describes, the central idea of
this approach is that understanding the effects or outcomes of any programme begins with a
theory of why, and how, the programme works. (p. 58) If a program can create a rationalized
expectation of their outcomes, then those outcomes can be measured.!

Through the readings of both Lytle and St. Clair we have learned about the identification of
literacy in adults as well as the approaches to observation of that literacy and its development.!

From here, having described the readings assigned, I would like to begin a discussion of math
literacy as it relates to the readings. The major elements of discussion will be: the definition of
math literacy, the identification of math literacy in ourselves and others, the mindsets (beliefs)
surrounding math literacy in our lives and witnessed in the lives of others, the practices of math
literacy in our everyday lives, the processes of meeting math literacy challenges in our own
lives, and identifying how math literacy will intersect with our future plans.!

Is math literacy a real thing? This is a valid question. I use the term math literacy as I would
English literacy. It references the identity of math as a language. I liken this to Gees description
of discourse and would even say that math is itself a dominant secondary Discourse by his
description. I will reconnect Gees description of dominant and non-dominant secondary
discourse again, later in this presentation as they refer to liberation through literacy. For now, I
will address the question of math literacy as an appropriate term as math can be identified as
a language.!

Dara Wakefields Math as a Second Language article describes mathematics as sharing

attributes with language. !

Consider the shared attributes of language and mathematics:!

! !


Abstractions (verbal or written symbols representing ideas or images) are used to

Symbols and rules are uniform and consistent.!
Expressions are linear and serial.!
Understanding increases with practice.!
Success requires memorization of symbols and rules.!
Translations and interpretations are required for novice learners.!
Meaning is influenced by symbol order.!
Communication requires encoding and decoding.!
Intuition, insightfulness, and "speaking without thinking" accompany fluency. !
Experiences from childhood supply the foundation for future development.!
The possibilities for expressions are infinite.!

According to these attributes-which are significantly less evident in physical education,

social studies, and many other subjectsmath qualifies as a language. Yet is math
enough like language to warrant serious consideration and comparisons in terms of
acquisition strategies? (Wakefield, 2000)!

Wakefield asks if math education should face a general revision. Building upon this perspective
of math as a language we can more fully critique the state of math literacy as it can be located,

observed and measured. Language acquisition, referring to new language learning, is motivated
by context. Learners rarely succeed at learning new languages without and understanding of
how the new language will function and serve them. (Wakefield, 2000)!

Wakefield argues that math as a second language could benefit from Maxims in Language
Learning (2000). Without elaborating on the individual maxims, Ill share them here:!

Jump in deep water to learn to swim.!
Learn to speak before learning to write.!
Memorization is necessary.!
Second-language fluency involves intuitive thinking.!
Use it or lose it.!
Language must be taught in context.!
Language teachers must constantly and consistently model two languages.!

Start young.!

Wakefield then relates his observation of English learning by South Korean students, whom he
was instructing, his own learning, and the language learning of his wife, who was more isolated

The similarity between U.S. math students, Korean students of English, and isolated
second-language learners is striking. All study diligently over long periods of time yet
reap limited benefits. U.S. math students mirror the frustrations of non-immersed
second-language learners. The fatigue involved in formidable abstractions, translations,
and interpretation causes many to despair and retreat. Those who become immersed
and experience the mystical "fluency without thought" phenomenon in a second
language move to a level unexplainable to those who have not experienced
it(Wakefield, 2000).!

Building upon this concept, Wakefield makes some suggestions for instruction. Again, I will list
them without elaboration:!

Engage children in mathematical activities early.!

Stress the similarities between math and language.!
Classrooms must be communities where math is regularly spoken. !
Written math should come after a healthy exposure to spoken math.!

Early assessment measures should be authentic and allow for "fuzzy" logic and

All teachers should practice speaking math in their classrooms.!
Focus math instruction upon relevant, real-life math situations.!

Intuitive thinking will emerge when math is spoken often and is connected to life through
unusual conversations.!


(Wakefield, 2000)!

Wakefield describes the lack of motivation in continued language learning as it would relate to
math learning. Students master only the amount of language they need to survive and find
satisfaction in their environment. (Wakefield, 2000) This would be identifiable as Literacy as
Skills and Tasks (Lytle). Non-immersed and non-motivated learners will have trouble
constructing deeper math literacy. There are natural limits to the language one learns, which
are predicated upon exposure to spoken math in a survival or enjoyment context. (Wakefield,
2000) Identifying math as a language and being aware of its relevancy in the communication
and navigation of our society and our lives, as well as the lives we aspire to, can improve its
relevancy in education. !


As we begin to conceive of math as a living, breathing language with a culture of ideas

expressed in numbers, we will also see that math cannot be relegated to a narrow time
slot in the curriculum. Math can be a pervasive way of thinking about and viewing the
world, but our students will not think this way if teachers do not involve them in math
conversations on a regular basis. (Wakefield, 2000)!

However, some might ask, so what? Does math belong in the same foundational category of
learning as our spoken language? Does it perhaps fit as a Primary or Secondary Discourse as
described by Gee? What are the benefits of math literacy?!

At this point, I would like to clarify that basic math literacy includes algebra. This is due to its
importance as a language of generalization, that it enables a person to answer all of the
questions of a particular type at one time and that it is the language of relationships between
quantities(Usisken, 1995). Algebra builds context for numeracy, the understanding of numbers
and quantities. Just as works of literature or popular cultural topics are important in the
contextualization of English language literacy, algebra is important to the contextualization of
numbers and quantities. Without algebra, we have learned the most basic of vocabulary and
grammar of the language, and our understanding is without deeper contexts. (Usisken, 1995)!

As to an argument of yeah, but I can get by just fine without it, I would equate it with the
learning of English as a second language, as it is possible to survive without it, but thriving in
many areas, including economically, is stunted without a more developed understanding.
Usisken lists these barriers:!

Without a knowledge of algebra:!

- you are kept from doing many jobs or even entering programs that will get you a job;!
- you lose control over parts of your life and must rely on others to do things for you!
- you are more likely to make unwise decisions, financial and otherwise; and!

- you will not be able to understand many ideas discussed in chemistry, physics, the
earth sciences, economics, business, psychology and many other areas.!


(Usiskin, 1995)!

The above list looks similar to one that may be attributed to the mastery of English literacy.
Framed in this way, the importance of math literacy seems strangely lessened in many
seemingly holistic adult literacy programs. Does it serve learners to assume a crucial piece of
their literacy puzzle is not as needed or is less important than a mastery of other basic
literacies? Especially as a great technological shift has occurred that places the need for math
literacy front and center. (Moses, p.6)!

As Usisken described, math literacy is a door to many jobs and education programs, and how
one is able to live in a society is determined by their level of math literacy. However, this is not
an empty threat. Sixty percent of new jobs will require skills possessed by only 22 percent of
the young people entering the job market now. (Moses, p.8) Economic access, understanding
of sophisticated civil issues, and structured reasoning are the benefits of math literacy. !

Our ways of teaching and learning math have been flawed by a tradition of meritocracy that
selected potential mathematicians and steered them to higher math programs (Moses, p.9). As
the process selected those individuals it became self-selective over time as more educators and
educational institutions at large became uncomfortable with the instruction of more than just
those who had a knack for the language of math (Moses, p.9). Students received poorer
instruction in math, disconnected from purposes and contexts, and the institutions did little to
remediate the issue. Notions of math literacy had reached a normed low, where expectation was
for the worst.!

And in the culture itself our cultureilliteracy in math is acceptable the way illiteracy
in reading and writing is unacceptable. Failure is tolerated in math but not English. Your
parent may well lean over your shoulder as you struggle with the term paper your
English class requires, or the book report that is due, making sure that you write it,
checking the spelling and the grammar. But if youre struggling with an equation while
doing your algebra homework, more likely your parent will look over your shoulder,
wrinkle a brow in puzzlement, then say something like I never got that stuff either; do
the best you can and try not to fail. This is an old problem. (Moses, p.9)!

However, I would like to recall Gee and his description of dominant and non-dominant
secondary discourse. !


We can also talk about literacy being liberating [powerful] if it can be used as a metalanguage [a set of meta-words, meta-values, meta-beliefs] for the critique of other
literacies and the way they constitute us as persons and situate us in society. Liberating
literacies can reconstitute and re-situate us. (Gee, 1989)!

I wish to establish math literacy as form of liberation, through its definition as a language and
through its importance in our culture in building access. I see Mathematics as a tool for
economic civil rights. It has been made to seem inaccessible and strange; math illiteracy is a
compounding problem. Could we reframe maths importance, rethink how it intersects with our

lives as teachers and learners, and reignite math education for adult learners, including
ourselves? I believe we can.!

My questions to you are: !
What role has math played in your life? !
How have you been educated in math? !

Would your understanding of math be different today if it were taught more contextually, similar
to a second language? !

Did you perceive a difference in your understanding of the questions across the two
assessments? !

Was one more difficult than the other? !
Which one engaged your brain more holistically? !
Do you feel that you could learn a new language? !

Do you feel that you could learn the math needed to answer all of the questions across both
assessments? !

How would you transfer that learning to others? !
How would you model that learning?!


Cushman, E., Kintgen, E. R., Kroll, B. M., & Rose, M. (Eds.). (2001). Literacy: A Critical
Sourcebook (1st edition). Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.!

Gee, J. P. (1989). Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education,

171(1), 517.!

Lytle, S. L. (1991). Living literacy: Rethinking development in adulthood. Linguistics and

Education, 3(2), 109138. doi:10.1016/0898-5898(91)90002-Z!

Moses, R. P., & Cobb, C. E. (2002). Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the
Algebra Project. Boston: Beacon Press.!

Schraw, G. (1998). Promoting general metacognitive awareness. Instructional Science, 26(1-2),

113125. doi:10.1023/A:1003044231033!

Clair, R. S. (2010). Why Literacy Matters: Understanding the Effects of Literacy Education for
Adults. Leicester: NIACE.!

Usiskin, Z. (1995). Why Is Algebra Important to Learn? American Educator, 19(1), 3037.!
Wakefield, D. V. (2000). Math as a Second Language. Educational Forum, 64(3), 27279.!