Increasing student success through effective literacy and numeracy support

Hazel Owen Unitec New Zealand howen@unitec.ac.nz Bettina Schwenger Unitec New Zealand bschwenger@unitec.ac.nz

Abstract: The success of students is of central concern for tertiary institutions globally and in New Zealand. When learners are unable to meet the literacy and numeracy demands of their programmes, they struggle to achieve the learning outcomes necessary to graduate, and tend not to reach full potential in their community. To improve the quality of teaching and learning at Unitec NZ, staff is beginning to employ an integrated approach to teaching courses, thereby assisting students with literacy and numeracy challenges. Professional development is essential to engage staff in the process of refocussing and revisioning the experience offered to learners. The Centre for Teaching and Learning Innovation (CTLI) is working closely with staff to design and provide contextualised workshops in direct response to needs identified by each school for their specific learners. This paper describes one such initiative for Automotive Engineering staff, where a range of literacy and numeracy related tools were showcased in two collaborative and interactive workshops. Eleven literacy and numeracy support tools, sourced from a variety of places, were chosen to exemplify best practice. The presenters will give an overview of the workshops and the thinking/theory behind them (including the iterative cycle of evaluation and improvement of the workshops in response to participant feedback). A demonstration of key workstations with the associated handouts / interactive tasks will be available for trial by conference participants who will also be asked to evaluate each tool/workstation in a feedback form.

Introduction ‘Literacy is at the very heart of a culture of quality and equality, for when people gain the power to decode their world, they gain the power to effect changes to it’ (Shaikha Mouza Bint Nasser, 2007). Increased literacy and global awareness are now seen as the key to unlocking human potential with literacy, language and numeracy (LLN) competencies described as foundation or key competencies. They provide the base for the learning of more specialised or generic competencies needed in a home, social, work or educational context, such as helping family members with their learning, analysing and synthesizing information, overseeing the operation of sensitive machinery or working effectively in a team (Tertiary Education Commission, 2008a). Literacy has multiple definitions. The artificial and arbitrary black and white division between ‘illiterate’ and ‘literate’ has been abandoned, due to recognition that literacy and numeracy skills form a continuum from basic to advanced (Ministry of Education, 2001; United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2003). In 2003, UNESCO stated:

‘Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society’ (http://unesco.org, 2003, p. 5). The definition is used in this article to refer to literacy as a concept. Foundation or key competencies also enable people to adapt more easily to literacy demands of new tasks. As literacy demands in life continue to change, this is reflected in increased literacy skills required to solve a task appropriately (Collingham, 2005). A person considered highlyliterate in 1980 would only still be regarded in such a way today if they had continued to increase their literacy and numeracy competencies throughout their life to keep up with changing literacy demands. New literacies such as digital literacies and their specialised terminology emerge, for example using the word moodle and knowing what it means. Student success in education, work and other life situations depends highly on literacy and numeracy competencies. Background Tertiary education institutes, along with other providers of tertiary education, need to respond to the issue of effective LLN support. Since the release of the Adult Literacy Strategy More than Words (Ministry of Education, 2001), momentum has been built in gaining capacity and capability in the foundation learning field, including extending literacy learning opportunities and services, the development of resources such as the Learning Progressions as well as increasing professional development opportunities for practitioners. Increasing student success and improving the quality of teaching and learning are major concerns for tertiary institutions. At Unitec NZ, vocational programmes at level 2 and 3 have started to embed literacy and numeracy in a consistent and sustained manner. Teaching staff come mostly from a strong vocational background and are regarded as experts in their respective discipline. However, their work in embedding literacy and numeracy explicitly into programmes, requires assistance to a lesser or higher degree, depending on the teaching and learning knowledge, skills and confidence of individual staff. The act of integration or embedding of literacy, language and numeracy into programmes can be interpreted and actioned in different ways and to varying degrees. A common aspect is the understanding that the literacy, language and numeracy development is combined and brought together with vocational teaching and learning (Casey et al., 2006; Department for Innovation Universities & Skills & DfES/NRDC, 2004; Eldred, 2005). Current New Zealand documents use the term embedded predominantly but in the context of this paper, both terms are used interchangeably.

Effective literacy and numeracy support The nature of effective literacy and numeracy support in New Zealand depends on a number of factors, including the understanding of its relevance, policies, context, funding, capability of practitioners, resources in general and personal needs of students. As attitudes and views of what constitutes literacy and numeracy have changed, so have approaches to teaching and learning, as well as learning/study support in general. In the past, tertiary education students were expected to have sufficient literacy and language to succeed in a tertiary discipline without any explicit support (Skillen, Merten, Trifett, & Percy, 1998). During the last two decades, student learning centres in tertiary institutions have played a significant role in supporting students with their literacy and numeracy skills (Cartner, 2008). The kind of learning support being offered at tertiary institutions, including the work on literacy and numeracy skills, has depended on a number of factors, including attitude and stance taken towards students' literacy and numeracy skill levels. The deficit or remedial model acknowledges the diverse background of students explicitly by offering extra-curricular help, situated within learning centres. Whilst it stigmatises those seeking help, it also denies the fact that all students require new academic literacy skills in their post-secondary education in the tertiary and discipline contexts. A developmental approach recognises that all students in their first year of a tertiary programme have to develop learning and literacy skills that are suitable for their new environment. The approach also results in curriculum improvements/redevelopment and improved staff capability (Skillen et al., 1998). Features of embedding Embedding or integrating has been used as technique for a long time, especially in teaching languages for special purposes, such as economics combined with language structure, vocabulary and usage (Collingham, 2005). In vocational training settings in Australia, a number of features have been observed that support learner success through embedding of literacy, language and numeracy (McKenna & Fitzpatrick, 2005), for example: • constructivist teaching and learning approaches, taking into account context, attitudes and beliefs • practitioners' capability • explicit activities • explicitly used industry language • analysis of literacy, language and numeracy industry demands • consideration of learner needs, including negotiations to include those in the curriculum / including curriculum inclusion As part of a large-scale research project in the UK (Casey et al., 2006) that covered 79 programmes with nearly 2000 learners, nine features of embedded provision have shown a significant statistical connection with successful learning in literacy and numeracy as part of vocational studies, including: • attitudinal factors, such as the willingness of all teachers to engage with the content taught by their colleagues (the LLN teachers with the vocational part and vice versa)

• the recognition that literacy and numeracy support the learners’ vocational success • organisational policies and structures that allow shared planning and support embedded provision in practice • using tools and best practice such as initial and diagnostic assessments as well as ILPs (Individual Learning Plans) and/or other forms of on-going formative assessment An analysis of the results presented above indicate that good teaching and learning as well as delivery practices and team work contribute significantly to effective integration. Additionally, the importance of partnership and relationships has been recognized as essential (Casey et al., 2006). Like learners, programmes have ‘spiky profiles’ in relation to embedding. To achieve successful embedding, more is required than combining aspects, even if these can be considered critical features. Not one particular combination of features can guarantee successful embedding. What does add to the success and creates a critical difference is to what degree institutions make ‘the features work for learners’ (p. 28) and if LLN is regarded and valued as an integral part of the vocational discipline (Casey et al., 2006). Benefits of embedding Wider-ranging recognition of the benefits has been quite recent in New Zealand. Related educational policies have been supported in their operational implementation by a number of funding opportunities, national research projects as well as by capability building in the sector (Krsinich & Roberts, 2008). Research projects conducted overseas in recent years have shown the benefits of embedding literacy and numeracy into vocational and other courses (Casey et al., 2006; Roberts et al., 2005). Not only have learners programmes with embedded literacy and numeracy learning experienced a higher retention rates of students, those programmes have also showed a higher vocational success rate and higher satisfaction with students feeling better prepared for their future work (Casey et al., 2006). When skills and knowledge can be learned in the context they are required for, then learners can bring their personal context into the classroom. More successful teaching and learning is likely to take place and the transition into the practical application is easier (Collingham, 2005; Skillen et al., 1998; Tertiary Education Commission, 2008a). As Collingham (2005, p.19) points out, ‘the development of language or number skills does not take place in a vacuum, but in response to the contexts, educational or otherwise, in which we find ourselves.’ Academic Literacies Team The name of the Academic Literacies team at Unitec NZ reflects an approach that deals with LLN at level 1-3 programmes but has responsibility for academic literacy across all levels taught in the institution. In any education institution where a widespread initiative such as this is implemented, considerations centre around nurturing a sense of concerted and consistent community effort,

organising time release for training and for development of resources (Moser, 2007), providing access to overarching theoretical guidance, and offering relevant, accessible training (Owen & Allardice, 2007). Stakeholders need to be convinced that literacy and numeracy support couched within the discipline area is pedagogically sound, useful, valid, achievable and meaningful (Zemsky & Massy, 2004). Therefore, consultation with faculty in planning and decision making as well as building strong relationships is also imperative to cultivate faculty ‘buy in’, and to foster a sense of ownership of the initiative and associated resources (Owen & Allardice, 2007). Staff professional development Staff development needs to be cumulative, sequential relevant, accessible, and to allow opportunities for reflection, discussion and knowledge creation with a strong foundation of ongoing support (Prensky, 2007). Rosenberg further asserts ‘that staff development is a critical factor in achieving…sustainability’ of initiatives, referring to professional training and support as well as the ‘organisational culture that encourages staff engagement’ (2007, p. 9). The latter can be encouraged to adopt new pedagogies, technologies, tools, and vocabulary by the influence of ‘champions’ of the initiative, and the ‘viral’ influence of sharing best practices. At the end of 2007, in response to feedback, reflection and observation, CTLI have altered its approach to offering staff development partly by employing an approach to implementation and support informed by sociocultural principles. In the ‘Working with Schools’ initiative pairs of academic advisors work closely with nominated schools, encouraging the formation of communities of practice (CoPs), offering contextualised, discipline-specific workshops, ‘just in time’ training and support, team teaching, and knowledge exchange. Unitec Applied Technology Institute and the ‘tradeshow’ approach CTLI academic advisors have been working alongside the Academic Literacies team using a collaborative approach to build consistent relationships with staff in each department. This next section briefly refers to the specific example of Unitec Applied Technology Institute (UATI), describing the forging of affiliations over time, and the two staff development sessions that have been offered to date. David Clarke of UATI (who is also a member of the TEC cluster work) made the initial contact with the Academic Literacies team and has championed the initiative. He worked closely with a literacy expert who had been seconded to UATI (Nick Marsden) to provide student assistance and support staff development. UATI staff had a range of concerns; for example, uncertainty about what literacy actually meant and, practically, how they might integrate it into already extensive curricula. In particular there was discomfort with the notion of embedding literacy into the vocational courses as staff did not consider themselves ‘language’ teachers (Casey et al., 2006) and resentment that the school system had apparently not equipped students with suitable LLN skills. Workshops were requested, and in consultation with a group of UATI staff, were designed to help develop the awareness and skills of vocational tutors in relation to literacy and numeracy learning and teaching. Furthermore, it was identified that group discussions of issues (such as the role literacy and numeracy play in learners’ vocational success) would be efficacious, but that

these needed to be facilitated within in semi-formal sessions. A further goal was to encourage interactive, collaborative knowledge sharing, and possibly instigate the formation of groups that would grow into CoPs. As such, it was recognised that the more traditional workshop format would be unsuitable, thus a ‘tradeshow’ design was developed which utilised a series of six hands-on ‘workstations’, each encapsulating best practice. The pilot – workshop one An initial pilot of the tradeshow workshop approach was trialled on the 11th June 2008 with the forty-five teaching staff of the UATI Automotive programme. The key aims were to: • • • • • • provide an understanding of the goals of literacy and numeracy support for students raise awareness of some of the possible strategies, approaches and tools highlight how these approaches could relate to specific learners/disciplines in UATI showcase practical tools that would illustrate immediate benefits forge relationships between the Academic Literacies team, CTLI, and the Automotive staff gather feedback (about the workshop format as well as the content, tools, and issues) to inform future sessions

The first two-hour workshop was organised into three main segments. First there was a community building, unstructured discussion over breakfast. This was followed by a large group, interactive presentation entitled “Introduction to literacy” with a perspective of the interaction and meaning making between the learner, text and task. The final part involved visiting six workstations to complete tasks, watch short demonstrations, ask questions, and discuss what the facilitator was suggesting. The six workstations show cased: • • • • • • ‘The Complete Lexical Tutor’ - Tom Cobb's vocabulary profiler (http://www.lextutor.ca) using a lesson plan template for embedding literacy activities three activities to engage with a text numeracy tools using videos (with text/audio and mixed media) created in Camtasia Studio to support students while accessing and referencing a text ‘pop ups’ within the text (written, visual, and audio)

The workstations were conceptualised, dealing with authentic texts, vocabulary and resources that were in use in UATI thereby drawing on discipline practices, expertise, and specialised vocabulary. Discussion and feedback relating to what was being showcased on the workstation was encouraged and there was an aspect of interactivity at each. Over an hour, randomly assigned groups spent ten minutes at every workstation, taking away a handout for future reference. Tools showcased at each workstation formed the basis of a toolkit hosted in Blackboard which staff have access to and can apply and use in their teaching.

Feedback to the pilot Reactions and feedback to the tradeshow approach was variable. Many of the participants were openly receptive and keen to try out the resources. While discussions over breakfast tended to focus on work and issues faced in the automotive programme, the large group session saw the participants engaged and having fun initially, although the discussion then moved away from specific approaches to introducing a text to more controversial wide-ranging issues that were historical in terms of the institution rather than being about literacy per se. The discussions at workstations were often lively, and raised issues such as knowing the range of students who were studying in the Automotive programme, and their specific needs, thereby identifying a requirement to work more closely with UATI teaching faculty during the design phase of workshops, tools and resources. Also highlighted during discussions were the variety of ways in which resources may be used, and possible future training sessions that would be required. Overall, a number of the tradeshow workshop participants remained reserved and cautious about the content and implied expectations, but still seemed positive about the actual tradeshow format of the workshop. The comments also revealed a growing awareness that the provision of literacy and numeracy support would in turn make their teaching easier, because, for example, students would be au fait with terminology. The main recommendation was to continue to offer contextualised workshops with a strong practical focus on deliberate acts of teaching (Benseman, Sutton, & Lander, 2005). In light of the feedback received, meetings were set up to engage UATI staff further in the design of the second workshop. Literacy demands identified in the discipline as possible topics for their next workshop were: • • • • • • • • reading a book - knowing there are diagrams, finding them and using them being able to associate the diagram with the written text diagrams – being able to name the components, understand how the diagram works and the relationship/fit between components speaking - putting words and an explanation around a task analysing/diagnosing a problem numeracy - basic functions, decimals, units vocabulary - technical language and acronyms language - phrases to describe systems

Almost as important as the areas that were identified as requiring attention was the consultation process itself which involved eight nominated staff whose perspective and input on what they and their students needed was sought.

Workshop two The second workshop took a different format, although it conformed with the suggestions the automotive department made. The session comprised: • • • • • • introduction - overview of the session with an emphasis on vocabulary dealing with new words - working with proverbs (interactive) what strategies were used (whole group discussion) teaching vocabulary - before during and after reading a text (interactive) scaffolding critical thinking/questioning demonstration of tools: Hot Potatoes quizzes (using multimedia), quizzes in Blackboard (using images and hotspots) as assessment tools, flash cards and numeracy (lesson plan on metric conversions)

Feedback was very positive with comments ranging from how useful the resources are to how well the teams were working together. A growing recognition that literacy and numeracy support students’ vocational success was clearly noticeable. Future directions After these initial contextualised tradeshow workshops the Academic Literacies team and CTLI plan to develop contextualised session series for all schools, as well as offering further workshops to UATI. At a later time, the professional development series can be broadened to include work on using initial and diagnostic assessment processes more effectively as well as better inclusion of ILP integration and formative assessment practices. The Blackboard toolbox will be extended and staff will be offered training for specific tools. CoPs that hopefully form as a result of these sessions will be encouraged by knowledge sharing forums that help facilitate collaboration between vocational and literacy specialists, alongside support and training offered as required. Furthermore, using a stepped approach over the next three years several further UATI programmes will also be addressed, with a clear differentiation being made between embedding, support and preparation covering capability building, resources, teaching and learning, and curriculum development. Formal research studies will be conducted to collect data, evaluate interventions, and to monitor overseas experience. Conclusion The tradeshow workshops are one of many initiatives at Unitec NZ that are currently being implemented to support the embedding of foundation skills and learning competencies into courses. This paper has outlined recent work to provide effective literacy and numeracy support to automotive staff and highlights the importance of interconnected and sustained professional development to support student success. Building relationships with automotive lecturing staff have been essential groundwork in addressing initial concerns, defining literacy and creating collaboration. Lecturers have started to recognize that deliberate and explicit acts of literacy and numeracy teaching are supporting students’ success in their vocational studies. A growing awareness of the benefits of embedding has helped to open doors for further contextualised work within the automotive department and other disciplines.

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