Profiling literacy and numeracy specialists
In this section we profile LN specialists to demonstrate the range of qualifications and experience that lead to expertise in the field. We encourage all readers to refer to the National Framework as a reminder that the TAELLN411 unit is an awareness unit and is at the start of a journey in LN teaching. For those wishing to extend from awareness to developing teaching skills we encourage shadowing, mentoring and training – several RTOs are currently delivering the TAE80113 Graduate Diploma in LLN Practice and information can be found at training.gov.au
Reconnect Facilitator & Volunteer Program Manager, Carringbush Adult Education, Victoria
How did you start your career in LN?
I ventured into literacy and numeracy teaching from EAL teaching, but had originally studied fine art with the aim of being an art teacher. I began teaching newly arrived refugees, which opened my eyes to the importance of LLN skills in giving people agency to engage in community activities and access opportunities. The resilience and determination of the students got me hooked! Working with adults who had minimal prior formal education and no prior foundation literacy skills in any language piqued my interest in language acquisition and how adults learn literacy. At the time there wasn’t much specialist knowledge available for low literacy EAL learners, so I figured things out as I went – to this day I cringe when I think of my early lessons! 19 years later I’m still figuring out this teaching thing!
What motivates you to work in this profession?
OK, cliché warning: I am motivated by the learners – their unique stories and strengths that can be harnessed to overcome significant barriers to learning. Like most teachers who are in this industry for the long haul, I aim to support individuals along their learning pathways, but am also driven from an access and equity perspective: too many people fall through the gaps in the education system. Structural failures and inadequate adult LLN resourcing propel me to work through a lens of social justice and find ways to engage people who face entrenched disadvantage. From a family literacy perspective, I think we have a responsibility to work together as a community to break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and build the capacity of families to increase their literacy skills. I’m also inspired by highly dedicated colleagues who go above and beyond to deliver engaging learning programs.
How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?
I have been very fortunate to learn on-the-job from skilled colleagues who have patiently pointed me in the right direction for approaches to program delivery, teaching strategies and professional development. Communities of practice have been invaluable to enable pooling of resources and sharing expertise. Action research, more recently in ACFE-funded Capacity and Innovation Fund (CAIF) projects, has enabled our staff at Carringbush to design and trial new models of delivery and develop learning resources. Funded initiatives for action research, fellowships and research partnerships are vital to enable educators to maintain currency and develop an evidence-base for their teaching.
Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?
Working with people with disabilities or chronic physical and mental health conditions that impact significantly upon their daily lives has taught me about individual resourcefulness, to focus on abilities and think creatively. I have learned a lot from community development projects, particularly incorporating strengths-based and participatory approaches, and collaborating with other support services outside the education sector. Professional development in counselling and trauma-informed approaches helps me to better understand the needs of learners and create a safe learning environment – and assists with my own emotional regulation! When I started investigating unconscious bias, white privilege and white fragility, I realised that I had been unconsciously complicit in some patronising and assimilationist practices, so that has led me to another meta-level of reflective practice.
How do you renew your ideas and practices?
I try to attend regular professional development through local and national conferences, forums and training. Sector newsletters and email updates are a great way to get regular small doses of professional reading. We’re often multi-tasking and don’t have time to really observe, listen and respond to each learner. I find it very energising when I can take time for truly reflective practice or engage in small scale action research. Teacher-to-teacher observation can push you out of your comfort zone, but it is invaluable to have input and feedback from peers. Similarly, team-teaching and co-delivering programs gets me out of the rut of doing things the same way through sharing expertise and co-developing new teaching strategies or resources. I’m fortunate to manage a skilled and committed team of volunteers who constantly contribute new ideas – they spark many “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments!
What professional development do you value?
I value practical evidence-based approaches specifically aimed at adults with LLN needs, which are not easy to come by! We need to reach out to professionals in other fields to develop cross-sectoral partnerships where we can access experts in speech pathology, specific learning disorders, disability, trauma etc. Funding teachers to trial new modes of delivery or teaching strategies demonstrates how highly your organisation values staff development, with the ultimate aim of improving outcomes for learners. Whole-of-organisation approaches take time to implement, but provide consistency for learners and structured professional learning for teachers, who can help induct new staff as they come on board.
I hope that one silver lining of social distancing and lockdown is that educators can access free professional development on digital learning platforms that cater to adults with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.
How can vocational trainers prepare for LN needs in their classroom?
The challenging and most rewarding aspect of LLN teaching is that it is never one size fits all, but all learning must be individualised. I try to invest time, particularly early on in a training program, to collaborate with learners on needs analyses and learner plans. I also try to apply the principles of universal design to learning resources – how can I design my resources to be accessible to all learners in diverse settings? With disparate learner groups I rely heavily on volunteers to provide individualised support or small group learning.
My advice would be to seek expertise where you don’t have the knowledge and skills – whether that’s for a student with dyslexia, an intellectual disability, a traumatic backgrounds – and build relationships between your organisation and services that can at least give you some key strategies.
Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these needs?
For your own professional learning, I recommend signing up to the newsletters of ACAL and peak LLN bodies to receive information on the latest developments in the LLN sector and upcoming professional development opportunities. VALBEC’s Fine Print magazine has some excellent articles that provide a great summary of innovations in current practices. Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), and the VET Development Centre (VDC) provide articles on the latest developments in specific learning difficulties and professional development opportunities. Head to the Reading Writing Hotline website for resources and keep your eyes peeled for the new Adult Literacy Connect online resource portal, which will be launched in 2020.
VET Lecturer / Workplace Assessor - Adult Literacy & Numeracy, Charles Darwin University
Wendy has over thirty years’ experience in Adult General Education, focussing on the design, management and implementation of high quality, customised, adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) programs for organisations and communities. Seventeen years of this experience was gained working in remote Indigenous education in Gunbalanya, a community in Western Arnhemland in the Northern Territory (NT).
There, Wendy developed a high level of skill and understanding of the cross-cultural issues associated with the delivery of accredited and non-accredited adult LLN programs in community environments. She was instrumental in establishing the highly successful Injalak Arts and Crafts Association, through which Gunbalanya’s Indigenous artists have been able to acquire skills, develop their local industry and control the commercialisation of their artwork.
When Wendy relocated to Darwin, initially employed at the Northern Territory Open College of TAFE and later at Charles Darwin University (CDU), she continued her commitment to adult education, through management and implementation of adult LLN programs for local organisations, regional and remote communities and involvement in offshore projects. She has established and maintained extensive professional networks throughout the NT and beyond, liaising with industry representatives and government departments to identify workforce training needs and coordinating training in consultation with employers. The breadth of her work includes curriculum writing, delivering training from Certificate I to Graduate Diploma level and the TAE.
Wendy provides leadership in specialist areas of literacy and numeracy within her work role at CDU, providing professional development sessions to staff on the Australian Core Skills Framework. Other contributions to the field include acting as NT Representative for the National Access Education Leaders Network since 2011 and as the NT Representative for the Reading Writing Hotline Steering Group. Over time, Wendy has developed and demonstrated a deep understanding of the complexities of LLN policy and practice, remaining committed to improving the literacy and numeracy levels of adults so they can reach their full potential, just as the over 300 local artists at Injalak have done.
Debra Guntrip is a finalist in the Australian Training Awards for the Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award. Her role delivering workplace literacy with TasTAFE has led her to work in a range of workplaces supporting employers and members of their workforces to strengthen language, literacy and numeracy skills on the job.
Deb moved to Tasmania with her family about 20 years ago. After a successful career running her own hairdressing business, she saw the move as an opportunity to start a new career that wasn’t as tiring on her arms. She enrolled in the Bachelor of Adult and Vocational Education and volunteered with Adult Literacy and Basic Education Tasmania. After graduating, she moved into paid work establishing community projects using accredited training. She loved the role of tailoring projects for community groups.
Since beginning work with TasTAFE, Deb has focussed on work-based literacy projects using funding from 26TEN, the previous WELL program, and other fee-for-service sources. She works with employers to explore their context, design a program with them and develop the application for funding. She then delivers the program and completes the reporting requirements. She seems to thrive on the project-based nature of her work.
The program content generally centres around workplace procedures. Deb will often assist in developing accessible procedural documentation using Plain English and the inclusion of graphics. She then trains staff to interpret as well as write procedures. This fits well with the broad approach to workplace literacy promoted by 26TEN. That is, where possible, bring the complexity of workplace documents closer to ACSF level 3 at the same time as learners/workers are trained to strengthen their skills to meet this level. 26TEN does not require the use of accredited training, but learner progress is mapped against the ACSF using the finer gradations approach identified by Escalier McLean (2013).
The training Deb conducts sees her working all hours of the day and in all areas of the business. This has included regularly doing training in a grader cab, working in the production and hatchery areas at salmon farms, on apiary sites with beekeepers, and working at an abattoir. When working one-on-one with learners, she has a maxim of “what do you need right now?” This might be directly related to work or specific to other aspects of the person’s life. One of the stories she shared, which exemplifies her approach, was working with a young man employed as a boner at the abattoir. He had ambitions of becoming a drover, so Deb worked with him to develop his vocabulary and numeracy specific to that role. He went on to successfully apply for the new role.
 Escalier McLean Consulting. (2013). ‘Exploration project on reporting Language Literacy and Numeracy outcomes using finer gradations of the Australian Core Skills Framework, ACSF’. Skills Tasmania. Available from https://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv%3A70262
Jill Finch has taught literacy and numeracy to adults for more than 30 years. A Head Teacher for 25 years, Jill has broad experience across many programs, locations and learners, from beginner literacy and numeracy through to graduate level programs, and delivery of professional development. She has worked with volunteers, in trades, in community-based and indigenous programs, and in the workplace. She has had roles in curriculum development, LLN policy review, and teacher practicums.
With initial qualifications in high school English and ESL teaching, Jill was attracted into adult literacy straight from university, with the expectation that she would undertake further specialist study. She subsequently completed postgraduate/Masters qualifications in Adult Ed, Special Ed, Adult LLN, and Applied Linguistics/TESOL. This gives a thorough academic underpinning to her work, but she feels that her early experience learning from other ABE teachers with a strong grounding in adult education has given her a lifelong commitment to student-centred, needs-based learning.
Jill’s areas of LLN interest include team teaching in vocational Learner Support, and working with Indigenous learners. For many years Jill coordinated VET learner support at one of the largest TAFE Colleges in Australia and worked to build successful relationships with vocational sections, via LN screening programs, customizing resources, and ongoing team-teaching.
Jill has a long involvement in the development of the adult LLN field through active roles in union and professional organisations. She was President of the NSW Adult Literacy & Numeracy Council for many years, planning and running regular seminars to develop and share teaching expertise. She feels a great sense of loss that systems and compliance matters are now the sole focus of PD in VET currently.
More recently, Jill has been working as a project officer for the national Reading Writing Hotline, liaising with government, community organisations, industry, and LLN providers on policy issues, adult literacy promotion and LLN resources. Jill is also teaching by distance on the Graduate Diploma in Adult LLN Practice, drawing on her broad background to deliver LLN teacher education. She also continues with a long-standing customized workplace program for local government, teaching digital literacy to outdoor workers.
As a Language, Literacy and Numeracy teacher Dalia’s aim is to ensure that her students experience success in their learning. Many students in this area have experienced difficulties in their life or in their learning so it is vital for her as a teacher to plan lessons aimed at their skill level. Once a student experiences success in learning, self confidence improves and students are then willing to take more risks in learning and broaden their goals for further study or employment.
Dalia’s expertise has developed through her diverse teaching experiences and her qualifications. Beginning with a Diploma of Teaching and Bachelor of Education (Primary), Dalia refined adult LN teaching expertise through completing a Graduate Diploma in Adult Basic Education.
Dalia has been involved in many areas of teaching Adult Basic Education. She has taught face to face adult literacy and numeracy classes since 1994. Classes taught have ranged from beginner to advanced levels, Energy Australia (now AUSGRID) and Railcorp Indigenous pre-apprenticeship programs to WELL programs working with workers at Sydney Day Nurseries and Columbia Nursing Homes, Jemena Gas Company and Uniting Care as well as teaching on LLNP funded classes. Some classes had a literacy focus while other classes were mainly numeracy focussed. At Barangaroo Skills Exchange, Dalia assessed all new workers for language, literacy and numeracy needs and provided 1:1 support to students who needed assistance in rigging, dogging and other workcover tickets. Dalia’s hint to new teachers is to understand that all teaching, whether group, 1:1 or a team teaching situation, requires forethought of the essential skills, preparation and a consideration of how to teach the content.
Since 2012 Dalia has also taught adult basic literacy and numeracy by distance, through post and increasingly online. Other cohorts Dalia has worked with to develop LN include youth at risk, vocational learners requiring support, migrants, and learners with a disability.
Dalia was the coordinator of a volunteer tutor program involving training members of the community in how to assist adults in reading, writing, oracy and computer skills. She matched volunteers to adults in the community who required assistance in language and literacy skills and supported volunteers by providing resources for them to use with their students.
In addition to teaching, Dalia has also developed expertise through other roles, including mapping training package units against the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) for skills service organisations and to inform the writing of literacy and numeracy Indicator tools. She has also worked as a Literacy Numeracy Consultant for the Board of Studies in NSW. This involved taking part in the standards setting process for the Board’s Literacy test for school leavers, the ROSA.
Dalia is a member of NSWALNC and ACAL.