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

Stephen Goldberg

Teacher Educational Pathways, Career Pathways, Aboriginal Languages and Employability Skills

 Stephen GoldbergHow did you start your career in LN?

By accident. In the mid-1980s I had been spending time as a failed hippy up the NSW North Coast. Back in Sydney, a family friend suggested that my Dip Teach with subjects in Music and Drama might be useful in getting me some work as a sessional adult literacy teacher. She had seen an ad in her local newspaper advertising a position at a college in western Sydney. I rang up and went for an interview the next day. By evening, I was in front of a class. I was the only applicant for the job. Six months after that, that initial baptism by fire experience was instrumental in landing me a job teaching literacy and numeracy at Silverwater Jail. That was the best of challenges – motivating learners in an unpredictable challenging environment.

What motivates you to work in this profession?

What got me hooked from the beginning – having a job that has a social justice imperative and one that lets me explore language and what it can do. Language, and that includes numeracy is a political institution – look how governments, businesses, pundits and spin doctors use it to further their agendas. In spite of all the changes to our work over the years, I haven’t shied away from regarding language, literacy and numeracy education as a means of getting one’s slice of democracy.

How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?

Looking back over my career I can see that just about anything I have done, whether it is learning a new skill in digital technology that I can bring to the learning environment, learning a new language or, visiting a place for the first time, I have found ways to integrate those experiences into my teaching and other work . I’m self-taught in a lot of areas, especially technology and I read a lot, mainly nonfiction. I think the key to successful  teaching  is to always be a learner.

Not so long ago I completed post-graduate studies in Learning Sciences and Technology. This really helped me understand learning in the present where we are confronted with a changing and sometimes confusing clash of the human and the digital worlds.

Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?

Many instances come to mind. One especially valuable experience was managing my home renovation which was a stressful and steep learning curve. It also coincided with me working extensively with Building and Construction trades to deliver  LLN support to trainees and apprentices. I used my day to day experiences and a portfolio of photos to develop a hands on teaching style.

If you want your learners to be able to calculate the volume of concrete in a concrete slab, text-book examples of prisms with given lengths, widths and depths won’t guarantee your learners can apply the process to the physical world. It’s far better to go outside to the concrete driveways and measure them up to determine the amount of concrete needed to make them. Same when calculating brick orders or purchasing floorboards. Measure the areas of real walls and calculate the number of bricks you need; use chalk to draw a square metre over a section of flooring to show the relationship between square and lineal metres. Work backwards from real structures.

How do you renew your ideas and practices?

I don’t necessarily have a straightforward approach. Often it happens when I’m outside my comfort zone and have to adapt to the environment I’m in. One time, I worked on a commercial program teaching scientists in a government agency how to write both research and expert witness reports. To get a my head around what my clients needed to be able to do, I spent time researching and analysing what good examples of such texts looked. I also kept asking a lot of questions to a lot of people.

It also pays to be really observant of what is happening out in the world in terms of LLN social and workplace practices. LLN practices  and human computer interactions are changing so quickly it is hard to keep up sometimes. I keep up to date  on the newest apps out there and think about how they can augment student learning. Siri and Google can be used to assist with pronunciation. Flight Radar24 and Google Maps can be used to limit the time you spend on airport parking fees. Snap Send Solve will alert your local council to illegal dumping of rubbish quicker than an e-mail or a phone call.  Seeing students becoming aware of, empowered and adept at using technology tools such as these is very satisfying.

Likewise, in everyday classroom practice, old-style personal reflection on teaching practice  never goes out of date.

What professional development do you value?

Learning experiences that have a real world application that I can apply to teaching practice immediately. Not so long ago, someone showed me how to use MS Forms. Digital form filling on hand held devices is the new normal. You can use them to make surveys, gauge learner understanding of concepts and present numerical data back to students.

How can vocational trainers prepare for LN needs in their classroom?

Never assume that your learners will come to classes equipped with the requisite  LLN and learning skills in order to learn the content . Likewise, never assume that your learners don’t know very much. Some of the youngest learners I have taught have demonstrated amazing life skills and wisdom.  Every vocational teacher has to see themselves as an LLN teacher. How you present and introduce content  can enhance both vocational skills and LLN skills and better engage your students. Think about the resources you’re using and your approach. Reading alone is not always the best way to impart content. Need to teach food safety to Commercial Cookery students? Before you introduce food safety charts, or deliver a monologue, find some episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on You Tube and get students to name and count the number of food hygiene transgressions. Need to teach Work Health and Safety to Construction trade  students? Get them to find  videos on their phones of funny construction accidents and name the hazard in each example and the control that should have been in place.

Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these needs?

Google and You Tube for starters. It is also really helpful for teachers to reacquaint themselves with the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) and reflect on what skills and capabilities  each of the levels is describing.

Justin Hayes

Teacher – Learning Skills Centre, Holmesglen Institute (Victoria)

Justin HayesHow did you start your career in LN?

At the beginning of my career, I was ridiculously incompetent. I had moved to Tokyo to teach conversational English to adults, with the company providing me with just three days of training. I was in a new country, extremely shy and completely out of my depth. Fortunately, I had both especially talented colleagues and the skills of a gifted copycat. After six months, the training methodology sunk in, I had stolen all the teaching secrets of my workmates and the fog of shyness slowly started lifting, kicking off six years of fun.

I returned to Melbourne in 2005, made the easy decision to keep teaching, got qualified and began working at Holmesglen Institute as an EAL teacher. This time with larger class sizes, a mix of cultures and a broader set of skills to teach, I had to reinvent myself. Again, it took me a little while, but I eventually got the hang of it.

In 2017, I was asked to join the Learning Skills Centre at Holmesglen, supporting vocational students with the foundation skills of their courses and future careers. Once more, I found myself in unfamiliar territory and in need of a quick injection of practitioner skills, knowledge and confidence. It’s been three years already and I’ve been slowly building my understanding of my role and the larger context of VET foundation skills support in Australia. No quick injection, but fortunately I work with a great team to support me and have the freedom to pursue my own development.

What motivates you to work in this profession?

First of all, how important are foundation skills in society? When I started looking into this question, I quickly understood it was an honour to do my part to help people develop their skills. I’ve taken a lot from this world (being a self-centred, even selfish, younger man) and I now know this is how I can pay society back.

Besides, many of my needs are satisfied – the constant anticipation of what’s coming next, the large variety of people I interact with, the creativity that spontaneously occurs and the curiosity to explore (that so often gets me into trouble).

How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?

A few ways …

1 Being a copycat – I observe other people and see what resonates with me, I talk with them about what they do, I copy what they do and paste it into my identity. Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

2 Getting ordered – There’s nothing like being told to do something, getting thrown in the deep end. Sometimes I swim, sometimes I sink, but learning from trial and error after I’ve been told to do something usually gets me through … so many trials, so many errors.

3 Silently exploring – I read when I want to know something, I write to organise my thoughts and I reflect. It may look like I spend a lot of time doing nothing, but I’m just reflecting.

Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?

There are two in particular, although I can’t remember exactly when they occurred, but both of them relate to the idea of me getting out of the way of my students.

The first was when I started to incorporate the principles of student-centred learning. Here I discovered the importance of student-to-student interaction, and when I made that a central part of my teaching, the benefits of relationship-building and confidence-building for students became obvious.

The second was when I learnt that my role wasn’t to impart knowledge onto students, like vomiting my knowledge into their ears, but rather to create the context for students to learn for themselves. I’m quite comfortable with the idea of being called a ‘facilitator’ instead of a ‘teacher’.

How do you renew your ideas and practices?

This year I started a Master of Education, focusing on the position of foundation skills support services. There is a lot of researching and reading involved, so to help me collect my thoughts, I’ve started a blog-type website: www.foundsupport.com.au. I’ve made it public both to share what I discover and to encourage discussion, which, in turn, further renews my ideas and practices.

What professional development do you value?

In terms of content, at the moment, I’m focusing on big picture / macro topics to increase my understanding of the context of foundation skills across Australia, including historical development, government policy and parts of education theory. Later, I’ll look into the finer/micro details.

In terms of events, ones where relationships are developed. There’s always something to be taken away from professional development, but there are often so many questions, points, issues that can be discussed after the event, and having contacts to communicate with can greatly enhance development.

Personally, I prefer one-on-one chats with people, even just by sitting down at a café and picking their brains.

How can vocational trainers prepare for LN needs in their classroom?

  • Become aware of the importance of foundation skills in society and the particular industry
  • Learn the foundation skills embedded in units of competency / a program
  • Make a conscious decision at the beginning of a unit/program to incorporate foundation skills development into delivery planning
  • Identify the foundation skills needs and abilities of the students – analyse results of an initial assessment, get to know the students and allow them to practise
  • Get to know foundation skills support services – who they are, where they are, how they can assist, how they can be contacted
  • Engage with foundation skills support specialists for advice on any of the above

Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these neeed

Anything (Everything) by Australian researchers, such as Louise Wignall, Dave Tout, Stephen Black and Keiko Yasukawa. Ultimately, though, we can all find resources to meet our needs, whether they are websites, newsletters, academic papers or personal contacts, but to do that we must identify what our needs are and … allow ourselves to learn.

Gregor Mackenzie

Head Teacher Western Sydney Region RUReady Team, Career Pathways, Aboriginal Languages and Employability Skills

Gregor MackenzieHow did you start your career in LN?

I first started my career in TAFE the late nineties teaching Reading and Writing for Adults (RAWFA) of an evening at Macquarie Fields TAFE in South Western Sydney. I had previously taught in the school system in this area and had developed a love of that community, which in many instances was disadvantaged from a socio-economic perspective. Around this time, government funding became available under the “Youth at Risk” strategy and having a background in working with disengaged youth, I was given the opportunity to develop and deliver on campus programs designed to re-engage young people of the Mac Fields community in study and career research. This was the beginning of my fulltime career with TAFE and I continued with these programs for some 12 years.

What motivates you to work in this profession?

I think that there has always been an element of social justice that’s guided me. This was a major force when I started with the Youth at Risk programs and saw the outcomes young people could achieve when given the opportunity to have positive educational experiences. Now some 20 years on I currently work with the Western Sydney Region RUReady Team, whose core business is to screen and identify students who may require support to complete their vocational studies. We work with vocational sections, Educational pathways and of course the student to develop support strategies that will best suit the needs of the individual and securing positive outcomes for these students is always a motivating factor.

How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?

Right from the beginning of my TAFE career I was blessed by having a very experienced and knowledgeable mentor by the name of Liz Renshaw. At the time she was the Head Teacher of Foundation Studies and took it upon herself to give a beginning PT teacher the tools required to make his way in a new career. She instilled in me, not only the value of ongoing further study but the capacity to work with and learn off my fellow practitioners. As a result, my ongoing professional development has been a combination of formalised study, both within and external to TAFE and working collaboratively with highly experienced colleagues.

Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?

There are a number of points in my career that have had an impact on how I deliver or view the importance of access to these types of programs, however one in particular stays with me. There was a young Aboriginal girl who came to the Mac. Fields Youth Programs in the early days. Her home life was anything but stable, often finding herself couch surfing and exposing herself to dangerous situations, coupled with this was alcohol and substance abuse.

Her first engagements with the program were sporadic, however with time she fully engaged and began to understand her own potential. By working with other support networks we managed to work through many of her issues with her moving forward to further vocational study within TAFE. Fast forward some 17 years and I ran into this student in the street. We instantly recognised each other. She looked at me and said “I’ve been waiting to see you again, I need to tell you something. What you did for me all those years ago, saved my life.” I smiled and possibly gave a slightly dismissive look, as she paused, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “No, you really saved my life.”

I have always believed that LN practitioners can have a profound impact on students’ lives, it was not until this encounter, did I realise that you may never know how much of an impact you have had.

How do you renew your ideas and practices?

In my current capacity within the Western Sydney Region RUReady Team, I have the unique opportunity as an LN practitioner of working with all the different vocational sections across the region. I often will attend their Head Teacher meetings and am able to experience first-hand the varied LLN issues related to specific course requirements. I have always found that by engaging directly with vocational teachers and developing an understanding of precise student requirements, this enables me to share and reflect with my fellow LN practitioners, thus developing fresh practices, better suited to students within that vocational area. Of course engaging in ongoing, formal professional development and engaging in reflection in respect to these always helps keep the mind ticking over.

What professional development do you value?

For me any professional development where I get to engage with fellow practitioners and share thoughts and ideas based on an initial stimulus. One of the most valuable for me is the annual TAFE NSW Engage Conference it consistently has a variety of speakers from varied backgrounds, who always promote forward thinking and reflection on teaching practice in the future. There is always opportunity to discuss the concepts put forward with colleagues which, I believe is a very important part of professional development.

How can vocational trainers prepare for LN needs in their classroom?

I believe the single most important thing vocational trainers can do to prepare for LN needs in their classroom is to know where their students are at in respect to their foundation skills. Knowing who will, who won’t and who might need support is essential in planning effective delivery. This can be done through a range of methods whether utilising online or paper based screens however the earlier it can be done in the learner’s journey the better. Secondly touch base with an LN specialist. Utilise their knowledge and experience to assist with the development of your vocational delivery. Finally if a student or students require additional support, look within your organisation to see who can provide this and discuss with the appropriate person the specific student needs and vocational requirements in order to ensure the most effective form of support is provided.

Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these needs?

I don’t really want to choose one particular resource or reading for vocational trainers because an individual’s interests and teaching requirements are so varied. Instead I’ll list my four go to organisations in this area which should provide teachers with a much broader variety of options.

These organisations in no order of preference are:

ACAL The Australian Council for Adult Literacy

NCVER National Centre for Vocational Educational Research

AVETRA Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association

ACER Australian Council for Educational Research

Simone Campbell

Part Time Teacher, Career Pathways, Aboriginal Languages & Employability Skills, TAFENSW

Simone CampbellHow did you start your career in LN?

I started my career in Language, Literacy and Numeracy teaching in 2001. I had just completed my undergraduate degree in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at the Australian National University in Canberra. During my this time, I volunteered at the Canberra Migrant Resource Centre as an after school tutor for newly arrived migrants and refugees. I thought If I’m going to be an ESL teacher, I’d better see if I can tutor 1-1 first!

After graduating from the ANU, I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in TESOL through Wollongong University, by distance education. I was living near Taree on the mid-north coast of NSW, and completed my practical experience in LLN teaching at Taree Community College. Soon after graduating with my teaching qualification in 2002, I started working as a LLN teacher at TAFE NSW Taree Campus. I have worked at various TAFE locations since then and currently teach on the English Language (CSWE) courses at TAFE.

What motivates you to work in this profession?

I have always believed in ‘second chance’ learning and the old saying ‘you’re never too old to learn’. During my career, I have taught students of all ages and from diverse cultural backgrounds, from early school leavers to retirees 80-90 years and all ages in between. I feel my role is to support learners to gain their confidence and self-belief which creates and drives their motivation to succeed. It’s about filling gaps in their learning and giving them the best opportunity to achieve their personal goals, however big or small. I am motivated by their success and seeing them thrive and overcome obstacles along the way.

How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?

Early in my career I was like a sponge, learning as much as I could on the job from the amazing colleagues around me. I was lucky to be working in a Literacy/Numeracy team teaching environment when I first started working at TAFE NSW. I also attended many conferences, regional forums, workshops and local assessment validation sessions which continuously helped to develop my teaching and assessing skills over time. I think as teachers we are always looking to do better, constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our delivery style, content and methods.

Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?

In my first year of teaching, I worked with a mature-aged woman who wore a beautiful gold watch. When doing time problems in a numeracy lesson, I asked her to look at her watch to see if she could work out the answer. She told me she couldn’t read the watch and only wore it because it was a gift to her. From this moment forward, I have never assumed anything! Just because someone wears a watch, I don’t assume they know how to read it! Needless to say the activity we were trying to complete was pushed aside and I taught her how to read her watch.

Also early in my career, I worked with LLN learners on various Digital Storytelling projects. I enjoyed helping them tell their stories and life experiences while integrating the literacy and technology skills in a project-based form of learning. Their final products were amazing and the students had a real sense of pride in their achievement. I continue to implement integrated projects where possible in my teaching.

I’ve learnt over time that the essential principles for my teaching are establishing rapport and trust as early as possible. This is key to success. Continuing to build on this by being approachable and meeting the their needs is equally important, while being flexible and adaptable. 2020 has tested this flexibility and adaptability to a new level, by requiring us to move our teaching to remote mix-mode delivery. I have been amazed by how seamlessly our English language learners, who are usually resistant to change, have embraced learning by MS Teams on their home computers. 

How do you renew your ideas and practices?

I have always enjoyed the opportunity to participate in workshops and conferences, many of these are online now. I come away from these experiences with new information and ideas that can be implemented into my classroom and shared with my team of colleagues. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an informal conversation with a colleague and the sharing of ideas and resources. I enjoy working in a collaborative team environment and have been fortunate to work with so many wonderful teachers along the way.

What professional development do you value?

I value learning about innovative practices and new technologies that can be implemented in the classroom. I have always enjoyed attending both large and small scale conferences and workshops. I enjoy the feeling of learning new things and coming away feeling inspired. Recently, during this period of lockdown and remote teaching /learning, I have participated in a wide variety of online training, some mandatory and others through interest. I have embraced webinars and sessions delivered via MS Teams – learning new things from the comfort of home.

How can vocational trainers prepare for LN needs in their classroom?

Vocational teachers need to be aware of the difficulties faced by LLN learners in terms of their skills and often their low self-confidence. They should have additional strategies to put into place to support these learners to succeed in a vocational classroom, such as explaining technical terms, providing simple written glossaries, visual supports to text and providing time and space for the learners to ask questions and seek additional support when required. This involves patience and a high degree of empathy for the learner. Their past experience with education may have been interrupted or negative and their vocational experience is a chance to learn in a more supported way.

Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these needs?

I subscribe to ACAL’s newsletter to keep informed of the big picture issues in our field, and for a time I was involved with the NSWALNC and also enjoyed their forums. Vocational teachers need to be aware of the ACSF framework and its principles to properly assist LLN leaners within their vocational field. Some online resources I find useful are BBC skills wise for literacy/numeracy skill development and for my ESL learners I have introduced them to Emma from Mmm English (Youtube) for English Language practise at home.

Rose Colosi

Career Pathways Aboriginal Languages and Employability Skills (CPALES)
TAFENSW

Rose ColosiHow did you start your career in LLN?

All by accident. In 2008, my TAFE NSW Business Services Head Teacher asked me to assist one of her students, a mature age Afghanistan female refugee student with below average English language skills who was struggling with the theory. However, she kept saying ‘yes’ to all my questions. This baffled me so one day I organised her son to translate for me. He told me she kept saying ‘yes’ because in their culture you never say ‘no’ to a teacher! It resonated immediately to the stories of my parents LLN issues and experiences on arriving to a new country, language and culture when they immigrated as young adults to Australia in the late 1940’s. The light bulb moment for me was that I would love to change teaching pathway and become an LLN facilitator!

What motivates you to work in this profession?

Firstly, my diverse students’ shared stories and resilience in the face of adversity, it is a humbling experience.

I find it rewarding to make them feel welcome at TAFE NSW and I find it interesting to explore/create the individual learning journey for each student and how to assist learners with their diverse skills, needs and aspirations. Over time, I get to watch where it leads them into their academic, employment and/or social practice future.

I never give up on finding what makes a student engage with study and work. Every adult learner has differing degrees of skills and interests, I haven’t yet met one that doesn’t. Adult learners have so much life skills-even though they don’t realise it at times, but I remind them that they do.

Genuinely seeing the students smile and understanding what they are learning – when they say ‘aha, I get it!’

How have you developed your professional skills and knowledge over time?

I believe life experience and interpersonal skills are extremely important, and equally balanced with academic qualifications and professional development. I feel I connect with students when I try to view their learning journey through their lens. I learn just as much when I teach them. I have learnt innovative ideas and versatility to adapt myself to the shifting learning and social environment and demographics

Can you describe any key points in your career that have helped shape the way you work in delivering LLN or foundation skills?

  • Knowing that learning is a two way sharing knowledge process-you can learn from students as well.
  • Having excellent communication and people-person skills.
  • Understanding and acknowledging the diverse cultures and their expectations in each class.
  • Building the communities trust and relationships.
  • Working in the LLN space across Australia in cities, regional and remote (NSW & WA) areas has taught me LLN is so diverse in height, width and depth – learning has no borders and no boundaries.
  • Contextualising the work for the student as compliantly possible. The key is finding what works for the student while maintaining academic standards and outcomes.
  • Accomplishing my Bachelor degree in Adult Vocational Education LLN.
  • National, International (USA & Cuba) LLN networking/sharing docs, Skype experiences, innovative practices/trends and information with other passionate LLN practitioners and stakeholders.
  • Sharing LLN facilitation discussions and receiving feedback from VET teachers, industries, local community groups and organisations.

How do you renew your ideas and practices?

  • Constant reading /viewing/discussions of any LLN materials academic papers, conferences, education documentaries both high school and adult education and the www. (I’m a research tragic-always looking for something interesting/new for student learning/participation/engagement).
  • Consultations/discussions with experienced peers.
  • Regularly ask for colleagues and student feedback. Refresh lessons with a new approach/activity.
  • I enrol in a different short course (not LLN related) class every couple of years as a student, just so that I can recap a learner’s experience and note navigation process of a course (assessments, deadlines, text formats, digital course and hardcopy resources etc.), through a learner’s lens.
  • Visit LLN websites and read LLN related blogs.

What professional development do you value?

Networking with other LLN peers/practitioners and their LLN practices and experiences both formally and informally. Any IT training that will benefit me and the students e.g. MS Teams for remote students (a great challenge for all involved!). Formal LLN courses /workshops. Attending LLN conferences that offer interesting group breakout practical sessions. Listening to great industry guest speakers.

How can vocational trainers prepare for LLN needs in their classroom?

I have generally five rules I follow in classroom:

  • Know my students. Know each person’s name, one thing that is their interest and their learning style.
  • Know the community. Whether teaching in a city, metropolitan area, regional town or out in the desert, understand the community’s idiosyncrasies of transport, cultural issues etc.
  • Be flexible, negotiate and use exceptional communication and interpersonal skills. Strong doses of respect, trust, humour, empathy and patience is a must. It can produce amazing results.
  • Know the product, course and resources. Being organised and yet know how to quickly change direction and tactics when something isn’t working. Being prepared generally maintains an acceptable learning and engaging environment and productive day for all.
  • Share and swap resources, constructive feedback and experiences (negative and positive ones) with colleagues in a genuine and professional manner. It’s no use reinventing ‘new wheels for the LLN bus’ if a colleague can assist you and vice versa.

Can you recommend a particular resource or professional reading to support vocational trainers meet these needs

  • Readings: (Links) No More Excuses, What Works.
  • Books: Teaching Adult Literacy Principles and Practice-Norah Hughes Irene Schwab. ACSF manual.
  • LLN subscription and web sites: ACAL, NCVER, VALBEC, Training.gov.au. WAALC, ACSF and Skills Wise UK.

Memorable LLN moment!

Teaching basic computer skills to Ben L. a Kimberley region WA Indigenous 55 year old man – owner of a new laptop. For a period of three months, he drove weekly, 75km along a remote dirt bush track. He left his vehicle on the river bank, crossed the mighty Fitzroy River WA in a questionable dinghy to come to a three day weekly computer class (he stayed with family in our community for three nights). He mastered MS Word/email and typing. His computer skills were crucial for him to gain employment as the cattle station manager of his community. He still emails me, but now also messages me through LinkedIn!

Laura Chapman

Reconnect Facilitator & Volunteer Program Manager, Carringbush Adult Education, Victoria

Laura Chapman and Elizabeth Deng

Laura Chapman and student Elizabeth Deng

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.

Wendy Kennedy

Wendy Kennedy

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.

Deb Guntrip

Deb Guntrip

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)[1].

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.

[1] 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

Jill Finch

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.

Dalia Kaldas

Dalia Kaldas

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.