Workplace Literacy and Best Practices

workplace learning

He came looking for workplace literacy.

I don't mean a literacy program attached to his workplace - though that would have pleased him as well. I mean, he wanted to improve his reading and writing specifically for work-related reasons.

Well, that's a pretty straightforward assignment, right? We just needed to figure out what kind of reading and writing his job required, and then create a curriculum based on that. Mixed in, we'd do some general literacy and work on those 300 or so words everybody uses (with, what, which, etc.).

I should add that he did express general goals as well. He said, "What I'd like is to be able to pick up the paper and read most of the stuff in it. Not everything. But at least a lot of it."

So, okay. We started from there.

First it was some shared reading with level two materials, and independent reading with level one books. Each class, he wrote a summary or recounting of what he'd read. I showed him the Oxford Picture Dictionary (an adult resource - not be confused with their children's picture dictionary), and he found relevant pages in it: they gave him words he wrote into sentences.

A little while in, he brought in a small form he was required to fill out each workday. I photocopied it, enlarging it by 30%, and he practiced filing it in, using the O.P.D. for words on construction equipment or workplace hazards.

Vexingly, a few weeks later the small, 4" by 6" form was replaced by an 8.5" by 14" form stuffed with odd abbreviations. But, we plunged on.

We tried making use of the computer. He set up his first email account, and did some typing on Word, making use of the grammar- and spell-check services. But this didn't seem to fit. He seemed happier working with pen and paper, and so I stopped suggesting the other. That's okay. Not everything works for everyone.

And... well... that's where we're at. He (and his bosses) are happy with his progress. Funding for his class is about to end, of course. (No money for literacy? What else is new?) But I'm already putting together some space and print resources so I can continue to help him and a few others on a volunteer* basis.

But I did want to make a shout-out for the Oxford Picture Dictionary.

oxford picture dictionary for adults

I see in a New Readers Press catalogue that there's a 2nd edition out, as well as a Spanish-English version. I use the "Canadian Edition" which may or may not be available in an updated edition. Doesn't matter - it's all good.

I also wanted to mention that, about three years ago, I was in the exactly same place with another learner, attempting - as well as I can remember - the same approach and strategies. That time, it was a grinding failure. I wonder why? Do I know more now? Am I more effective? Did that earlier learner need a different approach altogether?

I'm not beating myself up over it. I just think its useful to reflect on why things work now and not then, work here but not there.

It's also a good reminder that "best practices" mean whatever works best for each particular learner. Strategies are not always transferable from one learner to the next. One more reason to be wary of imposed, top-down or Canada-wide curricula.


P. s. The word list I use is an expanded version that started with the one in Ontario's Chris Harwood's Handbook for Literacy Tutors (2003) Grass Roots Press. This binder, contents copywrite the Ottawa-Carleton Coalition for Literacy, is in many libraries. His lists are derived from Literacy link Eastern Ontario and the North York Public Library. Apparently, Upper Canada is all about words - LOL. I'm sure there are lots of other, excellent word lists out there. :)

* I try not to think of this as subsidizing his employer - a massively rich company... sigh. And, no, general workplace literacy is not a funding priority in NB, especially for workers with very low skills. However, there is funding for some "get them off welfare" and GED prep programs which we call "workplace" in order to qualify for federal grants.

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