What is literacy? What are models of literacy?


The outcomes of today’s session were:

  • Identify the difference between descriptive/reflective writing – see reflection post in this blog
  • Describe some of the different views of literacy

Before we discussed models of literacy, we discussed ‘what is literacy?’. We looked at the definitions for England and Scotland, and talked about what was missing mainly. In my group, we felt that listening, communication and the idea of ‘what is the point in expressing ideas if you don’t have a listener’, and felt that this was overlooked by both definitions. We felt that the underpinning values expressed by both were reading, writing and maths.

When I first started, I was aware of some of the models of literacy, but found them a bit confusing as to where they fit within our teaching. I had one main question: Do you choose a model that you believe in and try to add it to the current model that seems to envelope our classrooms, or do you use a mixture?  Today we looked at Baynham (1995) for some explanations of the models of literacy.

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  • The functional model – ‘A person is literate when he [sic] has acquired the essential knowledge and skills which enable him to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community, and whose attainments in reading, writing, and arithmetic make it possible for him to continue these skills towards his own and the community’s development.’ (Gray 1956) in Papen 2005, P. 9). This definition looks at literacy being a skill required for participation in society, as well as as an individual.It has been suggested that the individualisation element has been dropped, and it concentrates more on the social implications of literacy
  • The liberal model – ‘Accordingly, adult basic education programmes that are informed by a liberal perspective go beyond work-related and ‘functional’ skills in a narrow sense, and include the more leisure orientated uses of reading and writing, including creative writing and access to literature. Liberal adult basic education does not limit its provision to the working population, but regards literacy for older people or for those who are not part of the workforce as an equally valid activity’ p.11, Papen, U, Adult Literacy as a Social Practice: More Than Skills. 
  • The critical model – ‘The concept of ‘critical literacy’ is associated with…Paulo Freire…critical literacy refers to the potential of literacy as not only ‘reading the word’, but also ‘reading the world’ (Freire and Macedo 1987)…literacy was political and the question of how to teach adults to read and write became part of a political project, and was no longer seen as a neutral technique as in the functional view.’ p. 10-11, Papen, U, Adult Literacy as a Social Practice: More Than Skills. 
  • The Remedial/Deficit model


What are the most important things you have learned from this session? (include any comments about yourself as a learner)
I learnt that there are different views of literacy, from different people. I also learnt that there’s a lot I need to learn!

How will you relate what has been covered in this session to your class teaching?
We may be delivering functional skills soon, which by nature has a functional model, but also we deliver a creative writing session, and a magazine session which are a lot freer and liberal. These can also be seen as critical though, as sometimes I have used the classes as platforms to write to their MPs, and to encourage learners that they can have a voice if they wish to do so.

What steps will you be taking to widen your understanding of the topics covered in this session? 
More research on the models of literacy, when I start to lesson plan. There could be a mixture, and it will be interesting to see if I can create liberal-functional models.

Practical implications
In Creative Writing, if working to assessment criteria, I suppose the classes, although liberal in ideology, become functional through task. Some criteria include planning, drafting, and producing a final piece which suits the needs of the intended audience!

What support will you need in this? 
None – but will disseminate information to sessional tutor

Who could provide this support? 

Added to PDP/Action Plan?
Added to teaching practice checklist.

Try in session? 
Yes – added to teaching practice checklist.

What went well in that session?/what would I change?/How will I make changes?


  • Try in sessions/add to teaching practice checklist
  • Conduct more research on models of literacy as course goes on
  • I still need to research these a bit more though as I don’t feel I fully understand them. Also, I have seen a ‘liberal’ model and a ‘social practice’ model and I’m not sure how these differ from the above document we looked at as we looked at them in a different session. Language is sometimes confusing to me because everything affects everything else. Not sure how else to describe it!


Baynham, M. (1995) Literacy Practices. London & New York: Longman.

Papen, U (2005) Adult literacy as social practice: more than skills. London: Routledge.

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