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.

Planning for reading and writing


Recently, I have been researching and reading about, well, reading. My first port of call was Burton, M (2007) Reading, NIACE, Leicester. I found many points in the book that I wish to elaborate on, add to my action plan, and further research. I love these little handbooks, as they are not only informative, but small enough to digest. They also cram in lots of theories and suggestions for further reading. I LOVE that. It saves so much time!

So, anyway. Burton (2007) poses the question:

‘How helpful do you feel it is to make a distinction between reading and writing in planning your teaching?’

Personally, I feel it is totally necessary to make a distinction between reading and writing when planning, especially for a developing teacher. I have seen resources in the past and wondered if they were they type of resources I should be churning out, and often wondered how much thought had been put into them. Not entirely in a critical way, but as a means for me to base and consolidate my knowledge through. I’m still not sure of that answer.

The risk of not looking at reading and writing separately, I think are all too apparent. Stages/activities in lessons have sometimes seemed to be plucked out of the air. For example, I’ve read comments such as ‘look at this great resource. They read about car adverts in a newspaper, then have to do xyz, before making their own’. I wonder if it’s a cop-out. As long as they’re practising their English, that’s ok, right? I guess if you’re teaching with a whole class-approach, then this is what you might have to resort to, but I find it a complete nightmare for understanding (personally). I just can’t seem to get my head around things that way. I currently think of individuals first. I’m not saying that’s right; it’s just what works for me and my learners at the moment. Some group stuff seems a bit like you’re not meeting what everyone needs. I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to this point.

I have sometimes been guilty of plonking on an activity because I didn’t want something I was teaching to feel completely random, and feel the guilt of it too.

I think it’s useful to have some ‘umbrella’ check for yourself when planning. For example, when planning for a reading activity, go back to your CPD and read your checklists of things to think about. I find if I don’t try to do this, then that’s when I feel guilty, because I’ve not given it enough justification in my own mind.

I try to think of any writing activities in the same way, then try to link the two together so activities aren’t futile. I think it’s necessary to appreciate that sometimes learners might need work on the small things, to feel like they’re making progress overall. And sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in ensuring your learners hit targets. The milestones are golden.