Literacy Specialist - New position at CLN

Posted: 7 September 2021

Author: Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

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In the past couple of weeks you may have seen a number of references to a Literacy Specialist at CLN. You may have questions about the term and wonder what it’s all about. Here are some answers to a few basic questions about my role as Literacy Specialist, and how I can support you in your work with adult literacy learners.

What is literacy?

Take a moment and think what literacy means to you.

Many people think that literacy means reading and writing and while that is true, it’s much deeper than that. In fact, in the 20th century there were many different definitions about what literacy is to capture that depth. Many definitions looked beyond literacy as only reading and writing and expanded into numeracy, digital skills, health and family to more accurately reflect how we use literacy in our life.

In 2004, UNESCO came out with a global definition of literacy, which they expanded on in 2017. UNESCO's definition goes beyond acquiring reading and writing abilities and includes how we use literacy in our life and the outcomes or benefits of literacy for an individual.

      “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.

      Literacy involves a continuum of learning, enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” (UNESCO 2004; 2017)

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The term ‘literacy’ has wide use among children, youth and adult education. If you were to talk to a school teacher about literacy, they would think about teaching reading to children. To differentiate between literacy for children and literacy for adults, we use the term ‘adult literacy’.

In the Community Adult Learning Program Guidelines, Adult literacy is defined as the ability “to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and use printed and written materials associated within varying contexts.” (Community Adult Learning Program Guidelines. Pg 25. July 2020)

It would be well worth it to ponder and write down some of your thoughts on what literacy means to you. How does your understanding of literacy impact how you work with adult literacy learners? What do adult learners in your programs think literacy means?

What is a Literacy Specialist?

I was working as an Adult Literacy Coordinator when I first heard and used the term ‘Literacy Specialist’. I was part of the research project ‘Connecting Literacy to Community’ with Bow Valley College from 2001-2003. We became ‘Literacy Specialists’ as we worked within our communities to increase literacy awareness and processes to support organizations to improve their programs and services to be more accessible for adult clients with limited literacy.

At the time this was a new term and had never been used before in adult literacy. Soon there were Literacy Specialists in various communities throughout the province. The role of the Literacy Specialist was to build their community’s capacity using literacy audits, presentations, workshops and partnerships to raise literacy awareness and accessibility for adults with limited literacy.

What does a Literacy Specialist do?

So what does a Literacy Specialist do? The purpose of the role is to help you provide effective and relevant literacy programming for adult literacy learners.

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This is a new role that is evolving, but here are a few things that I as the Literacy Specialist can do:

  • Answer questions you have about working with adult literacy learners
  • Suggest resources, strategies and ideas for working with adult literacy learners
  • Be a sounding board for ideas or thoughts you have around adult literacy and provide you with feedback
  • Provide workshops/training around topics such as understanding adult literacy, working with adult literacy learners and reading strategies

I will be traveling to each Region from now until December 2021. Let me know if you’d like to connect at that time. I’m also looking for feedback on what type of support you need to better serve adult literacy learners.

As part of my role I am the facilitator for the Strengthening Literacy Practices training. This is an 8-month training from October 2021 – June 2022, which focuses on building knowledge and skills in delivering adult literacy programming to better serve adult literacy learners. Our experience has shown this training is most effective for CALP staff who have been with CALP for at least one year and who have limited knowledge about adult literacy work. To find out more about the Strengthening Literacy Practices training click here

If you want to have a conversation, have questions or want to learn more about adult literacy or the Strengthening Literacy Practices training, give me a call at 780 554-6376 or email me literacy@calp.ca. 

I look forward to working with you in the coming months!

Rebecca Still
CLN Literacy Specialist

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