Friday, January 30, 2009

Literacy, Numeracy and Laminatecy (ahem)


My new job involves testing other people - from teenagers to middle aged people - to assess their level of numeracy and literacy. Regardless of their age or intelligence, people typically greet this prospect with a resigned grimace. No one likes a test and no one likes to find out they are innumerate or illiterate. I, on the other hand, have the advantage of sitting there quietly while they go through this ordeal, thanking my lucky stars - truly dyscalculic as I am - that I'm not having to do the test.

This week, however, the boot has been on the other foot. I decided that I should show solidarity with my learners and attempt the numeracy test myself. So I sat at my desk, took a deep breath and worked through the paper. This was a brave move on my part as maths, or rather my lack of ability in and fear of maths, has been the bain of my life. I didn't 'get it' at all as a schoolgirl and after a while the teachers simply lost interest in me, leaving me without an O' level in Maths. The very thought of having to do arithmetic makes me hands sweat and my heart skip a beat.

It was only when I was in my late teens that I discovered a teacher with the skills to help me and by then I had gained enough confidence to ask for help. In all other respects I was an intelligent enough girl but my utter fear of maths dented my confidence severely. What it did give me however was a valuable insight into what life is like for people who find learning totally bewildering and compassion and understanding for them.

I managed to answer most of the questions but a couple about ratio and converting Euros to sterling I found impossible. So I was surprised to discover that I had achieved Level One and was only one point away from Level Two. This means my arithmetical ability is on a par with a nine year old but, let's face it, that's all I need. It was relieved not to be deemed Entry Level!

Today it was the turn of literacy. I started a course in teaching adults today, for which must have a Level Two standard literacy. As an English graduate and one time copywriter and press officer, I expected to be at least Level Two but I was quietly concerned that some terrible inadequacy would be revealed by the test.

We took the test online wearing headphones, going through questions that involved clicking on the correct answer. The test was simple enough but all the way through I had a nagging concern that I hadn't clicked convincingly enough on the answers and would thereby be rendered a dunce.

Well, I'm glad to report that not only am I reasonably numerate, I am also reasonably literate. I feel now I can set my learners their tests and know that I've been there too.

However in one area of my work, I remain incompetent. I was laminating some documents today and started to wonder what else one might be able to laminate. In a spirit of exploration I took some old pencil shavings, emptied them into a laminating pocket and fed them through the machine. Standing there smugly contemplating the astonishingly innovative work I was about to produce I suddenly realised that nothing was coming out of the machine. and there was a suspicious smell of hot plastic. The reason? It seems I should have put a piece of paper in the pocket and then placed the shavings on top not just shoved a load of shavings into a pocket!

Hurriedly I turned off the machine and, panicking, turned to my colleague Sharon for help. She has huge long acrylic nails with which she was able to prise the shrivelled and melting laminating pocket from the mechanism. I was heartily relieved not to have to confess to our facilities manager that I had busted the laminator by, er, seeing what laminated pencil shavings would look like.

Really I should be praised for my innovative approach to the science of lamination, as I would if I were working at Apple or Google. I reckon they would admire me for 'thinking outside the box' (as we business types like to say). In fact I bet they positively encourage their staff to experiment with the laminator, photocopy their private parts, write 'arse' on the noticeboard and stick paper clips up their noses. . And my pencil shavings did look rather cool!

1 comment:

ellyodd said...

Come join us at http://dyscalculiaforum.com :)