Literacy for Work – Why Novels Count Too

Yesterday a major report was released examining the impact of illiteracy and innumeracy in the U.K. I was reading some of the responses to that report last night, and I came across a really smart blog post by Brian Creese of the U.K.’s National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy. His post included a superb description of how literacy skills are actually used in the workplace, while simultaneously arguing that reading for pleasure is a critically important component of literacy development:

The use of literacy and numeracy skills in the workplace is complex; different jobs, and the various elements within them, involve a range of literacy and numeracy practices, with workers often learning the specific skills they need for their job from peers and co-workers. Employees consistently report that they have adequate skills to do their jobs. What we see in the workplace is that we often work with others in ways that maximize our strengths and allow us to learn from them. We also see how workplaces can be adapted to remove the demand for literacy and numeracy or to scaffold its use.

Despite the policy focus on the workplace, we have continued to work with emergent adult readers on reading for pleasure. Those less confident with their reading may get great joy from reading novels, biographies or other texts in supportive, collaborative environments. They use adult experience and expertise to develop reading confidence, skills and practices gradually and communally – and in doing so are more able to tackle some of life’s other challenges, such as job interviews or finding better heating deals. (My emphasis)

This read to me like a gentle push back against rigidly contextualizing adult literacy instruction, at least insofar as it suggests a practical benefit from developing a habit of reading for pleasure, regardless of context.