9/11-17 DISCUSSION 2 – PIAAC Literacy Framework

As you respond to these prompts, please number your responses to correspond to each question. You are encouraged to respond to each other’s comments.  We are all looking forward to some great conversations.

  1. How does your own (and/or your organization's) articulated and enacted definitions of literacy compare to the PIAAC definition?  (See pp. 5-9 of the Guide.)
  2. At this point, what do you find initially compelling about the PIAAC Literacy Framework and how it is being applied to curriculum development? Think about what might be the "value added" to how you, your program, and/or the field thinks about curriculum development and instructional design.
  3. What questions about the definitions and concepts do you have at this point?   What are the challenges you see at this point?


1. Literacy definitions often include verbal and writing in addition to reading. At first the focus on just reading was a bit shocking to me, but the justification that our current limited assessment capacity for the verbal and writing fluency completely justified the single focus. It got me thinking how many of our other standardized assessments really assess what they intend (are math word problems more about vocabulary and reading skills rather than mathematical concept or processing?)

1. continued... I also found the "Using" of text to be interesting in that one component in measuring Use is the amount of Social Interaction. My first reaction to this is that I have viewed reading for use to be a singular event rather than a social event. When people ask me about a skill, they usually are asking for a verbal explanation or a physical demonstration. They almost never are asking me for a written resource the individual could turn to. Referring one to a YouTube video is much more often the social response that comes close to the social interaction described. I almost feel there is some opposition here. If one can use their reading well and then socially share that information with others, I can see value to that and even some ways of measuring that. When one simply shares a text reference to others who are looking for instructional assistance, it almost seems anti-social and feels like, "Here, go figure it out yourself...good luck!"  

2. I loved the Purpose definition because the focus is on the individual's real life. I do struggle to differentiate between "Achieve one's goals" and "Develop knowledge and potential". I ultimately would place the develop knowledge as a sub purpose of achieve one's goals. For example, under goals an example of finding housing is given, but for one to make that critical decision much  knowledge around housing options is needed. Likewise, why would one engage in developing knowledge and potential if the person did not have some goal or reason in mind.  Are others seeing these two (goals and developing knowledge) as part of the same process or are there more discrete examples people can share with me?

As I look over the standards, local curriculum and local practice I can see many of the purpose and types of interaction in the standards but not so much in curriculum or practice. Change is slow and progress towards a goal is good, but it seems we have a long way to go. I have had peers "buy into" the focus on the types of interaction only to quickly share their frustration that little support is available from curriculum providers and the time to make new curricula is a challenge. Still, Having the Purpose and Types as part of the definition feels like it helps me approach existing curricula from a different angle where I am looking to modify to better steer the focus. 

3. I included the specific challenges for both in my responses to 1, 2. I see an overall challenge in that so many other forms of assessment have different foci than the PIAAC. It is easy for programs, teachers, and even students to feel a bit caught in a choice between "passing some test for a credential" vs "learning skills for real life and work" vs "learning skills to survive and thrive in post secondary academia". Ideally, the skills from all three should blend, but our current environments have quite discrete skill sets required to be successful in each. Has the PIAAC groups discussed the competing areas of focus or has it been more of a mono focus leaving post secondary institutions and the credentialing process to fend for themselves?

Ed, you've made excellent points to launch this discussion on the PIAAC Literacy Framework. You also ask questions that I hope others here will drop in to address, "...why would one engage in developing knowledge and potential if the person did not have some goal or reason in mind?  Are others seeing these two (goals and developing knowledge) as part of the same process or are there more discrete examples people can share with me?"

You mentioned, "It is easy for programs, teachers, and even students to feel a bit caught in a choice between "passing some test for a credential" vs "learning skills for real life and work" vs "learning skills to survive and thrive in post secondary academia." In fact, Ed, Karinne brought up that very same issue in her intro. Maybe in the next few weeks, we can keep that dilemma in mind as we develop a plan to "blend" those two directions.

What do others here think? Let's talk! Leecy

Ed, I appreciate the great thinking you've put into your reflection. Here are a few thoughts in response:

1. I think your comments about reading and social interactions are really important. Besides the examples you mention, I can see two people putting together a bookcase from IKEA. The directions make sense to one person (the reader) and not to the other. So the reader paraphrases them, putting the directions into words the other builder might understand. That's definite social interaction. I can also envision "social interactions" occurring in a Book Club. That's pretty obvious. But we can think of the "social aspect" (p. 6) of literacy as meaning more than the actual chatter that goes on around a particular text. The Guide speaks of adults "'us[ing] text as a way to engage with their social surroundings,'" (p. 6) so reading a notice from my child's school about the Oktoberfest event being Saturday night is social in nature (because I want to participate in the communal event and reading the notice connects me to the community). Reading want ads is an example as well; a classified ad allows a person from another place to communicate with me about her employment needs in a way that allows me to make decisions about whether I want to work for that person. So that's social. Reading a newspaper is social--it connects me to the world. And because reading like this is social, it assumes a sense of agency on the part of individuals--because they are using text to act on their lives and their communities. That's why I think the decision to use "participate" instead of "function" in the definition is no small thing. That's also why I try to keep that distinction in mind when I'm working with students or on curriculum development: how am I helping students to participate in society (not just function)?

2. As to your observation about knowledge development being a "sub-purpose" of achieving goals, I think that's a fine way to view it! My understanding (and, to be clear, I was not part of the PIAAC assessment team) is that these purposes are not meant to be distinct. Clear separation is not important for the assessment work at this stage.  Indeed, it is easy to see many overlaps across the three--I invite you and others to look for them. So why even mention all three? Would it have worked to have gone with one or two of them but not all three? That's really kind of an interesting question (to me at least). What's gained with the addition of each purpose, even if it does overlap with the others?

3. When you say "our current environments have quite discrete skill sets required to be successful in each," do you mean discrete reading skill sets? I just want to be sure I understand what you're saying.

Thanks again for your comments and questions, Ed--


Amy R. Trawick


Thank you for sharing your responses, Amy. In response 3 I was reflecting on the skills needed to be successful in each of the three areas of focus, (passing some test for credentials, learning a skill for my real life use, finding success in post secondary academia). The reading skills I need for test taking differ quite a bit from following instructions to accomplish something in real life like putting a TV stand together. Likewise, the reading skills I need to survive in post secondary ed are different from the skills needed in either real life application or test/credential prep. Ideally, we would like to believe that reading skills are universally applicable. Because the three foci (testing, real life, post secondary) are so different in the skills they require today, different reading skills are required for each focus. Very often learners have very rushed time frames and are quite impatient to get to their perception of their "finish line". This can create pressure to learn just the discrete reading skills necessary to find success in that perceived finish line and everything else is just a distraction to the individual. 

I see the focus of the PIAAC geared towards the more real life or work situations and I support that kind of focus. I question if those skills within that focus can transfer to success in post secondary and in the testing for credentials our learners often come to us for? Is the opposite the case, that good reading skills for test prep and academic survival are easily applicable to the real life/ work situations? I don't feel they are right now and that leaves me wondering how we support the individual's focus (I have to pass this test to get my HS diploma) while helping the individual develop the other critical skills that will help the individual, but are currently not valued because they are not part of the student's immediate focus. 

Does that help clarify?

Hi All and particularly Ed and Amy at this point,

The identification of particular types of reading and discrete skill sets is a very interesting and important topic. It really has to be at the forefront of any discussion about the potential usefulness of the PIAAC model of literacy, which is really only a model of reading. While PIAAC may offer some general conceptual ideas around the social and applied uses of reading—whether online or involving some computations and graphical elements—we have to tread cautiously when examining the test design methods and underpinning construct or model of reading, as it introduces a distinct reading skill set.

I’m Christine Pinsent-Johnson and I currently work in Ontario, Canada as an independent researcher and part-time university instructor. I previously worked in basic education for close to 20 years. I’ve been looking closely at the way that the model of reading developed for the suite of international tests (i.e. IALS, IALSS and PIAAC) has been pedagogized and curricularized, particularly here in Ontario. This happened gradually over the past decade or so, and we now have a situation in this jurisdiction in which the principles and methods developed for test design and to communicate testing results have been transposed into a curriculum framework and set of assessments mandated for program use. This has led to a great deal of confusion and frustration in the field.

The reading skill-set used in international testing is quite distinct from the skill set used in GED and most basic education, literacy development and language development programs. It is also quite distinct from a skill set one may draw on to respond to a similar task in day-to-day life, like reading and responding to an email from a supervisor, and it is distinct from a skill set developed for higher learning and postsecondary education.  I think gaining an understanding of the distinct reading model used in PIAAC, its development and underpinning rationale could be useful when considering any potential pedagogical applications.

Christine, thank you for your post. I can imagine I share your concerns, or at least some of them. Let me be clear, though, that when AIR commissioned the Guide, they did so wanting me to adapt (note the use of adapt) any PIAAC tools that I might see as relevant to the field of adult education. The intention was not to "curricularize" PIAAC or align curriculum with PIAAC. So, for me, the conceptual framework, not the statistical assessment model, is the most relevant piece for teachers/curriculum designers.

So, as the Guide lays out in the Introduction, I see value in the use-oriented conception of competency and the view of proficiency as a continuum that undergird the model. That being said, we can't use the actual continuum that PIAAC developed (Appendix A provides an overview of that continuum), meaning we can't use their levels to inform instruction. That's because there have been no alignment studies conducted (in the U. S. at least) to see how PIAAC levels correspond with NRS levels, our national reporting system, or scores on CASAS, TABE, etc.. However, I contend that the way that task difficulty is conceptualized has some value to it that adds to how we think about differentiation in the adult ed classroom (which we'll get to in a week or so)--but is discussed in the Guide.

Similarly, the notion of cognitive strategies being put to use is a step in the right direction for the field (or a step back to the right direction). Prior to the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRS; Pimentel, 2013) and PIAAC, the field was caught up in a notion that reading was all about the reading components themselves: phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies. If states had adult ed content standards for reading, that's how they were categorized, almost across the board.  Then the CCRS came along, and, despite all the philosophical issues we might discuss about framing education standards around employment-oriented goals, at least the standards came out of SOME research about what was needed to be successful in postsecondary education and workplace settings (the literature on the Common Core provides more info on this research than the CCRSAE document). And in their presentation the importance of application in citizenship contexts was acknowledged. The resulting standards moved the field forward in presenting higher-order standards, requiring analytical thinking (with the reading components being included in a section called Foundational Skills).

What seemed missing to me was the more everyday contexts of reading that you refer to and that especially adults at the lower proficiency levels may need to target. As adults after all, there are things they need and want to be able to do. They shouldn't have to wait until they can read at a certain level to start navigating the texts and literacy tasks they encounter in their lives. The PIAAC work brings these back into sharper focus.

I think there's more that can be said about how the CCRS and PIAAC can complement each other, but I'd be interested to hear from others about that. Christine, I'm going to start another response about the last part of your post (to bring in your question, too, Ed), but I'd like to hear where you think curriculum designers/teachers need to take care with the reading model, if you'd like to share more. I know you've done a lot of thinking and writing in this area.
  Amy R. Trawick



I mentioned in my post that the three key shifts (complexity, knowledge, and evidence) in CCRS ELA standards seem to align with PIAAC's conception of content, contexts, and cognitive strategies, particularly with regard to text complexity.  We are looking at texts worth reading that are both qualitative and quantitative, may include academic vocabulary and language, address background knowledge or express information related to the students.  Moreover, there are layers to the texts--> what questions can we ask, how many different ways can it be used to address a variety of skills? 

With regard to text knowledge, PIAAC has addressed the need in CCRS to build non-fiction content knowledge (real-life situations, science, texts that offer opportunities to brainstorm).  My question revolves around non-continuous texts--is it possible to expand our conception of 'text' if we are to include several different formats, media, etc?  Additionally, how can we use these authentic texts in multiple ways with a variety of learner levels (coming from the context of beginning level, it is difficult to find authentic texts that aren't simplified or designed for use by children)?

Finally, the evidence shift (highlight, justify, explain why, how do you know) seems to align with the cognitive strategies highlighted by PIAAC.  In my practice, I've been having learners access and identify and reflect on how they came to that answer by responding to "how do you know?" and responding to a simple verbal prompt like "show me."

These are just my thoughts.  I'd like to see what others think.

Hi, Jamie, what a wonderful analysis of how PIAAC corresponds with the CCRS. I'm not sure I understand your question, so please follow up if don't get at what you're asking. The CCRS does seem to prioritize continuous text, but I don't think it's exclusive. Here's why (in part): The CCRS (and PIAAC) emphasize digital literacy, which by its nature plays havoc with the notion of "continuous." If we think about a website, with all the embedded links and side menus and tabs and adds and pop-ups, other terms, like "generative" at best or "chaotic" at worse, might come to mind! And plenty of these include forms and tables and maps, which are also found in non-digital text, of course. So, yes, "texts" in the adult ed should mean all these kinds of texts.

Your question about how to find them is a great one. We were going to talk about this in Week 3, but we can get started now. Your question is specifically about non-continuous texts, right? So I want to make sure the group sees this: Have folks found some good resources for non-continuous texts "at different levels"? Are there specific places in the community likely to have simple materials? Certain publishers? What ideas do you have?

Ed and Christine--great observations and questions. First of all, I am not one that believes that reading is reading is reading. Reading is always contextual, which is why I argue for it being taught in (mainly) a contextualized manner. Expert theory from the cognitive science perspective argues that practicing skills in multiple contexts supports transfer; sociocultural theory argues that hidden meanings and cultural nuances can only be learned by experiencing the skill in authentic application; brain-based learning theory talks about how neuronal networks form in their messy way from experiential learning. So, many schools of thought have their own way of arriving at the same conclusion. Context matters.   But does that mean that there is nothing stable, skill-wise, from context to context? We read words, yes? All text has a format, yes? We have to find information in a text, yes? We think about/interpret what we read, yes? Okay, so maybe the details vary depending on the text and the task, but we're doing the same things, across contexts, if we step back and take a broad enough cut at it.   Let's try it.  Let's look at the PIAAC cognitive strategies:
  • Access/identify (e.g., locating one or more pieces of information)
  • Integration and interpretation (e.g., determine relationships such as problem-solution, cause-effect, category-example, equivalency, compare-contrast, whole-part)
  • Evaluation or reflection (e.g., determine issues of relevance, credibility, overall quality of info)
And the reading components:
  • vocabulary
  • sentence comprehension
  • passage fluency
And the rhetorical stances
  • description
  • narration
  • exposition
  • argumentation
  • instruction
  • records
And the layout of non-continuous texts
  • matrices
  • charts and graphs
  • maps
  • forms
  • combination
And digital text considerations
  • hypertext
  • interactive
  • other navigation features
These are key pieces from the literacy conceptual framework. If you add in the factors that affect task difficulty, we get something that results in Appendix A. You might want to take a look at that now. Do you think we could place reading directions for putting together a TV stand on that continuum? Or taking the GED test? Or reading a co-worker's email?   Ed, back to your specific post, I would say that if I were to do a "task analysis" of reading directions for a TV stand, I'd find myself pulling from across these pieces in some form. I would think I'd be reading instructions as the rhetorical stance, using chart and graphs, and be doing a lot of accessing & identifying, and integrating & interpreting (I'd put sequencing here). There'd also be some evaluating & critiquing going on as well. Vocabulary would also be an issue, I suspect (because they always call gidgets things I would never think of!). Would every reading skill I'd use be mentioned? Maybe not. Would I need other skills as well, besides reading? Probably. But the PIAAC tools seem to cover a lot of ground in describing the task.   Let's see what happens with the GED: largely exposition, mostly integration&interpretation but also eval&reflect. Vocabulary would be important. Would you agree? That's just using the PIAAC tools; I haven't even brought in the CCR Standards. My recommendation, as I try to make clear in the Guide, is to identify the reading skills/strategies/standards that are needful. PIAAC focused on high-utility cognitive strategies and reading components for its assessment, but these are by no means the only ones that matter, instructionally. When you play them out operationally, though, I think you'll find that they get you pretty far.   This brings me to my last point. What you're really changing in your examples, is the CONTEXT (test-taking, home improvement, postsecondary). That's important. The application of skills does feel different in different contexts. That's why contextualized learning is so important. Students don't always realize that the skills they have at home do transfer to school, and the ones they've learned at school transfer to work (yes, with perhaps some accommodation). It feels very different, to put it simply (and redundantly), to switch contexts, and that difference can block the transfer. But becoming metacognitive, as a student and a teacher, means being able to step back far enough to see what's similar vs. unique (e.g., I know I have to figure out my task/purpose; how does that work in this context? I know every text is structured in a largely predictable way, depending on what kind of text it is; what kind of text is this? I know I need to apply some skills/strategies; which ones are applicable?).   I think I'll leave this here. As always, there's a lot more I could say, but let me stop and see if anyone wants to take this in a certain direction. I appreciate your thoughtful questions and comments!
  Amy R. Trawick



Thank you Amy for the clarifications. You shared many justifications that I think many educators can easily see and relate to. I wonder if some of our adult learners would struggle to do so as easily. As educators, I think it is easy for us to see more than just reading is reading is reading :) Every context will have some elements of what makes up reading and a variety of context has been proven in studies to help build retention and flexibility of thinking. Again, we, the educators get that. I am thinking about the anxious adult learners who come in struggling to successfully navigate their life challenges and how students perceive their goals compared to the multi-contextual work we engage them in. 

For example, I have had a number of students with goals of improving their math skills in order to get their high school equivalency so they may then get into college to get to their career goal. They had very tight (unrealistic often) timelines and continually wanted to focus on procedural math skills. These students struggled with conceptualizing how the math worked and where it could be applied, they lacked vocabulary and understanding of the math language being used, and they were often befuddled by the mysterious syntax and it's conventions.  Attempts to try to "sell" the student on the importance of concept, language, syntax only frustrated these students because they were convinced that procedural skills were all they needed. So we set our focus on procedure and poof, the student graduates with a big boost of confidence and even gets into college. A few semesters later the students drop out because they just are unable to find success in math classes that require much more than their singular focus demanded. I know this is a math example, but it is an example I have seen very often and brings up concerns when I think about how we as educators bridge those gaps between what the student thinks they should learn and what we know by study and research would increase their chances of finding success. Do others face difficulties "selling" the importance of multiple contexts? Do you have methods you use that help engage anxious learners with time and life anxieties in multi-contextual settings? I would love to hear the experiences of others so I can add on options in my practice. 

Perhaps working with learners to look over the Appendix and/or a discrete set of skills as you shared in your post would be helpful? Having discussions and seeing examples of each may be helpful to safely and briefly helping the learners see some of the bigger picture needs rather than the narrow focus their anxieties fixate on? Maybe using more role play in instruction might be helpful to help students see those skills needed in specific context that are real to them? Other ideas?

The US has fared poorly on these international exams for some time. We have systems that are primarily teacher-centric and teachers often can identify multiple context and the skills needed within each. Are our students equally capable of doing so? Are there skills we can teach students to help them realize there are many tools available and often multiple tools can work in a given situation? Perhaps it is our assessment focus in which one right answer has been the norm and is thankfully starting to change a bit from that model? Just some thoughts and questions as I read through your responses Amy. I would love to hear if others experience those anxious students that come in very single minded in what they think they need? Better still, I would love to hear about strategies they use to help the students slow down and start to dig into the learning. I have success with so many students, but I find those with high anxiety together with narrow focus are hard to reach. 

Ed, that's really an interesting idea--talking with students about the framework itself. I'm not sure I would introduce the rhetorical stances, types of texts, etc.--that might be too decontextualized. But perhaps with each unit/lesson, point out what's applicable, perhaps checking things off to see what's been used/covered. (It would help if there were a permanent chart in the room, but I know that's a pipe dream for some adult ed teachers who are borrowing rooms). Gradually students will become able to recognize the patterns and certainly start to become more metacognitive about what they're doing, as a process. I like this idea!

I'd also like to hear from our colleagues about their experiences with students teaching in contextualized ways--project learning, theme-based instruction, problem-based learning. How have students responded?


The question you ask: Do you have methods you use that help engage anxious learners with time and life anxieties in multi-contextual settings? 

I am looking forward to others discussing the question you've asked. Monday of this week was the first class of the term for my students. I asked each of my students to share some of their goals. I asked them to define how long they wanted to be in class to attain their  GED(R) certificates. A few said November of this year. About half said by December of this year. Only one student was interested in returning next term. I've asked this question of students each term for several years, and the responses are always very similar. My situation might be different as I teach an evening class with adults who have families and jobs, so they are pulled in many directions and are exhausted by the time they get to class. 


Mary and Ed. Keep in mind that anxiety is a form of fear. I know that Kathy Tracey might have some thoughts on this given her work and experience. Depending on your chosen context for this unit, would it help to have students read level-appropriate materials about anxiety and about ways to reduce it? There are also many time-management tools online, some of which might help. Students are often amazed to really see how much time they spend on different activities using a pie chart, for example. A very common fear is not pleasing the instructor or peers. Helping students simplify the steps they take in life can help. For example, giving them baby steps to complete in reaching your objectives might help. Other suggestions? How might this common aspect be integrated into a unit plan?


I want to be clear that I am not overgeneralizing all anxiety as a result of trauma, but there is significant research about trauma informed instruction. At the foundation of this concept, we know millions of indivudauls face trauma - whether they are adverse childhood experiences, institutional racism, poverty, war, violence, excetera. We know that trauma impacts the brain, and we know that trauma impacts mental wellness and can manifest itself as anxiety.  Obviously, I painted trauma and its link to anxiety with a very broad brush, but I wanted to get to my point of classroom instructional strategies. 

Trauma informed classrooms provide the structure, support, and instructional strategies that teachers need in order to help learners struggling with anxiety. To learn more about trauma informed practices, check out this link https://www.tgclb.org/classroom/five-ways-to-create-a-trauma-informed-classroom-pt-1-2/, 

I hope this link gives you some information on trauma informped practices and you can blend some of the strategies into your unit development. We hope to have a larger focused discussion on trauma later this fall. Stay tuned!


I want to address your comment about the students who 'slow out'. Your example is the student who struggles getting beyond a specific math concept and eventually drops out of a program. I have heard this term called 'slowing out', where each semester (or month) the student becomes less engaged. They may stop turning in assignments, then decrease in attendance, and then finally they have 'ghosted' the program. It's a trend that I have seen way to ofen. Part of this can be a result of a students struggle with learning and directly related to anxiety. Our goal is to provide a safe and collaborative learning environement. Those are easy words to say but harder to impelement becasue often our students are unfamiliar with how to be in charge of their own learning. I'll address some more of this in detail as I respond to Leecy's comment about anxious learning.


1) Literacy is such an ambiguous word, isn't it? My title is "Literacy Coordinator" and I have a "literacy" class, but those two uses are not the same. In general, I use Freire's ideas about reading the text and reading the world to define literacy. Reading the text is everything from sound/symbol relationships and sight words (one kind of literacy) to interpreting Accuplacer or TOEFL questions (broader use).  Reading the world is even broader as it includes understanding cultural nuance and being able to use the right tools or technology to get information. But when I'm teaching literacy, I want to make sure that learners can create their own texts, so I include writing when I think of literacy pedagogically. Clear as mud, right?

2) I like the inclusion of deeper (or higher order, I suppose) skills of understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with text. So many learners, especially at the lower level, think of reading as being able to pronounce or sound out words. It can take people some time to get used to the idea of written language having meaning and that the meaning is the important part. With the push toward rigor and depth of knowledge in our field, I think these skills are important for those goals. I want to find ways to incorporate them more into my curriculum, especially with students who have low reading skills (or low English skills in general). 3) I haven't come across a definition question yet, but the challenges I see are old ones. How is it possible to do all of this with the short time with have in class, with mixed-leved classes, and with limited resources? We're trying to teach adult learners skills they need to know right away (or yesterday, as the case often is), but also give them a base for further study and skill expansion.

Your point about the "old" challenge is one I hear quite a lot, about everything in adult ed: how to do whatever "it" is on top of everything else. What has always made sense to me about contextualized skill instruction is the efficacy of it--teaching students "transferable skills" (i.e., skills they can use in the future) within contexts/tasks that matter to them now. It's a twofer! The trick is that whereas in the teaching moment learning is streamlined, the planning takes a level of sophistication and orchestration that the system doesn't always support. What I have seen to be helpful in this regard is for programs to take a systems approach, instead of expecting teachers themselves to transform, individually and on their own time, instruction at the classroom level. What are common contexts/tasks for each level that can be targeted for unit development? These can be identified as a program, and then units can be developed by individual teachers or teams, and then shared across the program (or state, or field). That way teachers aren't having to develop thoughtful units from scratch, and can spend their planning time tweaking them for the students in their actual classroom as needed. We're hoping that the Unit Overviews being developed as part of this Literacy Circle are one example of the teacher sharing/support that can happen to address the challenge. We're hoping by the end of our time together the group will have thought of some other ways as well...


Amy R. Trawick


Thanks for such a comprehensive overview of your recent work and understandings Amy. I do recognize how you carefully considered the concepts in PIAAC and their adaptation in teaching and learning, and do not draw on the statistical assessment model.

One of the most useful bits that came out of the international testing project for me as an instructor and plain language advocate in the 2000s was a new understanding of the complexity of tables, charts and graphs---the non-continuous text stuff that you highlight. One of the test designers of the international testing project, Irwin Kirsh, along with an associate, actually developed a readability formula for general use. (I found a succinct overview here https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/135/2012/09/pmose.pdf). I used their analysis when planning my own courses and also applied it to some everyday documents that students brought into the class----tax forms and guides are indeed complex! Doing the analysis with students also led to a very interesting and insightful discussion about the way some documentation, particularly institutional and bureaucratic forms , are incredibly complex and often not developed with the client/user in mind but with risk management and litigation in mind.

I’m also very interested in the questions you pose regarding the transferability of skills. How many times have we heard or proclaimed ourselves while in the staff room, “The student was able to construct a perfect set of complex sentences when doing the grammar exercise but then forgot everything when writing a letter!” Or something like that. Of course there is much more happening here than simply forgetting. In addition to big ideas about context that are associated with settings, such as academic literacy in GED or literacy on the job or literacy to complete day-to-day household tasks, how does the context of the activity itself have an impact? I’m referring specifically to the conceptual elements you are working with, such as rhetorical stances, integration of non-continuous texts and digital text considerations. As these change, how do they impact other skills, particularly the component skills?


Christine, I appreciate your sharing the readability text. Folks, you'll want to click on that link if you haven't. It provides a nice way of understanding some of the terms used for Non-Continuous texts. It also ties the leveling to grade-levels, which may prove useful if you know how your own class levels relate to grade-levels.

It has taken me a while to process the Framework, integrate the ideas that have been expressed by others, and reflect on my own teaching and learning context, so I apologize for the delay in this post!

1.  I was struck by the alignment of PIAAC's definition of literacy with the CCRS ELA shifts: complexity (texts worth reading), evidence (support answers), and knowledge (build non-fiction knowledge).  As my organization works to implement CCRS into our curriculum, we are invariably enacting several of the ways in which learners can interact with text (understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging).  Reflecting further on the content (text complexity), I appreciated PIAAC's attention to "artifacts, tools, knowledge, and representations" (Trawick, 2017, p. 10) that constitute just what a text is.  As a beginning-level instructor, I am often working to find text in different media and format that are actual complex texts that learners will interact with to solve everyday problems (i.e., bus and train schedules, notices).  Much of what is available for pre-beginners are heavily simplified texts or children's materials.

 I do have a question about whether or not the PIAAC literacy framework would accept images, audio, etc. as 'text.'  I'm hoping to get some insight into this and what that means in terms of reading for a particular purpose, which is PIAAC's focus.

2. Minnesota has done a great job of integrating much of the framework elements.  In addition to CCRS, we have the Transitions Integration Framework ( you can check it out here.  Download the PDF for more detailed information), which addresses many of the soft, or employability skills that are a part of the cognitive strategies delineated by PIAAC. In particular, the learning strategies and critical thinking lenses highlight key skills across several contexts (work, education, and community), using diverse content (charts/graphs, digital, print, etc.) and the cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies (categorization, identifying text features, etc).  

However, the more I dig into the framework, the more I am struck by its simplification of digital text considerations.  Minnesota has adopted the NorthStar Digital Literacy Standards which do cover things like hypertext, navigation features, etc., but standards cover everything from basic computer skills to social media literacy.   It is up to the instructor to figure out the scope and sequence.  The simple scheme for the basic features of digital texts is quite useful to instructors of learners with limited digital literacy skills due to the framework's focus on reading for a particular purpose. 

3. I'd like to return to my previous question about a further expansion of the concept of text.  Would this involve expanding the definition of non-continuous texts (e.g., photographs/pictures)?

I hope I've understood the framework correctly.  I look forward to your responses.



Jamie, you brought up a couple of items that I hope we can discuss further here.

1. You said, "As a beginning-level instructor, I am often working to find text in different media and format that are actual complex texts that learners will interact with to solve everyday problems (i.e., bus and train schedules, notices).  Much of what is available for pre-beginners are heavily simplified texts or children's materials."

There is a growing list of Open Educational Resources that is starting to address this very common challenge. I'll look into a few to share here as examples later in the week. In the meantime, what resources can others post to enter into our Text selections for the Unit Outline?

2. You noted, " I do have a question about whether or not the PIAAC literacy framework would accept images, audio, etc. as 'text.'  I'm hoping to get some insight into this and what that means in terms of reading for a particular purpose, which is PIAAC's focus."

I am very interested in what others think about this very good question! Of course, images, audio, and other visuals can certainly feed into many text-based activities. PIAAC includes the use of charts and graphs in its list. What do others here think? How might we approach the use of visuals and audio tools in that third section of the outline?


Hello all, Jamie raises a good question about what do we actually consider to be "text." As ESL teachers working with the CCRS, we have often decided that many things can be considered text, including photos, artifacts, audio files, video, etc. So ... I share your interest in this question, Jamie, with regard to the PIAAC framework.

Cheers, Susan


Ah--yes. Thank you, Jamie and Susan, for that point. These texts are important in all classrooms, but especially in ESOL classes. However, the PIAAC framework constrains its work to texts that only involve the reading of words (to put it simply), as opposed to the reading of images only or speaking/listening exchanges. This is not a philosophical orientation, but a logistical one related to conducting an international assessment. The contextualized instructional approach discussed in the AIR Guide, though, would certainly be applicable to all kinds of texts. I've seen this approach used for oral communications (e.g., going to the doctor, asking for and receiving directions) and written communications (e.g., writing a cover letter, writing a blog about a topic explored). We might imagine how any real-life task would involve multiple big-S Skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking), and could have intersecting sets of concentric circles like you see on p. 21 (with each set corresponding with each big Skill). But this can get messy and overwhelming in planning and for students, if great care isn't taken. That's one reason we want to start with just reading!


Question: When you say, "the reading of words . . . as opposed the reading of images only,"  do you consider graphs, charts, and political cartoons that include some type of text "reading" as applicable to the Framework? 

Sure do! Most of those would fall explicitly under non-continuous text--see APPENDIX C (p. 36) in the Guide. Political cartoons aren't mentioned by PIAAC that I recall, but you could make the argument for considering them non-continuous text. In any case, most of them combine the visual with words, so they are absolutely appropriate texts to use in reading instruction.

I should probably also clarify that sometimes we use media/texts that don't include words to supplement reading instruction. For instance, a class might watch a movie, in part to reinforce literary analysis (identifying, analyzing, evaluating character, setting, mood, theme, etc.). That kind of analysis would then be re-applied to a short story or a novel being read. Another example might be building oral vocabulary in an ESOL class; that knowledge will later be applied--maybe much later--to reading. In that post to which you are referring, Mary, I just wanted to draw a distinction between "texts" that are expressly used for speaking/listening lessons or writing lessons and those that are meant for developing reading. It's all about purpose!