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Document Use is one of the most important skills in the workplace but one of the most overlooked skills when it comes to preparing people for work. Documents are everywhere – they convey safety information and important warnings to staff, record daily routines, list items, track expenses, and on and on.
People have to fill them in on a regular basis at work and at home but many people (not just second language learners) still struggle to be accurate and complete. Why? Because, identifying the underpinning structure of documents may not have been clear in previous learning. This is one skill that, with some training, learners can become quite proficient at quite quickly.
Document Use refers to tasks that involve a variety of information displays in which words, numbers, icons and other visual characteristics such as line, colour and shape are given meaning by their spatial arrangement.
Integrating oral communication skills into the ESL classroom is nothing new – in fact that is pretty well a “raison d’etre” in the first place. Most language learning methods used in Canada include a balanced approach to learning that integrates speaking and listening, as well as reading and writing.
Oral Communication as defined in the Essential Skills Reader’s Guide refers to, “the use of speech to give and exchange thoughts and information by workers in an occupational group.” Dimensions of oral communication are based on four dimensions, including the range and complexity of the information, communication function and context, and the relative risks of a failure in communication.
People coming from different cultures and school systems have developed different ways of thinking and processing information. In some cultures significant use of memory is stressed more than in others. Decision making is discouraged in cultures where a top-down management style is favoured. In other countries secretaries still manage timetables and schedules with the result that some managers have not developed job task planning skills.
Multitasking (managing more than one project or set of deadlines at the same time) is not a universal concept. In countries where the government does not support freedom of information, using skills for finding information and then critiquing that information can be punishable by law. In other cases, schools are not encouraged to help students develop strong thinking skills. As with some of the other Essential Skills, Thinking Skills are never done in isolation.
To solve problems or make decisions, a worker needs to draw on other Essential Skills which might include Reading Text, Document Use, Numeracy, Computer Skills and Oral communication. For all of these reasons, conscious instruction in Thinking Skills belongs in the ESL classroom.
Working with Others deals with the extent to which employees work with others to carry out their tasks. Do they work cooperatively? Do they work alone? It does not include non-task related social behaviour that occurs in the workplace, such as small talk. That is not saying small talk is not important but rather that this definition is confined to work tasks.
The Essential Skill of Working with Others is based on two dimensions: levels of coordination and integration with others in the workplace and roles and responsibilities of the worker to work with others.
It is further defined through four levels of complexity ranging from minimal responsibility for interaction with others to coordinating and integrating work with many others and being responsible for this integration with many complicating factors.
Anyone working with numbers in the workplace typically finds them embedded in a lot of spoken or written text. Explanation, elaboration and analysis of the numbers, for example, are frequently presented along with the numbers. There is a language challenge, then, that needs to be considered in numeracy tasks.
The first and most obvious step towards using numbers is to learn to communicate clearly and accurately. When you think of financial exchanges, deals or negotiation, oral communication of numerical values is crucial. One consequence of not teaching numeracy is the continuing vulnerability of learners in our marketplace where “buyer beware” is still a truism.
Numeracy is not just math. It involves anything that requires numbers or thinking in quantitative terms.
Writing, Reading Text and Document Use are Essential Skills that are intertwined and very hard to teach in isolation. Teach them all together. Learners will need to use them all together in the workplace. Writing includes writing texts, writing in documents (completing forms) and non-paper-based writing (on a computer). Complexity levels for writing are based on the length and purpose, style and structure, and content of the writing.
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