“Sixty percent of adults with severe literacy problems have undetected or untreated learning disabilities” (NALLD Center, 1995)
Literacy is defined in a number of ways. The most commonly-used definitions refer to what is known as competency-based or functional literacy. This relates to an individual‘s ability to read real life materials.
Functional literacy is a term that is difficult to define. No single definition will fit every situation. Hunter and Harman (1979 p. 7) define functional literacy as “the possession of skills perceived as necessary by particular persons and groups to fulfill their own self-determined objectives as family and community members or other associations of their choosing. According to Kirsh and Gurthries (1977, 1978) functional literacy refers to the level of skills needed by an individual to be able to complete a real world reading task. Readence and Moore (1979) list functional skills under five major categories: forms and applications, advertisements, pictorial materials, consumer information and directions and information and information sources.
It is agreed that the term “literacy” refers to a particular skill, namely the ability to understand and use printed information in day-to day activities, at home, at work and in the community. People face a variety of written information every day that requires them to perform different tasks. In order to measure proficiency levels in the processing of information, the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) examined three literacy domains: prose (knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts), document (knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and graphics) and quantitative (knowledge and skills required to apply arithmetic operations either alone or sequentially, to numbers embedded in printed materials).
Adult literacy practitioners in Manitoba share a common understanding of literacy based on the Stages of learning, developed by the province‘s Adult Learning and Literacy branch. The branch developed this portfolio approach to recognize the learning achievements of students. “In 1992, this portfolio approach was formalized as the Certificates in Literacy and Learning (Stages One, Two and Three). They have become informally referred to as the ‘Stages‘.”1