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Develop literacy skills in accounting

The New Zealand Curriculum consistently emphasises the importance of literacy in its vision, principles, values, key competencies, and in each of the learning areas.

“Each learning area has its own language or languages. As students discover how to use them, they find they are able to think in different ways, access new areas of knowledge, and see their world from new perspectives.”

NZC, p. 16

Language is fundamental to thinking and learning.

Accounting uses a range of specialist language to ensure that communication is accurate and efficient.

Accounting students need specific help from teachers as they learn:

  • the specialist vocabulary associated with accounting
  • how to read and understand accounting terms and texts
  • how to communicate knowledge and ideas using the language of accounting
  • how to listen and read critically, and assess the value of what they hear and read.

For accounting teachers to support student learning they must:

  • know their students and their language learning needs
  • identify the language demands of the curriculum
  • make the outcomes the same for all
  • support students to make abstract concepts 'concrete'
  • recycle language/terminology so that it becomes an integral part of students vocabulary
  • encourage students to self-evaluate and strive for improvement.

Language in context

Encouraging students to use the language of accounting increases their competency and confidence in oral, written, and visual literacy activities.

Some language used in context by accountants has specific meaning and may vary from common usage.

Certain words used in accounting classes will have other meanings in different school subjects.

This can lead to confusion for students. Their prior knowledge of a word from their everyday lives can lead to misunderstandings when they come across the word in an accounting context.

A simple example is the word 'capital'. It has multiple meanings that are context based, for example, 'capital' city, 'capital' letters.

In economics the word may refer to human capital, meaning the skills, capabilities, experience, and education employees bring to their work, or capital goods such as machinery.

In accounting contexts, capital refers to the owner’s investment in the business.

Teacher actions

  • Support students to develop a rich subject-specific vocabulary, identifying misunderstandings and addressing gaps.
  • Help students to understand new concepts by talking about their understandings and cultural perspectives.
  • Enable students to lead their own learning, by developing information literacy skills using a range of print resources, and e-learning/ICT tools.

Accounting often provides students with the opportunity to select their own context which results in motivating them to develop increasingly sophisticated literacy skills that enable them to generate and discuss ideas, and access a range of information to inform decision making.

Communicating in context

As students progress their learning in accounting there is an expectation that they will be able to communicate information orally and in written form.

They are expected to be able to report to specific audiences, being aware of their diverse needs.

This is often a difficult skill for students to grasp and requires specific teaching and learning activities.

They can learn to consider the purpose of reports and ensure that they keep the needs of the end user in mind.

“Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read (and write) will be crucial.”

Adolescent literacy: A position statement for the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association. Moore et al, 1999

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Last updated August 20, 2019