Deconstructing Health Activities

Health Activities: Deconstructing Texts, Tools, and Tasks

Literacy studies teach us that one cannot think about literacy related skills without considering the difficulty of the texts people are expected to work with, the design of the tools they are provided with, and the complexity of the tasks they are expected to accomplish. Thus, for example, one cannot measure listening skills without first calibrating the clarity of the speaker, reading skills without a measure of text difficulty, or math skills without an assessment of terms, symbols, and complexity of the problem. Many of the early research studies in health literacy neglected to assess the demand side – the difficulty of the texts, tools, and tasks related to health activities.

Most health related activities are actually clusters of tasks – often accompanied by texts and tools. For example, those in health care may refer to taking medicine as prescribed as an important activity that patients do or do not do. If we deconstruct this activity we will find dozens of tasks, multiple texts, and a variety of tools. For example, taking medicine involves bringing a script to a pharmacy, engaging in some level of discussion, signing a form. At home, one will need to use the label to find the name, directions for use [frequency, timing, amount, the expiration and/or renewal date], construct reminders, as well as use a clock and calendar. The user also has to be able to differentiate this new medicines from other medicine already in the medicine cabinet.  Needless to say, many more tasks and texts are in play. Now, consider eating healthy. A deconstruction of this health activity will yield dozens more texts, tools, and tasks!

The following chart offers a scheme for starting the process of deconstructing health activities.

Chart of Health Literacy Related Activities, Materials and Tasks