The effects of the learn to read : reading to learn approach on the academic literacy performance of students in the BCOM4 English language and development programme.
This dissertation reports on a study to determine the effects of using the Learn to Read: Reading to Learn approach (R2L), as developed by Dr David Rose, on BCom4 Access Level students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The aim of the study was to examine the effects of the approach on learners‘ reading abilities and subsequent ability to write and structure texts according to the conventions required by the particular academic context (genre). Forty-six students who registered for the first year BCom4 Access English Language and Development Programme in 2011 participated. All these students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where there has been a lack of both access to and a culture of reading. The intention of the intervention, if it proved successful in improving the academic literacy levels of participants, was to recommend the implementation of the R2L approach across the additional disciplines of BCom4. An Action Research approach was used, as well as a Case Study, beginning in February 2011 and ending November 2011. The participating students were taught to read selected texts and scaffolded in independent writing of the texts using the six stages of the R2L teaching cycle. Out of the original 46 students, ten were closely tracked. Various data were collected and analysed during the study period. The data from tracked students included pre- and post-intervention reading assessments; a questionnaire; assessments from written texts in the form of assignments, tests and examinations; and data from a focus group interview. Data collected from the entire study group includes written and verbal feedback concerning the effects of the approach. In addition, feedback from other lecturers within the BCom4 course was also recorded and described. The quantitative findings indicate that reading levels of the students increased between one and three levels over the study period, in keeping with the claims that R2L makes about its own efficacy. Comparisons were made of overall results for term and examination marks over both semesters. These consisted of written assignments and tests. The results showed that there was a general decrease in the marks achieved in the first semester of between 2 and 11% in semester scores and between 5 and 18% in the examination scores. This may have been due to the increase in the level difficulty of writing tasks throughout the year. The written assignments of the students also under-went detailed analysis, which indicated a significant improvement in writing at both the macro and micro levels of text, namely referencing, staging, grammar, spelling and punctuation. On a qualitative level, students and academic staff have noted beneficial effects of the approach in terms of the improvement of the reading and comprehension of texts in English as well as in related disciplines such as economics and mathematics. These findings correlate with R2L claims that it is able to improve the literacy performance of students between two and four levels across a one year period. This improvement is independent of the previous literacy history of students and can be applied across the curriculum, from foundational to tertiary education levels. The implications of these findings lead to recommendations that R2L continue to be developed and adapted for South African conditions and that it should be implemented across all modules within the Bcom4 Access programme at UKZN. In order to achieve its full potential in improving academic literacy, the R2L approach needs to function across the curriculum and not just remain in the domain of foundational or English language educators. The seriousness of the poor educational system in South Africa demands that all educators begin to see themselves as teachers of continued reading, whether their disciplines are Mathematics, Science or English language teaching.