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Dr Tracey Millin


Home country:  South Africa

PANGeA partner: Stellenbosch University

Year of enrolment: 2013

Department: General Linguistics

Supervisor: Prof Christine Anthonissen

Dissertation title: Scaffolding academic literacy using the reading to learn methodology: An evaluative study



Abstract: The primary aim of this study was to test and assess the efficacy of an innovative literacy development intervention, Reading to Learn (RtL), with Grade 11 students at two schools within the Winelands District of the Western Cape. The RtL intervention, originally designed to address inequitable literacy development outcomes of students from marginalised communities in Australia, was undertaken against the backdrop of increasingly serious concerns regarding literacy development in primary and secondary education in South Africa. Recent research has confirmed that poor literacy performance at school cannot be divorced from social conditions and educational practices that may exclude some and privilege other learners. In this study, RtL was designed purposefully to scaffold the development of more advanced academic literacy skills, with special support being offered to students with the greater need, whilst still providing sufficient stimulation for better performing students. A characterising feature of RtL is its affordance of equal opportunities to students from outside mainstream Discourses, by providing explicit access to the Discourse of formal schooling. The theoretical conceptual framework of RtL is derived from the work of Halliday (language as a text in a social context), Vygotsky (learning as a social process) and Bernstein (education as a pedagogic device for maintaining inequality). The two central research questions considered (i) whether RtL could be effective in a smallscale South African secondary school context, and (ii) whether RtL outcomes in such a context would be comparable to other studies of RtL conducted elsewhere. Using a long-term action research design, this mixed methods inquiry into academic literacy development worked with students’ writing portfolios collected throughout the RtL intervention. A linguistic biographical questionnaire was used to gather student-specific data. Student work was assessed, codified and given numerical literacy scores which allowed for descriptive and more advanced statistical data analysis. A number of cases were closely analysed to illustrate the nature of the intervention and students’ levels of literacy pre and post intervention. Triangulation of the various kinds of data revealed how general data patterns emerging from the small-scale statistical analysis relate to contextual features specific to local social and educational conditions. The findings of this study showed that students’ academic literacy skills improved over the duration of the RtL intervention. The greatest area of improvement across all students (regardless of school context) was evidenced in more advanced schematic structuring of both the narrative and academic essay genres. From a cross-sectional (across schools) perspective, the greatest overall improvement in written literacy skills was among the weaker cohort of students from the peri-urban township school. The phenomenon of weaker students making greater overall gains was also evidenced from a time series (within school) perspective. This encouraging finding indicates a possible convergence (or ‘catch-up’) effect, for students previously categorised as academically weak, regardless of school context, meaning that the documented convergence effects also seemed to occur irrespective of students’ socioeconomic circumstances. Furthermore, the findings of this study, with regards to the efficacy of RtL, are comparable to findings from other studies conducted globally, those in Australian studies, in particular.

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