Exploring first year students' and their lecturers' constructions of what it means to read in a humanities discipline: A conflict of frames?

  • PM Niven


This article reports on a critical, ethnographic investigation into the reading practices of a group of 14 foundation year students at Rhodes University in 2002. The university had identified all the students as `underprepared' for university learning. They were from poor, socio-economic backgrounds, used English as an additional language, and had been educated in township or rural schools. Using the Socio-cultural model of literacy (Gee 1990; Street 1993), the study explored the culturally-shaped attitudes and assumptions about reading that the students brought with them into a tertiary learning context from their homes and schools. It reported on their subsequent efforts to become academic readers in a Humanities discipline. Framing Theory (Reid and MacLachlan 1994) was employed to analyse the kinds of mismatches that arose between the students' frames about the nature and purpose of reading, and those implicitly accepted as normative by their lecturers. It accounted for the students' difficulties in achieving epistemological access in terms of a conflict of frames: both the students and their teachers failed to recognise each others' constructions about the nature and purpose of `reading for a degree'. Whilst the lecturers had `Expressive' frames for reading, the students' reading frames were primarily `Cognitivist'. The paper concludes that both the students and the lecturers were `underprepared' for the learning and teaching tasks they undertook and recommends that a more `Socio-cultural' understanding of literacy would facilitate a rapprochement of frames.

South African Journal of Higher Education Vol. 19 (4) 2005: pp.777-789

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eISSN: 1011-3487