South African Journal of Higher Education

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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
AJOL African Journals Online