Teaching at SU is a practice deeply embedded in and shaped by the contexts in which it takes place. As articulated in the University’s Teaching and Learning Policy, good teaching practice is more than a set of skills, tips or strategies that are decontextualised from the social spaces in which they occur. The Language Centre’s approach is in line with that of the University – a contextualised, integrated and learning-centred approach.
Academic reading and writing are key components of academic literacies. We teach and help students develop and hone these abilities in an integrated way, in the context of specific subject fields in the academic literacies and professional literacies modules we present in collaboration with the faculties. Learning activities facilitate knowledge-building and actively engage students in their own learning. For general information, or to invite us to present a tailor-made module in your faculty, please contact Jeanene Olivier (021 808 2167).
We offer more services to departments or lecturers who identify the need for additional intervention regarding academic reading, writing and language support for their students. The Language Centre’s Writing Lab and Reading Lab are safe spaces where any student or staff member can develop and refine their ability to write and read academically. Below we unpack our approach to the notions of academic reading and writing further. Please contact Rose Richards of the Writing Lab or Marisca Coetzee of the Reading Lab to discuss collaborating with them.
Academic reading skills
What are reading skills?
Reading skills, specifically academic reading skills, involve the ability to accurately interpret and understand reading material. Students with excellent reading skills can deal with a vast amount of reading with ease, because they can visually and cognitively process information in a speedy manner, distinguish between important and less important information, skim and scan a text as well as critically engage with text.
Why are reading skills part of academic literacies?
Good academic reading skills are essential for academic success, as students need to be able to assimilate the content of text while reading. Reading skills are also essential to manage the volumes of required reading one has to do at university. Students need well-developed reading skills to be able to:
- Understand a range of academic vocabulary in context
- Interpret and use metaphor and idiom, and perceive connotation, word play and ambiguity
- Understand relations between different parts of a text
- Be aware of the logical development of (an academic) text, from introductions to conclusions, and know how to use language that serves to make the different parts of a text hang together
- Interpret different kinds of text type (genre), and show sensitivity for the meaning that they convey, and the audience that they are aimed at
- Interpret, use and produce information presented in graphic or visual format
- Make distinctions between essential and non-essential information, fact and opinion, propositions and arguments; distinguish between cause and effect, classify, categorise and handle data that make comparisons
- See sequence and order, and do simple numerical estimations and computations that are relevant to academic information that allow comparisons to be made and that can be applied for the purposes of an argument
- Know what counts as evidence for an argument, extrapolate from information by making inferences and apply the information or its implications to other cases than the one at hand;
- Understand the communicative function of various ways of expression in academic language (such as defining, providing examples and arguing)Make meaning (e.g. of an academic text) beyond the level of the sentence
Source: Weideman, Albert. 2014. Academic literacy: why is it important? Introduction to: Weideman & Van Dyk (Editors). Academic literacy: test your competence. Bloemfontein: Geronimo, p. ii-ix.
How do we collaborate with faculties to include reading skills in their academic programme?
The Reading Lab has been collaborating with faculties and departments in a number of ways. We offer tailor-made workshops for both undergraduate and postgraduate students and deal with small groups as well as large classes. Some of our clients include the faculties of Economic and Management Sciences, Science, AgriSciences, Engineering, and Arts and Social Sciences. Our workshops can also be integrated within modules where they align with a module’s outcomes, are part of the value-added experience programme or can be presented as a stand-alone session.We address any aspect of reading, including topics ranging from managing large volumes of reading, reading for meaning, reading against time, thinking tools to manage text, active approaches to reading and metacognitive awareness.
Academic writing skills
What is our approach?
Writing skills are usually described as the surface-level, technical aspects of writing. These skills include the ability to use grammar, spelling and punctuation in a functional way. These skills are also considered as something that one can ‘transfer’ to another person, by teaching them a set of rules. While they are essential for clear communication, there is a lot more to writing than technical skills.
Nowadays writing skills are considered the least important aspect of academic literacies. The focus has shifted to ways of creating knowledge, building rhetorical constructs and moving between various identities, academic and otherwise.
So, at the Writing Lab we do not work with writing skills transfer as much as with meaning, ways of knowing and with different academic identities. While we do work with helping students to adjust to academic socialisation, we avoid the skills transfer approach and instead work with writers to help them to develop the rhetorical and linguistic repertoires they already have, and to find ways of moving between different literacy and academic identities. We aim to help student writers develop their own academic writing identities so that they can be successful at university and also remain true to themselves.
How do we collaborate with faculties to include writing support in their academic programme?
The Writing Lab collaborates with departments of all SU faculties to provide writing support to students and staff. Our main offerings are one-to-one consultations and writing workshops.
Through writing consultations, we work with students individually, to offer them free consultations with trained writing consultants. Students can approach us by themselves or can come to us as part of a class group for whom consultations form part of their assignments. Speak to us about your class groups’ needs and we can work together to help your students. During the consultation, students will receive individual attention and the opportunity to discuss their work with a critical friend who will show them ways of problem-solving as they write.
Our writing workshops for postgraduate students are customised to address departmental requirements as well as students’ specific concerns regarding writing their proposals, theses or dissertations and academic articles. Every year, we present workshops for the likes of the departments of Nursing, Educational Psychology, Industrial Engineering, the graduate schools of the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, and Economic and Management Sciences. We also offer workshops to other universities and research institutions in South Africa as well as the African continent. The workshops provide students with the opportunity to refine their academic writing in an interactive, practical way. The purpose of the workshops is not to furnish students with a recipe or rigid writing ‘rules’ but rather to provide guidelines about using different writing strategies to convey information, data and arguments effectively.