Reading is a building block of learning that must be mastered by every child. Pepler (2014) explains that reading is an important skill that a child should master at an early age to meet the requirements of the 21st century. Reading improves learners’ chances of success in their school careers, further studies and professions, while assisting them to become equipped citizens as well.
Research results on reading and literacy in South Africa show that the literacy level of learners in the intermediate phase is poor (Ramphele 2008; Bloch 2009). The poor reading culture that exists in general, the insufficient examples set by social role players (including parents and teachers) regarding reading, the lack of reading motivation and insufficient reading time are leading to reading avoidance. Reading avoidance has problematic consequences because learners cannot use the appropriate reading strategies to read self-directedly. The newspaper as a multimodal tool – which is one of the prescribed reading texts according to the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (DBE 2011) – can contribute to the development of self-directed reading, as learners can identify their needs and interests and take responsibility for their own reading and learning. Books and reading texts in printed format are, in general, less available and more expensive, while newspapers and digital texts are more readily available and affordable (Altbach and Hoshino 2015; ABC 2017).
Taking into account the poor reading situation in South Africa, we undertook the research among a group of Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners at a private school in Gauteng Province. The primary objective was to guide these learners to use newspaper texts as multimodal tools in an attempt to develop them into self-directed readers. The research, completed in 2020, is discussed in this paper.
Arising from the primary objective, the secondary objectives were identified as:
- the facilitation of reading strategies using multimodal tools to allow a group of Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners to develop into self-directed readers; and
- the compilation of guidelines to guide intermediate phase language teachers to use the newspaper as a multimodal tool in the Afrikaans Home Language class in an attempt to develop learners into self-directed readers.
In this qualitative research within the interpretivist research paradigm, a literature study highlighted the newspaper as a multimodal tool, as well as the importance of reading strategies in developing self-directed readers. According to Khodabandehiou, Jahandar, Seyedi and Dolat (2012), self-directedness in the language classroom can be promoted by teachers involving learners in reading processes by using appropriate reading strategies. Vos and Van Oort (2018) agree that self-directed reading is when learners can independently read any text with comprehension with the help of reading strategies for the sake of learning. We challenged a group of Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners to take ownership of their reading by using the newspaper as a multimodal tool. The learners had to identify different types of newspaper texts that contained interesting information, read these with comprehension, using prescribed reading strategies, ask questions to gather enlightening information and reflect on the reading text and activity after each lesson.
To determine whether these Grade 4 learners were able to read, understand and use the newspaper, we examined their developmental stages. Despite mutual individual differences, general developmental trends in physical, cognitive, personal and social development could be demonstrated. A holistic approach to literature and texts (such as newspaper texts) can contribute to improving learners’ overall development in terms of cognitive abilities, personality and social intelligence so that they can fulfil their place in society (Heath 2004).
Furthermore, document and thematic analyses were performed on reports of international assessment bodies that examine learners’ literacy, namely the Progress in International Reading Literacy and the Teaching and Learning International Survey. From the analyses, it is clear that the reading situation in South Africa is abysmal, despite efforts for improvement by the state, such as the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (DBE 2011), the National Reading Strategy and the Read to Lead Campaign (DBE 2015 2019), as well as the Nal’ibali Campaign (Nal’ibali 2019).
We curriculated a lesson series according to a thematic approach (following the literature study and document analysis). Each lesson contained an observation checklist (consisting of unique criteria for each lesson) that, among other things, indicated the learners’ reaction to the appropriate use of reading strategies in a variety of newspaper texts. The observations of the learners’ responses and reading progress were noted on the observation checklists. Before the lessons were presented, a preview of what was expected with regard to the lesson content, the learners’ reaction during the lesson events and their expected reaction during the lesson events was compiled in the form of a pre-journal. After each lesson, observations of the learners’ reaction to the newspaper, the newspaper text types and their reading progress and how they were able to answer the questions on the newspaper, text types and reading strategies were recorded in the reflective post-journal. The data were analysed and later narratively described. The study population was determined for convenience and cost-effective purposes and consisted of 45 Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners. As the study included a vulnerable study population, namely Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners, ethical approval was obtained from the ethics committee of the relevant institution to conduct the study. According to the ethical requirements of the committee, the primary researcher obtained informed written permission from the principal, governing body, parents and learners of the school concerned.
The research contribution is, firstly, the proof that the progressive facilitation of reading strategies in a lesson series, according to the constructivist teaching-learning theory, has empowered a group of Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language learners to read various newspaper texts with comprehension, which has ultimately contributed to self-directed reading (from the activation of prior knowledge to the eventual critical evaluation of reading texts). Secondly, guidelines have been compiled for Grade 4 Afrikaans Home Language teachers, in which it is shown how the newspaper can be used as a multimodal tool to help learners develop into self-directed readers. Aspects that are emphasised in the guidelines are the importance of the availability of multimodal newspaper texts, raising awareness of the use of multimodal newspaper texts among learners, the prominence of street posters and the fact that learners need to become familiar with a variety of reading strategies for the reading of different text types.
This study involved a group of Grade 4 learners, but the findings can be applied to all intermediate phase learners.
Keywords: Afrikaans Home Language; facilitating reading strategies; intermediate phase learners; multimodality; newspaper texts; self-directed reading