Transfer of reading comprehension strategies at university level

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Transfer of reading comprehension strategies at university level

The purpose of the research on which this article is based is to address the necessity for reading comprehension development in higher education. According to the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training Act (2013), only 15 percent of students in higher education complete their studies successfully. This is well below the international standard of 25 percent for students within a three-year degree course in contact education (residential education). The challenge facing universities is to ensure a higher throughput rate. This study aimed to investigate a potential solution to one of the facets of this challenge. One such an initiative is Leesnet, an academic reading comprehension programme which has been implemented within the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Wellington campus, since 2010. Leesnet is a reading comprehension strategy programme which aims to promote general academic performance in all content areas. The purpose of this research study was to explore and describe the nature and extent of transfer of reading comprehension strategies from Leesnet to one of the content areas in the curriculum, namely geography.

A gap in recent research is identified regarding the nature and extent of transfer of reading comprehension strategies within tertiary education. Helfenstein (2005:87) mentions that transfer in particular is under-emphasised and suggests the investigation of the outcomes of traditional approaches.

The research question underlying the research problem is formulated as follows:

  • What is the nature and extent of transfer of reading comprehension strategies within Leesnet to geography in CPUT: Wellington campus?

In order to answer the research question the following objective was set:

  • To explore and describe the nature and extent of transfer of reading comprehension strategies within Leesnet to geography in order to make recommendations for further focus areas for future comprehension programmes.

Reading is a complex skill which involves various decoding and comprehension processes (Caulwell and Botha 2005:29). Reading comprehension is described by Block and Pressley (2008:384) as a process comprising integration of the ability to decipher, knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure, prior knowledge of the topic and appropriate strategies to interpret a text and to construct meaning. These processes are possible only if the reader has developed on a metacognitive level. Metacognition occurs when readers apply reading comprehension strategies to understand new information during the reading process, resulting in strategic and reflexive readers (Harvey and Goudvis 2007:25–6).

Frazier (1993:34) emphasises the importance of transfer of reading strategies in a reading comprehension programme and states that without transfer such a programme would be of little value. Transfer should be seen as a holistic process within the context of a student’s environment. The field of transfer is thus concerned with learning that happens in one context which influences learning in another context. Even though it is a complex, multi-faceted and at times confusing process it is non-negotiable (Leberman, McDonald en Doyle 2006:9).

One initiative within South Africa to transfer reading strategies from an instruction programme to content areas is the academic reading comprehension programme Leesnet, which was developed in 2009 by four staff members at CPUT, Wellington campus and was implemented in 2010. The programme was specifically developed for Afrikaans-speaking BEd 1 students and focused particularly on the scaffolded teaching approach and on creating students’ awareness of metacognition. During one of the two tutorials per week a reading strategy is taught explicitly in isolation while the other tutorial in the week focuses on the integrated practical application of strategies when students also learn from one another (Cilliers 2015).

The teaching of reading comprehension strategies occurs within the framework of social constructivism. Transfer of a strategy to another domain relies on the notion that the reader constructs his/her own meaning based on existing structures. Metacognition is the vehicle for transfer within the social constructivism framework. Edgar (2012) mentions that constructivism specifically focuses on the instruction approach and instruction processes. This framework also takes individual experiences of students into account.

A phenomenological research design was used to describe the experiences and perceptions of participants of a specific phenomenon. This design entails a systematic reflection of people in a specific situation and is an objective study about a design which is usually seen as subjective. In this case it is the nature and extent of transfer of reading comprehension within Leesnet to geography for tertiary students.

Exploratory research design was used to explore the phenomenon and to support the choices regarding the methods of data analysis and the description of findings. The pre-experimental research design supported the methods for quantitative data collection and analysis as well as the way in which this data was described.

A mixed-methods approach was used. The qualitative research method was used to explore and describe participants' descriptions of the nature of the transfer of reading comprehension strategies and the quantitative data to explore and describe the extent of the transfer. Participants were second-year BEd students doing geography as an elective at CPUT Wellington campus and who had been involved in the Leesnet programme during their first year of study. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect qualitative data, while questionnaires and the results of a post-test were used to collect the quantitative data.

The findings indicate that a degree of positive transfer occurred. The rich, qualitative data furthermore showed awareness by participants of their own metacognition during the reading process; it highlights the conscious use of reading comprehension strategies and the context within which these strategies were transferred. Participants experienced a positive impact of the reading programme on their academic work and were positive about the programme as a whole. Strategies that were utilised the most were fix-up strategies, making connections and using text features to promote reading comprehension.

Conclusions and recommendations were made to identify focus areas for further research, to potentially improve the transfer of reading comprehension strategies in the existing programme and to offer possible guidelines for the development of similar programmes.

Keywords: metacognition; reading comprehension strategies; social constructivism; tertiary education; transfer

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die oordrag van leesbegripstrategieë op ander akademiese vakke op universiteitsvlak

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