First year university students' reading strategies and comprehension: implications for academic reading support
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In the South African context it seems that many students enter university without the required reading abilities. In the tertiary environment, these abilities are vital, especially in the first undergraduate year when most attrition occurs. The focus of this thesis is on first year students' reading comprehension and reading strategy use. Reading strategies were part of the focus of this study as knowledge and application of reading strategies can be a powerful way to promote reading with comprehension. The reading comprehension theoretical framework of the RAND Corporation Reading Study Group (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002) theoretically grounds this study. According to this framework, reading comprehension is an interrelated process between the reader who is doing the comprehending, the text that is to be read and the task which has to be completed. This process occurs within a socio-cultural context. Knowledge of applicable literature about the reader, text, task and socio-cultural context, as well as the analyses of quantitative and qualitative findings on students' reading comprehension and reported reading strategy use, enabled the researcher to give recommendations in terms of academic reading support required at universities. This mixed-methods study falls within a pragmatic paradigm. A convergent parallel mixed method research design was used. Quantitative data analyses and interpretations provided answers to two of the research questions namely the categories of reading strategies which the students reported using and the relationships between reading strategy use, reading comprehension and task achievement. Qualitative data analyses and interpretations provided insight into the third research question. This question concerned lecturers' and students' perceptions of students' reading abilities, prescribed academic texts and the tasks assigned by lecturers. The merging of the quantitative and qualitative findings enabled the researcher to present a holistic and contextual portrayal of the reading strategies and reading comprehension of the first year participants at University X. The merging was done by discussing a number of themes which emerged from the quantitative and qualitative analyses. The core of the findings suggests that students rarely comply with prescribed academic reading. While lacking reading abilities are part of the problem, the findings indicated that the student alone cannot be blamed. Non-compliance with prescribed academic reading, the ineffective use of reading strategies and reading comprehension problems can be attributed to the different perceptions of students and lecturers, specifically perceptions about reading abilities, the prescribed academic text and the tasks assigned by lecturers. These reading challenges are also in part caused by a misalignment of critical factors in the learning environment namely learning outcomes, the choice of texts, instructional design of the modules, the tasks to be completed, the role of the lecturer, the role of the student, and the use of technology. The contribution of this study lies in the fairly comprehensive analysis of the reading strategy use and reading comprehension of first year students within seven different faculties of a university. Additionally, the analysis enabled the researcher to use a metaphor of cogs in a mechanism to highlight the academic reading support required at this university. A collaborative approach is needed to support the reading literacy skills of students in the disciplinary areas. The institutional management, faculty management structures and the lecturer are all stakeholders in students' success. For this reason these stakeholders must ensure that reading is a priority in the modules, and that the interconnectedness of the reader, the text, the task and the socio-cultural context, are continuously considered for the purpose of providing academic reading support in a disciplinary context.
- Education