Reading literacy in the content areas: the development of an instructional support framework
Dlavane, Fio Dolly Gaebeng
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Across the country, there is a perception that our learners in the intermediate phase are not acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to effectively function in today's global economy. This perception is fuelled by both national and international reports. Grade four marks a transition point from learning to read to reading to learn. Within the South African context, Grade 4 also signals the move from mother tongue instruction to English as medium of instruction for many learners. From Grade 4 onwards learners must be able to process longer, multi-syllable words and read accurately and quickly, especially in the content areas. The finding that vocabulary is strongly related to general reading achievement has long been acknowledged. Although research into the area of math vocabulary is limited, researchers report that vocabulary and concept knowledge are an important part of mathematics. The purpose of this study was to determine what the reading literacy profile of Setswana-speaking Grade 4 learners whose LoLT is English looks like in terms of oral reading fluency, retell and reading comprehension as well as their composite basic early reading literacy score; what an analysis of Grade 4 learners' performance on a collated teacher-developed mathematics paper indicated as well as to determine what an analysis of Grade 4 Maths language (e.g. vocabulary) in teacher-developed assessments and textbooks revealed and to ascertain what teachers' and learners' perceptions of mathematical language problem areas revealed. A mixed method research design was used and research results were interpreted within a pragmatic research paradigm. Research participants included grade 4 learners and grade 4 teachers whose home language is Setswana, but who received instruction in mathematics via the medium of English. The results indicated that the grade 4 learners were reading below a grade 3 level, which means that they are not able to read fluently and accurately; they have trouble decoding basic English language words in text format. The results, therefore, imply that these learners will also have trouble decoding and reading for meaning sentences in mathematical assessment papers. A frequency analysis of the learners' performance on a maths assessment indicated that approximately 80% of the learners were experiencing problems in all mathematical focus areas covered in the Grade 4 curriculum. The qualitative analyses focused on a document analysis of teacher developed mathematics assessments and textbooks as well as learner workbooks and teacher manuals. In addition, semi-structured interviews and focus groups were held with the teachers and learners, respectively. It emerged from the qualitative analysis that mathematical words may cause confusion in comprehending the math questions because of a number of factors such as sharing the terms with English, unfamiliar mathematics words, words with more than one meaning, homonyms, the irregularity of English spelling, compound nouns, and words that are used interchangeably in math. The study shows that the interaction between mathematics and English vocabulary is real. In addition, the analysis of learner textbooks, workbooks and teachers' manuals also shows that the math resources use "difficult words" (as identified by both teachers and learners) such as words that are taught in pairs which causes confusion in understanding the meaning of such distinct words, mathematics terms that are found only in mathematical contexts, words that are shared between everyday English and mathematics but have different meanings in both contexts, math words that are used in other disciplines, math concepts that are verbalized in more than one way, and finally prepositions in word problems. The analysis of teacher interviews supports the quantitative data analysis in this study. It emerged from the teachers' interviews that learners' English proficiency is low to non-existent. The learners prefer being taught in Setswana. The teachers indicated that the learners could not do the assessments because they could not read the questions. The results of this study clearly show the impact of learners' language background on their math performance The literature review and empirical research led to the development of a vocabulary instructional support framework that can help content area teachers integrate reading literacy within their subjects taking cognisance of the LoLT as well as the mother tongue of the learners.
- Education