Rob Abbott

  • Student reading: an academic literacies approach

    Rob Abbott 
    University of Chichester

    Session 2d

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 09.00-10.00

    Research paper

    Themes: Widening participation, Skills development, Better practitioners

    This seminar is based on a small scale qualitative study which looks at how university students approach academic reading, how they process the material they read and how they use ideas gained from their reading in formal, assessed academic writing. The study looks at how students approach particular pieces of reading, analyses the sense that they make of this reading, and then examines the way in which this reading is used in their assessed writing. It looks at these areas both from the students’ perspective and from that of the academics who are teaching and assessing them. The study tries to complete the circle by evaluating tutor responses to student essays and, finally, by evaluating student responses to grades and formal feedback.

    The seminar will begin with a very brief introduction to the academic literacies perspective (Lea and Street, 1997, 2002; Lillis, 2000), which argues that reading and writing must be seen as social practices that take place within the discursive framework of the university. The approach stresses the heterogeneity of academic literacies and asks questions about power, knowledge, language and communication. It is very different to the study skills approach, which tends to see the process of reading and writing as a process of gaining and implementing particular skills sets, e.g. paraphrasing, referencing, notetaking.

    The relevant methodology will then be presented, and there will follow a discussion of the developing range of data-collection methods used within this study. These methods include unstructured and semi-structured interviews with students, as well as e-mail and the Internet.

    The main focus of the seminar will be an analysis of the student and staff responses. The seminar will seek to evaluate the different ways in which students undertake their reading, as well as the different senses they make of what they read and why they are reading it. This will be compared with the lecturers’ responses as to what they hope, and anticipate, students are gaining from both set texts and wider reading. It will present extracts from student essays and analyse how the reading undertaken by students has been used within their writing. Staff comments, both from the formal feedback to students and from further interviews, will also be used to explore issues such as student engagement, university culture, power and communication.

    The rest of the seminar will be used for discussion. Participants will be asked to share their own experiences of student academic reading. Discussion will include: how to help students engage with their reading more effectively; how to help students process the reading they do; how to help students use their reading effectively in their formal writing.