Academic skills and linguistic power : negotiating a syllabus for the acquisition of multi-faceted litaracies in English
Hove, Muchativugwa Liberty
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From a purposive sample of thirty (30) previously disadvantaged learners sponsored by the Telkom Foundation and currently enrolled at an elite private secondary school in South Africa. this study unde1iook a baseline survey of the participants writing and comprehension skills. The pen and pencil survey. including a questionnaire, identified their competency levels and the gaps in the participants· language skills. Over a three-year period. the study examined and extended the participants· writing styles in their comprehension and composition scripts on three genres - expository, narrative and descriptive. From the three genre texts, it was established that their sentence structures ranged from the simple, compound to the complex variety. Using the Hypotaxis Index as a quantitative measure to analyse the written texts, which is the cow1t of subordinated clauses. appropriate linking devices and the successful co-ordination of ideas in sentences calculated as a percentage of the total clauses making the composition. it was established that the higher the Hypotaxis Index, the more accomplished and successful the writing (Horning, 1998: Balfour, 2007; Allison, 2002). Discursive and expository compositions that displayed the characteristics of appropriately projected thoughts, and an awareness of the perceived audience, were more successful than those that relied on simple subject and verb concord sentence structures. A major challenge in the analysis of the compositions stemmed from incidents where incomplete clauses were used, with no evident subject-verb pattern or concord. There were also some relatively successful compositions that depended on simple and compound sentence structures only. It was derived from this three-year longitudinal study that an attempt to improve the writing quality and strength of the secondary school learners would be through a deliberate focus on dc,·eloping their cognitive academic literacy (CALP) skills through the design. development and implementation of a task-based syllabus based on the specifications of Breen ( 1999). Long and Crookes (2006) and the ecological factors of the International School of South Africa. Explicit grammar instruction, particularly the structural patterning of the sentences that learners used in their writing. v•as decided upon as a practical reinforcement for language skills that the learners needed in order to develop academic literacy proficiency skills in English. The Hypotaxis Index, if correctly calculated, should be a significant indicator of what intervention could be effected in order to improve learner's skills.
- Humanities