The low levels of reading ability, of comprehension and of English proficiency levels of the majority of first year students in South African higher education is well-known. Studies have demonstrated that there is a need for courses designed to assist students to improve their English proficiency levels. At the UFS all first-year students are required to take an English literacy test to determine their levels of English comprehension and competency skills. If they do not meet the required level, they are compelled to enrol for the Academic Literacy Course (ALC). The students are also placed on one of six relevant proficiency levels in terms of the results of the proficiency test.
In the Academic Literacy programme graded readers are used to assist students to improve reading levels. These readers’ books (many are classics) are presented in simplified language according to different levels of reading proficiency. Students have to read the books according to a reading programme and answer comprehension tests based on the content of each book. Only after mastering one level, they are allowed to move to a higher level
The UFSLIS contributes by managing the graded readers for the English proficiency module of the ALC. Although the Centre for Teaching and Learning as coordinators of the course have undertaken studies on the impact of the readers on students’ reading proficiency (to be shared at the conference), a number of problems and challenges with regards to the collection and the satisfaction of students have been observed. We consequently identified a need for a study on the suitability, availability and accessibility of the collection of books. What does the collection really consist of? What are students’ perceptions of the collection and of the services provided by the library? What can the library do to enhance the collection, the student experience and its significance in providing and managing the graded reader service?
The study forms part of an Action Research project the division Teaching and Learning has collaboratively embarked on in an effort to improve service delivery. The first phase of the project is a context analysis that will inform future actions for improvement. The research design is a mixed method approach. The data collection methods include open ended questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and document analyses. The target population is second-year students who have completed the module in their first year. Purposive sampling is employed to select a sample of maximum variation in terms of proficiency level, academic faculty, and home language and gender. A thorough inventory of the collection of graded readers will also be undertaken. This project adheres to all ethical requirements.
The value of the study lies in the potential improvement in library services related to the graded readers and the ALC. The new knowledge to be created also hold value for other institutions who are using or intend to go the graded reader way in addressing their students’ English proficiency levels.