Help for students with poor academic literacy

By Lin Ferguson, lin.ferguson@wanganuichronicle.co.nz


Secondary school students in the Wanganui region who struggle to adjust to the academic writing style required by universities could soon be helped.

A project to counter the high drop out rate of first year university students from lower decile schools is being set up. It includes peer mentors for students in the last year of secondary school and the first year of university.

City College and Cullinane College and Taihape Area School will participate in the $200,000 academic literary research project over the next two years.

Massey University School of English and Media Studies Associate Professor Lisa Emerson said the project had been discussed for more than a year before it was given the go-ahead late last year.

"We are very excited because we believe it will make a valuable difference."

The Year 13 students at the secondary schools will be supported in their literacy and writing throughout their transition from college into tertiary study, Professor Emerson said.

Focusing on academic literacy was crucial because so many first year students from low to mid decile colleges often failed to complete their first year at university because they were hampered by the academic writing style, she said.

The research programme will provide the students with peer mentors from Massey University during their Year 13 at school and again in their first year at any university throughout New Zealand, Ms Emerson said.

The $200,000 funding was granted from the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative and Professor Emerson is the project's primary instigator.

"I'm very excited about it because I think it's going to really make a difference for these students."

However, she didn't think that students who came from poorer families and had to carefully budget their student loan compared to those students whose families were well off and provided extra money, were at a disadvantage.

"No I don't think so. In fact the students who really find tertiary education difficult at first and are usually more at disadvantage are the ones who are the first ones from their families to go to University."

With Professor Emerson are Massey researchers Angela Feekery and Ken Kilpin who will be working with students at Cullinane College, Wanganui City College, Taihape Area School and Hato Paora School in Feilding.

"Our aim is to support the pupils from low-to-mid decile schools through the transition into tertiary education by providing a two-year programme of support in academic literacy," she said.

In the first year, the researchers will work with the four schools to develop the academic literacy of their Year 13 pupils.

"We will be resourcing teachers, as well as developing peer support networks for teachers, and providing peer mentors for the pupils," she said.

In the second year the research team will continue to work with those in tertiary study as well as hold a national conference for secondary and tertiary teachers on improving the transition to tertiary learning through academic literacy, based on the team's research.

"Retention is a very important issue for universities, and we hope our project will show an effective way universities can support and retain students through this vital period of transition," Professor Emerson said.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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