Using Process-oriented, Guided-inquiry Learning in the Teaching of Academic Literacy

  • Nandi Weder University of Pretoria
  • Marguerite De Waal


This paper presents a quantitative analysis of an intervention study that used process-oriented, guided-inquiry learning (POGIL) to teach grammar as part of an academic literacy module in the Extended Curriculum Programme (ECP) at the University of Pretoria. In the first semester of the Language and Study Skills (LST) module, four key grammatical functions (parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, and discourse markers) are foundational to subsequent writing skills taught throughout the year. These grammatical functions are adaptable to quiz-style instruction and assessment and are taught online in this way; however, many LST students still struggle with the application of these functions well into the second semester. The POGIL method, which falls within the inquiry-based learning framework (Abraham, 2005) and is influenced by constructivisim and the learning cycle (Cracolice, 2009), presents an alternative approach which is suited to LST’s content and teaching mode. LST is presented in smaller classes of around 50 students, and emphasis is placed on practical application activities and student participation. The POGIL method aligns with this mode as it scaffolds the learning process through worksheets which students need to complete in small, carefully organised groups, thus requiring students to actively construct and apply knowledge, engage in deep learning and lay the foundations for independent learning. The potential applications of POGIL to academic literacy and language instruction have received little attention in teaching and learning research, as the method has typically been used and researched in STEM instruction. Furthermore, existing research is context-bound to institutions outside of South Africa. The POGIL-based intervention study for the LST module was thus designed to respond to the specific educational context and needs of the ECP students. Specifically, the study sought to establish whether the POGIL method of instruction improved students’ application of certain grammatical functions when compared to online, quiz-style instruction. A teaching intervention was conducted using POGIL-style worksheets, after which the performance of the intervention group was compared to the performance of a control group using data from items in formal assessments (two semester tests and an examination). Analysis of this data indicates that the POGIL group performed better than the control group in all five constructs, though the difference in performance was statistically significant in only four constructs. The paper concludes with a suggestion that further research should be conducted to investigate the relationship between students’ level of capability and their response to POGIL-style language instruction; some possibilities for the continuation of the study are outlined. The research therefore contributes to the small, but growing body of work on POGIL instruction by expanding it to include academic literacy and ECP instruction.