Scaffolding academic literacy using the Reading to Learn intervention: An evaluative study of a tertiary education context in South Africa

  • Tracey Jane Millin Stellenbosch University
  • Mark Wayland Millin Stellenbosch University
Keywords: English for academic purposes, scaffolding academic literacy, marginalised learners, reading to learn, genre pedagogy


This article reports on the use of the Reading to Learn (RtL) intervention at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to accelerate the development of academic literacy skills of ill-prepared students transitioning from school to university. This paper makes an original contribution to the literature on academic literacy development in three ways: firstly, this study pre-dates another published paper on the topic; secondly, it was the first study of RtL in a tertiary education context in South Africa and, thirdly, it applies a novel statistical method for data analysis purposes. The RtL pedagogy draws on the theoretical assumptions of Vygotsky, Halliday and Bernstein, and assists in the development of literacy (reading and writing) skills necessary to succeed at university. The context of education and poor literacy levels amongst primary, secondary and tertiary students in South Africa is briefly outlined, followed by a brief overview of RtL. The paper continues by adopting a small-scale quantitative approach to testing the efficacy of RtL. In addition to various descriptive statistics, the analysis of literacy scores, scores which were generated throughout an academic writing module at UKZN, is undertaken using a nonparametric testing procedure. A noteworthy finding of the study concerns the weakest cohort of students, in that, these students made the greatest improvements throughout the RtL intervention. Hence, RtL may be a useful mechanism to ‘democratise’ literacy classrooms by narrowing the abilities gap between students with weaker and stronger literacy skills in South Africa.

Author Biographies

Tracey Jane Millin, Stellenbosch University
Tracey is a second-year PhD candidate in the General Linguistics Department at Stellenbosch University. She is also teaching part-time in the Faculty of Education. She has a strong interest in Academic Literacy Development. Tracey is a qualified teacher.
Mark Wayland Millin, Stellenbosch University
Mark is a first-year PhD candidate in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University. He has a background in Economics and Education, and is also a qualified teacher.