Designing linguistically flexible scaffolding for subject-specific academic literacy interventions

  • Adelia Carstens University of Pretoria
Keywords: language scaffolding, linguistic diversity, academic literacy, L2 teaching strategies


The majority of South African universities are faced with the challenge of teaching subject-specific academic literacy in English to linguistically diverse student groups, while the academic literacy lecturers themselves display a variety of first languages and linguistic repertoires. Over the past 50 years, a major consideration in L2 teaching has been whether to focus only on the target language (the L2), or to allow the first languages of the learners into the L2 classroom as linguistic and cognitive resources, while retaining the focus on the target language. This article departs from the premise that the language focus (either multi- or monolingual) is not crucial, but rather how L2 learning is scaffolded. A scaffolding framework is derived from Van Lier’s (2004) model and Walqui’s (2006) socioculturally embedded strategies for improving the performance of students’ learning of subject content in their second language, namely modelling, bridging, building schema, contextualisation, re-presenting text and developing metacognition. In the article, I demonstrate that Walqui’s six techniques can be adapted to accommodate monolingual as well as bi-/multilingual dimensions of teaching an L2, and can be justified with reference to Van Lier's four-quadrant model. I conclude that a scaffolding approach to teaching language and content in an integrated way is part of any good language pedagogy. However, scaffolds should ideally be designed within a multisemiotic mindset and aimed at producing lasting cognitive gains. 

Author Biography

Adelia Carstens, University of Pretoria
Adelia Carstens is Director of the Unit for Academic Literacy in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She holds two doctorates: one from the University of South Africa and one from the University of Pretoria. Carstens is NRF rated, has published more than 50 papers in peer reviewed publications, and has delivered more than 50 papers at national and international conferences. She specialises in designing and developing curricula for undergraduate and postgraduate academic literacy interventions. Her research foci include disciplinary writing in higher education, multimodal meaning making, narrative inquiry into student and career narratives, and multilingualism as a resource in literacy and cognition.