Providing Academic Language Support to First Year students in a South Pacific Tertiary Institution

Year: 2019

Author: Singh, Roshila

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

My paper, which is a segment of an ongoing research, explores application of academic literacy and language use in a first year land management course at the University of the South Pacific (USP). USP is a regional institution with 12 Pacific Island member countries. All countries’ educational policies stipulate English as the language of instruction from mid-primary level, however, this does not correlate well with USP students’ English Language proficiency levels. An obvious deficiency is grammar knowledge, but under preparedness for academic studies is widely evident also.

To address the issue, a series of workshops were conducted at the start of semester 1, 2019 to prepare students for their first essay assignment. These workshops were only availed to students studying at the main campus located in Fiji, although there were students in the other countries studying through the online mode. The workshops were a collaborated effort between the course coordinator and the learning support staff (me). Prior to the workshops, we met several times to discuss the objectives of each session, the contents and who would deliver the information. The foci of the sessions were identifying main arguments from assigned texts, summarising, understanding citations, assignment question analysis and structuring the paper. A final session was conducted just prior to submission, to review assignment requirements.

Assignment marks revealed that a good number of students performed well with Laucala Campus students’ marks clustering around the higher end. We then interviewed students to ascertain the challenges they faced while working on the assignment. Findings showed students found the readings somewhat difficult and the assignment type different from what they had experienced in high school.

These findings reveal a need for stronger mechanisms in preparing students for tertiary studies. Thus, our approach henceforth is to break assessment tasks into manageable pieces and to let each task build successively onto the next one. We intend to gradually introduce assessment items with more explication on marking criteria. This approach will impact the second course this cohort of students will undertake in the upcoming semester. Through this method we intend to expose students to language use and literacy tools so as to equip them better to deal with academic contexts. In doing so, students have access to a learning environment which targets academic language deficiencies and efforts at supporting them in these areas.