Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

A Body of Reading: First-year ESL Students’ Negotiation of Texts in an Interdisciplinary Medical Course in a South African Institution of Higher Education

Ermien Van Pletzen.

In the new Medical curriculum launched at the University of Cape Town in 2002 students encounter Problem-Based Learning groups and a body of reading encompassing texts from a variety of disciplines, including Basic Health Sciences and Social Sciences. In this paper I shall look at the reading practices and attitudes of a small group of first-year ESL students, several of whom are from disadvantaged educational contexts. Using data obtained from qualitative questionnaires and classroom observation, my discussion will explore technical and affective issues that have come to the fore in students’ interactions with the body of reading which is an important resource for learning in their first year medical studies.

The paper will draw its theoretical framework mainly from James Gee’s (1996) conceptualisation of primary and secondary Discourses and David Rose’s (2002) application of Bernstein’s concepts of the “sequencing” and “pacing” of curricula to his research on the literacy development of Australian children. The paper will begin by describing some of the social and educational contexts from which the University draws its ESL students. Defining reading as an affective meaning-making process, the paper will then focus on students’ experience of and attitudes towards different disciplinary discourses as well as on their affective responses to the representation of certain cultural practices in some of their reading materials. Finally, the paper will recommend ways in which scaffolded language development activities could be used to facilitate the process of learning through reading.

James Gee (1996) Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses. 2nd edition. London: Falmer Press.
David Rose (2002) Sequencing and pacing of the hidden curriculum: How Indigenous children are left out of the chain. Paper presented at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.


Ermien Van Pletzen  (South Africa)
Senior Lecturer in Language Development Work
Language Development Group Academic Development Programme Centre for Higher Education Development
University of Cape Town

I started my academic life in English literature, but became increasingly involved in Academic Development work as part of my interest in the challenging changes that we are experiencing in South Africa.

  • reading
  • multi-disciplinary discourses
  • Medical education
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • affective learning

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)