Symposium on academic literacy assessment at CLASA 2017

talkingheads1Part of the annual winter conference round of language associations (CLASA 2017) will be our two-day symposium (26 & 27 June) at the upcoming SAALT conference in Grahamstown. It’s theme? Pre- and post-admission language assessment in South African universities. Featuring a number of prominent South African scholars, the symposium will be enriched by having John Read (University of Auckland) as lead scene-setter. He is a past president of the International Association of Language Testing (ILTA), and has published widely on the theme of language assessment at university. Bracketed by his introduction and a panel discussion to wrap up the discussion, the symposium will feature not only specialists in academic literacy, but also the views of a language policy and management expert, Theo du Plessis (UFS). That underlines the importance of achieving a congruence among language assessment, language teaching and learning, and institutional language policies.

Apart from Read and Du Plessis, participants will include Gustav Butler, Tobie van Dyk (NWU), Colleen du Plessis, Jo-Mari Myburgh-Smit, Albert Weideman (UFS), Kabelo Sebolai (SU) and Sanet Steyn (UCT).

While post-admission language assessment is common practice everywhere, in South Africa the stakes are somewhat higher: pre-admission testing of language ability is often employed to decide whether someone is given permission to enrol at a certain university or for a certain programme of study. It is therefore a highly sensitive and potentially problematic undertaking. The workshop will allow us to tease out some of the difficult issues that characterize the debates about this.

My own paper will deal with an apparently small issue: the way we still conceive of both assessment and teaching interventions in conventional terms, as relating to the ‘skills’ of listening, speaking, reading and writing. I shall argue that, in light of our less than conventional definition of academic literacy – the ability to master academic discourse, in which distinction-making through language, and building a logically qualified argument are central – we are left poorer in two ways: first in (mis-)identifying the problem, and second in designing an appropriate solution.

Come join us in Grahamstown later this month, to participate in this discussion!

Notice: Details of  CLASA 2017 are available at: 

SAALT members are reminded that they qualify for discounted registration fees. If you have lost your membership number, contact Karien van den Berg.


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