Category Archives: academic literacy

South African language assessment on the map

Assessing academic literacy in a multilingual society: Transition and transformation has just appeared in print from Multilingual Matters. I was privileged to co-edit this with the highly experienced John Read of the University of Auckland and my former head of department, Theo du Plessis.

As further contributors there were Tobie van Dyk (NWU), Alan Cliff (UCT), Colleen du Plessis (UFS), Avasha Rambiritch (UP), Kabelo Sebolai (SU), Laura Drennan (UFS), Jo-Mari Myburgh-Smit (UFS), Sanet Steyn (UCT), and a number of co-contributors to some chapters, including Linda Alston, Marien Graham (both UP), Piet Murre (Driestar Hogeschool) and Herculene Kotze (NWU). Most of them are steeped professionally in designing academic literacy interventions and assessments.

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Get them in line: language policy, language tests and language teaching

The journalist and scholar H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) once observed that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” One would think that academic literacy, the ability to use academic language competently, would be the first and only language concern of the academic communities that make up the university. Such is the complexity of language problems, however, that not all solutions for them will have to do with making education and study more effective. Student communities may, for example, make language demands that are primarily politically inspired, and have little bearing on scholarship. When decision-makers yield to the politically expedient solution, that solution may be rationalized in many ways that might have the pretence of having to do with education, but that actually has no theoretical justification. There are at least two recent cases in South Africa where the language policies of universities were changed for reasons other than academic ones, with negative consequences that were foreseen, but ignored. Continue reading

Developing one’s own language assessments: taking responsibility, ensuring appropriateness, taking ownership

Singapore_University_of_Technology

Singapore Institute of Technology

There is something reassuring for university administrators and decision-makers in using the results of large-scale tests. They seldom worry about their contextual appropriateness, or about their cost, or even enquire about their quality. The large reach of the test in their minds ensures its reputation. As to costs? Well, the argument goes, if students wish to undertake studies at this university, they must be prepared to pay for that privilege. Continue reading

Recipe for a good professional life: To generosity, add imagination and cheer

A tribute to Christo van Rensburg

Prof. Christo van Rensburg

Christo van Rensburg, who died last week, was not only one of South Africa’s leading linguists, but also a considerable influence on my own work. It was particularly his voluminous report on Griqua Afrikaans that first brought him fame. My own debt to him is manifold: not only was he the supervisor of my doctoral thesis, but after he had set up and directed what eventually became known as the Unit for Academic Literacy at the University of Pretoria, he was instrumental in having me appointed as his successor. Continue reading

Academic literacy assessment: its role in times of change

changeWhat influence does the institutional, social or political landscape have on the way in which we test a person’s ability to handle academic language?  And how should one go about it? What impact should the tests have on language planning, instruction, and development?

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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. Continue reading

Make the information available, then accountability will follow

Construct Refinement in Tests of Academic LiteracyAvasha Rambiritch of the University of Pretoria and I have just written a chapter for a book edited by John Read (Post-admission Language Assessment of University Students, Springer, 2016) that shows how making sufficient information available about the conception, design, development, refinement and eventual administration of a test of language ability — in other words “telling the story of a test” — is the first step towards ensuring accountability for such tests. The test in question, the Test of Academic Literacy for Postgraduate Students (TALPS), is used to determine the academic literacy of prospective postgraduate students. For the full reference, see the bibliography on this site.   Continue reading