E801: Action 2.2: Current Literacy Policy
"The University is committed to widening and deepening access to Higher Education. It believes that opportunities to participate in higher education should be provided to all those with the ability to benefit."
Academic policy statements from various universities all seem to follow the same multi-faceted approach of developing a set of transferable, academic skills. Literacy is included as part of the portfolio and encompasses communication and study skills such as essay preparation, information handling, and textual analysis in addition to language skills.
These policies consist of a variation of the following points:
- Pre-sessional programmes for disabled and EFL students
- Diagnostic tests may be offered or compulsory
- Learning resource support
- Within department training in literacy skills
"Narrowly defined academic literacy refers to one's ability to read and write effectively within the college context in order to proceed from one level to another. In a more broader sense it will imply the students ability to read and write within the academic context with independence, understanding and a level of engagement with the learning. Academic literacy is also said to compromise of a variety of discourses with their own conventions and methods of inquiry. In order for students to be termed academic literate they ought to acquire these conventions implicitly or explicitly. They also need to familiarize themselves with the methods of inquiry of specific disciplines. These acquisitions will impact heavily on the students' ability to manipulate the surface features of the language which invariably make their writing ungrammatical. It is claimed that the mastering of surface features (i.e. language jargon) in writing, may mean that the student has not really engaged meaningfully with the subject matter, if this be the case students are inclined to "mask" their lack of understanding. Such a false appearance of understanding of academic literacy can become "unstuck" as the demands on the learner increase task" [Lebowitz 1995] [p34]
In general, academic literacies are assessed as an integral part of the degree course although some universities have specific assessments in their foundation or first year courses and some departments cap assignments at 40% if they show poor grammar and spelling. Dyslexic students have stickers that they can put on their work to avoid capping but they are not always received well by all departments and not in use at all universities.
In short there is not a national policy on encouraging academic literacy or literacies; there are generally not university-wide policies; if any policies do exist they are generally hidden deep within departmental policies. They are generally taught by a mixture of implicit and explicit methods, some of which are by isolated study skills approaches and some by more integrated methods. I consider that this confusion in both policy and approach makes it difficult to work out any coherent policy for those students who also have learning difficulties. This results in individual lecturers making their own decisions on how to deal with the assessment of students with literacy difficulties and, in my experience, this varies from extreme lenience where no marks are lost for spelling and grammar to the situation where more than two mistakes results in the whole piece of work being capped at 40%. This is clearly unsatisfactory but there are advantages in the lack of policy in that appropriate methods to assist a student are designed around that student individually and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach.