n Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig - Writing their way into Science : gaining access to the discourse of Biology

Volume 41, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0259-9570


Essential for any student's successful study in the discipline of Life Science is attainment of a sense of belonging in the discipline, and mastery of the academic genres that are important in the discipline. Students in the Science Foundation Programme (SFP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, are English second-language students with poor background knowledge of science, and far less previous experience of writing than would be ideal. In teaching an SFP Biology course, we used two approaches for student acquisition of literacy practices as an indispensable part of acculturating them into the discourse of Biology. Firstly, a variety of experiences (most importantly a visit to the rocky shores) and written tasks (formal and informal) developed in students a sense of belonging in the discipline. Secondly, an explicitly scaffolded approach was used to teach students the discipline-specific experimental report genre that is central to experimental sciences. Analysis of students' reports following these approaches showed as yet incomplete acquisition of certain discourse conventions such as those related to use of source texts, lack of certainty about where to put certain information within the structure of the report, ability to focus on relevant material and inadequate use of logical connectors. However, students portrayed a growing sense of the audience they were writing for, as evidenced in features such as avoidance of personalised language. This information enabled further strategies to be developed for students to reach a level of competence as novice writers within the discipline.

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