Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 16

Accepted Abstracts

Decoding South Africa’s Reading Crisis: A Phenomenological Case Study Exploring Reading Pedagogy in the Intermediate Phase at Three Selected Schools in Limpopo Province

Phineas Chidi, University of Limpopo (South Africa)


Reading proficiency is arguably the most important skill taught across all education systems around the world in both alphabetic and non-alphabetic countries. South Africa is currently experiencing a reading crisis (Spaull, 2017).Research evidence from internationally recognized benchmark studies suggesting that 78% of learners in early primary school cannot read with comprehension (PIRLS, 2016). It is incumbent on researchers, teachers, and education practitioners to deal with this crisis more decisively if the possible negative ramifications emanating from learners’ inability to read are to be mitigated, lest they flow over into secondary and tertiary education. This presentation will illuminate preliminary findings of a study which explored reading pedagogies in the Intermediate Phase in three rural schools in the face of the debilitating reading crisis. Using a social constructivist theoretical lens (Vygotsky, 1978) complemented by the dimensions of activity theory for conceptualising learning to read as an activity system (Leont’ev, 1981, Engestrom, 1999), and Guthrie’s reading engagement model for inculcating intrinsic motivation for reading. The study employed conventional qualitative research tools of classroom observation, semi-structured interviews and document analysis to explore the methods and approaches used by grade 4 teachers in rural classrooms. The rationale for exploring the methods of teaching reading was premised on the assumption that pedagogical inefficacy in the reading classroom may be responsible for learners’ failure to learn to read and, subsequently, read to learn. In addition, the study was conducted with a view to develop a context-tailored reading intervention programme for improving reading pedagogy and imbibing a reading culture. Preliminary indications are that Intermediate Phase teachers of reading in rural primary schools need exposure and induction in eclectic, contemporary methods of teaching reading, especially learner and meaning focused approaches.

Keywords: reading crisis, reading pedagogy, reading culture, intermediate phase, rural primary school, phenomenological case study, reading intervention, learn to read, read to learn.

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