Date of Award
Master of Education
Faculty of Education
Dr. Ross Latham
The standards of written literacy of teacher-education students at Edith Cowan University are perceived by many staff to be inadequate. The Faculty of Education's response to this perceived inadequacy is to carry out a mandatory skills-based remedial writing programme for students whose literacy competencies are judged to be deficient, The instrument used to assess the students' literacy competencies is the English Skills Assessment test. The students' performances in the various skills which the test purports to measure, also determine the area in which they are given remedial instruction if the results of the test suggest this is necessary. However, many Faculty of Education staff are concerned that there are important conceptual, structural, and organisational inadequacies in students' writing which are not identified by the English Skills Assessment test and, therefore, are not attended to in remediation programmes based on the results generated by this test. This study was an evaluation of the remedial literacy programme conducted by the Faculty of Education at Edith Cowan University. The programme was evaluated from two perspectives (a) a theoretical perspective and (b) a practical perspective. Firstly, the study evaluated the procedures used by the Faculty of Education to diagnose and remediate writing difficulties among its first year student intake by comparing the assumptions underlying those procedures to the assumptions underlying a contemporary perspective of writing and the teaching of writing. This comparison revealed that not only were many of the procedures used by the Faculty ineffectual, but also some of the procedures used had the potential to inhibit the literacy development of its students. Secondly, the study investigated whether the English Skills Assessment test was able to identify (a) all the areas in which students experienced difficulties inwriting and (b) the students who were likely to experience the difficulties. The performances of 426 first year primary and secondary teacher education students attending the Mount Lawley Campus of the Edith Cowan University in the English Skills Assessment test were compared with their performances in a research-essay assignment, carried out as a normal part of their course work. The results of this aspect of the study reinforce the findings of an earlier study (Holbrook & Bourke, 1989) which reported that the English Skills Assessment test neither identified all the areas in which tertiary level students experience difficulty in their real writing nor the students likely to experience difficulties, This study shows that Holbrook and Bourke's findings, which related to narrative text, also applied when students wrote expository text. These results challenge the validity of the Faculty's use of the English Skills Assessment test as a means of identifying students with writing problems and show that any remedial writing programme based solely on the areas identified by the test will have a limited impact on the development of students' written literacy. In addition to the data originally sought for this study, other information came to light which showed the limitations of the way in which the Faculty conceptualises students' literacy needs. The emphasis of this programme is diagnosis and remediation. This conceptualisation has produced a literacy unit which is peripheral to the mainstream academic programme and which teaches the surface features of language in decontextualised, skills-based lessons. As a consequence, the unit: (a) is accorded marginal status by lecturers and students alike, ( b ) bears little relationship to what is happening in other units of the course, and (c) contributes little, if anything, to students' literacy development. It is clear from the findings of this study that the Faculty of Educator's remedial literacy programme contains serious flaws which cannot be rectified by attempting to modify the existing programme, The study concludes by recommending that the Faculty of Education should abandon its existing programme, along with its remedial emphasis, and institute a new programme designed to cater for the literacy needs of all its students. That is, all incoming students should be required to undertake a foundation unit which outlines the Faculty of Education's requirements and expectations of students, and teaches them the structures and processes (reading, writing, and thinking) required for successful learning in Bachelor of Arts (Education) courses.
Puhl, L. (1992). An evaluation of the procedures used to assess and remediate the perceived writing difficulties of undergraduate students in the Faculty of Education at Edith Cowan University. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1127