Academic Reading and Pacific Students: Profiling Texts, Tasks & Readers in the First Year of University in New Zealand
Central to tertiary study in the literate world is the storage, transmission and retrieval of knowledge via the written word through the complex, multi-faceted and largely invisible process of academic reading. With New Zealand's changing demographics and increasing participation in tertiary education by students of Pacific descent, it cannot be assumed that there is a sufficient degree of match between the cultures of academic literacy of the institution and those of the linguistic /ethnic minority student readers; and this is an issue that requires in-depth investigation. This thesis focuses on student readers of Pacific descent undertaking their first year of study in selected 100-level Humanities and Commerce courses in a NZ university. By drawing together the composite skills, cognitive and socio-cultural traditions of reading research, this study conceptualizes academic reading as the dynamic interplay between Text-Task-Reader within any given socio-cultural context. This three-part understanding of academic reading enables a rich profiling of Readers, Texts, and Tasks within their contexts. It permits the systematic discovery and documentation of the nature of the challenge inherent in the academic texts and tasks of the first year of university, and enables the characteristics of the prototypical 'good reader' in a specific discipline to be established. By identifying and holding the core first year academic reading Task of 'reading to understand and remember' constant, the complex interactions between the Reader and Text were able to be observed, thus providing insights into the ways in which these Pacific readers made meaning from Text. Then, through the holistic profiling of cognitive, affective, skills, and socio-culturally based reader features, the Pacific student readers' academic reading personae were constructed. Combined, the readers' profiles reveal group trends, and individually, the complete holistic profiles of two case study readers were able to be woven together from the various profiling 'strands', thus highlighting the usefulness of the profiling system and the uniqueness of the individual readers. Finally, a comparison between the 'good reader' and the 'real' student readers affords an understanding of the degree of 'fit' between the readers' characteristics and the expectations of the institution. It is argued that this type of holistic profiling is of considerable value to institutions, enabling them to respond in informed, strategic ways to the academic literacy development requirements of their Pacific (and other) students, on both an individual and group scale.