Embedding literacy

What is meant by embedding literacy?

Research into academic literacy in recent years has established fairly clearly that the best way of supporting students develop proficiency in tertiary academic literacy skills is through embedding. Embedding involves the integration of the teaching of literacy with the teaching of disciplinary content. However, while this has become increasingly accepted in many universities, there appears to be much variation in the degree of embedding that is adopted, ranging from minimal to partial to full integration.

Minimal integration

What would be an example of minimal integration?
Minimal levels of embedding would involve 'one shot' of instruction such as a one hour guest lecture on how to write an essay or report. This lecture can be generic and cover some of the key principles important to successful writing or it could be tailored to meet some of the demands of the actual assessment task. For example, a parallel essay question could be set and a sample essay written. The essential features of the sample essay would then be explained to the cohort during the lecture.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of minimal integration?
The main advantage of this approach is that by integrating the lecture into content time and directly addressing a major assessment task, it is likely a large number of students will attend. This is a positive outcome as research evidence clearly shows that those students who are most in need of literacy support are often the least willing to seek it out by attending workshops run by learning centres and support units.

The disadvantage of this model is the limited nature of the support it provides. In particular, it targets only one aspect of literacy - writing. Literacy, however, involves both writing and reading. In fact, reading is the most fundamental mode of learning at university and students are expected to independently read textbooks and critically analyse academic research papers. So although a lecture on how to write is useful, students who cannot read independently require much more scaffolding and support.

Integrated and embedded support

What would be an example of fully integrated and embedded support?
Full integration involves teaching reading and writing strategies in tandem with the teaching of content. The best example of this in action in the Business School is CISS2001 which has a 3 week teaching and learning cycle. Weeks 1 and 2 involve the teaching of disciplinary content while the third week is dedicated to the teaching of relevant literacy skills (scanning, summary writing, how to research databases, referencing and plagiarism, paraphrasing, note-making and report writing). Each 'skill' lecture in the curriculum cycle is followed by a one hour tutorial that supports students in developing hands-on mastery of each skill, in small groups, in a contextualised way.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of full integration?
The advantage of the fully integrated model is that it actively supports the transfer of literacy skills to assessment tasks by scaffolding the students incrementally, towards independent learning. The disadvantage of this model is its time and resource intensiveness. It not only involves the embedding of the teaching of literacy into the curriculum but it requires the embedding of the literacy practitioner into the disciplinary teaching team as they work alongside the lecturers and tutors to assist students.

Student reading and writing notes