Opening up spaces through symbolic objects: harnessing students' resources in developing academic literacy practices in engineering.

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English Studies in Africa

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

This article reports on one aspect of my PhD study, which I undertook as a teacher-researcher in the context of a first year Communication Course in a South African engineering foundation programme. The programme caters for students from less advantaged educational backgrounds and the course focuses on developing students' academic literacy in English. I argue that less regulated spaces need to be created in the curriculum in order to allow student resources to emerge and to be validated. These resources include English, indigenous languages, local knowledges, personal experience and multimodal competencies. By less regulated spaces, I mean classroom environments which require open tasks with no strict generic guidelines specified. Also, classroom environments which place less emphasis on assessment and more emphasis on creativity, and the use of students' own resources. I analyse the texts the students produce in one of these less regulated spaces in order to identify and describe the discourses that they draw on and propagate. Once visible, these discourses become resources for both teacher and students to draw on. I attempt to suspend 'teacherly' judgement, put learning and the formal curriculum aside and look at students' texts free of a norm-driven, evaluative eye in order to see the ways in which traces of their lives manifest.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in English Studies in Africa on 30 January 2009. Available online: