Reading four perspectives on transition
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Reading Four Perspectives on Transition:. English Literature from Sixth Form to University. Purposes. To explore uses and purposes of reading at post-16 and university levels and their impact on student learning;

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Reading four perspectives on transition

ReadingFour Perspectives on Transition:

English Literature from Sixth Form to University



  • To explore uses and purposes of reading at post-16 and university levels and their impact on student learning;

  • To evaluate how effectively study post-16 prepares students for university reading;

  • To consider assessment post-16 and its impact on student reading and attitudes to reading;

  • To identify differences in expectation and perception of reading between post-16 and university.

Context and population

The report is structured to take account of the views of four major stakeholder groups in the process of transition and thus to gain a multiplicity of views of “common ground”.

Sixth form students;

Sixth form teachers and lecturers;

First year undergraduate students;

University lecturers.

Context and Population

Institutions surveyed

To gain a balanced view of practice and perspectives from across both sectors the following institutions were surveyed:

post-16 institutions, covering the maintained, further education and independent sectors within England;

English higher education institutions, including pre-1992 institutions, post-1992 institutions and higher education colleges.

Institutions surveyed

Approaches to reading


DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Texts);

Drama-based approaches to reading;

Theoretical, critical and contextual reading.

Approaches to reading

Pre reading

Secures basic textual knowledge before teaching;

Allows students opportunities to formulate their own initial responses;

Maximises contact time;

Ensures most students are prepared for the session.



Pre-reading is commonly set at both levels;

Leads to increased confidence to contribute in teaching sessions;

Distinction between nature and quantity of pre-reading demands;

Post-16: reading often limited and supported by focus materials;

Undergraduate: often more extensive and unsupported;

Copious, unstructured reading demandsdifficult for new undergraduates.


Darts directed activities related to texts lunzer gardner 1979

Text-based activities (e.g. sequencing, tabulation, cloze, prediction, etc.);

Sometimes or often used by 95% of Sixth Form teachers;

Sometimes or often used by only 25% of HE lecturers.

DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Texts) –Lunzer & Gardner (1979)


Useful for varying reading experience;

Directs focus of reading;

Can be used to prepare students for teaching sessions;

Sudden withdrawal of such activities at university must impact on learning;

Could be gainfully employed to help structure independent study.


Drama and reading

Drama and reading

Undergraduate students:

87% — never;

13% — sometimes;

0% — often.

Sixth form students:

48% — never;

49% — sometimes;

3% — often.


The act of reading is about dramatic interaction with text;

Readers employ a range of dramatic strategies in reading (e.g. “voicing” characters; creating settings; interrogating situations);

The absence of such strategies within much Sixth Form and almost all university teaching removes important reading tools from the process of teaching.


Use of theoretical and critical reading

Use of theoretical and critical reading

47% of undergraduates state it is sometimes used in seminars and 49% that it is often employed.

72% of post-16 students say this is sometimes 19% that it is often used in teaching.


Widely employed at both levels;

Markedly more prevalent in higher education;

Students unable to offer detailed comment on the benefits of this approach;

Suggests students are aware of importance but unable to relate to this;

Lack of metacognitive response evidences gap between school and university practice;

Core area of concern to university departments wishing to improve student transition.


Assessment and reading

Assessment and reading

  • Curriculum 2000 heavily assessment-driven;

  • Post-16 teaching tightly linked to Assessment Objectives;

  • Has led to narrowing and specific targeting of student experience of reading;

  • Retakes lead to problems of grade inflation and maintain narrow focus of reading;

  • System discourages cognitive risk-taking and breadth of reading;

  • Universities’ pragmatic response to Curriculum 2000 has tended to reinforce rather than challenge this system.

Preparation for university

Reading is one of the key abilities and qualities necessary in order to succeed in an English degree.

Students need to apply:

application and organisation;

intellectual curiosity;

wide reading and synthesis skills;

critical and analytical thinking;

research skills;

theoretical reading.

Preparation for university


However …

“It is apparent that the abrupt change from limited intensive reading pre-higher education to wide-ranging, extensive, contextualised reading in higher education is a major stumbling block for a significant number of students.” (Smith, 2004: 91)

Although there appears to be a broad consensus on the importance of reading, coincidence of terminology actually serves to mask deep differences in expectation and perception.

Conclusions and recommendations

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Explore where gaps in perceptions of the purpose and nature of reading exist between Sixth Form and university subject paradigms;

  • Seek ways to encourage student risk-taking and breadth in reading;

  • Develop proactive rather than reactive programmes to assist students in learning to cope with the planning and execution of reading in the university context.

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