Challenges faced by Intermediate Phase learners

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The preceding chapter was a review of literature pertinent to this study. This chapter describes the methodological procedures to acquire the data required to describe the challenges faced by Intermediate Phase learners in reading in selected schools in Mondlo Ward in Vryheid District. The main research question for this study is “What are the challenges faced by Intermediate Phase learners in reading?” The chapter deals with the following areas: research method, qualitative research, phenomenological approach, research design, data collection, and data analysis and presentation.

Research method

Qualitative research was used for this study because this research method investigates phenomena in their natural setting so that one can learn what participants are thinking, and more importantly, why they think and act the way they do (Minichielo & Kottler, 2010:12) According to Creswell (2007), qualitative research begins with assumptions, worldviews that provide the basis of the design. The aim of this investigation is to describe and interpret challenges faced by learners in reading in the Intermediate Phase. The qualitative research method requires the researcher to be the research instrument (Maritz & Visagie, 2010:9). McMillan and Schumacher (2001:396) explained the role of the qualitative researcher as being “immersed in the situation and the phenomenon studied”. The qualitative methodology seems to be an appropriate option because of its features as indicated by Eisner (1991:32-40). These features are as follows:
• Qualitative research tends to be field-focused.
• Qualitative research is interpretive in nature. Inquires endeavour to account for what they have given an account of.
• Qualitative inquiries display the use of expressive language and the presence of voice in the text.
• Qualitative research focuses on participants.
Thus qualitative investigations lend themselves to a variety of methods to interpret, analyse and understand. Their research design and process is steeped in natural interactions and social context, making it imperative for the researcher to acknowledge his or her participation in the research context and to interrogate reflexively his or her effects on the data gathered.
Le Compte & Preissle (1993:92-93) argued that the qualitative inquirer is perceived as subjective and that this stand ignores the fact that qualitative research is distinguished by its admission of the subjective perception and biases of both participants and researcher into the research frame. The subjectivities of participants are usually a major part of what inquires seek to capture in their records.
Qualitative research is based on the interpretation of data collected from individuals. The meaning ascribed to the setting is therefore personal experiences as constructed by those researching and being researched in a particular site. The acknowledgement of the location of reason and hence of science in “tradition” immediately introduces an unacceptable subjectivity, thus destroying the objectivity of science. This investigation acknowledges the ‘positive intentions’ of all the participants involved in the research process. Verification processes guiding the drawing of conclusions endeavours to ensure that the subjectivities purported in the investigation are useful.
Donald, Lazarus & Lolwana (2006:83) opined that constructivism does not see knowledge as given but as actively and continually constructed by individuals. Knowledge gained is not passive but is actively constructed. Neuman (2011:72) emphasised that the interpretive approach in a qualitative research analyses social actions in their natural setting, through direct and detailed observation, in order to understand and interpret meaning in their social world.
Another form of qualitative study is observation. Nunan (2008) stated that classroom observation may involve stimulated recall in which the researcher transcribes or records sections of a lesson and thereafter gets a teacher or a learner to comment on what was happening at the time the lesson was taking place. For the purpose of this study, the researcher audio recorded a learner while reading to her and played back the audio recorded to the learner to comment on his or her reading problems.

Characteristics of qualitative research

Creswell (2007:37-39) identified the following characteristics of qualitative research:
• Researchers tend to collect data in the field at the site where participants experience the problem under study.
• Researchers collect data themselves through examining documents, observing behaviour and interviewing participants.
• The researchers gather multiple forms of data rather than rely on a single data source.
• In the entire qualitative research process, researchers keep a focus on learning the meaning that the participants hold about the problem, not the meaning that the researchers bring to the research.
• Qualitative researchers try to develop a complex and holistic view of social phenomena.
• Qualitative research is a form of inquiry in which researchers make an interpretation of what they see, hear and understand. The researchers’ interpretation cannot be separated from their own background, history and context.
These qualities reinforce the view that qualitative research is a naturalistic inquiry that seeks to discover the meanings that people have, which will be evident in this study.

Research design

Research design may be viewed as a plan, structure, and strategy for conducting research (Punch, 2004:149; Kumar, 2005:84). Creswell (2003) highlighted that a qualitative research approach has multiple meanings of individual experiences, socially and historically constructed for the purpose of developing a theory or pattern. Research design is a plan of action focused on such issues as subject selection, data collection, and data analysis and interpretation in a manner which is unique to the type of research being conducted.
Research design for this study is specific to qualitative research and therefore determines how subjects are to be selected, how data will be collected and analysed, and also how results will be interpreted. Another feature of qualitative research is that data is presented in a narrative description. Lewis (2008:47) is of the idea that a good qualitative research design is one which has a clearly defined purpose in which there is coherence between the research question and the methods or approaches proposed and which generates data that is valid and reliable. Bogdan & Taylor (1975) revealed that qualitative research should be understood against the background of two theoretical viewpoints, namely, positivism and phenomenology.


The researcher used phenomenology as a research design for this study because phenomenology is a way to access the world as people experience it; pre-reflectively it is also an approach that focuses on people’s lived experiences regarding a phenomenon under study. Johnson & Christensen (2008:337) brought out that the aim of phenomenological research is to understand the meaning that people attach to their experiences. They further explained that phenomenologist generally assume that there is some commonality in human experience and they seek to understand this commonality. The purpose of a phenomenological study is to describe and interpret the experiences of participants regarding a particular event in order to understand the participants’ meanings ascribed to that event. The basis of phenomenology is that there are multiple ways of interpreting the same experience and that the meaning of the experience for each participant is what constitutes reality.
Creswell (2007:58) identified two types of phenomenology. These are hermeneutical phenomenology and transcendental phenomenology:
• Hermeneutical phenomenology described research as orientated towards lived experiences and interpreting them.
• Transcendental phenomenology is focused less on interpretations of the research and more on the descriptions of the experiences of participants.
This study will adopt both these types of phenomenology, as this will enable the researcher to collect information pertaining to the lived experiences of the participants. In phenomenological research, the concept epoche, which is the suspension of belief, has an important significance because the epoche describes the ways that the researcher needs to open the reader’s mind to the world as it is experienced and free from presuppositions.
Epoche involves bracketing or suspending one’s experiences and prejudices regarding the phenomenon under study. According to Vagle (2014:67), the researcher brackets “past knowledge about the phenomenon encountered, in order to be fully present to it as it is in the concrete situation in which one is encountering it”. The essence of bracketing is that pre-understandings are restrained so that people do not attempt to make a definite of what is indefinite as the researcher actively waits for the phenomenon – and its meaning(s) – to show itself. This enables researchers to set aside their experiences in order to take a fresh perspective of the phenomenon under examination (Creswell, 2007:485).
Morgan & Embree (2004:2) postulated that phenomenology may be initially characterised in a broad sense as seeking an unprejudiced, descriptive account of consciousness, as it appears. This enables the researcher to set aside their experiences in order to observe a phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2007:485). This is in line with transcendental phenomenology where transcendental phenomena are the experiential entities that may become the objects of people’s reflection regarding the meaning of objects they encounter in the world (Van Manen 2013:90). In this study, the researcher will try her best to suspend her experiences gained during her teaching experience.
The method of investigation from the phenomenological perspective is the qualitative method, which seeks an understanding of how people interpret their environment, through procedures such as participant observation, interviews, and personal documents. Information obtained through this method enables the researcher to see the world as it is perceived by his subjects.
According to Patton (2002:96), in phenomenological research, the following concepts deserve special attention: constructivism and constructionism. Constructivism focuses on the meaning-making activity of the individual mind, whereas constructionism focuses on the collective generation and transmission of meaning.
Constructivism suggests that each one’s way of making sense of the word is valid and worthy of respect as any other, thereby tending to scotch any hint of a critical spirit. Creswell (2007:21) used the concept social constructivism. According to Creswell (2007:21), individuals develop subjective meanings of their experiences directed towards certain objects or things; these subjective meanings are negotiated socially and historically. A common theme that emerges in these definitions is that reality is socially constructed. Most qualitative researchers (Saria & Kutsuse, 1994, cited in Minichillo & Kottler, 2010:23) and constructivists draw their views by looking at the ways people give meaning to their experiences and their interaction with others.
This study will adopt the two concepts of constructivism and constructionism in the research design methodology. The data gathering will be unstructured in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.
The researcher will take into account the above characteristics when conducting the study, which will take place in a natural setting at the identified schools. The researcher will have face-to-face interaction with the participants in order to understand the problem under study. The researcher will have face-to-face interaction in the classroom context to observe and collect data on learners with reading problems.



A qualitative study focuses on phenomena that occur in a natural setting and involves studying those phenomena in all their complexity through an in-depth study (De Vos, 1998) Purposive sampling will be used for this qualitative study. Le Compte (2003:43) indicated that purposive sampling is a sampling procedure whereby the population may or may not be accurately represented. According to Nunan (2008:142), purposive sample is a type of sampling where subjects are handpicked by the researcher from a population. Creswell (2008:215) stated that in purposeful sampling, researchers intentionally select participants to understand the phenomenon. Every researcher must also acknowledge that the intended sample might differ from the obtained sample because some people might choose not to participate. Regarding the selection of participants, a purposive sample is based on the characteristics that the participants hold and which are deemed by the researcher to be crucial to understanding the phenomenon being investigated (Singleton & Straits, 2010:173). Selecting appropriate proportions of subgroup populations using the variables was considered to be important in the qualitative component.
Purposive sampling will be used to select three primary schools among 25 primary schools in Mondlo ward under the Vryheid District. Intermediate Phase learners (grade 4 to 6) from these schools will be purposefully selected to participate in the research. The three schools (schools with Intermediate Phase) with more reading problems in the district were selected according to the availability of information-rich participants who are likely to be knowledgeable about the phenomena that the researcher was investigating (McMillan & Schumacher, 2006:319). Three Intermediate Phase classes will be selected per school; in total, nine classrooms will be observed. The subgroup populations will be Intermediate Phase English language educators, principals, principals of selected schools and an English subject advisor. A purposive sample will be used to select schools for classroom observation and interviews.

Sampling methods

In this study, purposeful sampling strategies will be used. Purposeful sampling refers to the selection of information-rich cases for an in-depth study when the researcher wants to understand phenomena (Leedy, 1993:201). The criterion for site selection will be the school’s geographical context, and isiZulu is their first language and English is the medium of instruction. The assumption is that learners with a good foundation in first language (L1) reading would be able to transfer their reading skills to second language (L2). It was decided by the researcher to observe English reading lessons presented by the educator in the Intermediate Phase learners in the selected schools.

Criteria for sample selection

The sample selection took into consideration knowledge of the subject on the issues to be investigated. Bogdan & Taylor (1975:102) pointed out that subjects should be able to express their feelings freely on the subject so that the implication of the matter on their lives can become clear to the researcher.
The sample to be used in this investigation will be Intermediate Phase learners from schools in Mondlo ward Vryheid District. The Intermediate Phase learners form the sample because it is expected that they have mastered the basic mechanics of reading (word recognition and comprehension) and will be in a position to read across the curriculum. In the Intermediate Phase, the medium of instruction is English, which is the second language, and learners have to undertake more formal reading. The highest failure rate is experienced in this phase (National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) (2007). The investigation will indicate the challenges faced by Intermediate Phase learners in reading.
The criterion for identifying learner participant will be that the researcher wished to include learners having one or more of the following reading problems:
• lack of vocabulary
• lack of phonological awareness skills
• lack of decoding skills
• lack of comprehension skills
Information about the learners’ general performance was obtained from the educators’ assessment records. It was then confirmed with the learners who were selected for the study.
For each grade, children will be sampled from different grades belonging to different schools so that the probability of teaching method effects would be greatly reduced. This sample will consist of four learners per grade and per selected school in the Intermediate Phase. The sample will include learners with reading problems. The researcher will select these learners using educators’ reading assessment record.

The sample size in selected schools

The question of sample size is still debatable in qualitative research. It appears that there is no formula for sample size, as the most important issue is the in-depth study of the phenomenon under investigation. Kumar (2005:165) opined that in qualitative research, a sample size has little significance because the main aim of most qualitative research is either to explore or describe the diversity in a situation, phenomenon or issue. In qualitative research, the sample size is typically small. The sample size for this study will consist of 36 Intermediate Phase learners, nine English educators, three principals, and one Intermediate Phase English subject advisor.

Data collection

The researcher opted to use observations and unstructured interviews. The observations have the innate advantage of drawing the observer into the phenomenological study.
The primary strategy of in-depth unstructured interviews is to capture the deep meaning of experience in the participants’ own words (Marshall & Rossman, 2006:101). The in-depth interview is a repeated face-to-face encounter between the researcher and informants, directed towards understanding informants’ perspectives on their lives, experiences or situations as expressed in their own words. The aim is to obtain an account of the research participants’ lived experiences regarding a phenomenon under investigation to help the researcher to develop an insight on how their subjects interpret the world.

Unstructured in-depth interviews

In-depth unstructured interviews play a crucial role in qualitative research, as they enable the perception and experiences of research participants. In-depth qualitative interviews provide an opportunity for a detailed investigation of each person’s perspective for an in-depth understanding of the personal context within which the research phenomenology is located (Marshall & Rossman, 2006:101).
Qualitative interviewing begins with an assumption that the perspective of the other is meaningful, knowledgeable and able to be made explicit (Patton, 2002:341). Mason (2002:62) argued that most qualitative research operates from the perspective that knowledge is situated and contextual; therefore, the interview ensures that the relevant contexts are brought into focus so that situated knowledge can be produced.
Marshall & Rossman (2006:101) described the unstructured interview or informal conversational interview as an open situation. Its main purpose is to capture deep meaning of experience in the participant’s own words. He further stated that an unstructured interview is characterised by having greater flexibility and freedom to respond according to one’s feelings. In an unstructured interview, therefore, no questions are prepared in advance. Obviously, data collected by an unstructured interview will differ from one respondent to another.
An advantage of the informal conversational interview is that it allows respondents to reveal in a relatively unrestricted manner their perceptions of their world or themselves (Bogdan & Taylor, 1975:6). On the other hand, the unstructured interview is associated with a phenomenological approach (Patton, 1980:198). It was therefore adopted as an instrument for data collection in this study because of its ability to allow subjects to state their perceptions in an unrestricted manner.
In this study, in-depth unstructured interviews will be conducted in three selected schools. An audio recorder will be used to record selected learners while reading, and the recorder will be played back to each learner so that the learner will listen to himself or herself, and the researcher will then ask the learner about his or her reading problem(s) as identified in the learner’s reading. The interviews will also be recorded, and all collected data will be transcribed.


Advantages of interviews

According to Cohen, Manion & Morrison (2011:277), the following are the advantages of the interview as a research instrument:
• Interviews are flexible, and an idea can be explored. This makes it possible to check how people are interpreting the questionnaire.
• People are generally better at expressing their views verbally than in writing.
• All items can be explained or rephrased by the interview so as to obtain a clearer response from the respondent. This avoids misunderstanding of the questionnaire.
• Interviewees can explain their answers.
• The interviewer can reassure and encourage the interviewee.
• It makes rechecking of responses possible.
• Questions are treated independently.

Disadvantages of interviews

According to Cohen, Manion & Morrison (2011:277), interviews also have disadvantages, namely:
• Interviewers have to be carefully trained. The responses of the interviewee can be compromised if the interviewer is not constant.
• No anonymity due to the presence of interviewer.
• It is difficult to analyse responses to open-ended questions.
• There is less uniformity in questions and responses. The manner and tone with which the question is asked may influence the respondent’s answer.
• The respondents may be less frank when answering questions of a personal nature.
• Interviews can be subjective and bias on the part of “leading on” or influence the interviewee’s responses. If interviewee and the interviewer know each other, there may be a tendency for the interviewee to give information that the interviewer would like to hear.
In the preparation and conducting of the interviews, the researcher took into account the advantages and disadvantages of interviews.

Data collection method

Although qualitative researchers specify the research instruments used in the collection of their research data when they begin synthesising and analysing their data, it is critical for the researcher to know exactly how data will be collected before entering the study situation. This does not mean that the researcher will not continuously check whether the data meant to be gathered is satisfactorily gathered by the methods used and that the research question(s) are adequately answered.
The methods of data collection used in qualitative research are observations, interviews and documentary data collection (McMillan & Schumacher, 2001:248). This study used mostly observation as a tool which made it possible for the researcher to understand challenges that learners face in reading.


Observing by being there

Field observation is fundamental to qualitative research (Mouton, 2003:133). This technique is useful in the exploratory stages, getting a feel for situations. This is the case because it would be difficult to compare observations made without a common agenda and there would be a high risk of missing out significant things. An observation schedule is essential when visiting the school for the first time. The researcher will be responsible for the school and classroom observation.

Participant observations

Participant observation is a way of collecting primary data. It is a purposeful systematic and selective way of watching and listening to the phenomenon as it takes place. In the observation, both the researcher and participants are strategically positioned throughout the research process to gather data grounded in context. Their role in this process cannot be taken for granted. Before embarking on the discussion of their role in the qualitative research, it is appropriate to explicate briefly observation as an instrument of qualitative research that endeavours to establish what challenges learners encounter in reading (Drew, et al; 2008:195). According to Sousa (2005:136), educators may use checklists as an indication of whether the learner displays difficulties in reading.
Kumar (2005:118) highlighted that there are two types of participant observations, that is, participation observation and non-participation observation. For the purpose of this study, the researcher selected non-participant observation because the researcher will be a passive observer observing how educators engage learners in teaching reading. The researcher will watch and listen to the activities in order to draw a conclusion from the observation.

The observation schedule

The observation schedule outlines the inquiry for the school and classroom observation in terms of physical setting and the resources for reading. The observation will include the interactional setting, describing the lessons and teaching resources (Nunan, 2008). The researcher will observe reading lessons.

Personal document study

Personal documents such as timetable will be analysed to verify whether there is any period assigned for reading. The researcher used the educators’ mark sheet to check the reading performance of learners. The National Protocol for Assessment Grade R-12 (Department of Education (DoE), 2010:5) indicated that promotion requirements from grade to grade should be within the appropriate age cohort. The year-end schedule will be analysed to check the manner in which learners with reading problems progressed from grade to grade.

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Analysis of the problem
1.3 Significance of the study
1.4 Aim of the study
1.5 Theoretical framework
1.6 Preliminary literature review
1.7 Essential components of good reading
1.8 Strategies to improve reading
1.9 Factors that influence reading
1.10 Research method and design
1.11 Trustworthiness of the research
1.12 Ethical considerations
1.13 Definition of terms
1.14 Plan of study
1.15 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Theoretical rationale of reading and reading problems
2.3 Models of reading
2.4 Development of reading ability
2.5 Approaches to training the reader
2.6 Prior knowledge
2.7 Reading acquisition
2.8 Stages of reading acquisition
2.9 Factors that impact reading
2.10 Sequential memory
2.11 Reading readiness
2.12 Reading materials
2.13 Challenges faced by Intermediate Phase learners
2.14 Factors affecting reading readiness
2.15 Characteristics of learners with reading problems in the Intermediate Phase
2.16 Symptoms of reading disability
2.17 Addressing reading in South Africa
2.18 Stages of reading development
2.19 Identification of reading difficulties
2.20 Early indications of reading difficulties
2.21 Manifestation of reading difficulties
2.22 The relationship between reading ability and academic performance
2.23 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research method
3.3 Research design
3.4 Sampling
3.5 Data collection
3.6 Data analysis
3.7 Ethical considerations
3.8 Protection from harm
3.9 Exposure to the programme
3.10 The right to withdrawal
3.11 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Findings from the interviews
4.3 Findings analysis of data and discussion: Individual unstructured interviews with learners
4.4 The profile of educator participants
4.5 Demographic details of school principals
4.6 Interview with the subject advisor
4.7 Characteristics of the schools
4.8 Observation of reading lesson
4.9 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Summary of findings
5.3 Summary of findings from the qualitative study
5.4 Summary of findings from interview with learners
5.5 Summary of findings from interview with educators, principals and subject advisor
5.6 Summary of findings from focus group discussion with educators
5.7 Summary of findings from class observations
5.8 Conclusions from empirical study
5.9 Limitations of the study
5.10 Recommendations
5.11 Proposed guidelines to improve reading in the Intermediate Phase
5.12 Recommendations for further research
5.13 Conclusion

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