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Unisan awarded a coveted Fulbright grant

Maxine Schaefer, a PhD student in Linguistics and Modern Languages, has been awarded a Fulbright Visiting Student Researcher grant for the 2022/2023 academic year to conduct nine months’ research in the United States of America (USA). She has been invited to conduct research with Professor Cindy Brantmeier at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

During this time, Schaefer proposes to conduct a conceptual replication of an aspect of her PhD project already completed in South Africa. Her PhD examines how phonological processing skills develop and support reading in children’s first language (isiXhosa or isiZulu) and second language (English) from Grade 1 to Grade 3.

Maxine Schaefer

Phonological processing skills are essential for learning to read in that they help children notice and manipulate the sounds in their language (phonological awareness), store orally presented information for use in the short term (working memory) and access sounds and sound-based information from long-term memory (rapid automatised naming).

Conceptual replications involve following a similar methodology to an existing study while changing certain aspects of the study (such as the sample) to determine whether the findings still hold in a new context. Conceptual replications help to extend, or limit, theories to certain contexts.

In this case, the sample of participants in the USA will include Spanish-English bilinguals. The research project details are still being finalised. This research opportunity will allow Schaefer to extend the findings of her PhD to comment on which aspects of literacy development are language specific and which are language universal. If some aspects of phonological processing and literacy develop universally, then research from all over the world in different languages can be applied to different contexts. However, if aspects are language specific, then more research must be done in each language to determine how best to teach reading. This research contributes to a better understanding of early-grade reading and the goal of getting all children reading with meaning, highlighted as a priority by the 2030 Reading Panel.

Schaefer is very excited about the opportunity to extend her research into a new context, and to work with a leader in the field. She is eager to meet and network with new colleagues, and to learn skills that can be brought back and shared in South Africa. Specifically, she hopes to develop her skills in open science practices such as preregistration and open data sharing to ensure more transparency in the research process. The Fulbright grants are awarded to foster cultural exchange. Schaefer is looking forward to sharing her South African experience with whomever she meets and participating in North American traditions and day-to-day experiences.

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*By Tebogo Mahlaela, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Human Sciences.

Publish date: 2022/05/11