Original Research

Voice matters: Students’ struggle to find voice

Toni Gennrich, Laura Dison
Reading & Writing | Vol 9, No 1 | a173 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v9i1.173 | © 2018 Toni Gennrich, Laura Dison | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 August 2017 | Published: 15 November 2018

About the author(s)

Toni Gennrich, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Laura Dison, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


Often, at universities, it is assumed that students will automatically find their ‘voice’ after a period of exposure to the academic field. What is not understood fully are the struggles that students with different levels of preparedness have in finding and asserting their academic voice, particularly in the academic writing genres necessary for success. There is a clear link between students’ ability to exercise voice and their achievement levels. The data focussed on in this article were drawn from a large assessment study that aimed at reaching an in-depth understanding of why first-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) students experience difficulty with their assessment tasks. Focus groups were held with 18 first-year volunteer BEd students. In particular, we focussed on the unique insights emerging from the data about the challenges students face in finding their voice. We identified how a lack of understanding of the purpose of assessment contributes to these struggles. Other factors that contributed to this are difficulties with the genre of academic writing, challenges with vocabulary and positioning oneself in relation to the theory. Many students appeared not to feel a sense of agency or confidence in their capabilities and have poor self-efficacy beliefs. These aspects were underpinned by the requirements of assessment and necessitate that lecturers develop pedagogical strategies to make the acquisition of voice more explicit.


voice; assessment; academic writing; vocabulary; genre; self-efficacy; first-year students


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