The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

EAP Perspectives

I spent the weekend at an EAP event at the University of Bristol Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies. Sadly, this summer I'm not going to be doing my usual teaching stint there because of other work commitments. As that 'other work' involves writing EAP materials though, I was keen to go along to find out what other EAP teachers are thinking and doing. It's often said that it's relatively easy to write classroom materials to use yourself - you know how you like to teach, you know why you've chosen the materials, what you want to get out of them, how long you're likely to spend on each task and of course, you've chosen the source material because it appeals to you or will be just right for your students. One of the biggest challenges of writing materials for publication is in creating something that's clear, accessible, relevant and appealing to teachers with a wide range of teaching styles and approaches, different levels of knowledge and experience, and faced with all sorts of teaching contexts. And although you chat to colleagues in the staffroom, it tends to be more about admin or that awkward problem student than really what you're doing in the classroom.  So an event where a group of EAP teachers from different institutions were getting together to discuss teaching was a great opportunity to collect some insights and ideas to help in my writing.

I went along with the intention of sitting quietly in the corner as an observer, soaking up as much as possible of what everyone else was saying, but anyone who knows me, will tell you that it's just not in my nature to keep quiet! I just can't resist a good discussion and soon found my hand creeping up. I still managed to do a lot of listening though and made lots of mental notes about different ideas and perspectives. There were far too many interesting points raised and discussed to talk about here (and some I may come back to in later posts), but a few of the things that particularly piqued my interest were:
  • the difference between 'corpus-driven' and 'corpus-informed' materials
  • the place of the discursive essay across different academic disciplines and whether it's the most useful form of writing to teach on a general EAP course
  • the influence of new UK immigration rules on who can apply for student visas here and the implications for how we label courses and materials by level
  • the balance between teaching academic skills and language on an EAP course
On that final point, I'd always been rather on the side of including more language work in EAP courses and have felt  frustrated by courses that are so dominated by academic skills that there's little or no time left for work on vocabulary or grammar. On Sunday though, I found myself partly won over by the idea that on a very short pre-sessional course, at least, you're unlikely to make a huge amount of difference to a student's overall language level, but if you can equip them with some basic academic skills and help them to be more prepared for the academic context then that will go a long way towards making up for any language deficit and carrying them through the year to come.

Sometimes, it's really good to have your assumptions and beliefs challenged a bit and to feel your views shifting slightly.  Thanks to everyone who provided so much food for thought over the weekend, it gave me plenty to ponder and may well prompt some more posts ...

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Anonymous Dustin Hosseini said...

Hi J,

I agree with you about how teachers perhaps focus on the daily events or quirks that come up.

I personally wish that there were perhaps more events at other universities like the one you attended, as these appear to be a good time to come together as professionals and discuss our own values as educators regarding the issues in teaching, for example, EAP. Such events are invaluable for newcomers to the field of teaching EAP, but they can also be constructive in terms of CPD for experienced teachers.

I agree with you on the point regarding academic 'skills' vs. language. Personally, I feel that writing could receive more attention, as this is perhaps the most important skill for non-L1 English students entering an L1 English medium university.

From my own professional experience of teaching EAP, I have found that some students have difficulties in constructing logical arguments, in which one point flows logically from one to the next. On the contrary, at times I see my students' writing as containing quite a few logical fallacies. This is one area, perhaps, that is not focused on when it comes to EAP course materials.

So, one area that could be focused upon is the teaching of informal logic and how this can help students construct coherent and effective lines of argument that are relatively free of logical fallacies, as argumentative writing is used across the disciplines for a variety of purposes.

Just my thoughts...

Dustin H.

6:55 pm  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

Hi Dustin!

Thanks for your comments - nice to see your name cropping up :)

I know what you mean about the false logic issue - sometimes students write something apparently fairly fluent, but then when you think about it, you realise their ideas don't actually follow. It's a point I'm hoping to tackle in future materials, so watch this space!

What sort of students are you teaching at the moment?


7:28 pm  

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