Demonstrating competence in Discourse/discourse

I’ve recently been involved with assessing portfolios of evidence and Reflective Accounts of Professional Practice (RAPPs) for the latest round of applications for TEAP Fellows. These require applicants to demonstrate they are working at masters level, as specified in the original TEAP Competency Framework:

[…] where practitioners are expected to demonstrate a systematic understanding of the main theoretical areas of a discipline and critical awareness of current issues and problems. They should be able to exercise independent initiative to make complex decisions, plan tasks or deal with problems in the absence of complete or consistent information. They should show a commitment to continue to develop professionally (BALEAP, 2008).

In the recent revision of the Competency Framework for inclusion in the Handbook for the Individual Accreditation Scheme applicants must make claims and provide evidence of their values, knowledge and activity relating to four main areas: planning & design, teaching & learning, assessment & feedback, scholarship & development. My experience of portfolio assessment has highlighted several areas where applicants can struggle to understand the criteria or provide sufficient evidence of practice. Here, in contrast, I want to highlight two recent applications which were effective in one of these areas: the analysis involved in course design & planning.

Retrieved from

TEAP accreditation can be achieved at one of three levels: Associate, Fellow or Senior Fellow. An Associate applicant may be relatively new to the EAP profession, perhaps teaching on a pre-sessional or international foundation programme. Their range of experience may be quite narrow as they may never have had opportunities to design a syllabus or materials for other teachers. Nevertheless, the TEAP Handbook makes clear that, ‘Although EAP teachers may have little input to course and syllabus design, they do need to understand the design principles in order to enact the syllabus components appropriately in their classrooms’ (p9).

A recent Associate Fellow application took an innovative approach to demonstrating understanding of syllabus design by analysing and contrasting the approaches in the pre-sessional syllabuses of two different institutions where they had taught in pre-sessional courses. The practitioner identified the syllabus type (content-based or process-based) and the different types of feedback that each type required, together with the role and authority of the teacher and how this impacted their teaching. These observations were supported with evidence from recent literature, thus demonstrating knowledge of underlying syllabus design principles.

An accreditation for Senior Fellow does require the applicant to have experience of course design, across a range of levels (both language proficiency and study level, e.g. undergraduate/postgraduate/research). This usually involves the discourse analysis of subject-specific texts for use in syllabus and materials design. However, in Transnational Education (TNE) contexts, such a range may not be available in cases where the EAP programmes only exist at foundation level and employ a general approach to language teaching.

A recent Senior Fellow applicant took an innovative approach to the kind of discourse analysis that might precede syllabus design. By reviewing arguments as to whether EAP should be ‘accommodationist’, enabling students to fit into existing structures of power and patterns of discourse, or ‘transformative’, seeking to challenge and change these (Lillis, McCullan and Tuck, 2018), they were able to display a nuanced understanding of the constraints of syllabus design within their context, taking account of the attitudes of various stakeholders (students, teachers, managers and colleagues in the wider context).  They demonstrated their discourse analysis competence with an emphasis on Big D rather than a Small d approach (Gee, 2015), as Gee (2015) explains:

“Big ‘D’ Discourse” (“Discourse” spelled with a capital “D”) is meant to capture the ways in which people enact and recognize socially and historically significant identities or “kinds of people” through well-integrated combinations of language, actions, interactions, objects, tools, technologies, beliefs, and values. The notion stresses how “discourse” (language in use among people) is always also a “conversation” among different historically formed Discourses (that is, a “conversation” among different socially and historically significant kinds of people or social groups). The notion of “Big ‘D’ Discourse” sets a larger context for the analysis of “discourse” (with a little “d”), that is, the analysis of language in use.

In both these applications for Associate and Senior Fellow of BALEAP, the applicants were able to interpret the criteria for course design creatively to argue that the evidence of their practice demonstrated underlying principles, knowledge and practitioner competence.

Gee, James Paul (2015) Discourse, Small D, Big D in The International Encyclopedia of Language and Social Interaction: Wiley, online at

Lilis, T., McCullan, J. and Tuck, J. (2018) ‘Gender and Academic Writing’ Journal of English for Academic Purposes 32 pp1-8

Author: Olwyn Alexander

I'm an author and researcher in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I collaborated with two friends and colleagues, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, to write EAP Essentials: a teacher's guide to principles and practice, now in its second edition. Sue and I also wrote the course book series, Access EAP: Foundations and Frameworks.

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