How can we teach with methods we haven’t tried outselves?

This a guest post from Jenifer Spencer, co-author of EAP Essentials.

In January, I signed on to the Coventry University FutureLearn MOOC Understanding Dictionaries just as the corona storm started to develop. It has been an enriching experience to me as a teacher and a student of the language. The course was excellent and informative, but added to this, I gained first-hand experience of acquiring knowledge and developing my own skills through this mode of learning. As departments and staff join the rush to put courses online, this was a timely reminder of the potential value of online study, from a student perspective. Despite having researched, developed and delivered a range of online courses over my teaching career, I realised I had never actually undertaken a course of online study myself!

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Covid-19: threats and opportunities.

Opportunities and experiences of moving to online pre-sessional teaching.

The Covid-19 pandemic has the UK in lockdown with the cancellation of sporting and cultural events and the closure of schools, sports facilities, museums and art galleries. Those with desk-based jobs at the university have been asked to work from home, the library is shut and the campus may soon close completely. It would be easy to panic in these extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, supermarket shelves are empty of products such as toilet rolls and pasta, and shoppers are being restricted in the amount of some products they can buy. However frightening the situation feels, it is still possible to see opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Focusing on these helps me to stay positive and deal more easily with the prescribed social isolation.

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Paraphrasing & summarising – escaping the prison of sources

Helping students to gain confidence to move away from close paraphrasing of sources.

I teach a class to Foundation students called Text Practices, which is designed to move students from focusing on what a text is about, the topic, to understanding what a text is doing, which is how lecturers and researchers at university view texts. I’ve just marked the first assignment and it has made me realise how little impact I’ve actually had on helping students to escape from the prison of the texts they want to use. With one or two exceptions, the students ignored my advice to write more simply than the sources they read in order to show what they have understood. When they borrowed ideas from sources, these were often ’patchwritten’ or ‘plagiphrased’ by copying sentences and substituting synonyms for some words.

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A sense of research-mindedness

Introducing research philosophy for low proficiency EAP students

The BALEAP Competency Framework asks EAP professionals to ‘recognize the importance of applying to their practice the standards expected of students and other academic staff’. One of the fundamental standards concerns the role of research in building new knowledge and underpinning teaching at university. ELT teachers moving to EAP contexts often have only a rudimentary understanding of academic research and scholarship. They tend to conceptualise research as finding out what they don’t know rather than exploring what a discipline doesn’t know and wants to discover. The former is the kind of research done by journalists or by undergraduate students, who often ‘rediscover’ some of the key research outcomes in their discipline by repeating the seminal studies. This kind of research – also done through a literature review – is important at the outset of a research project to uncover gaps in disciplinary knowledge, which can justify research aims. However, the research that is most valued at university attempts to achieve greater understanding of the world in order to make better predictions about the future.

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Reading academic articles efficiently

Helping EAP students to become the masters and not the servants of the texts they read .

A friend has just sent me two articles related to his research interests. They are only tangentially interesting for me but I want to respond to them so as to have a little email exchange and an interaction. I no longer get the chance for the detailed and interesting discussions we used to have when we worked together. I haven’t got time to read the complete articles and it isn’t necessary for my purpose so instead I can sample them in about five minutes to extract some nuggets to use in my email interaction. Sampling academic articles is also a skill I teach my EAP students so they can become masters of their sources rather than servants (Alexander et al., 2018, pp.137-144).

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Assessing EAP websites

Some quick and simple diagnostics for assessing the quality of EAP websites.

I’m a member of the BALEAP discussion list, one of many education and research discussion lists in the UK, hosted by Jiscm@il. It is an excellent resource for connecting with EAP professionals in other parts of the world and asking for advice on a wide variety of EAP topics. Recently there was a request for recommendations for online EAP resources and several people responded with lists of their favourite sites. I’m always wary of sending students to online resources because – like everything else on the internet – there is no guarantee of quality, even if sites are hosted by universities. Because EAP students are time-poor, any online resources need to deliver worthwhile content as efficiently as possible. Internet resources are only useful if the writers creating them have a sound understanding of EAP principles.

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Perceptions of teaching EAP

Teachers who are transitioning from ELT to TEAP may have beliefs about teaching which do not fit the new teaching context.

I’ve been assessing portfolio submissions for BALEAP TEAP accreditation. Applications for Associate Fellow of BALEAP are usually teachers who are moving from General English Language Teaching (ELT) to EAP. This transition is often achieved by teaching on one or a number of pre-sessional summer programmes at a university to gain EAP experience, and then finding year-round work with a private company that provides foundation programmes for university entrance.

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Academic cultures

Shifting the focus from students’ national academic cultures to target academic dsciplines when characterising learning styles

One of the aims of EAP programmes is to help international students adapt to the teaching and learning expectations of the academic culture they wish to join. It is assumed that the study practices they experienced in their own country will be different from those in the new context. In particular, their expectations about using and referencing ideas from authoritative sources may be different. I recently reviewed a teacher development framework, which recommended that EAP teachers take account of differences in academic cultures when analysing needs, preparing lessons and giving feedback to students. But I wonder how useful or even possible it is for EAP teachers to understand differences between academic cultures in ways that can be applied in a classroom.

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Observation of teaching

An observation of your teaching by colleagues you trust can be an opportunity to explore your teaching approach in a safe space.

I work for an institution with a BALEAP-accredited pre-sessional programme and one of the requirements for quality assurance is that teachers undergo a regular formal observation of their teaching. Teachers find the experience stressful, even though we try to follow recommended procedures for the observation, with pre- & post-observation discussions, observees selecting the focus and sensitive handling of any issues that arise. Teachers who regularly return to work on the programme also find the formal observation intrusive, amounting to a lack of trust in their experience and professionalism. I’m keen to explore ways to make the experience less stressful for new teachers and more rewarding for returning teachers. To this end, I thought I should experience an observation of my own teaching, so I asked two colleagues to take me through the formal observation process.

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Retrofitting a syllabus with Graduate Attributes

Graduate attributes such as a sense of research-mindedness, an orientation to problem-solving and a tolerance for ambiguity can bring an EAP syllabus closer towards the expectations of the academy.

I was asked to do a CPD workshop recently on how to incorporate graduate attributes into an EAP syllabus. Graduate attributes are ‘the skills, knowledge and abilities of university graduates, beyond disciplinary content knowledge, which are applicable to a range of contexts and are acquired as a result of completing any undergraduate degree’ (Barrie, 2006).

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