Teaching English For Academic Purposes: my first experience

I've left my colours at home

I’ve left my colours at home

For the last week I’ve been in delightfully dinky Durham. Three days were spent on a super well-organised and enjoyable induction course for the university’s PARSE (Preparatory Academic Research Skills and English) programme, after which I met my students, helped them get orientated and taught their first classes.

EAP is something new for me and the geek in me finds it rather exciting. I have decided to take advantage of the bank holiday weekend (which I’d totally forgotten about) to look over my notes from the first week and reflect on everything I’ve learnt, partly to practise what I am currently preaching and partly in case anyone reading is unfamiliar with the concept of EAP and wants to know a bit more.

From what I understand, EAP syllabuses and the rationale behind them vary from university to university. Some focus heavily on language, some on skills.  Students may be grouped according to their discipline or some other criterion, such as level, or perhaps not at all.

Our course director, Steve Kirk, told us that the focus of Durham’s PARSE syllabus is on participation in academic practices through English. Grammar and vocabulary are dealt with as and when problems emerge: there is only one lesson devoted to grammar (noun phrases). The course is oriented towards writing, this being the means by which students are going to be assessed on their courses (and academic writing represents the sum of knowledge gained through listening to lectures, listening and speaking with fellow students in seminars and reading of academic texts).

Academic practices: knowledge, knower, knowing

Steve introduced the induction course with a very interesting session on knowledge: 1) knowledge building practices in different disciplines, 2) attitudes towards the “knowers”, and 3) the difference between knowledge and knowing.

“Engineers show, philosophers argue, biologists find, and linguists suggest.” (Hyland, 2009:11)

  1. As the quote from Hyland shows, what academics talk about when they talk about knowledge-building depends on their discipline. For example, scientists work together towards one common goal: to reveal truth or reality. Research is carried out to further knowledge that has already been gained.  In contrast, academics in the humanities push the boundaries in a non-linear fashion, arguing the value of a new perspectives.  The effects of these differing views can be seen in
  2. The role of the knower depends on how the academy regards knowledge.  In the sciences, the knower takes more of a back seat than in the humanities. An obvious manifestation of this is that you are less likely to find “I” or “we” in a scientific academic text.  The metaphor WRITER=RESEARCH is very common in academic writing, eg. “This paper argues that…” “This study demonstrates that… ”  Knowers may be viewed differently in other cultures and this can cause problems for EAP students, or “junior knowers”. Our role here is to make their role in a UK university clear.
  3. The knowers have to demonstrate a knowing of the knowledge. Our role here is to help the students develop skills such as note-taking, keeping track of references and critically responding to texts.

The course organisers have prepared some great materials for this course and I must say I’m excited to get my teeth into it some more.

Of course the main stars of the show are my students. They’re a lovely bunch, hailing from China, Russia, Korea, and Japan. They have expressed (when asked) some concerns about reading loads and academic writing (as well as making friends, being accidentally rude, communicating with home students, British social etiquette, dealing with the “bad-behavioured youth”, drinking alcohol, and prejudice) and I am going to do my best to give them the tools they need to participate actively in their disciplines.

We’ve already had a session introducing them to academic writing (and how it differs from IELTS writing) and how to manage reading loads, during which I debuted my first ever EAP (hand-drawn) graphic, intended to give students an idea of what to expect:

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I’ll leave you with a rather beautiful idea written by one of my students in response to a question about who benefits more from international students, the host country or the international students:

It’s very hard to tell. But maybe the world and all the human beings benefit from it. When different thoughts come together, it makes different [sic].

(I think the world has changed the minute we saw each other.)

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One comment

  1. […] the course map and materials initially and quickly realised, much as friend and amazing EFL blogger Emma Gore-Lloyd commented last year on here first EAP course, I wasn’t teaching English at all, but skills, […]

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