Over the years, I have become increasingly interested in and concerned by ethics in the field of practitioner EAP and, especially, practitioner scholarship. The broader ethical considerations I have examined (often with others) are multiple and include but are not limited to: precarity, the micro-politics of EAP centres, neoliberalism and EAP, field struggles which enable some practitioners to have greater influence/opportunities/rewards/recognition and symbolic capital, the roles of associations, and the ethics of EAP as a profession. This last concern was explored with Ian Bruce in The English for Academic Purposes Practitioner Operating on the Edge of Academia.
The key features of professions are association, self-governance, control over training, ethics and trust (Sarfatti Larson, 1977/2013,p. xxii). Archer (2000) articulates the significance of ethics for professions as follows: ‘the typical defining feature of the professions, their possession of an ethical standard, is not just a guide to professional conduct but also a moral raison d’être for the profession itself’ (p. 291).
There are no explicit, clear, or distinct ethics or ethical codes specific to the field of EAP. Of course, EAP and its practitioners (especially if they are able to pursue intellectual and academic capital in their contexts) are governed by more general university-wide and discipline-specific ethics. But, as a profession, it is difficult to discern, explicitly, the moral raison d’être of and for EAP. This is not to say that there are not tacit practices and beliefs that cannot be discerned in EAP which could enable an ethics to emerge more explicitly from practice (although we might not like what we find). But, to my knowledge, that hasn’t been attempted. It’s not unusual for practitioners to express doubts, concerns, alienation, and critiques of the ethics of EAP – especially where profit and marketisation of EAP and higher education are particularly acute, where employment remains precarious, and where opportunities and recognition remain very limited. The lack of a visible, explicit code of practice or ethical framework also exposes EAP to accusations of a lack of integrity and makes it more vulnerable to nefarious exploitation from within and beyond EAP. Its absence or tacitness helps sustain a cynical version of EAP and it also inhibits the development of practitioner habitus.
However, when it comes to practitioner scholarship there are two very general precepts that have guided my thinking around the ethics of practitioner scholarship that may have wider implications than scholarship per se:
‘We develop a scholarship of teaching when our work as teachers becomes public, peer-reviewed and critiqued. And exchanged with members of our professional communities so they, in turn, can build on our work.’
‘[T]he core values of professional communities revolve around the expectation that we do not keep secrets, whether of discovery or of grounded doubt.’Schulman, 2000: 49-50.
The first quote has been very useful to me in thinking about ways practitioners can contribute to public scholarship and especially in ways that are neglected or undervalued. Even within the field of EAP practitioners there is still a bias towards the single authored article in a prestigious journal as the only or most valuable way of contributing to knowledge (this bias can be seen in Mary Davis’ article, for example). In my work with the Language Scholar I have suggested the genres of ‘works in progress’ and ‘narratives of scholarship’ with the latter encouraging reflections on the processes of coming to scholarship and the challenges that scholarship poses to practitioners. It should be noted that practitioners can be quite reluctant to explore less familiar or new genres. I also want to rethink or expand notions of what a book review could be and what contribution it can make to scholarship and knowledge.
In thinking about book reviews and investigating it a bit further the second quote by Shulman has come to the forefront of my mind for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I want to undertake what James (2006) terms a review essay. I want to review Julia Molinari’s open access book ‘What Makes Writing Academic Rethinking Theory for Practice’, Amanda French’s ‘A Philosophical Approach to Perceptions of Academic Writing Practices in Higher Education’ and Jackie Tuck’s ‘Academics Engaging with Student Writing Working at the Higher Education Textface’. This immediately creates a number of ethical challenges. Julia is a very good friend of mine and I have worked with Jackie on the Social Theory for English for Academic Purposes edited volume and have a great deal of respect for her. The question of loyalty, truth, friendship, distance, strangers, and respect and how to write about their works came to mind. I wouldn’t want any of my thoughts about all three books to remain secret yet neither do I want to misread, misrepresent or mislead the authors and their potential readers.
It made me to start to think about appropriate metaphors for receiving new scholarship in a field. The metaphor(s) I am currently toying with draws on Derrida’s writings on hospitality and friendship and thinking about how we greet/welcome and respond to new ideas to our field. I am going to pursue this idea further when writing the review. Also, I don’t want to write something that is judgemental (there will be judgements throughout, although again the ethics of evaluation need clarifying) and I don’t want to offer the usual ‘rejoinder’ where the author can respond to comments and criticism. I want to find a way to write with the authors, to tease out meanings and threads together, to make the most of an intersubjective space where all four of us can contribute to better understanding the three books (their own understandings of their books included). Perhaps in such a space it will be easier to articulate concerns and doubts for both authors and reviewers.
As part of trying to think about ethics and scholarship I was drawn to book reviews because, as David Beer writes on the LSE blog, book reviews are marginal and underappreciated activity, described as being perceived as a luxury, indulgence, waste of time, a distraction … and it made me think about how to make it less mundane and how to make it more central to scholarship. Reading in academia has no or very little capital – the performativity of writing for publication is almost everything in terms of cultural and intellectual capital in academia and I am convinced that many academics and practitioners do not read carefully enough nor widely enough (despite impressive office bookcases) or make their reading visible enough – and these are fundamentally ethical issues. Metrics don’t measure reading. But, as practitioners, unencumbered from REF, we should value reading and make our public engagement with reading more visible and valued: Beer talks about book reviews as ‘community building’ and ‘a space that we use to put a notion of collective knowledge ahead of the pressure for individual contributions’. Ironically, at least in some disciplines, book reviews are the least read section of journals (Hartley, 2006: 1196).
They can also be brutal. These reviews are on Bourdieu:
What is really being communicated is the great man’s distinction. It’s a bit like an intellectual penis-sheath: it makes a point, but only concealing the true dimension of its contents.Jenkins, 1989: 642.
The language of the book contains some of the worst excesses of academy-speak which continually prompt the desire … to put the book down and turn to something more profitable.Luntley, 1992: 448.
it is written in language so obscurantist, so dense and so ugly that the effort of reading the damn thing will probably, for most readers … heavily outweigh any benefit.Jenkins, 1989: 643.
Turning to JEAP for examples of interesting or unusual book reviews was, as I expected, somewhat disappointing. The rhetorical moves one would expect in book reviews are typically present (see James’ tables of moves for book reviews on page 1196) yet the overarching impression on reading many of the book reviews there is that, yes, they are informative, provide context for the book, describe chapters, and evaluate the contribution to the field, but they tend to be written in a highly predictable, formulaic manner; useful but deadly boring.
Searching more widely, one can see the potential impact of a book review by looking at Chomsky’s 1959 review of Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour, a hugely influential book review that fatally damaged the credibility of behaviourism. Jay Lemke’s review of Ruqaiya Hasan’s Semantic Variation: Meaning in society and in sociolinguistics is fascinating as the review delves deeply into the ideas of Hasan’s book without really mentioning the book itself very much – a complete engagement with her writing and ideas rather than a concern with meeting a formulaic expectation around the moves and structure of a book review. Su-ming Khoo provides a thorough, generous and extensive engagement with Colonialism and Modern Social Theory by Gurminder Bhambra and John Holmwood (2021). You learn a lot more about social theory and decolonisation than just the outlines of the chapters in this review. Again, this provides another example of what a book review could be.
More troublesome as a review is Pennycook’s review of David Block’s ‘Class is Out: Erasing Social Class in Applied Linguistics’. This is a case of someone with very significant symbolic capital reviewing a colleague with similar symbolic capital in the field of applied linguistics. Pennycook does describe the contents of the book and evaluate it, often with faint praise. More than that he unpicks the whole book starting with this comment:
‘One of the problems with pointing to what is not in applied linguistics is that the book is centrally about absence, a rather remorseless critique of deficiency’.
Pennycook explicitly and reflexively does to Block what Block has done to applied linguistics in his book – he remorselessly critiques the absences and deficiencies in Block’s book. An example of immanent critique as book review. Pennycook gives Block a lesson in rhetoric and erudition, pointing out partial understandings (Block appears to be unaware, for example, of Bourdieu’s notion of practice) as well as signalling a narcissism in Block:
So after a nod to the work of Ramanathan (2005) and Norton (2000), he reviews some of his own work as the best that can be found. This was both unconvincing and uncomfortable …
It is undoubtedly a very clever, erudite, and highly critical review. And one worth reading but one can’t help but think what is at stake here is capital – of cultural and symbolic capital. Would Pennycook have bothered with such a review if the author(s) were unknown? Or aligned more with Pennycook’s post-modernism/humanism?
I found many other examples of troubling book reviews from an ethical point of view. Richard Smith’s review of Simon Borg’s ‘Teacher Research in Language Teaching: A Critical Analysis’ is highly charged, for example:
If TR [Teacher Research] is not to be a rather dry. dull and disempowering simulacrum of academic research, the image of it presented by this book needs to be complemented, and counteracted, by a more exciting, empowering and alternative vision.
I happen to agree with Richard Smith about Borg’s work, but it troubles me nonetheless. If you read Borg’s response it is as if Smith hadn’t understood the purpose of the book nor read it properly.
‘Book reviews will always be subjective and sound debate is of course healthy. Smith’s account, though, is more a reimagining of what he thinks the book should have been than what it actually is: a rigorous academic study of language teacher research engagement.’
Finally, I want to turn to three reviews of the same book to illustrate the issue of ethics that has implications for scholarship and practitioners. The book under review is ‘Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts’. This book is part of the series I created: New Perspectives for English for Academic Purposes (Bloomsbury). I invited the editors to take on this volume and also provided a draft book proposal. This is a caveat for what follows, as I was committed to and engaged with this book.
One review, by Kathrin Kaufhold in ESP Today, is highly conventional with a contextualisation of the book within the field, detailed description of each chapter, followed by a quite long and extremely enthusiastic evaluation (with one point of minor criticism). It is a very generous review and gives the reader a clear sense of the terrain and issues covered in the book. The second review, by Rob Playfair in the Language Scholar, is a highly reflective, thoughtful and detailed account of the book where you have a greater sense of the reviewer’s engagement with the book. The structure of the review is thematic rather than by chapters and the reviewer manages to write in ways that reflect his engagement with the book; highly personal and likely to resonate with practitioners. He has two main and important criticisms of the book which are dealt with at the end of the review.
Michelle Le Roux’s review begins with a critique of an absence or lack in the volume. It is this perspective that shapes the whole of the review. Le Roux continues with outlining more absences in the volume and the reader will struggle to understand what is actually in the book.
She bemoans the lack of excitement, risk, and challenge. What constitutes excitement, risk or challenge is made from a position of security and from the UK. From her self-promotional biodata she aligns herself to engagements in social justice, and is ‘a practitioner of circles of trust, spiritual accompaniment, and non-violent communication’. Yet not a word of encouragement or empathy that this book was written by practitioners for practitioners, a global community of practitioners. One would have thought that an empathetic practitioner keen on non-violent communication would have chosen to write more empathetically and sympathetically about the materiality of scholarship underpinning this book as well as some concern for the writers and editors. Ethically, scholarship shouldn’t and doesn’t have to play the same dismissive games that are a caricature of academic book reviews.
All the reviews I have discussed here offer ethical challenges, but I feel that if we, as practitioners, engage with modifying and playing with the book review genre (among many others) in order to contribute to collective knowledge then the ethics of what we write, how we write, what we bring into consideration who we engage with (including the authors of books), and the value of reading will come to forefront of our considerations and we will find a way to engage critically with each other’s work that is not (to misquote Richard Smith) a rather dry, dull, and disempowered simulacrum of academic book reviewing.
Keeping ethical considerations and concerns central can help all practitioners see scholarship, writing, reading, contributing to the community and evaluating others in new ways and ways that could transcend some of the many imperfections and limitations we all witness on a daily basis.
I would like to thank Laetitia Monbec, Millie Walkova and Julia Molinari for pointing me to some excellent books reviews.
Archer, M. S. (2000). Being human: The problem of agency. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Hartley, J. (2006). Reading and writing book reviews across the disciplines. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(9), 1194-1207.
Jenkins, R. (1989). ‘Language, Symbolic Power and Communication: Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus’, Sociology, 23 (4): 639–45.
Jenkins, R. (1992), Pierre Bourdieu, London: Routledge.
Luntley, M. (1992). ‘Practice Makes Knowledge?’ Inquiry, 35: 447–61.
Sarfatti Larson (1977/2013) ‘The Rise of Professionalism: Monopolies of Competence and Sheltered Markets’ Schulman, L. S. (2000). From Minsk to Pinsk: Why a scholarship of teaching & learning? The Journal of Scholarship of Teaching & Learning. 1. pp 48–52.
As we come to the end of yet another difficult year for everyone and having spent a lot of this year thinking and writing about EAP I want to write a short piece on my thoughts for a more sociological approach to EAP. In a way, I hope this is seen as a plea for change within the community of practitioners and researchers – where social theory is fully embedded and understood in the knowledge-base of practitioners.
Ferguson provides a useful and simple heuristic of the knowledge-base for EAP practitioners:
Knowledge of disciplinary cultures and values; a form of knowledge which is essentially sociological or anthropological.
Knowledge of the epistemological basis of different disciplines; a form of knowledge which is philosophical in nature.
Knowledge of genre and discourse, which is mainly linguistic in nature.
Ferguson, 1997: 85.
Although knowledge of the latter two (especially genre and discourse) has developed significantly over the years the sociological hasn’t received anywhere near as much attention. As important, if not more so, is that Ferguson’s heuristic is typical of EAP in that it is outward facing towards the disciplines, texts, values, practices, and epistemologies of academic disciplines. What is needed is a parallel inward-facing orientation to the texts, cultures, values, practices and epistemologies of the field and discipline of EAP. We, as practitioners, need to understand ourselves and our own field reflexively as much as we need to understand the disciplines, texts, and students we engage with in our teaching. We also need to better understand the social theories that underpin (but often remain unexamined or forgotten or, in some cases, suppressed in) the knowledge-base within EAP, such as genres theories, academic literacies, and SFL
I have argued for a while now that practitioners need to develop an academic identity – one that is congruent with the expertise, experience, and knowledge that practitioners can, potentially, bring to higher education – through scholarship and research. However, the social conditions to contribute fully to academia in terms of scholarship, policies, and practices are far from given. In part due to the lack of symbolic capital of practitioners within universities, practitioners often struggle to influence ideas, practices, and policies around language(s). This is compounded by struggles within the field of EAP where there is considerable resistance to a vision of practitioners contributing to scholarship. In short, not all within EAP – especially but not uniquely those with greater symbolic power – welcome the idea of practitioner scholarship (and indeed often thwart attempts to do so).
In an ill-defined field, such as EAP, there is a lot at stake in defining what it is and, pace Bourdieu, actors tend to define the field in ways most favourable to themselves. An academic identity, through scholarship, is a challenge to the orthodoxy of the field where various forms of capital can be accrued not through scholarship but through claims of ‘pedagogical expertise’ (often claimed in contrast to perceived lack of pedagogical expertise of academics), ‘linguistic expertise’, management/leadership, or simply experience. The upshot of this, whether thwarted by those within the field or by pernicious university contracts and systems and marginalised positions and status within universities, scholarship by practitioners is lopsided and favours those, like me, who work in contexts that actively support practitioners. Those who don’t have to struggle to make their voice heard (if at all). We all need to work together ensure everyone can contribute to scholarship in EAP.
Social theory may also appear to be somewhat abstract, esoteric, intellectual (add your preferred pejorative comment) and far removed from the much vaunted practical and pragmatic orientation of EAP that generates a degree of misplaced pride within the field. This is, I think, a mistake. One central concern of social theory revolves around structure and agency. Structural forces will continue to shape, if not determine, our own field of EAP and adjacent more powerful fields such as HE whether we fully investigate it as part of our knowledge-base or not. However, without that understanding we will be largely blind in our attempts to enact the agency we do or could have. Understanding better the social forces that shape EAP and HE give us:
… a small chance of knowing what game we play and of minimizing the ways in which we are manipulated by the forces of the field in which we evolve … [Sociology] allows us to discern the sites where we do indeed enjoy a degree of freedom and those where we do not.
Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 198-199.
Perhaps even more significantly, and linking social theory to social justice in EAP, this sociological imagination will help us understand better the gap between the real and the ideal. And help all of us to fight for a more socially just educational system for us, our students, and all our colleagues in universities. A good critical social theory should show that ‘things could be otherwise’. As practitioners we should never lose sight of this and fight to reduce the gap of the real and the ideal – things could and should be otherwise for the field, its practitioners, and their students.
2020-2021 has been the year where I have really focused on these issues. I have given a few plenaries on these issues but most of all I have engaged in collaborative endeavours to contribute to change within the field. Next year will see a series of publications on; Bourdieu and field analysis of EAP; an analysis of the potential of associations to contribute to language policy and politics, an analysis of identity and agency of practitioners through a discourse analysis of practitioners’ discussions of outsourcing and naming an association, co-editing a book on social theory for EAP practitioners, co-editing a volume on practitioner agency and identity, and writing a chapter on commodification in EAP. I stress that all these activities have been undertaken in collaboration with others. For me, this has been essential: working with others amplifies the impact of this work, enriches the ideas and writing, enables solidarity and friendships to flourish, and demonstrates the power of working together to change EAP.
For all the challenges and stresses of the past year and more, these collective endeavours have been powerful reminders of what can be achieved collectively.
I gave this keynote a while ago at the BALEAP PIM ‘2020 Visions: Looking back and looking ahead’ – The abstract is below:
In this plenary I would like to explore some of the key socio-political issues for practitioners that have emerged during the pandemic. A heightened focus on socio-political concerns seems counter-intuitive as much professional activity and collegiality have been orientated towards very pressing and pragmatic, pedagogical and technical questions as remote teaching has been enforced. Yet, parallel to these questions, deeper concerns have been voiced around precarity, race, decolonising EAP, inclusivity, and the purposes, position, and power of EAP in HE. The emergence of these concerns may signal an ephemeral phase in EAP history or signal significant changes in the profession. If the latter is to take place and gain widespread endorsement in the profession, then these issues need to be critically debated. The purpose of this plenary is to outline these issues and raise questions for debate.
On reflection, there are a number of points I should have discussed more clearly or elaborated better but the main points are relevant I think.
Is ‘critical thinking’ a useful concept in teaching EAP? If so, where does it fit into our crowded curriculum?Posted: June 25, 2020
This post is by Ian Bruce and coincides with the publication of his new book Expressing Critical Thinking through Disciplinary Texts: Insights from Five Genre Studies: Bloomsbury Academic
The sixth competency in BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework states that an EAP teacher will “understand the role of critical thinking in academic contexts and will employ tasks, processes and interactions that require students to demonstrate critical thinking skills” (BALEAP, 2008, p. 6). The accompanying information with this competency statement goes on to elucidate what this area of knowledge encompasses and what the outcomes of this teacher competency in EAP practice may include.
This is potentially a complex topic and there is already a considerable literature devoted to defining and teaching critical thinking, to which I have just added yet another contribution with my recent book publication Expressing critical thinking through disciplinary texts: Insights from five genre studies (Bloomsbury, 2020). However, my purpose here is to outline some ideas about the concept of critical thinking and consider where it may fit into an EAP programme. To that end, I draw on some points that I have made in my recent book.
The problem with the concept of critical thinking is that there is no generally agreed definition of what it actually is. Brookfield (2011) claims that there are five different definitions of the concept originating from five different source disciplines. Davies and Barnett (2015) identify three different pedagogical approaches to teaching critical thinking, the most common approach relating to logic and argumentation. (The second involves developing critical dispositions to knowledge and the world generally. The third approach is ‘critical pedagogy’, which aims to be more transformative of society.) The first, the traditional ‘logical argument’ approach, is often taught in freshman writing and rhetoric courses (US) and introductory philosophy courses. The underpinning justification for such courses is that, once learned, students’ use of this generic, logical argument skill will transfer into other disciplinary domains. However, there is now a considerable body of research (see the meta-analysis by Huber & Kuncel, 2016) that suggests that this transfer from generic critical thinking courses into students’ work in other subject disciplines probably doesn’t happen.
Two important points about exercising critical thinking are made by McPeck (1981). The first is that critical thinking is always about something in a specific context, and how it is exercised will depend on what is required for its competent expression in that context. The second point is that much of the confusion around teaching critical thinking stems from what he calls the “philosopher’s fallacy” (p. 8), which is the idea that critical thinking is only about logic, such as in argumentation and informal problem solving. He asserts that while critical thinking includes logic, it also draws heavily on the specialist knowledge of the subject discipline within which it occurs, which may include the discipline’s methods (research methods), strategies (for solving problems) and techniques (appropriate use of software or technology), some or all of which may contribute to formulating an evaluation in terms of “the standards of judgement of that field” (Swales & Feak, 2012, p. 328). Therefore, if critical thinking requires epistemological knowledge, values and processes that are deeply embedded within a specific discipline in order to apply that discipline’s “standards of judgement”, this begs the questions of what types of knowledge relating to critical thinking skills can be developed through EAP courses and how EAP teachers can actually develop these skills.
To answer the first question relating to knowledge, I suggest that practitioners firstly consider the overall goals of EAP itself. In a previous post (October 21, 2019), I suggested that they involve students’ development of knowledge in two closely related areas, specifically academic discourse competence and academic processes and values, and that the first area is central to what we do in EAP. In that post (and elsewhere), I have proposed that developing discourse competence requires a holistic, top-down, analytic syllabus that integrates different types of knowledge that may include subject epistemologies, assignment genres, processing and creating extended texts, textual grammar (including elements that relate to cohesion and coherence), metadiscourse devices and academic lexis. Developing discourse competence is centrally focused on helping students acquire the procedural knowledge and linguistic elements required to process and create extended texts in academic contexts, texts that will inevitably include the appropriate expression of an evaluative judgement – critical thinking. Therefore, rather than a superficial, ‘bolt-on’ approach to critical thinking, I argue that, in EAP, we need to concentrate on ways of identifying and expressing evaluative judgements as they are situated within academic texts. We should be helping students to gain control of the discursive knowledge and textual resources employed so that they themselves develop the means to interpret and express evaluative judgements in academic texts. A focus on critical thinking in EAP is, therefore, one element (an important element) that forms part of the larger body of knowledge elements that, taken together, constitutes discourse competence. Following this approach, a focus on critical thinking should not involve separated, discrete, consciousness-raising tasks or activities (additional to, but not closely related to the regular language learning of the classroom) – what I term the ‘bolt-on’ approach.
The second question relates to syllabus and pedagogy. If the focus on critical thinking in EAP is on identifying and expressing evaluative judgements as they are embedded within extended, academic texts, then thought needs to be given as to how this can be implemented in an EAP course. My response is that this type of focus on critical thinking needs to be seen as an integral element of a carefully-staged, genre-based pedagogy. Therefore, in examining genres, our concerns are not just to identify the conventionalized aspects of their organisation and their discursive features, such as elements of cohesion and coherence, reference and metadiscourse, but also to examine how these elements are used to express critical thinking. The genre studies that I bring together in my recent book, all suggest that the expression of critical thinking (as part of argumentation or case building) through academic and professional genres is a larger process that integrates discursive and textual elements at several levels:
● the organisational level (such as through moves or other relevant organisational patterns);
● the semantico-pragmatic level through the means by which cohesion and coherence are achieved; and,
● the micro-level through the use of stance and engagement devices, such as attitude markers and hedges (Hyland, 2005a).
My argument in the book is that these elements work together to construct evaluative judgements in a holistic way. To isolate and practise these elements apart from the integrated whole in which they occur is, as Widdowson (1983) says, “to deny them as functional features” of the operational whole in which they function as a part (p. 84). Similarly, Hyland (2005b) suggests that a genre-based pedagogy can provide details about the different ways of communicating critical thinking and how they operate within a genre’s framework.
A genre-based pedagogy that integrates a focus on how critical thinking is expressed, such as through a particular genre or category of text, involves an analysis phase and a synthesis phase (Widdowson, 1990, p. 136). The analysis phase has two essential elements: an adequate contextualization of the genre and a comprehensive and systematic operationalization of the genre knowledge (discursive and textual). Contextualization involves consideration of the functional role and communicative purposes of the genre in the community within which it occurs, the specialist content knowledge that it communicates and any specialist lexis that it employs. Uncovering genre knowledge in this phase requires student-guided analysis of a target genre in terms of its organisation, such as moves (if relevant) or sections that relate to more general rhetorical purposes (e.g. argue, explain, report), the types of coherence relation that occur, reference devices and the use of metadiscourse, such as stance and engagement devices. The synthesis phase involves students creating new examples of the same genre category, which could begin as scaffolded, joint activities (where the thinking processes and procedural knowledge involved are made transparent through class and group tasks and discussions), which then lead to more autonomous drafting and editing of their own texts. Genre-based pedagogy is not new to EAP practitioners, but what may be new is the idea of harnessing it to focus closely on how evaluative judgements (critical thinking) are expressed as part of the cluster of rhetorical purposes that give rise to any particular genre.
So what of class debates, logical arguments, identifying fallacies and informal problem-solving tasks and all of the plethora of so-called ‘critical thinking’ activities (of the ‘bolt-on’ variety) that have been used at times to fulfil TEAP Competency 6? My response is EAP courses are extremely time-limited. As we plan and deliver them, what we include and what we focus on should be selected on the basis of what is of most use to the student to help them navigate the challenges of processing and creating extended texts in academic contexts. Activities can be justified if they dovetail with and support the fulfilment of larger tasks – genre constructions – as larger academic projects. However, the evidence seems to suggest that discrete, ‘bolt-on’ tasks, of themselves, while favoured by one approach to critical thinking, may be of little value.
Tim Moore (2019) says that critical thinking involves two challenges for EAP students: “comprehending what they are required to judge [and] expressing these judgements” (p. 20). I would argue that responding to both of these challenges relates to students’ development and exercise of discourse competence in the context of extended academic tasks, which I would see as being at the very heart of what we aim to achieve as EAP practitioners.
Brookfield, S. D. (2012). Teaching for critical thinking: Tools and techniques to help students question their assumptions. Wiley.
Bruce, I. (2020) Expressing critical thinking through written text: Insights from five genre studies. Bloomsbury.
Davies, M., & Barnett, R. (2015). The Palgrave handbook of critical thinking in higher education. Palgrave Macmillan.
Huber, C. R., & Kuncel, N. R. (2016). Does college teach critical thinking? A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 431-468. doi:10.3102/0034654315605917
Hyland, K. (2005a). Metadiscourse: Exploring interaction in writing. Continuum.
Hyland, K. (2005b). Stance and engagement: A model of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse Studies, 7(2), 173-192.
McPeck, J. E. (1981). Critical thinking and education. Robertson.
Moore, T. (2019). Developing critical thinking in EAP programmes. Cambridge Papers in ELT Series.
Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (3rd ed.). University of Michigan Press.
Widdowson, H. G. (1983). Learning purpose and language use. Oxford University Press.
Widdowson, H. G. (1990). Aspects of language teaching. Oxford University Press.
In the past year I have been invited to give two plenary papers, one at the Cutting Edges conference in Canterbury and the other at the EAP in Ireland conference. I was both flattered and surprised to be invited but, most of all, these invitations provoked me into thinking about acknowledgements and subsequently about collaboration and scholarship.
I had received these invitations to speak largely because – I suspect – of the book I had co-authored with Ian Bruce ‘The English for Academic Purposes Practitioner: Operating on the Edge of Academia’. This got me thinking about acknowledging – books are replete with fulsome and heartfelt acknowledgements, yet plenary speakers generally quickly thank the organisers for the invite and then launch into their talks. I wanted to begin my plenaries by acknowledging the contributions of others to my thoughts and ideas. In fact, in many ways its hard (and wrong) to claim ideas as ‘mine’. Ideas, words, papers are imbued with readings, conversations and collaborations with others to such an extent that it is hard to say where an idea emerged.
This post is about those who have contributed to my thinking, directly and indirectly, and finally to suggest that a defining characteristic of scholarship could be an explicit foregrounding – a proper acknowledgement of the fabric of scholarship – of its collaborative nature.
My collaborations with Ian began after the BALEAP conference in Leicester where – spontaneously – I suggested we write a book about the EAP practitioner. Since then we have spoken weekly almost without fail (more than 4 years now) and the book emerged as well as the new book series New Perspectives for English for Academic Purposes (Bloomsbury). We have given papers together as well as organised and participated in seminars, conferences and other events. Ian has been instrumental in how I think about EAP. Without his diligence, scholarship and generosity my scholarship would be greatly impoverished.
I have been very fortunate at Leeds to have had the support of, firstly, Melinda Whong, and more recently Yolanda Cerdá as director of the Language Centre. They have provided the intellectual and material support necessary to ensure that scholarship can flourish – mine included. It also dispels simplistic myths around avaricious leaders preoccupied by profit rather than being guided by academic values.
At Leeds I have been fortunate to work closely with Bee Bond who has suffered innumerable coffees and chats with me about my latest intellectual preoccupation. I have also, hopefully, provided some help with her scholarship endeavours. The latest of which ‘Making Language Visible in the University English for Academic Purposes and Internationalisation’ will be her first book, to be published in July, and is the fruit of a few years of dedicated scholarship. It is as, if not more, pleasurable to witness others’ successes – this one in particular. I have read the manuscript and its a brilliant read. I have also collaborated with Bee on organising the BALEAP conference (along with others) and a series of ResTES events for BALEAP. We continue to collaborate on an almost daily basis and she has been particularly influential in how I think.
At Leeds I also work with many others including those that run the Language Scholar – an idea I had when I first joined Leeds but one that has been taken up with enthusiasm by others. We co-wrote a scholarship manifesto which I am particularly pleased with (even if it could be improved!). I am also working with Michelle Evans, a colleague and friend at Leeds, on an edited book on social theory and EAP. There are numerous examples at Leeds of colleagues working together on scholarship. One that stands out is an edited book by colleagues Melinda Whong and Jeanne Godfrey ‘What is Good Academic Writing: Insights into Discipline Specific Student Writing’ (Bloomsbury) which contains chapters written by colleagues at Leeds. For many this is their first published work and will be published this year.
Beyond Leeds, there are many people who have been collaborative and supportive in many ways. I have known Cynthia White for over 15 years and we have maintained contact, friendship and collaboration during these years and her advice and knowledge have been crucial to me. I used to work at the University of Nottingham where, again, I was fortunate to collaborate with excellent colleagues. I would like to highlight ex-colleague Julia Molinari’s brilliant thesis ‘What makes writing academic: an educational and philosophical response.’ It exemplifies original thinking, is a challenging read and will challenge your thoughts about academic writing. I have spent many hours talking with Julia and she has been a constant source of ideas and inspiration.
Steve Kirk has also been more than collegial and supportive over a number of years and I read his thesis ‘Enacting the Curriculum in English for Academic Purposes: A Legitimation Code Theory Analysis’ – the perfect example, alongside Julia, of how practitioners can contribute to knowledge in new and exciting ways. More broadly, the LCT community seem to embody a highly collegial and supportive network and I’m sure that LCT will exert more influence within EAP as publications emerge from Steve and others such as Susie Cowley-Haselden and Laetitia Monbec. Greg Hadley’s landmark publication ‘English for academic purposes in neoliberal universities: A critical grounded theory’ was an inspiration to me and he remains a (distant) colleague and good friend.
Many others have provided me with ideas, support and opportunities. BALEAP has been a source of support too, and recent discussions about online learning have shown how collegial BALEAP can be. Many collaborations cross institutions and continents and forge long-term friendships and productive scholarship. Not forgetting either the many students and colleagues who participate in scholarship projects, giving their time for focus groups, interviews, observations and completing questionnaires. By doing so, students and others are contributing to scholarship and trusting us to conduct scholarship which improves knowledge and education and positively impacts future cohorts of students.
I suppose the point I want to make is that my scholarship – as with so many others too – is deeply indebted to others. Acknowledging this is important, perhaps especially so now as we face a very troubling present and future. It is something to remember, at least for me, if and when a (new) normality returns. What can distinguish scholarship more than anything else is its collegiality, collaboration and generosity.
I am a newcomer to blog posting, but Alex kindly invited me recently to use this blog as a way in to some writing I’ve been working on with two colleagues. Our project aims to report on a qualitative case study and narrative analysis we undertook seeking to explore the impact of Brexit on a group of language teachers and practitioners working at a language centre in a UK HE institution. I’ll come back to the project later, but having read Alex’s recent post on Bourdieu and Passeron’s (1994) oft-cited epithet on academic language being no-one’s mother tongue, what struck me was that its use and ‘misuse’ is, arguably, almost always a political statement on the part of the practitioners, researchers and scholars who invoke it. Regardless of whether you fall on Hyland (2016) or Flowerdew’s (2019) side of the fence, (perhaps you fall on the fence itself) the arguments could be distilled into questions about equalities of access, the effects and (re)production of power (through knowledge) structures and ultimately who is ‘allowed’ to create new knowledge in academia and the disciplines, and how. Bourdieu’s background as a philosopher and academic from a working-class background and his contributions to our understandings of social inequalities in education, among other areas, should be borne in mind even when applying his theories to very different contexts. What I’m saying, I think, is that his work is political and when we invoke it, we are also being political, albeit unknowingly at times.
This reminds me of other current issues and debates in EAP and indeed in language teaching which can lead to discomforting identity and status struggles, and might underpin some of the more or less accepted dichotomies internalised by many language and EAP practitioners including the distinctions between language and content, the private and the professional self and the emotional as opposed to the cognitive, the rational or the academic. If one accepts Foucauldian perspectives on the nature of power, the order of things, and in particular his view that discourse(s) involve language and ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’ (Foucault 1972, p.49) , then many of these dichotomies become rather artificial and, at best, questionable. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it still echoes through conversations in University corridors, meetings, staffrooms and our own scholarship and classrooms, that language is viewed as often devoid of and certainly distinct from ‘content’. The relationship, if we separate them, then, is one of unequal power whereby content is effectively superior to language. It seems a bizarre pulling apart, but this perception is reproduced and enacted institutionally by the lower academic status afforded to many language practitioners. This chimes with some of the ‘butler’ or ‘handmaiden’ metaphors used to conceptualise EAP practitioner identities (as in the work of Ding and Bruce and see conference papers at the Baleap 2019 Conference in Leeds, for examples of such metaphors in action). To labour the point, content sits comfortably upstairs, and language is still very much downstairs; at least it is when it sits outside schools or departments of (applied) linguistics, education, English, or communication.
That is why I feel uncomfortable when associations and colleagues see their own activities as a-political; even when impartiality is coherently and ethically espoused. This is not necessarily because I particularly want to (over)politicise a profession or academic field, but because political issues seem necessarily to underpin much of what we do, how it is seen, our working conditions and how students understand and engage with our activities. And, in Bourdieu’s terms, language teaching is still somewhat beleaguered, particularly in terms of its cultural and social capital. By activating and interrogating the political, we (and I mean language teachers, EAP practitioners, and language centres) might become more able to forge educational communities and impinge on the institutional forces that govern so many aspects of language education and EAP. And in doing so, our roles can certainly also extend beyond this to other areas of education and education policy particularly given the proliferation of the concept of the ‘international(ised)’ university in the current dominant discourses of UK higher education.
So to come back to our Brexit project, the initial difficulty we encountered on sitting down to write together recently was remembering why we had conducted our study in the first place and why it might be of interest or relevant to anyone. Our tentative conclusion was that we belong to a community of language teachers and this was an opportunity to examine a political event in the world which was and is still predicted to have a profound impact on UK cultural identities and affiliations. Brexit (we assumed) would be of fairly obvious concern to teachers of English and other modern languages, not least because we often regard ourselves as intercultural facilitators and experts in the cultural agility required to effectively teach, interact and work with students and colleagues from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Aside from personal responses and corridor conversations, we wondered too whether private (and often extremely emotional) reactions might influence pedagogy and professional identities. The writing up of this project is a work in progress, but our data has certainly generated a series of genuine questions and lines of enquiry.
In the current political landscape seemingly so dominated by identity politics, is it not important for us (language tutors, practitioners, university language tutors and lecturers…) to explore, reveal and understand our own espoused and ascribed positions and identities? (With contingent caveats around the slippery academic definitions of identity and the current ‘identity turn’ in many fields including sociolinguistics, intercultural studies and language teaching and learning, among others – see for example the work of Bonny Norton, Norton and Toohey (2011) Phillip Riley (2007), Holliday et al (2010)) Should we seek to remain on the margins of the political or steer clear of difficult ‘content’? Should what we feel about issues really be hidden in the language classroom because it is a language classroom, and if not, are there ways to do this which are sensitive to the imbalances of power and authority implicit even within an educational context which badges itself as democratic, Socratic and dialogic? If we are educators in and of these intercultural spaces, should we take heed of arguments in favour of critical pedagogies (drawing on Freire, for example) and based on assumptions that ‘language teaching as foreign language education cannot and should not avoid educational and political duties and responsibilities’ (Byram, 2001, p. 102), Byram (2008, 2014)? In short, are we not ‘doing politics’ in teaching any language and adopting particular stances to what we do, whether we like it or not?
I’m not sure I know quite what I think about this; the questions aren’t rhetorical. But in thinking about definitions of academic language and how we position and categorise ourselves and our own practices, I really liked the humour and insight in the following extract from the preface to Foucault’s Order of Things (1970):
“This book first arose out of a passage in [Jorge Luis] Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought […].This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’.
Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J-C., and Saint Martin, M. (1994) Academic discourse: Linguistic misunderstanding and professorial power. Polity
Byram, M. (2001). Language teaching as a political action. In Bax, M., Zwart, J. (Eds.), Reflections on language and language learning. In honour of Arthur van Essen (pp. 91–104) Amsterdam / Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Byram, M. (2008). From foreign language education to education for intercultural citizenship. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. (2014). Twenty-five years on: From cultural studies to intercultural citizenship. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 27, 209–225.
Flowerdew, J. (2019). The linguistic disadvantage of scholars who write in English as an additional language: Myth or reality. Language Teaching, 52(2), 249-260.
Foucault, M. (1972) The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. Pantheon.
Holliday, A., Hyde, M. and Kullman, J. (2010). Intercultural Communication: an advanced resource book for students. 1st ed. Routledge.
Hyland, K. (2016) Academic publishing and the myth of linguistic injustice. Journal of Second Language Writing (31) pp. 58-69
Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(4), 412-446
‘Academic language is … no one’s mother tongue’: Misusing Bourdieu and a ‘morally questionable’ Hyland.Posted: November 1, 2019
‘Academic language is … no one’s mother tongue’
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J-C., 1995: 8.
This familiar ellipsis taken from Bourdieu and Passeron (often Passeron is forgotten) frequently adorns PowerPoint slides at EAP (English for Academic Purposes) conferences, is often summoned in discussions, and occasionally features on EAP websites as a strapline. Every time I come across this ellipsis; I feel uneasy. When evoked in various fora, media and contexts it functions as shorthand for a set of axioms. It suggests that academic language development (writing in particular) shouldn’t be seen as deficit and remedial indicating a lack or deficiency but rather something all students and academics struggle with. It suggests EAP not as an ‘ivory ghetto of remediation’ (Swales, 1990:6) but democratises and extends to all the benefits of EAP while disabusing the notion that EAP classes ‘entail a few hours of fixing up grammar in the language centre’ (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002: 6).
In short, it acts as a consensual professional strapline reflecting implicit orthodoxy on attempting to normalise everyone’s struggles – regardless of academic status and more importantly first language – to develop academic communication. It equalises/flattens this struggle to communicate and erases all differences between individuals and groups. It also badly misrepresents Bourdieu and Passeron. Here is the full context of the quote:
‘Academic language is a dead language for the great majority of French people, and is no one’s mother tongue, not even that of children of the cultivated classes. As such, it is very unequally distant from the languages actually spoken by the different social classes. To decline to offer a rational pedagogy is, in this context, to declare that all students are equal in respect of the demands made by academic language’
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J-C., 1995: 8.
I think the full quote reveals a substantially different meaning – perhaps the opposite of the much-quoted ellipsis and goes against the whole purpose of their book (and indeed the ethos of Bourdieu’s work generally). Ellipsis is supposed to maintain the original meaning, in this case it doesn’t (although interestingly the Greek etymology of ellipsis is ‘omission’ or ‘falling short’ which seems apt here).
Beyond making what is perhaps a very pedantic point, does it matter if Bourdieu and Passeron are misused? I will come back to this via an illustration of what can be at stake by discussing Hyland’s provocative article Academic publishing and the myth of linguistic injustice (Journal of Second Language Writing, 2016 (31) pp. 58-69) as well as Flowerdew’s response (The linguistic disadvantage of scholars who write in English as an additional language, published in Language Teaching (52) in 2019.
I won’t summarise Hyland’s article but simply highlight some salient points he makes. His intention is to:
‘argue that framing publication problems as a crude Native vs Non-Native polarization functions to demoralize EAL [English as an Additional Language] writers and ignores the very real writing problems experienced by many L1 [first language] English scholars’
He cites numerous studies that seem to support the idea that EAL authors ‘report a sense of inequality compared to NES [Native English Speakers] scholars when writing in English’ (p.60). He then mentions other studies that suggest a more complex picture where other factors may be at play (e.g. support and resources available, educational background and experience). Attitudes (to publishing) ‘are cross cut by proficiency, first language, discipline and publishing experience, and, of course, many EAL authors successfully publish their papers’ (p.60). He argues that self-reports of EAL writers claiming greater difficulty are ‘largely speculative’ (p.61). Interestingly, Hyland implicitly evokes Bourdieu and Passeron when he claims that ‘academic English is no one’s first language’ (p.61).
More pertinent for Hyland is that ‘arcane conventions of academic discourses are perhaps equally daunting to Native speakers who also struggle to produce polished texts’ (p.62). What is more significant is apprenticeship for both NES and NNES [Non-Native English Speakers] is ‘often a painful and protracted experience’, where experts have the edge over novices in publishing (citing Swales (2004) for support). Importantly, he also draws on other factors that impact on publishing success; isolation (those on the periphery, unable to consult with peers and lacking familiarity with the ‘rules of the game’) and significant differences in rejection rates between high- and low-income countries (also the higher the impact factor the lower the acceptance rate).
He concludes with this statement:
‘By focussing on language shortcomings it perpetuates a myth of L2 [Second Language] deficiency, which discourages EAL authors and tells them to look for prejudice rather than revision.’
Unsurprisingly, this article has generated some discussion and disagreement. I will focus only on Flowerdew’s lengthy response. Referring to Hyland’s argument:
‘This is a Panglossian approach, however, according to which everything is for the best; there is no problem, so we don’t need to address it. Sweeping the issues under the carpet in this way, however, strikes me as morally questionable’.
He goes on to say:
‘it is demeaning for EAL writers to be told by someone writing from the privileged position of an L1 writer that they are misguided if they believe that it is more difficult for them to write for publication than for a L1 writer’.
Flowerdew lists the many features of academic writing that he considers specifically challenging for L2 writers, including: language functions (e.g. hedging, metadiscourse, stance, identity..); lexis; register; collocation; colligation; lexical bundles; cohesion; ellipsis and lexical cohesion, and discourse features of theme and rheme, as well as issues of L1 transfer to L2 (grammar and connected discourse but also aspects of rhetoric and functions). He also argues that simply because L2 writers do publish it doesn’t mean it isn’t less difficult, nor that academic language isn’t a problem and indeed it does enter into consideration in publishing (citing work by Lillis and Curry, 2015 as well as arguments about implicit bias of reviewers/editors). There is a sense of incredulity when he states:
‘Anyone who has spent any time learning an L2 will realize immediately that it will be more difficult to write in the L2 than the L1, even after many years of practice and study’.
Returning to Bourdieu and Passeron, I hope it is now clear why my questioning of the widescale use of the ellipsis ‘academic language is … no one’s mother tongue’ is problematic.
Hyland (Language myths and publishing mysteries: A response to Politzer-Ahles et al.), in a response to Politzer-Ahles et al. article (‘Is linguistic injustice a myth? A response to Hyland (2016)’) cites Adrian Holliday and his notion of neo-racist native speakerism to reject lumping ‘ together individuals … on the basis of whether their first language is English or not’ (p.9).
What are we, EAP practitioners, to make of this debate? One conclusion I have drawn is that ‘Academic language is … no one’s mother tongue’ is misleading and that it would be better to invest time and energy in exploring Bourdieu ( and his sometime co-writers) more deeply, to read about, for example, his ideas in ‘Science of Science and Reflexivity’. Most of all, my reaction to this debate is that we need a much more sophisticated social theory or theories to inform EAP and shed light on the complexities, the material worldly complexities especially (not just linguistic complexities), that shape academic practices and ideas about practice and therefore shape EAP.
Slogans and misappropriated ellipsis don’t help much.
Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J-C., and Saint Martin, M. (1994) Academic discourse : Linguistic misunderstanding and professorial power. Polity
This blog post was written by my collaborator and co-author Ian Bruce. I am sure you’ll find plenty to think about and comment on.
EAP has often been subject to reductive and potentially misleading definitions from cognate fields despite its own growing body of scholarship, research, innovative pedagogies and frequent academic events. The usual oppositional trope claims that EAP has a narrow, technical focus on text, and that it is not concerned with the context or writer of the text. Recently I again encountered these ideas being ventriloquated uncritically in the work of novice researchers. These encounters have motivated this post. Here I wish to revisit the issue of defining EAP and its scope with a particular focus on considering what is central to teaching and learning in EAP courses. Following that, I will express my thoughts on some current structural issues that may act as constraints upon EAP.
In supporting EAL students’ pathways into, or current trajectory within English-medium university education, I propose that EAP is concerned with the development of two areas of knowledge that are closely related although I see one as subsidiary to the other. These are: academic discourse competence and academic processes and values. My position is that the first area should be at the centre of what we do in EAP.
The core knowledge area of developing academic discourse competence may involve subject epistemologies, assignment genres, processing and creating extended texts, textual grammar (including key elements that relate to cohesion and coherence), metadiscourse devices and academic lexis. Development of academic discourse competence knowledge is achieved through the implementation of an analytic (top-down) syllabus with holistic objectives, based around genres or text types. Most EAP practitioners are familiar with genre-based pedagogy as a means for developing discourse competence.
The second, closely-related knowledge area of academic processes and values involves becoming familiar with the university’s organisation, hierarchies, methods of communication, course documents, modes of course delivery, academic integrity, accessing and processing information and the development of student autonomy. This area of cultural and dispositional knowledge is developed on an ongoing basis through the tasks and routines of EAP courses. For example, this could involve exposure to lectures and tutorials along with requirements to undertake larger, assessed academic tasks that integrate the desired skills and values. Such tasks provide a vehicle for the scaffolded development of skills related to accessing, reporting and synthesising knowledge, and expressing analytical (critical?) thinking.
One of the problems in EAP is that some tend to define the field in terms of only one of these two areas. A few years ago, I was confidently told by a colleague that our in-sessional EAP programme was solely about study skills development, and that it had nothing to do with language. In response, I would argue that language is at the absolute core of what we do. However, it is language that is used to achieve discursive academic purposes, which is what differentiates EAP from other types of general English language teaching.
Structural issues that can mitigate against EAP courses developing these two core knowledge areas may relate to materials, course organisation, teacher knowledge and experience and the institutional commercial imperatives placed on EAP units.
Materials (textbooks) can be branded as EAP, but if they employ a synthetic syllabus and are benchmarked to CEFR proficiency levels, it is likely that they are based on a TESOL materials model, and that they are not framed in ways that support pedagogy that develops discourse competence. This type of proficiency benchmarking of materials also obviates the need to undertake needs analysis, an activity that has always been at the heart of EAP. As we know, needs analysis may potentially involve understanding the culture, identities, expectations, educational experiences and prior cognitive training of our students. It also involves investigating the academic contexts which students are preparing to enter, or are already participating in, in terms of their epistemologies, genres, processes and academic values. Undertaking ongoing needs analyses utterly refutes the fallacious argument that EAP is only focused on the text and not the writer of the text.
Course organisation can be another structural feature that undermines EAP. For example, EAP courses can be organised in much the same way as traditional language courses with no requirement to attend a lecture or participate in a tutorial or undertake larger course assignments. Therefore, thought needs to be given to how EAP courses are structured so that they better reflect the modes of course delivery that students are preparing to (or already) participate in.
Much has been written recently about teacher knowledge and EAP teacher development. For a long time, there has been a growing level of scholarship of teaching and learning, research and community involvement by EAP practitioners. This willingness to engage with the literature, participate in debates and online discussions, attend events and undertake scholarship and research are essential for ongoing teacher knowledge development. Gemma Campion (2016), when reflecting on her case studies of practitioners making the transition from general English teaching into EAP, notes that a TESOL background and training provides a basis for building EAP teacher knowledge, but ongoing mentoring and development are needed as part of the transition.
Finally, there is the issue of the creeping commercialisation and commodification of EAP programmes and universities, which may have a profound effect on the content and modes of delivery of EAP courses. Greg Hadley (2015) and Alex and I (Ding & Bruce, 2017) have attempted to address these issues in previous book publications. We have argued that within the field, the practitioner response should include an active scholarship of teaching and learning. However, there are also larger educational policy and political issues here. Advocacy concerning these issues needs to come from practitioner organisations as well as individuals.
EAP is a developed field of academic activity and academic inquiry, and as such, requires practitioners to participate in scholarship and research as well as contribute to the academic and political debates that relate to our field. Occasionally, it also requires us to offer a refutation to those who attempt to define the fields as something quite different from what it actually is.
Campion, G. C. (2016). The learning never ends: Exploring teachers views on the transition from General English to EAP. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 23, 59-70.
Ding, A., & Bruce, I (2017). The English for academic purposes practitioner: Operating on the edge of academia. Cham, Switzerland: Springer
Hadley, G. (2015). English for academic purposes in neoliberal universities: A critical grounded theory, Heidelberg, Germany, Springer International Publishing.
A blog post written by Ian Bruce and Alex Ding
A discussion thread on the BALEAP list during the first few days in May raised concerns that BALEAP events related to CPD are often staged over weekends, during the practitioner’s own time rather than during their working hours. Some of this discussion also raised other issues relating to the academic status and workplace conditions of EAP practitioners. Liz Hamp-Lyons, as a former editor of JEAP, commented about “the failure of us as Editors to tackle the professional issues in the field” and suggested a special issue of JEAP as a way of focusing on some of these issues. Hilary Nesi, a current editor of JEAP, agreed to set up a link for proposals for a special issue. However, she offered the caveat “that issues surrounding the status of EAP within Higher Education, and all the attendant concerns might be better discussed in a journal read by those involved in administration and policy-making at university management level, so that managers can be made aware of, and take action to address, the plight of EAP practitioners in its various manifestations”. The link that Hilary provided was an Elsevier link (not specifically a JEAP link), so any proposals in this area may be directed to another higher education journal rather than be taken up by JEAP itself.
This list discussion is interesting as it raises the matter of the scope of the current range of research within EAP/ESP and, importantly, who disseminates research that examines the development, praxis and career trajectories of EAP practitioners. The advertised scope of JEAP includes the practitioner areas of ‘teaching methodology’ and ‘teacher education’, which one could argue includes initial teacher education and ongoing teacher development (including CPD). However, it does seem that the larger socio-economic and ideological contexts of EAP within higher education, contexts that frame the whole activity of EAP and influence its implementation, have largely remained outside of the perceived remit of JEAP. Our recent book focusing on the EAP practitioner was an attempt to address this situation. Also responding to the theme of the recent BALEAP conference in Leeds, there were a number of presentations that focused on the practitioner, their working life, their development, self-perceptions and their concerns.
We are hoping to continue this focus as part of our ‘New Perspectives for English for Academic Purposes (call for proposals flyer), recently contracted with Bloomsbury. Currently we are making plans to have around six edited titles, two of which will offer scope to address issues relating to EAP practitioners, their working lives and trajectories. One of these titles will address the area of politics and public policies as they impact on EAP (and on the practitioner); the other will deal with aspects of practitioner identity. We are hopeful that these two forthcoming edited volumes will offer opportunities for publication of research and theoretical contributions that address these areas from a broad range of contexts. At this stage, we wish to encourage practitioner-researchers working in this area to continue to collect your data, to do your analysis and proceed with your local presentations and publications, perhaps with the view of bringing your work together in a book chapter as the series unfolds.
In Chapter 3 of our 2017 book we acknowledged the rich depth of textual work that has contributed to the existing knowledge base of EAP, drawing as it does on a number of research and theoretical traditions. Much of this falls comfortably within the scope of JEAP. However, we would also argue that it is now time to broaden the focus of EAP theory and research to include the EAP practitioner as well as EAP curriculum, something that we are determined to include in our forthcoming series. Keep researching and writing, and keep watching this space.
Alex and Ian
PS If evidence was ever needed of the imperative to explore and communicate the socio-economic and ideological structures that shape (and distort) the development of EAP practitioners then readers need look no further than recent events at the University of Essex where senior management have make changes entailing:
- reducing the number of teaching staff despite growing student numbers,*
- removing scholarship and programme development from Tutor workload calculations,
- forcing full-time tutors to go part-time (shifting them from 1.0 FTE to 0.8 FTE) without reducing teaching loads,
- subsidising this loss with new staff on fixed-term contracts in a process of casualisation,
- reducing admin support,
- closing the TDC helpdesk–an important focal point for students seeking academic help.
Why this and other pressing material concerns that impact the teaching of EAP are not part of the research and scholarship landscape (which JEAP, for example, aims to capture) is more than regrettable: it ignores, distorts and obfuscates the practice(s) of EAP and hinders the collective discussion that may lead to improvements for all practitioners and students.
# If you wish to sign the petition against the proposed changes at the University of Essex click here.
A few months ago I gave a talk at the University of York – ‘The Language Educator as Practitioner: Examining agency, identity and knowledge’ – and I have posted it here. It covers quite a lot of theoretical ground and might be of interest. It is broader in scope than the usual focus on this blog but the issues raised here are drawn from EAP.
If you don’t feel like watching this (I fully understand!) I have included the PowerPoint slides: The Language Educator as Practitioner YORK
As per usual your thoughts and comments most welcome.