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.
Our ‘professional’ literature prefers not to deal with the ‘unprofessional’.
[T]he core values of professional communities revolve around the expectation that we do not keep secrets, whether of discovery or of grounded doubt.
This blog post is an invitation to consider, critique and respond to what follows. And what follows is very speculative and tentative for reasons that will become clear.
The prompt for writing this blog entry are a series of questions:
What makes one EAP centre different from another?
How can we explain the culture, identity and ethos of an EAP centre?
Why do some EAP centres appear to flourish (despite often unfavourable structural forces) when some/many appear to struggle? Without wishing to suggest that ‘flourishing’ becomes yet another vague metric and opportunity to measure the unmeasurable, it does seem to me in my many conversations with colleagues in EAP in the UK and elsewhere over a number of years that some centres seem to thrive and others don’t. Some practitioners are happy others much less so.
I am not going to answer these questions as I don’t feel I am able do that but I am going to suggest that understanding the micropolitics of EAP centres might be helpful in providing part of a very complex response.
What EAP centres do share are the same structural forces that shape (but not wholly determine) EAP. I’ve blogged about the pernicious effects of neoliberalism already and won’t repeat the arguments here. EAP centres share the same contested and unstable knowledge-base (see this post for more information) and EAP practitioners across institutions often share similar educational backgrounds, aspirations, experience and transitions into EAP (although not as uniform as some commentators would have us believe). In other words, there is plenty that we do share, plenty that suggests we share similar social practices and plenty to suggest that our praxis is inspired from a shared and evolving understanding of theory, research and practice.
Where we do diverge is where we are located within the university: within a peripheral (from an academic perspective) service sector of the university, an independent profit-making unit, part of an academic school and ever more frequently in what is euphemistically called a ‘joint venture’ (rather than the more accurate ‘outsourcing’). Where EAP centres are housed will have some (and perhaps a great deal of) impact on the power, recognition, agency and perception of the centre (and those practitioners that work in them). The highly symbolic location of the EAP centre can only provide a partial explanation though of why EAP centres differ. Two comparable universities with EAP centres located in very similar university structures can nonetheless be and feel very different. Structural forces do not hammer down so hard that there is an undifferentiated mass of centres. Culture, context, history, people and micropolitics all contribute to shaping the ethos and identity of centres.
One way of beginning to unpack EAP centres is to account for the ethos, histories and practices of centres with the perceptions, beliefs and actions of those that work in them. Examining the micropolitics of EAP centres might help achieve this. Although we (with Ian Bruce) were largely interested in the effects of micropolitics on practitioner development and scholarship the following quote captures our understanding of micropolitics:
Micro-political studies are largely taboo within EAP and TESOL more widely (a notable exception being Alderson, 2009), and discussions are usually relegated to the margins of gossip at conferences and events. What is clear from our long experience in EAP is the significance of personal politics, the motivations of multiple actors and the complex and competing agendas and relationships that unfold and interact over time and contingently to shape a specific work environment and its response to structural forces. However, we know of this only experientially and anecdotally. Although controversial and not without risks, we would like to see more studies and expertise in understanding and exploring the culture and politics of centres. We know too little of how EAP centres function, why some centres are supportive of development and others not, why some thrive and others, many, struggle, why and how some managers and directors (and practitioners) embrace the market, why practitioners, at times, appear to reject or embrace scholarship.
Ding and Bruce, 2017:157.
Micropolitics is controversial and risky and opens up a potential Pandora’s box of partial insights, recriminations, libel, misunderstandings and damage to both institutions and people. Yet, there is a real imperative to understand how and why some centres can and do much more than survive and for this knowledge to be made available for scrutiny, critique and possibly used by others to influence or attempt change in their own institutions. Also we do need, collegially, with rigour and in good faith, to examine and understand poor practices and dysfunctional work cultures to change them and support those practitioners who are struggling with the micropolitics of work. And not just practitioners – it is too facile and unreflexive to assume that all cultural/political issues in EAP centres are not in part our own responsibility. We do have some agency and we also contribute to the ethos of where we work through our everyday interactions, conversations with others, our (mis) use of officious (contra official) power that we have, how we talk about what we do and each other, our everyday actions and how empathetically we try to understand those with different roles and perspectives. How we treat each other is significant in this respect.
There are ethical risks in undertaking this sort of research and there are methodological issues too – which is better emic or etic viewpoints? Are ethnographic/anthropological research methodologies the most helpful to uncover and analyse micropolitics? I don’t know the answers to this but I do feel that despite the serious risks attached to micropolitics we need to have the conceptual tools as well as the research to understand and improve where (and how) we work. It has got to be better than gossip and partial truths.
This blog post is unlike others that have been posted. Next week (Saturday 28th of January) we (Bee Bond and I) are hosting a symposium on Knowledge and the EAP practitioner as part of a series of events for BALEAP ResTES. The central question we shall be discussing is:
what knowledge do practitioners need to master to inform and direct not only their teaching but also, more broadly, their professional activities (including understandings of academia in both its epistemological and sociological dimensions)?
We asked three researchers in the field of EAP – Ian Bruce, Nigel Harwood, and Jackie Tuck – to consider the relationship between knowledge and EAP and asked them to write up their thoughts in short papers prior to the event.
You can find their papers here:
These papers form the basis of their presentations for the day. Each paper/presenter has a respondent to challenge and probe their views on the day. All participants on the day will also have the opportunity to question and discuss these papers.
In addition, we would like you to pose your questions and comments here before and after the event. We wanted to make their papers available to all whether you can attend or not. So please feel free to comment and discuss here
Our ResTES symposium poses a central question for EAP practitioners: what knowledge do practitioners need to master to inform and direct not only their teaching but also, more broadly, their professional activities (including understandings of academia in both its epistemological and sociological dimensions)?
Considering this key question leads to a further, fundamental questioning around the adequacy of orthodox and established research strands in EAP – which have defined EAP as a discipline – to act as influential sources for, inter alia, curriculum development, materials creation and pedagogic activity.
How do influential theories and research shape and/or constrain EAP praxis?
What are the limitations of established theories for practice?
What is gained and lost when theory is translated into pedagogy? What else is needed?
These questions highlight a disjunct between research(ers) and practitioners – a gap between on the one hand what we know and how we frame this knowledge, and on the other what is ‘teachable’, useful, effective and transformative.
As a contrast to more research-led, theory-based practice, one common alternative is to emphasise and rely on experiential and reflective practice as the source of socially constructed knowledge to direct practice. Yet, attractive as this might appear, there are limits to what knowledge can be generated in this way, the veracity and warranty of this knowledge, and the perspectivism and relativism that this disposition to knowledge generates.
The aim of the symposium is to explore these key questions and to assess the claims and limits of the mainstream theories and research that define EAP and its practitioners. What do we need to know?
Each speaker has been asked to write a 2,000 to 3,000- word discussion paper. The week before the symposium, we’ll send participants the papers. On the day, speakers will expand on their papers for about twenty minutes. A respondent will have the opportunity to question and critique each paper. There will be plenty of time for all to contribute and participate.
We are looking forward to a lively, engaging and thought-provoking day.
Sponsored by the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE)
Academic and author Paul Breen writes a guest blog on the growing importance that universities are attaching to the notion of real world impact, without a clear definition of what this means.
WINNING the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has placed Bob Dylan firmly in the analytical spotlight this past couple of days. It has also opened up a debate centred around the fact that this prize, historically, has been awarded as much for the realisation of idealism (in the original Swedish sense of the word) as it has been for the mastery of language, at which Dylan undoubtedly excels. There is rarely a day that passes without one of his phrases or lyrics cropping up in everyday thought and conversation.
For some, Bob Dylan is the 20th century Shakespeare. There is little doubt that the impact of his music has been a major determining factor in this noble, for some, break with tradition. Others see this as further evidence of the gradual dumbing down of society, where depth of knowledge is replaced by breadth of popular appeal. We only have to look at the content of the current American Presidential campaign and debates to garner evidence for such claims about the dumbing down of public debate.
Yet the reality is that Bob Dylan and many other musicians will have far broader impact in their lifetime than many academics could ever hope to even get within touching distance of. Indeed some would argue that academia has been pushed further out of touch with real world impact because of slowness to adjust to the speed and immediacy of the digital age. Despite that, impact is seen as a critical element of REF 2020, the great guiding light and set of goalposts for all our activities over the next couple of years.
This new emphasis on impact though is not simply talking about our impact in the academic or specific disciplinary context. It is suggesting that we have impact in the real world, which suggests that we as academics are to be measured not just on our professional achievements within work but on our personal achievements outside of it. Does this mean that the university can lay claim to those things we achieve in our spare time that help to boost our profile? For example, shaping political policy at national level can be seen as part of our impact. Thus if we are members of political parties in our spare time and we are invited to join committees that shape or challenge government policy, our unpaid work could have an impact of benefit and relevance to the REF.
In the same way, articles that we write outside of the work context can also be drawn upon in terms of real-world impact, which again asks questions of where the boundaries lie in terms of the professional and the personal. For me this is totally acceptable by the very nature of the jobs we do and the communities of practice in which we operate, but there seems to be a contradiction in this, and the increasingly corporate direction in which universities are moving. Many of us find our time being strictly measured and quantified in workload allocation models, which very often bear little resemblance to the actuality of what we do. Similarly, in theory, any work that we produce in a professional capacity belongs to the institution that we work for, though only technically if done within work time. In theory that should then mean we keep possession of those lessons and materials we produce on Saturday mornings of coffee and a hangover, but you may also find contractual clauses that define our work allocation more qualitatively as being the time it takes us to fulfil the duties of our roles. Therefore the Saturday morning shift still belongs to the university courtesy of the fact that we were not quite able to meet all the demands of our role in our regular Monday to Friday slot.
Similarly too, in some workplaces, there is a ban on use of personal email or on using the university postal service for personal purposes. So let’s say I am a member of the Green Party (hypothetically) and I use the university’s mailing service to distribute some promotional material to a newspaper. The folks in the post room may see this as personal, nothing to do with my job if I am a lecturer in English Language for example. Yet, let’s say I climb up the ranks of the party in terms of reputation as a consequence of my promotional efforts and end up becoming invited to join a government focus group on sustainability in higher education. My contribution to this group could count as impact.
Impact though remains a difficult phenomenon to measure, which brings me back to Bob Dylan. A lot has been written about the impact of his music upon culture and the changes to attitudes he has brought, particularly in his highlighting of social injustice. It is these changes to attitudes that satisfy the idealism criteria required by the Nobel judging panel. But did he really chronicle the fate of the African-American community in the manner of Toni Morrison or James Baldwin, the man she credits as one of the inspirations for her writing? Has he devoted his life to championing minority causes in the same manner as Ken Saro-Wiwa the Nigerian writer and environmental activist executed in Nigeria in the 1990s? Neither Baldwin nor Saro-Wiwa won Nobel Prizes, and nor have countless other minority voices, particularly those further inhibited by being female. Bob Dylan holds the cultural capital of being from a global superpower and presents his message through the highly commercialised and commodified medium of the music industry.
But to conclude I do think Bob Dylan deserves the prize because he is a master of language whose voice and lyrics cycle through our popular consciousness on a daily basis, and who reminds us all that writing belongs to those who poeticise, rather than prophesise. It would be wrong to deny the greatest lyricist of our age this prize on the basis of those who might also have deserved it either in the past or the present, but did not get it. This award has been a powerful statement on a contemporary redefinition of literature in an age when people are reading less and less, and on the importance of real-world impact.
That seems to be the buzz word/phrase of our era, though impact can be such a subjective factor, and the measurement of it raises as many questions as it offers answers. That’s no less true in the university environment than it is on the judging panel for literary prizes. The times they truly are a changing, as higher education redefines its own sense of impact.