Curriculum as knowledge practicePosted: August 17, 2012
This week, we have a guest blogger: Gina Roach. Gina is an EAP colleague who teaches at our Ningbo campus in China. Gina is also one of Julie King’s PhD students and she is investigating the assessment of critical thinking at the Masters level across four Social Science disciplines.
I’d like to contribute here, through a very short analysis, an understanding of EGAP and ESAP curricular shift as not simply a matter of movement along a continuum ‘towards ESAP’ but one requiring a shift to a completely different paradigm.
A discussion about curriculum inevitably involves a discussion about knowledge. The latter work of Basil Bernstein (2000) offers a valuable theoretical tool for understanding curriculum as knowledge practice. Curriculum is a re-contextualisation practice where knowledges from production fields are selected, rearranged, and transformed to become pedagogic discourse. A Bernsteinian analysis involves examining how strongly or weakly controlled and bounded variables are between and within problematic categories. This work has been significantly extended and refined by Karl Maton (2000, 2007) in a theory of knowledge called Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) (see www.legitimationcodetheory.com). One relevant extension in LCT is Specialisation: what makes something or someone special? This is made visible through an examination of knowledge relations: epistemic relations (ER) and social relations (SR) which can be relatively strong or relatively weak (ER±; SR±). Specialisation analysis asks which relation is dominant and aims to make visible the underlying organizing principle or code of Specialisation in a practice. There are four Specialisation codes:
- knowledge codes – refer to situations where possession of specialised knowledge and its procedures are more emphasised as the measure of achievement (ER+,SR-)
- knower codes – refer to situations where dispositions or attributes of actors are emphasised as the basis of achievement (ER-,SR+)
- elite codes – refer to situations where both specialised knowledge and dispositions are emphasised (ER+,SR+)
- relativist codes – refer to situations where neither are strongly controlled (ER-,SR-)
Using these concepts I examine what relations are emphasised in EGAP and ESAP curricula, their underlying codes and what this might mean.
EGAP relatively weakly controls and bounds what is selected, re-arranged and paced in a curriculum. For example, Business Studies students might build FIELD about Acid Rain, English as a T-Rex, and Economic Globalisation. Skills, the mechanics of doing something vacuous of content are far more significantly emphasised over content andmarking rubrics tend to value items like grammar, fluency, and accuracy. Thus, there is an emphasis on actors being a native speaker of English; social relations to knowledge are emphasized (SR+) over epistemic relations (ER-), indicating a knower code curriculum (ER-,SR+).
ESAP places stronger control and boundaries around what is considered legitimate text and discourse for selection, re-arrangement, and pacing. Business Students may build FIELD in Herzberg and Maslow’s theories of motivation and hierarchy of needs, Entrepreneurship, and Social Capital. Marking rubrics tend to more equally value content, the mechanics of English like grammar, and the mechanics of writing like task-fulfillment. There is relatively stronger emphasis on being a native speaker of a discipline in English (c.f McPeck, 1994). Thus, more emphasis is on epistemic over social relations to knowledge (ER+,SR-) indicating a knowledge code (ER+,SR-) curriculum.
I have reservations about EGAP and ESAP being placed on a single continuum as popularly conceived in our field and suggest different continua for different organizing principles: a towards being-a-discipline-speaker in English continuum and a towards being-a-native-speaker of English continuum. In LCT studies, continua are often intersected to create Cartesian planes where finer analyses are made. The LCT Specialisation plane in the left-hand box of the table below intersects SR and ER continua of varying strengths, where the four Specialisation codes – knowledge, knower, elite and relativist – emerge from the quadrants. Similarly, being-a-discipline-speaker in English (DS) and being-a-native-speaker of English (NS) continua can be intersected as seen in the right hand box. EGAP and ESAP can now be seen in terms of their relations to each other and their codes: EGAP as a knower code curriculum and ESAP as a knowledge code curriculum. A shift requires movement to a different quadrant; a different code of practice.
Specialisation Codes (Maton, 2007; 97)
For me, this is a useful explanation of why it is often difficult to communicate amongst ourselves as EAP practitioners when we discuss curriculum: often we are speaking different codes and misunderstandings occur due to our code clash. A change in selection in curriculum may involve an entire code shiftwhich has repercussions for participants involved. Knower code curriculum writers may be required to create a knowledge code curriculum with validation rubrics, or knower code teachers may need to operationalise a knowledge code curriculum. A popular maxim is ‘but we are not content teachers!’ Code clashes often exist between a curriculum and its validation rubrics; this occurs more frequently than we like to admit. Proper training in ESAP curriculum writing, as a knowledge practice, is an urgent need in our field which I hope the new MA EAP at Nottingham can address.
Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Maton, K. (2000). Languages of Legitimation: The structuring signififance for intellectual fields of strategic knowledge claims. British Journal of Sociology of Education 21(2), 147-167.
Maton K. (2007) Knowledge-knower structures in intellectual and educational fields, in Christie, F. & Martin, J. (Eds.) Language, Knowledge and Pedagogy: Functional linguistic and sociological perspectives. London, Continuum, 87-108
McPeck, G. (1994). Critical Thinking and the ‘Trivial Pursuit’ Theory of Knowledge. In Walters, K. (Ed) Re-Thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, 101-118. Albany: SUNY Press
 John McPeck used the term native speaker of a subject-domain to refer to the need for students to have a deep and wide knowledge-base of a discipline before any ‘critical thought’ in it is possible.