Nursing EAPPosted: September 14, 2012
This blog post is by Julia Molinari. Julia is a colleague at Nottingham. She has been heavily involved in designing our new presessional programme
The reference to ‘nursing’ here is metaphoric, a gerund to signify action, not a descriptive classifier. There has been a lot of EAP probing, prodding, deconstruction, analysis and reflection on this blog so far, and, as an EAP practitioner, I am starting to feel bruised. My EAP identity is suffering so I am going to try and nurse a little TLC back into the debate and see what happens…
Let me start with some rigorous academic (mal)practice. I will cherry-pick a sample of quotes that support my claim that EAP needs nursing so that my subsequent argument will be at best coherent, at worst unfounded:
– EAP can’t do its job because it is “beyond the capability of most teachers to teach [critical thinking]” (in Objections to critical thinking posted 31/08/2012)
– EAP should teach “critical discourse analysis” and therefore critical thinking about language (in Academic discourse and literacies and the teaching of academic writing posted 06/07/2012
– EGAP is potentially “vacuous of content” (in Curriculum as knowledge practice posted 17/08/2012)
– EAP is the object of “dichotomous views” and “misconceptions” because of the generic vs specific skills debate (in What’s disciplinary epistemology got to do with EAP? posted 20/07/2012)
– EAP leads to existential confusion because “I have no idea as to what I do and say in my EAP context” (in How to become a usefully ignorant teacher posted 02/08/12)
This identity crisis has been brewing for at least 15 years. It is already reflected historically between 1997 (when Jordan’s ‘English for Academic Purposes’ was published) and 2012 (when the ‘Journal of English for Academic Purposes’ dedicated an issue to Academic Literacies and Systemic Functional Linguistics). For example, while Jordan identifies EAP with ‘study skills’ and ‘academic language’, ‘critical thinking’ does not get a mention in either the Contents page or Index of his influential book. This contrasts starkly with our most recent post on this blog which documents how clued-up and concerned we are with developing criticality in our classrooms (31/08/12). Alexander, Argent and Spencer’s ‘EAP Essentials’, 11 years after Jordan, dedicates a whole chapter to Critical Thinking and lists the lamentations of university lectures who feel that students “should give their own opinions more” (2008: 252)
The idea that students need to develop a stance is also supported by Uzuner:
“it is the stylistic differences, not so much the linguistic barriers, that lead to rhetoricalweaknesses in multilingual scholars’ writings” (2010:250)
In referring to ‘stylistic’ rather than ‘linguistic’ features of discourse, Uzuner echoes what Thomson (2001) calls ‘interactional’ and ‘interactive’ features, respectively: the former are features of language that allow writers to enter into an intertextual dialogue with readers whereas the latter are mere organizational signposts. Typically, it is the discussion section of an academic paper that requires the writer to persuade the reader by selecting and synthesising various strands of an argument. In other words, this is where the writer explicitly enters into a dialogue with the reader. It is in the discussion section that the writer’s stance (identity) is most manifest because this is where a scholar needs to position themselves within their research community. However, as Uzuner shows, this is also the section that multilingual scholars have most difficulty writing. We could extend this by claiming that it is also the one that readers have most difficulty understanding.
Recently, Coffin and Donohue (2012) have made a strong case for how systemic functional linguistics and academic literacies have been influencing EAP practice (cf. Michael Halliday’s 1994 sociological framework and Brian Street’s and Mary Lea’s 1998 anthropological framework for understanding how language works). They paint a very different EAP landscape to that of Jordan in which discourse analysis and multiple literacies and identities are brought into the classroom and managed with students rather than for them and in which EAP teachers work alongside subject specialists (Donahue 2012). This is a significantly different shift in how we see EAP compared to 1997 (see also Hocking and Toh 2010).
So, we have gone from a study skills definition of EAP in 1997 to a dynamic social model in 2012. This dynamic social model, in my view, sits comfortably within a school of education and the social sciences more broadly because I think EAP does indeed have a transformative social purpose especially in the context of widening participation. The internationalisation of the HE community leads to cultural, linguistic and educational challenges and opportunities – not least how we assess and standardise achievements – that require an awareness of social implications and engagement on both the part of teachers and students. I don’t see how we can teach EAP and not address this.
When Julie King ponders over our roles as EAP practitioners in ‘Credentials, credibility and the EAP practitioner’ (this blog on June 7), she is drawing our attention to this historical erosion and reconstruction of our identities, from study skills and language transmitters to meddling, engaged critical social transformers who are contributing to the broader educational aims of a university. At Nottingham University, this ‘educational identity’ has been bestowed (or imposed?) on us and we are now part of the School of Education in which EAP students are classified as undergraduates. Are we therefore happy to be classified as ‘educators’ and see ‘education’ as being our academic purpose? Can we ‘nurse ourselves back to school’, so to speak, by understanding our EAP identities in terms of an educational commitment to facilitating linguistic competence where by education I mean giving students a sense of purpose to search for and understand meanings, to create new meanings and dialogically question assumptions and conclusions?