Revisiting two of the top 20 myths about EAPPosted: September 28, 2012
It’s been four months since we launched our Teaching EAP blog and I thought I’d revisit two of the 20 myths about EAP which we posted on 22nd May:
EAP can’t be taught at lower levels
EAP tutors should only give students feedback on their grammar and vocabulary – the content of what they write can’t be assessed
Whilst a number of EAP practitioners believe that in lower level EAP classes you should start with the basics of language, which in many cases, involve focusing on grammatical structures at the sentence level, others argue for a more comprehensive approach to the teaching of grammar in EAP, i.e. looking at the academic context in which texts are produced and consumed, analysing the purpose of the texts, the writer’s own purpose and then observing what linguistic choices authors make in genres such as research reports, reflective essays, case studies.
Alexander (2012) reports on the findings of interview surveys conducted among teachers teaching EAP at low level proficiency levels. One of the teachers interviewed, who piloted Argent & Alexander’s book Access EAP: Foundations (Argent and Alexander, 2010) gives an account of a particular lesson where he spent an hour and a half ‘doing grammar’ (the passive) with students, a quick activity which was supposed to take a short time. Instead, the aim of the lesson should have focused on the flow of discourse and rhetorical functions in a written text. This shows how, despite prior introduction to approaches to EAP, it may be difficult for some teachers to move away from getting students to practise language structures in isolation towards an approach where the academic context and specific disciplines are analysed first.
In one-to-one Insessional consultations, EAP practitioners provide feedback on student writing in terms of structure, coherence, clarity of expression, level of criticality and language use. On some occasions, meaning can be obscured by problems with accuracy at discourse level.
I recently asked John Rabone, Head of the Insessional programme here at the University of Nottingham, which were the most common problems international students had with academic writing when they attend the one-to-one consultations requesting feedback before they submit their assignments. He said that in terms of language, problems vary from the wrong use of the definite and indefinite articles, which does not really affect meaning to a large extent, to those which involve the use of relative clauses, complex conditional patterns, cohesive devices and verb tenses.
In this posting, I’d like to take a quick look at verb forms.
According to a corpus analysis of research articles in journals in architecture and the built environment which I conducted three years ago, one of the key grammatical structures found in the corpus, after the singular and plural common nouns and the general adjective, was the –s form of the verb. This structure was used for various purposes.
Below I include some of these purposes:
– to indicate the focus of an article, e.g. this data demonstrates …, this paper presents …
– to refer to data in a graph, e.g. As figure 1 shows, …
– to describe scientific purposes, e.g. the total structural material consumption increases drastically
– to describe objects, e.g. The moment-resisting frame (MRF) consists of horizontal (girder) and vertical (column) members
– to indicate stance, indicating tentativeness, e.g. It seems that for practical purposes there is no difference
– to indicate stance, categorically, e.g. this invites the question …
– to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, e.g. PMV lacks the discriminatory power to predict acceptability within…
As we can see from these examples, it would be unwise to simply focus on the manipulation of the –s form of the verb without analysing the functional aspect of this grammatical structure over long stretches of discourse, in this case a journal article. Focus on the discipline itself is important. A number of articles on architecture and the built environment deal with the aesthetics, functionality and sustainability of buildings and these concepts are realised grammatically in different ways. Therefore, a more top-down approach to the teaching of grammar in EAP will need to be found in order to understand how academic communities construct knowledge and communicate with other members of their community than a purely superficial approach at sentence level.
We are about to implement a new curriculum on our Presessional programme which focuses on the students’ perception of themselves as members of an academic community and the perception of other members of the community they will be interacting with when they join their departments. What we are trying to do is focus on the academic as well as the linguistic needs of students to be able to understand discourses and activities of academic communities, participate appropriately demonstrating critical evaluation and autonomous approaches to learning, and the linguistic structures will be chosen accordingly. The students will be working on various spoken and written texts which will be part of the final assessment, but before they submit the final version of these texts, the production process will be scaffolded in class as well as in one-to-one sessions to make sure students are fully supported, as they will be receiving feedback from their class tutors and the person responsible for the one-to-one sessions.
I’d be interested in your views on different approaches to the teaching of grammar in EAP. Is it still realistic to start with grammar at the sentence level or can we adopt a top-down approach? Can we give feedback on the use of grammar and vocabulary without relating it to the content of a text?
Alexander, O. (2012) Exploring teacher beliefs in teaching EAP at low proficiency levels, Journal of English for Academic Purposes 11, pp. 99-111.
Argent, S. and Alexander, O. (2010) Access EAP: Foundations. Reading: Garnet Education