What is required to teach EAP?

This guest post is by Gemma Campion – currently a colleague at Nottingham. We co-wrote a chapter on teacher education and development for the Routledge Handbook of EAP which is due to be published later this year. Gemma won the BALEAP MA dissertation award in 2012 ‘The learning never ends’ Investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome?’”

Since my days as an ESOL teacher, deciding to study an MA with some vague sense that it would help me get into EAP, I have always been interested in how it is that one becomes an EAP practitioner, perhaps particularly because of the apparent mystery that seems to surround it. As an outsider to the profession I had a sense that EAP was quite different to other types of ELT I had experience of, but I was never sure quite how; I’d read bits of information; EAP Essentials for example, with its comparative table of ‘General English’ and ‘EAP’ attempts to provide a comprehensive account of the differences, but the problem was often that I didn’t even recognise the ‘General English’ that was described in the EAP literature (given the plethora of contexts and forms this can take). So determined was I to try and find some answers, I even devoted my Masters dissertation to investigating the process of learning to teach EAP, but due a dearth of relevant research and literature, my understanding was limited to the small number of insights I gained from my own research with six EAP teachers. I wasn’t surprised therefore to see the recent request from the English teacher in Greece on the BALEAP mailing list (see thread ‘EAP experience question’ which began 04/12/14), asking for advice about how she could go about getting into EAP in the UK. I was more surprised however to see how a rather innocent enquiry provoked such a long and animated (at times even verging on heated) debate. What has struck me about the ensuing exchange is the apparent strength of feeling that people seem to have on this topic.

For those who may have missed, or not have access to the conversation, a whole range of views were expressed; from proponents of ‘ELT experience’, along with CELTAs and DELTAs, through to those arguing that a background in academia is more important. At its centre, the debate seems to draw on a basic dichotomy/distinction between skills and knowledge; is it more important to have a firm set of (CELTA/DELTA inspired) teaching skills in one’s repertoire, to be able to go into the classroom and deliver well-staged, neatly executed lessons, or does EAP require MA holders and ‘academics’ (those in possession of ‘paper qualifications’) who, even if lacking in teaching skills and experience, may nonetheless have a much better understanding of academic literacies and the university context, and perhaps also a more questioning, critical disposition, such as we hope to foster in our students? Although these crude distinctions are, in some cases, a reduction of the views expressed, they nonetheless get at the types of binaries which seem to underpin what are essentially quite deep philosophical differences in beliefs about teaching EAP. For me, particularly with the increasing commodification of higher education, it seems that such questions are doubly significant because they are also inescapably political in nature. If we take the former view of EAP teaching; what for me is something of a reduction of TEAP to a set of skills, which can be learned on a teacher-training course, what implications does this have for our status within the institutions for which we work? On the other hand, if ELT qualifications and background aren’t important, what does this do to our identity as specialists, who have had to undergo formal training in order to be able to do what we do?

Views expressed in the conversation also draw on distinctions between experience and disposition; with some comments pointing to the importance of EAP experience, while for others it is a teacher’s disposition, their flexibility to adapt for example, which marks them out as the ideal TEAP candidate. For me the question of experience has always been slightly perplexing; so often it is called upon in the professional TEAP literature as a sort of benchmark of quality, yet nowhere does anybody really explain why experience is of such fundamental importance, or justify why experience is necessarily equated with expertise and competency. Alongside references to the value of experience seems to be a corresponding preoccupation with the short-comings of the novice, albeit usually in the (slightly patronising) context of how the ‘novice’ can be brought up to standard. We see this for example in the British Council’s ‘Pathways in EAP’ (1) , which makes very broad assumptions about teachers based on their level of experience in EAP; those at entry level are told, for example to ‘beware’ of ‘overconfidence’. BALEAP’s TEAP Accreditation Scheme is similarly underpinned by the belief that development should be based on level of experience. What is it about experience that is so key for an EAP role?

What also interests me is, given that the question of what is required to be an effective EAP practitioner continues to provoke strong reactions, and varied responses, is why the profession has, collectively, always seemed so reticent about it. Aside from a couple of PIMS in the past couple of decades (2) and a handful of studies (a significant number of them unpublished MA dissertations; inter alia Alexander, 2007; Elsted, 2012; Campion, 2012; Post, 2010) historically, very little attention has been given to this issue. For me, this fact is as worthy of consideration as the question itself. I wonder if it is because of the way in which the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner is intimately bound up with larger questions about practitioner identity, together with the sorts of political implications mentioned above. In order to know what is required, we need to know what we are, and perhaps this is the issue which seems to hold the greatest contention.

Despite some recent developments indicating perhaps a move towards a greater clarification and professionalization of the TEAP role; the inception of the BALEAP Competencies Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes (CFTEAP) in 2008, the emergence of MA programmes in TEAP in recent years, alongside other short TEAP courses; and most notably perhaps, BALEAP’s recent launch of the TEAP Accreditation Scheme in 2014, there are also equally some (more depressing) signs of a greater deprofessionalisation of the role; some TEAP courses and MA programmes have closed, many EAP jobs are now offered on a short-term and / or zero hours basis, and we are increasingly seeing out-sourcing of EAP provision to external providers. The professional literature and most adverts for TEAP jobs continue to favour generic ELT qualifications over specialist TEAP ones (3), suggesting that there isn’t anything particularly specialist needed to teach EAP.

The issue of EAP practitioner identity is again one that has received very little attention, but perhaps this is where we need to start. Ambiguities surrounding our collective identity were summed up in an earlier thought-provoking, blog post on here by Julie King (see ‘Credentials, Credibility and the EAP Practitioner’ June 2012). This post raised the question of where we see ourselves in relation to others; part of the broader world of ELT; inherently language problem-fixers, serving the needs of the academy, or closer to the academic community, with aspirations to the same sorts of entitlements to carry out research and scholarly activities that characterise work within the disciplines (4). Perhaps tackling questions such as this will help us to get a little closer to understanding not only what we are, but importantly, what we want or aspire to be. Then we might finally be in a better position to give a more coherent answer to the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner.

(1) See: http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/continuing-professional-development/pathways-eap

(2) BALEAP PIM on Teacher Training in 2001, and BALEAP PIM on Teacher Education in 2014.

(3) The CFTEAP for example includes ‘Cambridge ESOL of Trinity Diploma in English Language Teaching (or equivalent)’ in its list of ‘appropriate qualifications for the UK context’ as well as an ‘undergraduate degree’, ‘postgraduate degree’, with the most specific qualification being an ‘ELT/TESOL/Applied Linguistics focus’ in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree (pp.11-12).

(4) Another post on here ‘EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner’ Alex Ding, December 2014, provides a summary of a meeting which was held to discuss the topic of scholarly activity for EAP practitioners, and issues of personal and professional development.


Alexander, O. (2007) ‘Groping in the dark or turning on the light: routes into teaching English for Academic Purposes’. In Lynch, T. (ed.) Teaching Languages for Academic Purposes. Edinburgh: IALS, Edinburgh University.
BALEAP (2014) TEAP CPD Scheme, available at http://www.baleap.org.uk/projects/teap-scheme
BALEAP (2008) Competency Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes, available at http://www.baleap.org.uk/media/uploads/pdfs/teap-competency-framework.pdf
British Council (n.d.) Pathways in EAP, available at http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/continuing-professional-development/pathways-eap

Campion, G. (2012) The Learning never ends: investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome? Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Nottingham.
Ding, A. (2014) EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner, available at https://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2014/12/
Elsted, F. (2012). TEAP teacher training & professional development in EAP: A Masters dissertation study. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Essex.
King, J. (2012) Credentials, credibility and the EAP Practitioner, available at https://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2012/06/
Post, D. (2010) The transition from teaching General English to English for Academic Purposes: an investigation into the challenges encountered by teachers. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Bath

Exploratory Practice and the EAP Practitioner

Continuing recent discussions here about the EAP Practitioner, Bee Bond outlines her views on teaching, research and the role of exploratory practice. As per usual, the purpose of the post is to provoke discussion and we’d welcome challenges, comments, digressions and any thoughts you might have.

Bee is a senior teaching fellow at Leeds University

I was thinking of starting a PhD; after all ‘We live in a world where only research matters’ (The Guardian; 24/4/2015).
However, research is not all that matters. The staff pages of my University’s website are as preoccupied with celebrating excellence in teaching in at least equal, if not greater, measure as successful research. Recent changes in HE have highlighted the importance of good teaching.

I am a teacher. I have 6 pieces of paper to prove that I have trained, qualified, reflected on and honed my teaching practices (to nowhere near perfection). Therefore, it is on ‘scholarly teaching’ and the ‘scholarship of teaching’ (Schulman; 2000), not research, that I should focus my energies. It is through this I can share and continue to develop my expertise.
Scholarship is often seen simply as a synonym for research or ‘research-lite’. Rather, I would argue, it is working to better understand what goes on in a classroom, then sharing this understanding with others. Scholarly teaching is taking and interpreting research and using this interpretation to enhance your practices. The scholarship of teaching is then telling others about the impact this and other pedagogical innovations have on your students’ experience and learning.
For many, the greatest barrier to scholarly activity remains lack of time. However, the more I have pondered this the more I believe that this is actually a non-issue. If scholarship is to be defined in close connection to teaching, then we do not need time away from teaching to be scholarly; rather we need to build scholarly thought and processes into our teaching. The student should remain central to our activity, and therefore be part of it.

One way of doing this is through Exploratory Practice (EP).

For a detailed exploration of Exploratory Practice see Allwright & Hanks (2009). In summary, it is based around 7 principles (p.149-153), the first of which is about maintaining ‘quality of life’ whilst the rest are generally based around collaboration and reflexive practices. EP also makes 5 propositions about learners (p.15). I think as EAP tutors there are lessons to be learned from these propositions and our general perceptions of the people we work with. Importantly for me, EP views the student as a ‘developing practitioner’, thus distinguishing itself from action research.

Exploratory Practice is about ‘puzzling’ to understand classroom life, not finding an answer to a problem. Questions are usually framed around a ‘Why?’

It is possible to work through Exploratory Practice in a number of ways. It can be, simply, a pedagogy along similar lines to task-based learning (see Hanks 2014 for a more detailed explanation). If a teacher engages individually in EP, it is most likely to result in an internal reflection on practice, but little more.

The third way of working through Exploratory Practice is for the teacher and her students to develop their puzzle together. It is here that I see the real potential.

In my example, the puzzle I developed with my (low level, Arabic L1, male, pre-UG) students was ‘why can’t they spell?’ On the surface, not very EAP. However, I felt that their problems with spelling were blocking any other learning from taking place and that we had reached an impasse when my usual ‘teaching tools’ had failed. Rather than feeling frustrated, I decided I needed to gain greater understanding, not an answer. In order to do this, I threw the question back to my students. By involving them, showing I valued their opinion and ideas, they became far more engaged in their learning in general. Together, we became mutually involved in co-creating a shared understanding of our collective puzzle. We did this, sometimes together in class, and sometimes separately. We were not constantly ‘doing spelling and Exploratory Practice’; it was a thread through our usual, more obviously EAP classes. None of this placed any greater burden on me than my normal teaching load. Anything ‘extra’ I did made my planning easier and was because I chose to, because I was interested and could see positive changes in my students, which in turn was making my time in class with them far more pleasant. Quality of life came first.

So, how does fit with my definition of scholarship? For EP to translate into scholarship of teaching there needs to be some form of transmission of the developed understanding. For me, unusually, this particular process became part of some PhD research (see also Hanks 2015). Rather less unusually, I produced a set of materials which are now used by a number of colleagues; I jointly ran a workshop with an interested colleague; I presented at a conference, and this month am involved in a day-long seminar organised by the School of Education.

This is just one example. The other reason why I am beginning to conclude that a PhD is not the right route for me (at least for now) is that I am too eclectic in my tastes. For a while, I was interested in spelling. Today, my students and I are wondering why it’s so hard to start writing, even when you know what you want to say! I don’t need to delve too deeply – we don’t have enough time;but I do want to focus on what the students in front of me need. This requires a teacher dedicated to teaching and learning, not a researcher dedicated to research.

Allwright, D. & Hanks, J. 2009 The Developing Language Learner: an Introduction to Exploratory Practice Palgrave Macmillan
Hanks, J. (2014). ‘Education is not just teaching’: Learner thoughts on Exploratory Practice. ELT Journal Vol 69 Issue2. DOI: 10.1093/elt/ccu063
Hanks, J. (2015). Language teachers making sense of Exploratory Practice. Language Teaching Research. DOI: 10.1177/1362168814567805
Schulman, L. 2001 From Minsk to Pinsk: Why a scholarship of teaching and learning? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Vol 1 Issue 1 p.48-53