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


EAP Teacher education and development: some thoughts

Over the past few months my thoughts and energy have been directed at co-researching and writing (with Gemma Campion*) a chapter on education and development for EAP practitioners to be published in the Routeledge Handbook of EAP (eds. Ken Hylands and Philip Shaw). This endeavour proved far more challenging and thought-provoking than I had imagined when first embarking on this project. In this post I want to briefly discuss just some of the challenges and questions that emerged during this process of researching and writing on teacher education and development.
There is a dearth of publications and research exploring EAP practitioner education and development by researchers, teacher educators and practitioners themselves and few (but growing in the UK) opportunities to study for specialist post-graduate qualifications in TEAP. The practitioner (especially in terms of education and development) is almost absent from the pages of JEAP (Journal of English for Academic Purposes). It would appear that practitioners are of only very minor interest to the discipline. Despite infrequent calls over the years for more attention to be paid to practitioners this has not translated into a substantive body of work. Why practitioners have solicited so little interest from the discipline remains a mystery and seems to confirm Belcher’s (2012:544) recent observation that the ‘community that ESP professionals know the least about is their own’.
This lack of interest by the discipline is not entirely reflected by the profession, at least in the guise of BALEAP, where there have been significant developments over the past 8 or 9 years to articulate, guide and standardise the competencies required to teach EAP. Initially, BALEAP developed a competency framework for teachers of English for Academic Purposes (CFTEAP) which has formed the foundations of a new and ambitious accreditation scheme. This accreditation scheme offers three levels of recognition; associate fellow, fellow, and senior fellow. Whilst this scheme appears to have been welcomed within the UK EAP community it is not without problems. The aim of this post (but possibly a future one) is not to dissect this scheme in detail but simply indicate some of the problems with it.
Much of the scheme relies of the orthodoxy of the reflection as the motor of development and education. Yet there are multiple meanings attached to reflection, reflection serves diverse educational and ideological ends and there are some serious concerns pertaining to the quality, significance and aims of reflective practices. Along with a lack of empirical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of reflective practices this would suggest greater caution in relying so heavily on reflection in this scheme.
There is a general preoccupation (obsession?) in the available literature on the inadequacies of the novice practitioner and how ill-prepared they are for teaching EAP. The novice is cast as ‘deficient’ and requiring induction and assimilation into existing practices and values. This stifles, partly through promoting and privileging ‘experience’ and learning from experienced colleagues, innovation and transformation whilst promoting reproduction of existing praxis. How EAP is to develop in this framework is unclear.
There is an emphasis on understanding and applying institutional values (and even then only in three restrictive areas; equality of opportunity, sustainability, and internationalisation) rather than encouraging practitioners to question and shape these values. In addition, the focus of these three values in unnecessarily restrictive and practitioners should participate in wider debates on the (effects of) commodification of education in a neoliberal world. Practitioners should, in my view, be questioning the range of ideologies and values that profoundly shape (rather than simply form the backdrop to) EAP as well as articulating their/our own values and responses to them. A much more sociologically-informed and reflexive emphasis is needed in education and development frameworks and courses if practitioners are to make a bigger impact on their worlds.
These are just three examples of issues that troubled me during the process of writing this chapter. More generally, during this process of researching and writing, I became (painfully) aware of just how parochial my perspective was/is: it is a very UK-centric perspective. Courses and development frameworks for practitioners all emanated from the UK and the UK perspective appears to dominate discourse on education and development. This raises serious questions about the relevance and pertinence of these courses and frameworks for those teaching EAP in other contexts (about which relatively little is published). A global perspective or multiple perspectives on education and development is simply unavailable at the present time and the UK perspective(s) risks shaping and dominating professional development and education at a time when much more recognition needs to be given to EAP enacted elsewhere in possibly very different and challenging contexts.
One way of reading the growth of interest in EAP practitioner development and education in the UK is as a response to both the expansion of EAP in the recent past as well as a desire to protect and promote the teaching of EAP (and practitioners): to promote greater professionalism within EAP in the UK in a period of expansion; and to seek greater recognition (and security) for EAP within the wider educational community. This comes at a time when the professional status and identity of practitioners is particularly fragile within the UK (EAP units have no settled ‘home’ within universities, out-sourcing of teaching to for-profit organisations is not increasingly common, pay and conditions vary greatly etc.).
I will return to this topic in the next couple of weeks but this just gives a flavour of some of the questions and issues I have been thinking about during this process of writing.

* the views expressed here are my own.


The CEMistry of EAP

Well worth reading (as per usual)

The EAP archivist

I am in the process of establishing in-sessional provision at my new institution so this was a timely read – Sloan and Porter’s ‘Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model’ (2010).

The research that informs this article (conducted between 2005 and 2009) is grounded in the contemporary milieu that sees HE shamelessly obsessing over all things ‘international’. The authors (“two ‘subject champions’ from the English Language Centre and the Postgraduate area of Newcastle Business School” p. 199) were concerned with identifying whether the then “existing model of EAP delivery at the University [of Northumbria was] supporting the academic literacy learning needs of the international student body” (p. 199). This question was posed in acknowledgement of the fact that students seemed to be reticent in their engagement with in-sessional provision offered at the university. A problem that appeared evident to different sectors within the…

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EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner

Recently I organised an event on scholarly activity and the practitioner which was held at the University of Nottingham. 40 participants came along from various EAP centres in the East Midlands and beyond. I promised to write up a summary of discussions for participants and the BALEAP mailing list. I haven’t been able to do this or, more accurately to do justice and provide an accurate summary of the discussions. Instead I am going to give my impressions of the event and my concerns in the hope that other participants will add to the discussion by commenting. Of course, everyone is welcome to add ideas, suggestions and comments too.

One of the reasons, selfish perhaps, why I wanted to organise this event was because I had recently been asked to lead scholarly activities and development of language education colleagues (including all EAP colleagues) in the School of Education and wanted to get a sense of what was happening elsewhere in other EAP centres/departments/units. And, indeed, it seems that there is significant variation in support for colleagues in different institutions.  It was also because scholarly activity, as far as I could tell, is, at best, a somewhat nebulous concept and, at worst, a contested one.

I introduced the event by suggesting that scholarly activity is difficult to define – and I couldn’t find a definition only lists of what might count as scholarly activity (writing articles or text books, developing e-learning materials, conference papers etc…). What these activities suggest (an EAP taxonomy of what counts as scholarly activity would be very useful!) is that scholarly activity differs from CPD or ‘good’ teaching practice in a significant manner – scholarly activity is the visible, tangible outcome of specific engagement (research, investigations, readings ..)  to improve teaching and learning and/or developing theoretical /practical understandings that can inform teaching and learning and related activities.

And it must be recognised – simply ‘doing’ scholarly activity isn’t enough, it has to be recognised by peers, managers, the institution, the profession, the wider academic community. There appears to be a qualitative aspect – an evaluation of this activity, impact, quality, or  (?) by peers. Scholarly activity is making visible and public (open to scrutiny, recognition, discussion and use) to various communities (EAP, the university, colleagues, HE colleagues, students, ..) concerted and rigorous engagement with teaching and learning that has resulted in a tangible and public outcome (a conference publication or article are the most obvious examples). In this it differs considerably from CPD or reflective practice in that these can often remain private or silent activities (although of course they don’t have to).

This notion of scholarly activity then, by EAP practitioners, poses a number of questions: time to do it; resources and support available; what to do and why (for promotion, interest, ..), and how to do it. Is scholarly activity part of the identity of practitioners? Part of who we are? An optional activity (even when written into contracts)? Is it a collaborative or individual endeavour? If it’s to obtain promotion how likely is this unless we publish in high ranking journals that are recognised as such by those that decide promotions? Why do some colleagues not engage in scholarly activity? Is it simply the case that if obstacles were removed that they would? How does research fit into scholarly activity? Can we complain about our often marginal positions within universities if we aren’t engaging in scholarly activity?

These are just some of the questions that come to mind. We didn’t have time to discuss solutions as such or projects that might be supportive of a more collective endeavour.

I did want to highlight during our session that we should be more mindful, more supportive and more engaged with those practitioners who are on zero-hour contracts, on the margins of EAP, who don’t have access to journals, CPD, conference funding and university resources. Sadly, we didn’t discuss this much but we shouldn’t forget those who are not in full-time permanent positions.

As I said, this isn’t a summary as such, just some questions really. Perhaps other participants can add their thoughts?

I’d like to follow up this event with another in February looking more positively at what we can do.

PS Last week I led a staff development session on scholarly activity. Here are my handouts below (click on link). Some of what I spoke about was influenced by your comments, so thank you all very much

SA upload

Assessment in EAP: a continuously improved means to carelessly examined ends

I am really pleased that Jane Pearson (a PhD student at Nottingham and EAP Lecturer at Kings College) has provided a stimulating post on assessment. Comments very welcome!

I was struck recently by a quotation used in an article by George Madaus (1993) which seemed to me to sum up the current state of affairs in EAP assessment. Assessment is described in the article as “a continuously improved means to carelessly examined ends” (Merton 1964 p vi in Madaus, 1993), and although this is being used to refer to the state of mainstream education in the USA, it seems especially pertinent to our politically constrained and time restricted context. In my experience, EAP course test writers tend to be divided into three groups: those with test writing experience for large scale exam boards; those with an interest in testing but little experience other than in large scale testing administration and prep courses; and those who are interested in assessment innovations, keen to emphasise authentic testing over statistical reliability, but have no framework within which to work given the dearth of examples or research evidence.  The assessment culture of EAP departments seems to lean towards one of the three points on the triangle.
Is this problematic? According to Bachman and Palmer (2010), two common testing misconceptions are that ‘experts’ should be the ones to write tests and that there is one standard method or framework, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessment. This means that the first and second group are likely to appropriate the most familiar method of assessment onto their EAP courses, regardless of the pedagogical aims and outcomes of the course. The third group may have the best intentions at heart, but, without a rigorous design specification, test construction cycle and validation procedure in place, can actually end up doing more harm than good, with confusing tests that change on a regular basis and do not meet criteria for either appropriate summative or effective formative assessment.
However, all of these people make invaluable contributions of EAP assessment. Therefore, it may be important to take a step back from the design of tests to allow open dialogue regarding how exactly we are defining the constructs we are testing. Some questions which could be put on the table are:
1.    Are we testing achievement or proficiency? Paran (2010)’s book Testing The Untestable points to a narrowing of the assessment agenda to include only that which is measureable, but where do critical thinking, autonomy and intercultural competence fit into this? If we are teaching and emphasising these skills, is it appropriate or logical to not test them? If we are not teaching these, but only language proficiency, on which it has been indicated that pre sessional EAP has little effect (Green, 2005), then what are the benefits for students of our courses over taking (and retaking and retaking) the IELTS or TOEFL exams for direct university entry?

2.    Are we testing four skills or integrated academic literacies and discourses? As we know, a significant body of research ( Lea and Street, 1998; Zamel,1998; Lillis,2003) suggests that deficiencies in the latter are the main barrier to success for international students. Yet the shift to a means of testing which acknowledges the complexity of skills and literacies in academia, while still providing a score in the ‘four skills’,  can lead to unthoughtout  assessments which may have face validity but little else. How many of us test speaking using a presentation, mainly because it represents an authentic means of assessment in HE, without considering if it is a fair assessment of the linguistic construct of ‘speaking’? Students may spend weeks researching, planning and practising a critical presentation, only to receive a low score due to poor grammar, lexis or pronunciation which is weighted more heavily because, while paying lip service to authentic assessment, we are obliged to assess mainly language proficiency. On the flip side, students with a high level of proficiency may receive a lower grade than expected due to a poor lack of planning or evaluative skills. Again, if we are testing achievement of academic skills learned and applied, this is fair; if testing language proficiency, it may not be. Perhaps the answer to this is to remind ourselves of Spolsky’s (1997) warning that the search for a ‘fair test’ may lead us down a dead end, and rather, that we need to make it transparent to all stakeholders what our assessments are trying to do. This may include an explicit definition of our constructs and how these link to pedagogy, along with the acknowledgement that they represent a theory of language and academic discourse particular to our context and imposed by us, as those in control of the process, rather than objective truth.

3.    Are we bound by the need to test in ways which are most familiar to us? And if we try to test in an alternative way, do we leave ourselves open to criticisms of lack of robustness? Alternative assessments do not often lend themselves to statistical validation procedures and thus are they considered unreliable or invalid? What kinds of evidence would we need in order to claim our alternative, integrated, process oriented tests are meeting all stakeholders’ needs? Do we need to redefine our paradigms of assessment validation to include a more interpretivist approach (Moss, 1992, McNamara, 2001)? What is preventing research from being conducted on alternative assessments in EAP contexts in the same way as in mainstream education? Obviously, questions are raised but no answers given and I would be fascinated to hear other practitioners’ views on these matters. As assessment affects us all, it would seem that there are ‘ends’ that need to be examined before we can begin to focus on the ‘means’ with which to assess our students.
Lea, M. & Street, B. V. (1998). Student Writing and Staff Feedback in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2):157-72.
Lillis, T. (2003). Student writing as ‘academic literacies’: Drawing on Bakhtin to move from critique to design.  Language and education 17 (3 ):192-207
Madaus, G. (1993). A National testing system: manna from above? A historical/ technical perspective   Educational assessment 1 (1): 9-26
Moss, P. A.(1996.) Enlarging the Dialogue in Educational Measurement: Voices From Interpretive Research Traditions  Educational researcher 25(1): 20-28
Macnamara, T. (2001).  Language assessment as social practice: challenges for research. Language testing 18(4): 333 -349
Spolsky, B. (1997). The ethics of gatekeeping tests: what have we learned in a 100 years?.  Language testing 14(3) 242-247
Zamel, V. (1998) Strangers in academia: the experiences of faculty and ESL students across the curriculum p249-264 IN Negotiating academic literacies: teaching and learning across languages and cultures eds Spack, R and Zamel V  Lawrence Erlbaum associates new jersey

Blogpost by Brian Street: Academic Literacies

The Academic Literacies approach to supporting writing in Educational contexts has over the last two decades developed into a well-established international field of research.  Aclits was grounded in New Literacy Studies (NLS)/ Literacy as Social practice (LSP), which conceptualized literacy as social practice rather than an asocial, set of generic  skills. Specifically the theoretical shift in these fields has been from what I term an ‘autonomous’ model of literacy which assumes reading and writing are ‘autonomous’ of social context so just need to be taught at a universal level, to what I refer to as an ‘ideological’ model, which recognises that literacy practices vary across cultural contexts, including in the university context across different fields and disciplines (Street, 1984). To learn the writing required for a particular discipline, then,  involves more sensitive attention to context and meaning than is offered by the autonomous model or the study skills approach that has followed from it. The major methodological contribution is the use of ethnographic perspectives in literacy research and training, whereby teachers try to find out what the learners already know and then build on that.

The consequent model of Academic Literacies (AcLits) arose from an ESRC-funded research project (1995) by Lea and Street involving ethnographic study of academic literacy practices in UK universities. This was originally reported in 1998 in the journal Studies in Higher Education. In this project, Lea and Street revealed that skills- and text-focused models dominated much theory and practice, but that these models did not account for the situational factors impacting on students’ acquisition of the literacy required by specific disciplines. By contrast, the AcLits model requires researchers to investigate the variety of academic literacies evident in particular contexts, drawing upon ethnographic methods which involve an ‘emic’ perspective, watching and following what participants are actually doing rather than imposing external – ‘etic’ – perspectives. In this case the practices of those learning to write in academic genres or styles may involve  different disciplinary requirements in terms of argumentation, genre, information structuring and rhetorical styles. As a result the research identified the need for changes in teacher education, which involves supporting subject teachers with the development of students’ literacy and enabling them to use ethnographic perspectives to analyse the existing literacy practices associated with their field and the associated student needs, rather than imposing a general model on all academic writing as in the provision of support programmes external to the subject disciplines.

AcLits has also been influential in the field of English for Academic Purposes in similar ways, shifting attention from a standardised and generic model of ‘English’ to a recognition of varieties and contexts. There has been positive research from the King’s AcLits group, for instance.  Leung and Street (2012) have argued that researching with the AcLits approach involves conceptual transformation in the teaching of English, both spoken and written, of the kind signalled above in the shift from an autonomous to a social perspective on language and literacy practices. There are multiple varieties of what counts as ‘English’ and that required for specific purposes in specific contexts will need spelling out and justifying more carefully in the new global world. Wingate and Tribble (2012) have challenged the apparent dichotomies emerging from the Academic Literacies perspective and argued for a synthesis of AcLits and text-focused approaches. They have developed an AcLits-informed instructional model that uses text as the basis of teaching and learning.
All of these debates are on going and there are currently attempts in South Africa, Brazil and France as well as the UK, to work through the implications of all of this for actual learning and teaching programmes in higher education.
Some Refs
Lea, M., & Street, B. (1998). Student writing in higher education: an academic literacies approach Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157-172.
Lea. M. R. and Street, B.V. 2006 “The ‘Academic Literacies’ Model: Theory and Applications” Theory into Practice Fall Vol. 45, no 4 pp. 368-377
Leung, C., & Street, B. (Eds.). (2012). English – a Changing Medium for Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Leung, C. (2008). Second language academic literacies:  converging understandings. In B. Street & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education (Vol. 2, pp. 143-161). New York: Springer.
Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Street, B 2009 “‘Hidden’ Features of Academic Paper Writing” Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, UPenn Vol. 24, no 1, pp. 1-17
Wingate, U. & Tribble, C. (2012) The best of both worlds? Towards an English for Academic Purposes/Academic Literacies writing pedagogy. Studies in Higher Education, 37, 4, pp. 481 – 495.

ESRC Projects

ERSC Research Grant RES-062-23-1666, Feb 2009 – Jan 2011 (Constant Leung and Brian Street) Modelling for Diversity: Academic Language and Literacies in School and University.
ESRC Research Grant (ref: R000221557) Oct 1995 – Sept 1996  (Mary Lea and Brian Street) entitled: “Perspectives on Academic Literacies: An Institutional Approach”

EAP and publishers: the dangers of Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason

This post is by our guest Andy Gillett. Andy is well-known in the world of EAP. He was chair of BALEAP, teasurer and PIMS coordinator. He is also very well known for his EAP site http://www.uefap.com/index.htm. Andy worked at University of Hertfordshire from 1995 to 2009 and more recently has been writing vocational English teacher training material for British Council, writing ESAP English for Telecommunications for Garnet, as well as working with Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner on materials to support their recent book to go on the British Council learn English site.

I have just been reading an article in the latest issue of ELT Journal by Duncan Hunter and Richard Smith (Hunter & Smith, 2012) about Communicative Language Teaching. In the article, they take a historical view by studying the use of the term Communicative Language Teaching – or CLT in ELT Journal during the period between 1958 and 1986. I find it interesting as, in my view, EAP is Communicative Language Teaching par excellence. Since the early days, CLT had focussed strongly on the authentic language of communicative purpose as well the belief that learners need to use the language actively in order to learn. Hunter & Smith argue that precise academic definitions of CLT existed in early days and still do to some extent, and this was supported my many academic publications (see, for example, Brumfit & Johnson, 1979). However in the last 20 years or so publishers have so diluted the meaning of the term CLT that it is almost meaningless these days. As a consequence of this, perhaps be this will lead to the end of CLT as we know it. And I think that would be a shame.

The reason I think this is important is that I wonder if the same happening with EAP. There has been a healthy research tradition in EAP since the 1970s and well-known researchers such as Averil Coxhead (e.g. Coxhead, 1998), Ken Hyland (e.g. Hyland, 2000), Hilary Nesi (e.g. Nesi & Gardner, 2012) & John Swales (e.g. Swales, 2004), have helped us define what EAP is. EAP is clearly a branch of ESP, which is defined by paying attention to the needs, linguistic and other, of the users. That means that we need to focus on who our users are and what they need and want. Isn’t that what humanistic CLT is about? You might argue, as people such Rinvolucri (1996) have done, that that is not possible, as you cannot possibly know what your learners will need. In order to plan EAP course and teach them, we do need, however, to believe that it is possible to predict, to some extent, what our learners needs are and prepare our syllabuses and classes to help them to achieve those aims. To support this, there is much research on needs analysis in EAP, especially linguistic, starting in the 60s and 70s with vocabulary and grammar, moving through the 70s with an emphasis on skills and functions, into discourse and text structure and now into more in-depth studies of vocabulary and – most importantly – genre. The problem is that once we start being really aware of the lexical and genre needs of students at different levels and in different disciplines, we find (see Nesi & Gardner, 2012) that it gets more difficult to generalise and produce generic materials. Every individual learner is different and needs their own focus.

However, now that the big publishers (Pearson, CUP, OUP), with their needs to sell to large markets, are jumping on the EAP bandwagon, this specialist knowledge of EAP genres and disciplinary differences seems to be getting forgotten. So it seems that EAP is dividing into two. Mass market EAP, concentrating on generic academic language, which is specific to no-one, and specific EAP designed for small groups or individuals, about whose needs are clear. Will the second destroy the first?  I hope not, because the narrow specific focus is needed. The generic EAP course may be useful for undergraduate pre-sessional courses or general EAP courses with no particular objective. You will know about Gerry Abbot’s (1978) TENOR – Teaching English for No Obvious Reason –  but there is a danger that TEAPNOR – Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason – is developing. Garnet Education, for example, are working hard with their ESP series and I hope they succeed. It would be counter-productive if the big publishers cornered the market and destroyed this. If there are a wide range of very general EAP books available, in the same way as CLT, books with a wide range of generic academic subjects of interest to everyone – or no-one, then everything becomes EAP, and it becomes meaningless. The problem with trying to be too specific is that you are likely to miss – I’m a micro-economist, not a macro-economist. The problem with being too broad is that no one learns what they need.


Abbott, G. (1978). Motivation, materials, manpower and methods: Some fundamental problems in ESP. Individualisation in language learning (ELT Documents 103, pp. 98-104). London: The British Council.

Brumfit, C, & Johnson, K. (Eds.). (1979). The communicative approach to language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coxhead, A. (1998). An academic word list. (English Language Institute Occasional Publication Number 18). Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington.

Hunter, D. & Smith, R. (2012). Unpacking the past: ‘CLT’ through ELTJ keywords. ELT Journal, 66, 430-439.

Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Nesi, H. & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rinvolucri, M. (1996). Letter to Craig Thaine. The Teacher Trainer, 10(2).

Swales, J. M. (2004). Research genres: Explorations and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.