Explorations in EAP
The web is replete with EFL bloggers. Thousands of them, many truly excellent. People narrate their classes, reflect on their practice, share lesson plans and resources, and get together regularly online for discussions of best practice.
So why is it that EAP teachers don’t blog? It seems to have taken me about a year to get started (I’ve been threatening it since last Christmas…). Perhaps it’s lack of techknowlogy. Perhaps it’s a problem of time. Maybe, as in my case, it’s about confidence, fear of ‘loss of face’ – the public I in the public eye. As university professionals do some of us think blogging is not Proper Writing? Or are too many of us just Behind the Times. I’m not entirely sure. One thing I am now sure about, however, is that more of us need to be doing it more of the time.
I have three reasons. Here they are:
Teaching can be a lonely profession. How often and how widely do we get to share practice? Our EFL heritage provides us with some our classroom methodology and management, but do we agree on what EAP looks like? How much of our EFL heritage should we be drawing on in EAP? Is there ever a time for us to be ‘lecturers’? Is there perhaps a Third Space between these two, a way of thinking and practising that is unique to EAP? I have my own views (and I’ll write about these another time), but I think these are conversations more of us need to be having more of the time – and online is a good place for this.
Departmental staff development is great, as are conferences such as the one-day PIMs happening in the UK. These can never be replaced, but it can sometimes be hard to make the time (and find the money) to attend conferences, and it is often a challenge to get a staff team together at time that works for all. Online we can meet minds from a greater diversity of practice. We can break out (if need be) from institutionalised ways of thinking and internal politics that may not always be conducive to a developmental ethos.
This is beginning to happen. Nottingham University’s Centre for English Language Education (CELE) have an excellent blog that has been running since June (@AlexanderDing et al.). I do hope that their new MA TEAP students will also become bloggers and share their practice. Tyson Seburnt (@seburnt) has spearheaded the #EAPchat movement on Twitter (though this remains frustratingly small) and hosts his own website and blog. I hope we’re on the edge of something bigger here, at a tipping point – at a TEAPing Point :-).
I have an increasingly strong belief that EAP teachers need to be engaging in scholarship. We are (most of us) preparing our students for English-medium tertiary education and this involves more than just language proficiency. It means engaging with research, with long complex texts, and with ideas that challenge what we think we think. EAP teachers should, in some way, be doing the same. How can we claim to understand our students’ needs without this?
The unfortunate reality, however, is that not everyone has access. If you are not within a university environment, you may not have free access to JEAP or English for Specific Purposes (though EAP-linked pioneers in the Open Education movement, such as Alannah Fitzgerald are trying to change that). You may also feel that you don’t have the time (though I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that you should be making the time). But one or two of Those That Can are blogging about it. A wonderful example is The EAP Archivist (@SusieCowley). Susie takes an EAP-linked journal paper she has been reading, summarises the key content and then reflects critically on how this might impact her own and/or our collective sense of classroom practice, what students need and the EAP profession.
This puts theory and theorisation of practice Out There for others. Again, I think more of us should be doing this – and I hope to be doing some of this myself. EAP teachers may engage in Action Research, but this may not necessarily involve interaction with theory and with the literature. As EAP professionals I think we need to be (as Amy Tsui puts it) both theorising practice and ‘practicalising’ theory (Tsui 2003). Like Susie, we could be doing this online, disseminating our thoughts and encouraging an EAP community of practice that engages publicly with ideas for the enhancement of our practice.
The main TEAPing point for me personally has been the realisation that writing creates thinking. Writing is not simply a ‘brain dump’ for ideas; it gives rise to them. I talk to my MA TESOL students about this all the time now: Write now. Write often. Not just to ‘take notes’, but because languaging our ideas ‘re-cognises’ them (Swain 2006). As Vygotsky helped us see, language is a mediator of thought. I think I am a better EAP professional because I write – and I’m hoping that the leap into doing this publicly will only enhance this. If nothing else, building a blogging routine provides the personal opportunity to language a bit more often. If you write yourself (whether privately or publicly), I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.
Even in informal media such as Twitter or Facebook [or blogging] we write to get our ideas across or to interact with other academics. And even though we can argue that academic writing is not the same as tweeting, the rules of engagement are similar: we value clear, well-argued writing in each case. We value thoughts that are well articulated. We value creative, interesting posts that steer away from the clichés. Therefore, I think the most important advice I can share […] is this: think of yourselves as writers. (Liana Silva, Guardian Professional, Fri 18 Nov 2012)
So, do you theorise your EAP practice and ‘practicalise’ the theory you meet? Do you write it down (somewhere)? And what impact(s) does this have on your beliefs / teaching / materials writing / programme management?
And am I wrong to say that EAP professionals should be engaging in scholarship??
Swain, M. (2006) ‘Languaging, agency and collaboration in advanced second language learning’. In Heidi Byrnes (ed.) Advanced Language Learning: The Contributions of Halliday and Vygotsky (pp. 95–108). London: Continuum.
Tsui, A. B. M. (2003) Understanding Expertise in Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.