The TEAPing Point

Explorations in EAP

Writing for Thinking (or why EAP professionals should blog)

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:

1| Writing4community

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 :-).

2| Writing4dissemination

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.

3| Writing4thinking

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.

As Liana Silva (@literarychica), talking of academics writing, put it yesterday in Guardian Professional,

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??

References

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.

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23 comments on “Writing for Thinking (or why EAP professionals should blog)

  1. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)
    24 November 2012

    Appreciate the mention of both me and #EAPchat, Steve, and mirror the sentiment throughout. The void is absolutely why I started #EAPchat, focus much of my blog content on EAP topics, and have encouraged anyone I know to start blogging, the latter to less success than I’d like. Still, it’s realisations like yours, mine and several others in the last year or so that motivates me to keep on with it. :) We are all do incredible jobs and establishing a firmer online community can benefit us all.

  2. Steve Kirk
    24 November 2012

    Yes, as I say above, it seems to have taken me a very long time to get started, but I’m happy to have made the jump. I do hope a few more people do it too. There are too many EAP teachers, in my experience, who remain rather stuck in a TEFL-oriented mode of practice. I think a little less isolation and a little more discussion online might help make more public the ways in which we should continue to draw on our TEFL heritage but also be something different.

  3. Alex
    24 November 2012

    Hi Steve,
    Great to read your thoughts, many of which resonate with me. I do hope you gain a wide readership. EAP is very silent on the web, to such an extent one could ask whether is really exists. And, as for scholarship, couldn’t agree more. Engaging seriously with academia isnt, in my view, optional. It must be an integral part of being (and I choose this verb very deliberately) an EAP practitioner.
    Good luck!
    Alex

    • Steve Kirk
      24 November 2012

      Thanks for stopping by to comment Alex. Really appreciate it. I’m intending to make a bit more effort online – both in this, my own space, and on sites like your own. Always enjoy the Teaching EAP posts, but have felt guilty not to have joined the conversation. I hope to change that. Cheers.

      • Alex
        24 November 2012

        Well, hopefully a ‘conversation’ will develop across blogs too, picking up on themes developed here or there or elsewhere. EAP needs to have spaces, a place to discuss. Organisations such as BALEAP and journals don’t or can’t provide that space, so we have to make our own. Blogs seem a good way to do this…
        Alex

      • Steve Kirk
        24 November 2012

        Couldn’t agree more. And The 140 character conversations on Twitter can only ever serve as stepping stones to Elsewhere. It’s a small network at the moment, but it’s something to hang onto when the inspiration may not always be available closer to home…

  4. theeaparchivist
    24 November 2012

    Good to see you finally got round to it! :) You are so right to observe that you can have conversations online (even if they’re with yourself!) that you cannot have face to face in a normal working day. We rarely get real opportunities to actually discuss, debate, and dissect what we do, as and when WE want to. Also, I empathise with the fear of putting yourself out there, it is scary. I get sweaty palms each time I click ‘publicise’! Thanks for being so supportive of my ramblings, support like that from you and Alex make it worthwhile.

    • Steve Kirk
      24 November 2012

      It’s you, Alex (and colleagues) and the small #EAPchat crew that pushed me to click on that publish button. As I say above, I think what you’re doing is really valuable. It’s a form of dissemination that can serve explicitly to raise awareness of the theoretical and research bases of EAP practice. This is so important as long as this kind of content remains stuck behind university firewalls and subscription bundles. TEFL and TEAP are just not the same thing and I hope to be joining you now in writing about what this means for teacher preparation, practice and production.

  5. eflnotes
    24 November 2012

    great first post steve, excellent links to follow, am a fan of theeaparchivist as well.
    tom farrell on his reflective practices talk that i saw at tesol france quoted em forster : ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ an apt reason for many bloggers.
    ta
    mura

    • Steve Kirk
      24 November 2012

      Absolutely, Mura. I think I’ve always known that writing was thinking, but it was meeting Swain’s notion of ‘languaging’ a couple of years ago that gave me a label for this – and its importance has continued to crystallise ever since. My MA TESOL students now blog for credit for exactly this reason.

      Thanks for dropping by :-).

  6. Bella
    24 November 2012

    Hi Steve, I hope you don’t mind me joining in- as you know, I am following your constant encouragement to write for thinking –
    Here I just would like to say, I feel constantly that I should do research, or at least read challenging articles, do library research and other things my students have to do. Over the summer, during my first experience as EAP teacher, I noticed how outdated and dormant my study and research skills were, and, practicalities notwithstanding, I am so happy to be catching up now, to experience what my students go on to, and to do my own research into the EAP classroom over the summer. I am sure that this experience can make me a much better and more appropriate teacher, and I hope that I can continue some engagement with scholarship in my own (or should I say, in our) field.
    Lastly, welcome to the blogosphere; I hope to continue to engage here and there.

    • Steve Kirk
      24 November 2012

      Nice to see you here Bella. We’ve been blogging ‘internally’ for a while, of course, but this public experiment is a new venture for me (and I haven’t forgotten that I need to engage with your critique of Hopper 1998 and emergent grammar!). Yes, I think you’re doing the right thing, re-engaging with theory while you continue to practice. In EAP the challenge is seeing how the theory translates into the classroom, but that’s something I’ll be talking about in this space – and of course you can take a look at our materials :-)

  7. Fiona
    24 November 2012

    Very interesting post, Steve. I recently undertook some research part of which involved speaking to experienced EAP teachers and those who recruit teachers to work on EAP and PS courses. With reference to experienced EAP teachers, one recruiter commented that :’All of us feel frauds in a way-none of us feel that we really teach it all that well.’ An interesting comment and one that could be seen to lend support to your suggestion that: ‘Maybe…. it’s about confidence, fear of ‘loss of face’ – the public I in the public eye.’ On a simplistic level, it seems to me that EFL teachers who choose to develop and question publicly have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They find support in their community for their endeavours. Can the same be said of EAP teachers?

    • Steve Kirk
      25 November 2012

      Thanks for commenting Fiona. I think there are probably many many EAP teachers out there (and no doubt teachers who have become managers) with similar feelings. And yes, perhaps it’s that fear of loss of face (aren’t we supposed to know what we’re doing?!) that prevents people from sharing their uncertainties. I hope more of them will be encouraged to get online and start a conversation here. We can be part of this, I think.

  8. Julie Moore (@lexicojules)
    24 November 2012

    Hooray! Great to see you in the blogosphere :)
    I’m having a bit of a patch of “radio silence” at the moment for various reasons, but look forward to reading, commenting and generally joining in the discussion again in the future.

    • Steve Kirk
      25 November 2012

      Yes, good finally to be here! I have a lot of catching up to do, but I don’t plan to aim for posts of an A-Z of ELT calibre very often, so hopefully I’ll be able to find a fairly regular routine and use this to find a voice. Looking forward to seeing you ‘back on air’ soon :-)

  9. Alannah Fitzgerald
    25 November 2012

    Good one, Steve, great to see you here in the blogosphere as Julie says! I feel heart pangs at seeing Durham there as your picture banner…

    I think we can all relate here to what you say to Bella about internal blogging…I suspect you have over 10 posts in your private editing area of WordPress building with notes and quotes from your daily thoughts and gatherings (if you have a better way of doing this please let me know!), readying to share with us and those unanticipated and interested people who will join in on the discussions here.

    Thanks for the plug about Open Access in EAP. I can keep linking my work in open ed back to EAP to raise these issues but it will need to take a lot of opening up on the part of EAP practitioners and researchers, and endorsing bodies like BALEAP, many of whom do not seem to be considering EAP beyond the usual brick ‘n’ mortar type learning contexts to realise the importance of global access and impact in this area. Thinking beyond classroom-based practice and research to include the online and informal learning world, and beyond the mobile elite that make up the majority of EAP student numbers in resource-rich traditional higher education in English speaking countries (close to 3 million), but whose numbers pale in comparison with those who currently cannot afford access to formal HE but who are capable and would still require support with EAP (100 million according to UNESCO) through distance and open ed initiatives….this is an area where expertise and resources in EAP are needed and wanted so I would like to encourage EAP research and practice communities to embrace this bigger global picture for EAP (Julie’s OUP work with EAP webinars has made useful routes into this world), for meeting challenges and sharing resources as a global field rather than targeting resources to particular markets as an industry.

    • Alex
      25 November 2012

      I wholeheartedly agree with the bigger picture of EAP and greater access to ideas and thoughts – one of the reasons why I chose a blog to write my thoughts and invite others to do the same. I know that Julie (King) would agree. I don’t think that BALEAP is a global forum for EAP and to be honest I don’t see my values and perspective in much of what BALEAP does. I feel that the future of EAP is elsewhere, with different values and a much more inclusive and global perspective. Open resources, multiple contexts and working conditions need to be explored and examined much more than they are at present. Blogging is one way to do this.
      I have also explored many TESOL blogs and some are excellent, many aren’t. Quantity does not equate with quality. Although I accept that the reasons for blogging are less to do with the readership than the act of writing. Sometimes I find it irritating reading a blog which latches on to a half-baked theory to enthuse about the revolutionary effect it will have on teaching. Perhaps I am being unfair but theory and ideas take a long time to fully understand and to understand the theoretical underpinnings and influences that inform a particular idea isn’t gained from one or two readings. It takes time. EAP blogs now have the chance to forgo the superficial in favour of something more substantial. Steve’s blog will be part of this I am sure, I hope the blog I am involved in will be too as are the blogs of those who have commented here. I think we have the chance to show that blogging can be different …

      • Steve Kirk
        25 November 2012

        Lots here Alex. I won’t be able to justice to it all in a short reply. I think we need to remember that organisations such as BALEAP are an assemblage of individuals. I am not quite as bleak in my view as you, as I know these things can change from the inside. I agree, however, that the rather superficial and uncritical ‘love-in’ that blogging and Twitter based interactions can become causes problems for critical engagement with ideas. I also agree, however, that a different kind of blogging can (and I hope will) give us an opportunity to work together on those EAP ideas that, like you say, are often slow-release in giving up their insights for concrete practice.

    • Steve Kirk
      25 November 2012

      Thanks for taking the time out to write Alannah. Yes, your OER work and that of others reminds us smaller minded folk to Think Bigger. It’s very easy to get buried in the minutiae of our own world and world view. I am thankful that you knock me out of this with the important projects you publicise so well. I still feel rather behind on all things open ed, but it’s clearly something that we can no longer ignore. Keep waking us Alannah…!

  10. Alannah Fitzgerald
    26 November 2012

    Alex, interesting to have found another who is open about being less than enamored with the BALEAP experience. In a further effort to radicalize Steve (^^), I would say that BALEAP is made up of individual memberships (paid for by HE institutions primarily in the UK) but that it functions as a hierarchy with a few elected exec members making all of the key decisions. That’s quite a lot of pressure on the exec and this can lead to stagnation and a lack of transparency in my experience. In 18 months I haven’t managed to achieve anything with the newly formed web resources sub committee (WRSC) in the area of openness and e-learning resources for EAP outside of the presentations I have made at BALEAP PIM events, although I have offered many suggestions and spent time trying to plan and communicate these suggestions to the exec for inclusion with the WRSC. The exec have decided and have just informed me that this is not their priority area while they try to sort out problems with the new website. I have queried with the chair why initiatives cannot be developed in parallel by those individuals like myself who want to get something off the ground.

    The thing that I am learning through working in open ed is that you have to spend a lot of time re-communicating your proposals and this involves using whatever means available to put across your ideas and suggestions, often to very different audiences. I obviously haven’t cracked the BALEAP nut so I’ll have to work harder at being understood in future. I would say that blogging is but one tentacle for reaching into interesting places for discussion and because we are occupying niche areas of interest and expertise with the blogs that we are developing we are refining our critical spaces. I expect that the blogs will be linked to many other types of output including teaching and researching, if that’s what we’re interested in.

    It’s pretty obvious to me that I have a very different vision for what a global forum on EAP should be like. In an effort to sound constructive rather than bitter (^^) I would envision a global EAP forum where we can work collaboratively and openly toward increased transparency for the whole of the EAP community to engage on relevant issues (via an open platform – WikiEducator is a good example of such an open platform – and not just in closed meetings and within a closed members subscription-only discussion list that is focused primarily on UK-based EAP issues). For example, the descriptions of the various BALEAP working parties on their website do not give any indication of what stage the work from these parties is at, or any issues or opportunities coming out of these working parties for interested BALEAP members let alone the EAP unwashed to contribute to. Surely our collective EAP expertise for the development and validation of working party decisions and outputs is not limited to those few who are elected to these parties? It seems to me that there are increasingly missed opportunities for EAP practitioners to learn from the processes of these important working parties within BALEAP, bar the final outputs, by not having this work regularly publicised on the BALEAP website for external, and dare I say it ‘global’, commentary and collaboration. How would you envision such a global forum?

    Not only EAP, but the future of traditional higher education as we know it is elsewhere and even the press are picking up on some rather radical shifts in HE which have their beginnings in the open and distance education world, MOOCs being but one example (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/nov/11/online-free-learning-end-of-university). The research from distance ed (see meta-analysis of 600 papers by Bernard et al.) tells us that learner interaction with high quality content can make up for a lack of resources in e.g. learner-teacher interaction as fits Terry Anderson’s interaction equivalency theory http://equivalencytheorem.info/. I think the research into MOOCs offered by traditional HEIs is still in the making so why not jump in as the press are to try and understand the growing praxis in this area or another fast changing area in HE? EAP pretty much cuts across it all. Dewey gave us the importance of experiential learning back in the 1930s. With all the changes affecting HE currently it might be better to just join in and blog about it and then be involved in initiating part of the research that comes out of these changes. I’m not sure if we currently have time to wait and do things in the traditional way for developing ideas and theories and research without getting our hands dirty – what do you think?

  11. Steve Kirk
    26 November 2012

    There are fundamentally different ontologies of practice at work here (something I will be blogging about fairly soon). Maybe never the twain shall meet (though I hope this is not the case). I think your assessment of what is going on organisationally is an overly ‘conspiratorial’ one, however. BALEAP is one (changing) forum. EULEAP is another. Different contexts and different constraints mean differing priorities and, given that we’re only human, different limits on attentional resources. This is inevitable…but also something worth working with and alongside, as well as underneath and elsewhere :-).

    Blogging and the online spaces available to us all provide one such Elsewhere. You do this far better than most…but we’re catching up (or at least I am trying to!). Times and awarenesses are changing. Like you, I hope that these things will come together, but this takes time – and I applaud you for continuing to push. The more this happens, the more people need to take notice. For deeply connected Early Adopters, this will be an immensely frustrating process. But I think we WILL see the kinds of changes you’re looking for, just on a different timescale to the one you might want…

  12. alannahfitz
    29 November 2012

    There’s more for us to be excited about than to be frustrated with and I think it will be our networks reaching across different communities of practice that will sustain us. True, the BALEAP experience has been a very old school one for me but I’m pleased to say that it’s been a one-off in my recent networking adventures. Perhaps it’s a one-off for BALEAP, too, but 18 months into it I really couldn’t see how this was going to serve anyone new trying to come in to offer their expertise. I know you’re loyal to BALEAP as it’s been a far more rewarding insider experience for you and I look forward to seeing what you’re able to do with BALEAP. EULEAP will provide a different kind of fit (hopefully not too restraining:) along with other communities out there who we haven’t yet stumbled upon. And, it’s good to have someone like you from my old school world tagging along with me here along with our new critical friends in the EAP blogosphere. It’s a fast shifting kaleidoscope when we factor in the networked world and realise that EAP is made up of far more opportunities for collaboration than those contained within individual professional bodies.

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This entry was posted on 19 November 2012 by in EAP Teacher Practice, TEAP and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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