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#IATEFL – Teaching and learning EAP: “What is EAP and how can I teach it?”

Middle aged African woman shrugging her shouldersEdward de Chazal, author of many EAP titles, including the forthcoming English for Academic Purposes, part of the Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers series, presents an imagined conversation about what EAP is and how we teach it. Edward will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2014 on Friday 4th April.

I keep hearing a lot about EAP these days, but – how can I put this? – I’m not really sure what it is. It means different things to different people, doesn’t it?

“I know how you feel. I’ve been teaching EAP for a few years now and I’m still trying to make sense of it. There’s so much going on. And it seems different when you start working somewhere new.”

You can say that about any English language teaching context. So much to learn.

“Sure – but think how much you know already. Start with that. Think of your own knowledge of English. All that teaching experience. And your own education – how many qualifications have you done since you left school? How many training sessions and presentations have you attended?”

I see what you’re getting at. Yes, I know I know a lot, and I’m always learning something new. But – going back to EAP – what do I need to know? What is my role as an EAP teacher?

“Roles – there are lots of them. OK. Let’s start by looking at where we are in EAP today. One way of looking at it is that the field of EAP is a research-informed practice.”

What does that mean?

“First and foremost it’s a practice – we’re all practising teachers – and the work we do is vital for the academic success of thousands of students worldwide.”

OK, great, and what about the ‘research-informed’ dimension?

“And what we do is informed by all the work that has been going on for, well, about 50 years. There are lot of influences on EAP.”

Like what?

“Well, there are major influences like genre analysis and corpus linguistics, but also other theories of teaching and learning, like approaches to teaching writing, study skills, and critical EAP.”

What’s that?

“OK. At the heart of EAP is critical thinking. In EAP we’re all critical thinkers – teachers and students.”

But what does this mean in practice?

“There are different approaches to critical thinking. With ‘critical EAP’, nothing is off-limits – we can critique pretty much anything and everything.”

Like what?

“OK, let’s start with a text. As language teachers we’re always bringing in texts into the classroom – maybe up-to-date texts like newspaper articles that we’ve just come across, or photocopied texts from various sources, or simply the texts in the coursebooks we’re using.”

OK, so students have to read lots of texts. What next?

“Well, in many English language teaching contexts the focus of the lesson would then be the text. So, you’d do some work on the text – tasks like working out meanings in the text, language work.”

Of course – isn’t that the point?

“It’s necessary, but it’s not the whole story. We can encourage critical thinking by doing tasks like identifying the author’s stance, any weaknesses in the text, bias, assumptions, those sorts of things.”

Sounds good.

“A critical EAP approach goes beyond the boundaries of the text.”

How do you mean?

“In a critical EAP approach, we can encourage our students to ask questions like ‘Why have you selected this particular text?’ ‘Isn’t this text written from a Western perspective – it’s published in Oxford?’ and ‘How are the issues in the text relevant to me?’ Questions like these can be really interesting. We can encourage our students to reflect on these ideas and challenge what’s in the text and its wider context.”

Hmm, certainly food for thought. Yes, as you said, there’s so much going on in EAP. I can see now that I’m going to get a lot out of learning all about it.

“I do. Arguably, one of the greatest influences on EAP is the wider context of English language teaching – we know a lot about that. There’s a lot to learn, but never forget how much you know already.”

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How good a teacher are you?

Teacher writing on blackboardRobert McLarty, Head of Professional Development at OUP, gives a brief introduction to the European Profiling Grid (EPG) project to help improve the quality and effectiveness of language training.

I play golf in the most average way possible.  I have been at the same level of golf since I left school around forty years ago. If I were learning English, my teacher would already have placed me right in the middle of the intermediate plateau. Luckily, golf is only a hobby so I don’t have to justify my level to anyone but myself.

Language teachers, on the other hand, have always found it hard to assess themselves. For a long time we have had the debate about native speakers as opposed to non-native speakers. Then there have been disputes as to whether knowledge of the language or ability to illustrate that knowledge and pass it on is the more important skill.

There are a number of initial teaching qualifications for language teachers, others for more experienced ones, and then a wide range of post-graduate qualifications. But how much do they improve the quality of someone’s teaching? Experience seems valued until the teacher has been somewhere too long; inexperience is valued because it is usually added to with zest and vigour. But there is always a question mark over the rookie teacher, despite the fact that they innovate without meaning to and often bring genuine passion to the classroom.

Within teaching establishments there is usually a wide range of teacher profiles with a completely individual mix of talents and qualities, strengths and occasional weaknesses. That is what’s so engaging about language teaching – but it also brings its own risk. Other professions can increase the value and the price of their service simply by having a linear progression of qualifications. This will never work for education. There are too many other factors to take into consideration.

So, when a school claims that their teaching staff is qualified and experienced, what does this mean? Does it necessarily add value? Why are they better than the competition or better than the new school, which is lowering its prices but offering the same level of service?

EPG Project logo

Image courtesy of EPG

Against this backdrop, a very exciting project has been run by a group of institutions from across Europe who have developed the European Profiling Grid. This is a framework of competences for language teachers available as an online assessment tool. The same tool can be used by the teachers themselves, their trainers or their managers.

By plotting your level to a range of descriptors in four main areas, you arrive at a profile (often jagged) of your teaching as it is today. You are encouraged to assess your training and experience, including observed teaching, your teaching skills along with other life skills such as intercultural competence, your digital literacy, and your professionalism.

Discussing it with a group of managers, trainers and teachers at the recent IATEFL BESIG conference, a number of conclusions were drawn. There was consensus that it will be a useful tool for professional development in that it shows where a teacher needs further training; it will act as a good starting point for an appraisal conversation; it is a useful official document confirming a teacher’s competence at any given time, and; as a collection of records it will give an accurate profile of an institution’s professional knowhow and experience – very useful when bidding for new business or preparing for inspections.

The same discussion raised doubts about the lack of personal skills areas in the grid – communication, collaboration, charisma, creativity and so on – and it’s hoped that these will be addressed at some stage. It was also noted that schools could misuse the grid in a judgmental way, which might actually be damaging for a particular teacher.

As part of a professional development portfolio, however, the grid got a big welcome. In much the same way as the CEFR was greeted with caution and grew into a vital benchmarking system for language learners, I expect the EPG will be in common parlance in the teaching world within a short space of time.

The first iteration is now available on the EPG Project website. Try it out and submit feedback to the project team.


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Summoning the Spirit of the Dodo

Dodo bird on rock

© Chris Franek, 2013

Chris Franek returns with a word of warning to teachers about getting caught up in the speed of technological change.

In a previous post I talked about the infamous dodo bird that mysteriously became extinct in the late 17th century and how we teachers should take care not to suffer the same fate due to our occasional blind love affair with technology. It’s quite funny. My girlfriend often affectionately refers to me as a dodo. More accurately, she calls me a “dodo bird” which is somewhat confusing because I don’t know if she’s referring to an extinct bird or an idiot. I suspect both.

It got me thinking about the evolution of the meaning of the word dodo. As I mentioned in the previous blog post titled, “Is the Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?” I talked about how the original dodo was the infamous now extinct bird that inhabited a remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa. Over time, that original definition of dodo was replaced by the more modern definition we have come to associate with the word, which as defined by Oxford English Dictionary, is “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person”. Neither definition represents a condition any of us would want to find ourselves in – extinct or being an idiot. However, upon closer examination, I wonder if we should be careful not to quickly dismiss today’s dodo out of hand for fear of overlooking some of its hidden merits. Although our modern dodo may not have been able to save its feathered predecessor, it may paradoxically hold the clues to preventing our extinction as teachers.

I drive an older model car. It’s a car that I have had for many years now. Over the last few years, quite a few people have suggested to me that I should buy a new car. In the beginning, I felt a kind of urgency to do it but over time, I’ve started to wonder exactly why I would want a new car. I’ve always kept my car in great condition and, to be honest, I am quite fond of it. Nowadays, everyone wants to drive a new car, when in reality, an older, well-maintained used car performs the same task – getting one from point A to point B – equally effectively. Often, the argument for getting a new car can be distilled down to the notion that a new car is more effective than an old one. However, although that may be the case in some situations, I believe that in reality, most people want a new car more for the quality of “newness” rather than effectiveness, sometimes to the point of wanting one where having one isn’t even practical. If you live in New York City, for example, it makes almost no sense to have a car.

Technology is the classic case of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. We’re obsessed with making technology the solution for every problem – sometimes to the point of seeing problems where problems don’t even exist. We claim that the motivation behind pushing technology into the classroom is that it is more effective for the modern learner but in reality, it’s often because it’s more fashionable and new. We live in a society that prizes “the new “and rejects “the old”. Newer is always championed as being better and I think nothing exemplifies this frame of mind more than our obsession with technology. The technology cycle is incredibly fast. You can get a gadget that is the latest “game changer” and within a couple of months it’s already half the distance to obsolescence and relegated to yesterday’s news pile. It’s easy to slowly and insidiously allow ourselves to be hypnotized by the siren call of technology’s manic sense of urgency. Society basically shames us into feeling we have to keep up with technology’s pace or risk being exiled to the island of irrelevance. So are we as teachers “stupid” if we do not board the technology bullet train with unquestioned zeal? Are we just being “old-fashioned” or “unenlightened” if we refuse to get with the program?

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Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?

Dodo bird

Image courtesy of net_efekt on Flickr

In this article, Chris Franek considers the risk to teachers posed by new and ever-evolving technologies.

Is technology a giant meteor that is threatening teachers with mass extinction? Are teachers perhaps like the infamous Dodo bird that mysteriously went extinct from its remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa in the late 17th century?

Dodo – such a funny name. In the contemporary use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “dodo” as “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person.” This more modern association with the word might have relevant application for the purposes of this post as well; as such a person can also find himself on a path to extinction – be it in the literal or metaphorical sense. I was curious about the dodo in writing this blog post so I did some quick research using our good friend, Wikipedia. One theory about the cause of their extinction centers on the idea that because they lived on a remote island without any predators higher up in the food chain, when they encountered humans, they were unafraid and easily approached. This inevitably made them easy targets for capture and, ultimately, a meal.

I wonder if our lack of fear or respect for technology as teachers (as people in general, really) is a correlation to the lack of fear dodos felt towards humans. Are we teachers being unwittingly preyed upon by our love affair with technology?

In the last decade, there has been an explosion of technological advancements, including wide access to broadband and mobile access to information on an unprecedented scale. Through the popularity of touch-screen smartphones and, most recently, the explosion of touch-based tablet devices coupled with an associated rise in the development of mobile applications or apps, information has never been more abundantly accessible.

Consider this scenario: just 10 years ago, if you had showed up at a restaurant and discovered that there was a one hour wait for a table, it wasn’t easy to search for other nearby dining options. Now, if the same thing were to happen, you could just take your smartphone, open up an app, and quickly find not only dozens of restaurants nearby but also reviews on all of them. Now, with the speed of the new 4G LTE technology, you can actually complete this task much more quickly on your smartphone than you could on your computer using your home broadband. This is where the technology zeitgeist has brought us. Not only is information highly accessible anywhere but it has increasingly been presented in more visually intuitive and engaging ways.

Now, education institutions are racing to catch up to the technology curve. They’re trying to figure out how they can get this technology into the classroom and the learning experience. Often, the results are mixed at best. Education administrators are frantically trying to figure out how to get an iPad into every student’s hands when the answer is getting students access to better teachers. I’m not here to say that technology shouldn’t or can’t play a role in the learning process. However, I am here to say that technology is not the learning process.

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Recognition and motivation

Audience applaudingFiona Thomas is an EFL blogger and Director of Education at Net Languages, a large online language school. Here she considers the importance of recognition and motivation for teachers to excel at their jobs.

How appreciated do you feel in your job? It doesn’t matter what position you hold, everybody likes to feel that their colleagues, boss and people they are responsible for appreciate them when they work hard and do their job well. However, too many teachers and managers suffer from the frustration of feeling that what they do goes unrecognised and unappreciated.

Why is recognition so important? Frederick Herzberg spent much of his professional life researching what motivates people in the work place. His findings show that when a person is recognised for a high level of performance at work, this has a powerful effect on motivation (Herzberg, 1987).

He distinguished between what he classified as hygiene factors and motivational factors. Hygiene factors are those factors which need to be in place for us to be able to do our job.  If these factors are not satisfactorily covered, they will cause anxiety, distract us from our job and lead to demotivation and general dissatisfaction – e.g. if we do not earn enough money to cover our general needs and expenses, we will not be able to focus on our work. However, these factors do not actually motivate us – e.g. if we are given a pay increase (money is a hygiene factor), the effect of the pay rise on our motivation is, in theory, very short-lived. We soon get used to earning more money and as a consequence, its effectiveness in terms of motivation is soon lost.

Motivational factors, on the other hand, are factors which make a difference to how the worker feels about their job in a longer lasting way. Herzberg cited the following areas as motivational: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These, therefore, are the areas that language schools need to focus on in order to motivate the people who work there. And of these factors recognition is arguably one of the easiest to apply.

Recognition needs to happen all the way down the hierarchical ladder of any organisation, from Directors to DOSs and other managers, to level coordinators and to teachers. If the person who is directly responsible for us does not seem to notice or care when we perform outstandingly, we understandably feel unappreciated. This in turn can affect our work performance to the detriment of the organisation we work for.

Recognition from colleagues or those higher up the ladder can also be very effective at motivating us. This, I believe, tends to happen most in a climate where there is a general sense of well-being and appreciation within an organisation. People who work in an environment where recognition is part of the institutional culture are much more likely to reciprocate in kind.

Interestingly, people often receive more recognition from their PLNs (personal learning networks) than from the place where they work. The growth in online PLN communities has helped to provide the support and recognition which helps teachers and managers to develop as professionals, especially when this is lacking in the institutions that employ them. It seems, however, such a wasted opportunity that this potential is not exploited positively by these organisations.

It is somewhat ironic that teachers are trained to give praise, recognition and encouragement to their students (sometimes in excess, according to Jim Scrivener, but this is part of a different debate). However, when these teachers are promoted to management positions, they tend to forget to apply the same good practice to the people they are now responsible for. Managers seem to have become so busy directing or managing in their new positions that they forget to apply the same basic effective principles they used when managing students in a class.

If we strive to have vibrant, high-quality language organisations, the motivation of students, teachers, managers, and all other staff is an essential part of good management practice. If we accept that taking the time to recognise good work can make a significant difference to people’s levels of motivation, then language organisations would be well advised to make sure that the recognition of people’s merits, initiatives and hard work becomes part of their institutional culture.

Reference:

Herzberg, F.I. 1987, ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’, Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p109-120

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