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Using English For Academic Learning Purposes English Language Essay

Part 1 Introduction

1.1 What is EAP?

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) prepares non-native users of English for English-medium academic settings (Hamp-Lyons, 2001, p126). EAP is a branch of English for Specific Purposes (ESP), beginning with the learner’s needs, situation and purposes rather the General English starting point of the language itself (Gillett, 1996).

1.2 Reasons for Choosing EAP

The growth of EAP mirrors its increasing market as English has become an economic imperative for employment and the dissemination of academic knowledge. In New Zealand, university populations are increasingly diverse, ethnically and linguistically. In my experience, learners are increasingly focused on improving their English to the level required for entry into tertiary education. They approach examinations like IELTS with determination and tunnel-vision. Achieving entry criteria is equated with success. However, anecdotal evidence (from both ESL tertiary students and their tutors) has made it clear to me that language proficiency is only one factor. Socio-cultural issues have to be addressed. There needs to be on-going support and awareness not only of the gap between the individual’s present and target situation, but an understanding of the learning situation. EAP is a challenging, dynamic area which interests me in terms of research and professional teaching practice.

1.3 Approaches to EAP

Designated an approach not a product (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987), EAP is also a branch of applied linguistics consisting of a significant body of research into effective teaching and assessment approaches, methods of analysis of the academic language needs of students, analysis of the linguistic and discoursal structures of academic texts and analysis of the textual practices of academics (Hamp-Lyons, 2001, p126). As explained below (1.4), I believe EAP must be even broader in approach, including socio-cultural factors.

EAP courses are generally for a specified period and pre-sessional (to prepare learners to meet entry requirements and to familiarize them with the new environment). In-sessional courses usually offer parallel language support. EAP can take place in a variety of settings and circumstances (e.g. EFL and ESL environments) and success in one kind of situation may not be transferable to another (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998). This assignment sets EAP in an ESL context.

English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) focuses on a common core component of study skills. “Study skills” incorporate a general academic register, formal academic style and proficiency in language use (Jordan, 1997, p5). While Gillett (1996) excludes general non-language study skills (for example time management and organization), in my experience the development of learner autonomy often requires their consideration. L1 Tertiary experiences can be significantly different in terms of the degree of learner autonomy expected.

Gillett (1996) summarises the main areas of EAP as writing, listening, speaking, reading, testing and answering exam questions. I believe, with reference to the academic context and the different sub-skills needed, a distinction between monologues and interaction should be made with listening and speaking. Gillett also talks about text types, organization and expressing degrees of certainty and doubt. In direct response, Jordan (1996) emphasizes the importance of academic discourse and style. Genre analysis (examining how the language is used and organized in different text types), hedging and vague language, appropriacy and style, and the academic culture are important factors. Consideration of the social, cognitive and linguistic demands of the academic target situation should be informed by an understanding of the texts and constraints of the academic context (Hyland, 2006). All these aspects of EAP have implications for course design as do the following topical issues:

1.4 Learning and Teaching Issues in EAP

1. Specificity – EGAP or ESAP?

EAP can be EGAP as previously outlined, or English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) with specialist language, vocabulary and skills for a particular academic subject. Arguments have been made that language teachers lack expertise to teach subject specific conventions; ESAP is too difficult for the language proficiency level of most students; ESAP is often not financially viable; generic skills and language forms exist across a broad range of purposes. It has been countered that the discourses of tertiary disciplines are individually unique and need to be learned (Hyland, 2002). In reality it depends on the needs of the group and the constraints of the situation.

In my experience, groups are generally heterogeneous in nationality, culture, proficiency level and discipline. EGAP is therefore a situational constraint. An emphasis on common academic skills is required. For instance, whatever the specialty, a learner needs to read texts, listen to lectures, participate in tutorials, and write essays. Each area involves numerous sub-skills – writing needs accurate sentences, coherent presentation of ideas and appropriate stance for citation of others’ ideas. ESAP is developmental, integrating the learning of skills with learning subject content. Lack of subject knowledge is frequently an institutional constraint. Skills work, on the other hand, is more simply addressed.

2. Perceptions of EAP

From my observations, learners see EAP as goal-driven and General English as the easy option. Academic communities acknowledge EAP is often under-resourced. The status of EAP centres and teachers are anecdotally perceived as less important than mainstream academic departments.

3. IELTS

Preparation for IELTS is often a situational constraint and the answering/writing of examination answers becomes another macro-skill. The dual aims of preparing learners for university study and Task 2 of the writing exam are seen as contradictory. This writing task requires anecdotal evidence drawn from general knowledge. Academic writing, however, draws from primary and secondary resources, not personal knowledge.

4. Cultural Attitudes, Language Proficiency Levels and Learning Styles

The question of needs and wants arises. What is perceived as a want is not necessarily what is needed. The perception in itself, however, is a factor in learning situation analysis. Learners commonly prioritise essay writing over sentence writing when a basic building block approach is required. At what proficiency level should EAP materials be introduced? To what extent can learning styles and cultural attitudes be taken into account on a mixed nationality course? Critical, evaluative thinking may be unfamiliar to some cultures. Beyond linguistic issues, EAP deals with social, cultural and ideological contexts of language use. Learners need awareness and understanding of themselves as learners as well as of their courses and disciplines, and the general academic environment.

This assignment aims to make a link between theory and practice. The needs, situation and purposes of the learners, together with the approaches and issues discussed, are fundamental in course development. The following Needs Analysis, Course Proposal and Assessment sections examine the implications for the design, implementation and review of a specific EAP course.

Part 2 Needs analysis and commentary

2.1 Identifying Needs

Needs analysis requires data about present and target situations. The former includes factual information (education background and experience, nationality, age, current proficiencies) and subjective perceptions of ability and skills, along with affective and cognitive influences including learning styles. The latter is obtained by assessing the linguistic skills and knowledge needed to perform competently in future roles (Hyland, 2006). Simplistically, by matching the target proficiency against existing proficiency of the group, the gap between the two can be referred to as the learner’s lacks (Hutchinson, Waters & Breen, 1979, in Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, p56).

Needs are complex and a variety of data collection methods desirable (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). I used a pre-trialed questionnaire (ensuring questions were interpreted correctly and provided the information sought (Graves, 1996)) for present situation data, subjective analysis of current proficiencies and levels of confidence in ability in specified English areas (Appendices, p21-28). I adapted the target situation areas (Jordan, 1997, p286) following consultation with potential tertiary providers about linguistic context (content, genre and where and with whom the learners would interact). Learning styles data was sought. Writing assessment provided additional information about reasons and motivation. My aim was a simple, concise document which would not overwhelm the taker and provide quantifiable present and learning situation data in relation to the target situation.

2.2 Results

The specialist group is: predominantly male; aged 21 -30; two Korean, one Japanese, one Thai, one Saudi Arabian; all but one have L1 tertiary education; 5 – 9 months NZ experience; 60% have never previously visited an English-speaking country (Appendices, p43-44). Learning styles are mixed (everyone expressed a range of preferences) but working with others and learning by listening, asking questions and discussing predominated (Appendices, p45). Mainly actual ability exceeded perceived ability (Appendices, p46) which could suggest either a lack of confidence or cultural under-estimation.

Fig. 1: Average confidence in ability and perceived importance:

Needs analysis showed significant gaps between confidence in ability and perceived importance in most areas (see Fig.1 above). Listening to lectures, report writing, academic vocabulary, note-taking from lectures, essays and group discussion showed the biggest gaps. Diagnostic testing (Appendices, p29-42) identified the learners’ actual strengths and weaknesses to ascertain what learning was required (Hughes, 2003, p15). Reading and Listening tests (Appendices, p37-42) were parts of IELTS tasks. Interviews focused on cultural, psychological and social issues for the learners and were the basis of speaking assessment. A group task, ranking the importance of the areas previously ranked for confidence in ability, was observed to assess interactive communication plus learners’ awareness of the target situation (Appendices, p35). The tests have face, construct and content validity (refer to p14 for definitions of these terms). Norm-referenced (reading and listening) and moderated criterion-referenced (speaking and writing) assessment provided reliability. Practicality was important in terms of time needed to do the test and mark it within the constraints of the school’s time-table.

Situational analysis (consideration of the course environment e.g. the classroom culture and the management infrastructure) is an adjunct to needs analysis. While not quantified in analysis of data, anecdotal indications (from the interview, group task and writing) of cultural, psychological and social issues will be taken into account along with considerations of the infrastructure of the course context.

Fig.2 Testing Averages:

2.3 Priorities for the Planned Course

Testing (evaluating questionnaire indications) showed lowest proficiencies in listening, writing, spoken production, vocabulary and grammar (see Fig.2 above). There was a broad co-relation between lack of confidence and low ability (see Figs 1&2) with possible implications for learning. Additionally the learners demonstrated good awareness of their ability levels (Appendices p46). Course priorities were based on this information together with analysis of target situation needs and personal teaching experience. Additionally the areas are process-oriented, requiring skills development, leading towards learner autonomy. Interviews indicated little awareness of the degree of learner autonomy required.

1. Listening and note-taking

Questions 6-20 in the Listening test required note-taking from a monologue (Appendices p40-42). This was challenging, all leaving a minimum of 3 questions unanswered. Listening to lectures was ranked the most important skill.

2. Paragraph writing

The group indicated only a 0.6 differential between ability and importance of paragraphing. Writing assessment (Appendices, p28-30), however, revealed weakness in this area, a prerequisite for other target writing forms.

3. Academic Vocabulary

Vocabulary range, assessed in the writing task, was limited and this was confirmed by the use of the Oxford 3000 list (http://tinyurl.com/oxford3000list) which analysed the highest assessed writing at Upper Intermediate level with no words used from the academic word list. The group perceived academic vocabulary as very important.

4. Speaking production was a strong priority for the group (reinforced by assessment) and was seen as an important skill.

Part 3 Course Proposal

3.1 Principles of the Syllabus and Course Design

This EAP course aims to provide an effective learning approach to promote autonomous learning skills and strategies to maximize transfer of the learners to their target learning situations. The teaching approach is a synthesis of product and process. The syllabus is, apart from lexis, predominantly analytical. The reasons, in line with the following theory, are outlined in 3.2, below.

Analytical syllabuses are organized in terms of the learning purposes and the performance necessary to meet those purposes (Wilkins, 1976, p13). Language is presented as substantial chunks and not graded nor used as an organizing principle. In synthetic syllabuses content is divided into separate parts with the aim that learners build up (or synthesize) the elements into a useable body of knowledge. Analytical syllabuses are more likely to offer a bridge from knowledge, or what students know, to procedural knowledge, or what they can do with this knowledge (Hyland, 2006, p84). EAP syllabuses are most likely to be multi-syllabuses and analytical (Jordan, 1997, p63) because they give emphasis to meaning and communication as the learner is exposed to relevant target situations and texts.

3.2 Course Syllabus in Terms of Learner Needs

Needs analysis established both a high degree of awareness of target situation needs and present abilities (Fig.1, p8), and significant gaps particularly in listening, writing and speaking (Fig.2, p9 and Appendices p46). I chose an integrated skills approach because it reflects the reality of the target situation (see p7). Proficiency in the subskills, as well as an understanding of the processes involved, requires discrete item work. In writing, for example, model texts are used for rhetorical analysis and learners learn to evaluate, edit and reformulate their work. In line with the target situation, listening and speaking have been divided into two contexts – monologue and interaction. In listening to monologues, phonological understanding, speed of delivery, real time processing, note-taking in real time and deducing the speaker’s attitude have influenced the design of the listening component and materials. Active listening is required in speaking interaction and strategies like back-channelling, paraphrasing, and questioning for information and clarification are included in the course. Making presentations is the focus of speaking monologue, along with strategies used in spoken interaction. The course syllabus (Appendices p47) shows the integrative aspect through focusing on a guest speaker in week one and presentations in week two.

The vocabulary component, systems-based and integral to skills work, is based on the Academic Word List (AWL), Sublist 1 being the 60 most common words. Research shows that if learners know the GSL (General Service List) and the AWL, understanding of academic texts increases by 10%. This meets a clear need (Appendices, p46). A synthesis approach to vocabulary learning accommodates different learning styles (Appendices p45) and offers an affective and cognitive contrast to skills work. Memorization, recycling and testing may offer cultural familiarity. Confidence comes with concrete results – the 60 most frequent academic words.

This course (Appendices p47) is organized around tasks and is competence based (e.g. note-taking). There is a focus on complementary knowledge and skills (e.g. listening and taking notes). Cultural awareness and language learning strategies are integral (Appendices, p48: (Lesson) L1.1 discussion of cultural differences and L1.3 vocabulary learning strategies). It meets the needs of the group in a workable way. Course design is based on intelligent juggling of all the course parameters and on experience of how best to match them with learners’ needs (Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998, p169).

Effectiveness and appropriateness are my criteria for selecting and adapting course materials and activities. For paragraph writing a coursebook exercise for identifying the target constructions is used (L1.3). Authentic (often student-generated) material is a core component (L1.4). Content organisation includes sequencing (building and recycling) (Graves, 1996, p28). This low level group (Appendices p46) requires building from simple to complex, more controlled practice activities extending to more open-ended and provision of necessary knowledge/skills. Recycling is a constant (L1.5) A matrix approach provides flexibility with factored options to take account of variables. Evaluation of the course efficacy is on-going with adjustments made.

The course is 20 hours (2 hours every afternoon) for 10 days, concurrent with General English Courses for 2.5 hours each morning, accommodating student visa constraints. Daily classes ensure continuity and a short course with clear objectives means learner motivation is maintained. It is pre-sessional and the group is heterogeneous so EGAP is taught. The focus is broadly skills based because this was indicated by needs analysis. Students, in light of their L1 academic experience (Appendices p31), may not be expecting student-centred learning. A supported environment is the best situation for them to develop

awareness of the degree of autonomy required in a tertiary context.

3.3 Course Goals and Objectives

Goals with proficiency, cognitive, affective and transfer aspects, are stated for each course component, indicating general purpose. Objectives are more specific, stating what the learner needs to do (performance and context), how success is measured and what constitutes success in achieving the purpose (Graves, 1996):

Goal 1. For students to develop writing skills across a range of relevant academic genres, developing self-awareness as learners within the cultural context.

Objectives: For the students to:

A. Develop skills by practising effective notetaking from the spoken word, demonstrating comprehension by completing a task based on the notes.

B. Focus on the structure and relationships of written sentences within paragraphs and paragraphs within texts, identifying linking, logical sequence, temporal sequence, contrast and addition, demonstrating proficiency by application of the features in their own writing.

C. Demonstrate awareness of process in their writing.

Goal 2. For the students to be aware of the main listening contexts in an academic environment and to develop appropriate listening skills with learning self-awareness within the cultural context.

Objectives: For the students to:

A. Practise listening for gist and detail in academic listening contexts, listening to spoken instructions, lectures and presentations demonstrating understanding through task completion and participation in discussion.

B. Demonstrate listening skills for selecting and evaluating important information; sensitization to structure & conventions of a lecture; identifying relationships in spoken text; predicting (content and unfamiliar words); summarizing and notetaking.

C. Apply the observed techniques participating in discussion

Goal 3. For the students to develop their speaking skills and self-confidence in their speaking ability in the tertiary cultural context.

Objectives: For the students to:

A. Demonstrate a range of oral skills for successful participation in discussion.

B. Demonstrate strategies such as asking for clarification, interruption, stating and supporting a point of view, suggesting, agreeing and disagreeing.

C. Give a short presentation using appropriate strategies.

D. Demonstrate through an observed task an ability to interact effectively in an academic context

Goal 4. For the students to extend their academic vocabulary base by memorizing Sublist 1, AWL, and to consider vocabulary learning strategies.

Objectives: For the students to:

A. Demonstrate understanding of the target AWL vocabulary.

B. Develop and demonstrate strategies for ignoring, inferring, selecting and learning vocabulary to address the lexical challenges of tertiary study.

Part 4 Assessment

4.1 Assessment Principles

Assessment measures a learner’s language ability or achievement (Brindley, 2001). Proficiency assessment refers to a learner’s general language ability, independent of a course of study. Carried out during the course, formative assessment measures what has been learned to date based either on content taught or in relation to course objectives (Hughes, 2003). Results can be used to improve teaching and learning. Summative testing, at the end of a course, measures final achievement against course objectives. Results do not generally feed back into the learning process. Assessment can be norm-referenced, scoring the learners in relation to each other, or criterion-referenced where performance is explicitly described in a form such as a “can-do” statement.

An assessment should be valid, reliable and practical (Weir, 1993): It should test only the abilities it claims to assess; it should be consistent – producing similar results on different occasions from the same learner; it must be straightforward to run. In reality it is difficult to balance these three requirements. Direct testing, as in a speaking test, requires a learner to use the skill being tested, so has good validity. However, reliability, even with established criteria, may be compromised by a degree of subjectivity. Time-consuming when a whole class is assessed, its practicality is lower than a listening test. Listening is less direct as the candidate also uses reading and writing skills. Scoring, however, has high reliability. It has been argued that discrete item tests provide no information on learners’ abilities to use language communicatively and integrative testing (such as cloze), although indirect, is more indicative. Brindley (2001, p139) asserts that accurate assessment of proficiency requires a range of assessment procedures.

Assessing achievement, apart from a “test”, can involve “alternative methods” such as structured observation, portfolios, projects, self-assessment and peer-assessment. Peer and self-assessment have most value as an aid to learning (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998). Washback, the affect of assessment on teaching and learning, is another consideration. A strong test focus can influence course content and methodology. When this is at the expense of course rationale and objectives it is termed negative washback. Assessment which enhances rationale and objectives is positive.

I will next outline the application of the above principles to this course:

4.2 Assessment of Learning Progress and Outcomes

Learners are assessed throughout the course to monitor progress and as an aid to learning and teaching. Assessment aims for positive washback, feeding into learning processes and supporting the course rationale and objectives. A range of procedures (norm and criteria-referenced) are used. In a 20 hour course formative testing is integral, practical and used to reinforce learning so that testing itself does not become the focus. A small class allows frequent individual feedback, effective monitoring and teacher observation of tasks. Direct testing is not precluded and the markers are familiar with the criteria referencing for speaking and writing (Appendices, p30,33-34). Feedback is part of learning. For the teacher formative testing indicates efficacy of approach and content and any adjustment necessary to meet course objectives. Summative assessment will inform the learner, the teacher and the institution of the rate of success in meeting the objectives. Details of the testing framework are in the course lessons (Appendices, p48-51). Based on summative assessment, with reference to formative assessment, a final written report framed as can-do statements on the basis of the course objectives will be given.

Writing Assessment (Goal 1)

Formative

Note-taking (L1.2) is tested integratively (and indirectly) with listening. Effective note-taking facilitates the comprehension task based on the notes. The learner identifies their own strengths and weaknesses to be reinforced by teacher feedback (also indicating further practice opportunity resources for self-study or more in-class work if necessary).

Paragraph writing (L1.4) utilises peer assessment as part of process writing. Assessment criteria based on targeted structures will be elicited and applied.

Essay writing (L2.2) involves an observed speaking interaction during peer assessment with criterion referencing.

Summative

The indirect test (L2.5) is valid in that it is clearly a test and is perceived by the takers as such (face validity), it is representative of what the learners know (content validity), and it measures what is known in relation to how it was learned (construct validity) (Hughes, 2003). Reliabilty, using a criterion referencing (Appendices p30), is improved by marker familiarity and regular moderation. A paragraph summary is also practical to administer in terms of time and marking.

Listening Assessment (Goal 2)

Formative

Identifying structures, conventions & markers in a monologue is applied to note-taking and tested in the comprehension task. It is integrative, indirect (also involving writing and reading). It is self-assessed in terms of being able to demonstrate identification and understanding in successfully completing the task with feedback from the teacher. A small group allows more personalized and frequent feedback. The degree of progress will indicate whether there needs to be further teaching and practice. Informal assessment is based on norm referencing – the answers are right or wrong according to a key. Self-assessment is incorporated in Lesson 2.1 and covers interactive listening and speaking as well as listening to a monologue. This has the additional aim of consideration of learning to learn strategies.

Summative

As an indirect component of successful writing of a summary paragraph, listening is extremely difficult to isolate and assess as a discrete item in this test. It could be inferred that poor task completion is attributable to bad listening strategies. Equally it could also be attributed to other factors. The task is representative of what the learner has been trained to do (L1.1&1.2) and what is known in relation to how it was learned, therefore having content and construct validity. It is quantifiable in terms of an assessment of writing integrated with other skills as is required in the target situation.

Speaking Assessment (Goal 3)

Formative

Speaking interaction (L2.2) is teacher-assessed from an observed task and criterion-referenced (Appendices p33-34). Presentations (L2.4) are a direct test, self, peer and teacher-assessed in Lesson 2.4. With group-established assessment criteria, validity is high. The assessment itself assists the learning process of critical, constructive evaluation.

Summative

The teacher’s evaluation forms a percentage of the total with a peer evaluation component.

Vocabulary Assessment (Goal 4)

Formative

Part of the building and recycling, progress tests are indirect, discrete item tasks (L1.4) and peer-assessed (L2.3).

Summative

A vocabulary test should require learners to perform tasks under contextualized constraints relevant to the inferences to be made about their lexical ability (Read, 2000). A multiple-choice cloze fulfills this criteria. An online test (L2.5) is a decontextualised alternative which meets specified learning outcomes.

4.3 Evaluation of the Course

Course evaluation assesses whether course objectives are being met. It is the starting point for in-course revision and future course planning. It is constrained by the ability to collect and use information, and by time in a 20-hour course. With a small group it is possible to respond to individual need and give informal feedback (L2.1). Additionally formative testing indicates potential problems in meeting objectives. An end-of-course questionnaire (Appendices p53-54), is the formal evaluation tool for the learners together with the group’s results. Using a customised Google Documents form, the link is emailed to the students. From experience it provides a greater detail of answer. It transfers and collates the information as a summary.

5 Conclusion

My course proposal started with the needs, situations and purposes of the group. With disparate levels of proficiency, cultural attitudes, learning styles and target tertiary areas and institutions, EGAP was the most viable option. Analysis of the data collected identified the areas where the group had the largest gaps between present situation and target situation needs. These areas were predominantly skills-based and generally reflected what the group perceived as weaknesses. In addressing these quantified needs it was also necessary to look at wider social, cultural and ideological contexts of language use. Interviews revealed that most lacked experience in critical evaluative thinking. There was a lack of knowledge of the academic environment and the degree of learning autonomy required. Raising self-awareness as English learners and the acquisition of strategies for developing skills which are transferable to tertiary contexts was the basis for course goals and objectives, materials and methodology. Assessment measured achievement formatively (feeding into the learning process) and summatively (providing a comparative indication against course objectives). Measured progress, and the individual attention possible with a small group, assists learner confidence. While limited by its shortness and specificity, the course broadly reflects, in my experience, the needs of a large cross-section of ESL learners wanting entrance to tertiary institutions with too low proficiency levels and limited socio-cultural knowledge. Unfortunately institutional financial constraints may preclude the running of a course for such a small group of learners.


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