Julia Molinari: Teaching writing in ‘general’ EAP

Image: Gabriel Metsu. Detail: Man Writing a Letter. Oil on panel. 1664 -66.

From Julia Molinari’s blog, Academic Emergence:

[G]iven that [“most EAP is taught ‘in general’”], how can we turn this to our advantage, make it a meaningful experience for our students and ourselves, and perhaps even give it an added edge over and a separate remit from English for Specific Purposes, which seems to attract far more sympathies and favourable arguments than English for General Academic Purposes?

I have several ideas, including ideas on giving general EAP an interdisciplinary identity and focus (but more on this another time and in another post/article). In the meantime, I have proposed the following summer staff development session […]

DRAFT title/abstract.

Academic WritingS: Diversity, Plurality and Multimodality, and why these matter

Given the research indicating shifts in traditional writing norms and the de facto diversity of academic writing genres, why does general EAP conflate ‘academic writing’ with the traditional academic essay or research report, both of which also embody empirical and epistemological assumptions that not all academic traditions value? To what extent, therefore, does a general EAP course justify its choice of genres and capture and deal with their diversity? Should it deal with writing diversity? If not, why not? If yes, how?

This session/symposium/forum/panel is aimed at showcasing diversity in academic writings and at providing a reflective space for considering ways in which general EAP teachers might make sense of it. Making sense of it matters because our students, particularly our PG students, are part of a new era in Higher Education, where competition (for funding applications, grants, etc.), academic communication (within and across disciplines), publications (in traditional/Open Access/Digital/Multimodal journals and on social media such as blogs), public engagement, collaboration and influencing policy are taking centre stage. It also matters ethically, educationally and democratically, in the Deweyan sense of harnessing learners’ diverse experiences and aspirations – in other words, what choices do we give our students, what’s our rationale for selecting these choices, what choices are we comfortable giving them, and to what extent are we ourselves even knowledgeable about or interested in these wider academic/educational practices and values?

How are we preparing them for all this? Should we be?

This is a highly pertinent (and contentious) issue that I seem to come across all the time and which is occasionally a source of no small amount of frustration.

A rather crude example would be the advice generally given to EAP students that they ought to prefer impersonal constructions over personal ones so that rather than saying:

I think Molinari raises an interesting point here.

We suggest that they write something such as:

Molinari raises an interesting point here.

or

Interestingly, Molinari’s point raises an issue which affects many EAP practitioners.

and so on.

Such advice is commonplace, yet it can be potentially very misleading unless EAP students are made aware of how much of a role tradition plays in influencing the preferred forms one is expected to use not only in different disciplines, but also in different writing purposes within those disciplines.

It is arguably not at all uncommon to see personal ‘I’ language used in published academic writing – or perhaps more accurately still – it is not uncommon to see personal ‘I’ language used by certain writers in certain disciplines writing for certain purposes within certain sections of their writing.

All that said, students may have a much more instrumental view of education than that of their instructors and this in turn may well influence the kind of instruction they respond to best.

Besides, what is to be learnt must be learnable. As obvious as that seems, it nevertheless presents potential challenges for designing an EAP programme which would take Molinari’s issues into account.

Man_Writing_a_Letter_by_Gabriël_Metsu
Gabriel Metsu. Man Writing a Letter. Oil on panel. 1664-66.
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