Friday, 23 January 2015

ESAP - what do we have to offer?

The University of Sheffield hosted a really enjoyable free web seminar on EAP a few weeks back. They very kindly emailed on videos of all the conferences if you had signed up. I don't want to take a liberty, but I'll suggest that there'd be no harm in emailing them if you would like to see the talks, but missed out on signing up.

There were many excellent talks but one that I was particularly interested in related to ESAP and was given by Chris Smith. Of the many interesting points made, the one that chimed with me was the idea of genre analysis - taking a text from the discipline in question and analysing it from a language perspective, trying to establish what language is used in the text and for what purpose, looking at the patterns and norms of that particular subject.

What emerged from the discussions was also very interesting. I noticed many people talked about the challenge of communicating with the lecturer/professor - that they didn't get a lot of support when trying to figure out what to do with their ESAP classes.

A marketing/biology/engineering professor, I imagine, could have quite a different understanding of what an ESAP class should accomplish. Perhaps they think the ESAP class should be to build up the students' vocabulary. Or that the class should fix students' mistakes. Or that it should fill in knowledge gaps about the subject. If the latter, then they may feel frustrated - that they would now have to teach their subject to the person supposed to lighten their load.

I know it is easier said than done, but it would seem the only way to improve communication is for both sides to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the ESAP class. That could involve discussion and negotiation prior to courses beginning. However, I think that from the ESAP side of things, we need to have a very clear understanding of what we want to achieve with the ESAP class ourselves. This can be intimidating as we are non-experts (in the content subject, that is) offering our help to experts. Which is why, Chris Smith's talk was so helpful. It was a reminder of the expertise that we on the ESAP side of things are bringing to the table:
  • the ability to see patterns in language
  • the ability to understand students' language mistakes
  • the ability to teach language and language related skills 
On top of that, we are coming to these subjects fresh, willing to work through problems with the students. Take assignments, for example. I might not be able to explain what a Buckminsterfullerene is, but I know how to research, how to plan, how to reference, how to develop an idea, how to write a coherent piece of work. This is what the ESAP teacher has to offer. And hopefully with a clearer understanding of what we are there to do, we can be more direct, confident and clear in our communication with our colleagues. 

So in saying all of that, I thought it might be interesting to share a few short lessons that myself and a colleague came up with for Chemistry ESAP. Where I work, we are lucky in that we have none of the problems mentioned above. We are small, so the Science, Business, IT and EAP departments all live in the same office. A while back, my colleague Dr L, told me that the Chemistry students would be doing lab reports soon and could we do something in ESAP to support this. I asked for a sample lab report and together we knocked these Chemistry lab report ESAP lessons together. They were broken up over three lessons to give the students time to write the various sections between classes. They are quite simple but may give some idea of a way to approach ESAP.

Any thoughts or comments on your own ESAP practice would be very much appreciated.

Click here for the lesson - Lab Reports Introductions 

Click here for the lesson - Lab Reports Procedure

Click here for the lesson - Lab Reports Discussion

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