CUP Online Academic Conference 2018: Motivation in EAP – Using intrinsically interesting ‘academic light’ topics and engaging tasks (Adrian Doff)

This is the first session of this online conference that I have been able to attend live this week, hoping to catch up with some of the others via recordings…

Part of a series of academic webinars running this week, this is the 5th session out of 8. Apparently recordings will be available in about a week’s time. Adrian Doff has worked as a teacher and teacher trainer in various countries and is co author of Meanings into Words and Language in Use series amongst other things. He is talking to us from Munich, Germany.

We are going to look at what topics and tasks might be appropriate in EAP teaching, especially to students who both need academic skills in English but also need to improve their general language ability. For most of his ELT life, Adrian has been involved in general ELT as a teacher and materials writer and has recently move into EAP mainly through supplementary material creation.

Our starting point for this webinar: look at some of the differences between GE and EAP. In the literature of EAP quite a lot is made of these differences, partly as a way to define EAP in contrast to GE.

Firstly, the contrast between needs and wants: to what extent do we define the content of the course in terms of the perceived needs of learners and what we think students want to do vs what they need to do. In all teaching and learning there is a balance between these two things.

  • In GE, needs/outcomes define the syllabus, skills and general contexts and they are seen as fairly longterm outcomes and goals, often expressed in terms of the CE framework. E.g. language used in restaurants/cafes, we think it will be useful for learners of English. Equally we consider what students want, and the topics and tasks and texts are more based on interest, engagement and variety. E.g. a common classroom activity is a class survey mingling and asking questions and reporting back. They are not really related to the needs, i.e. we don’t expect students to get a job doing surveys, but it is interesting, lively, generates interaction etc so it is motivating for them to do.
  • If we think about EAP, the needs are more pressing and clearer, dictate the skills, genre and language we look at and that dominates choice of topics, texts and tasks.

Two differences come out of this first one:

  • Firstly, In GE, the overt focus of the lesson is focused on a topic, while in EAP the overt focus is on the skills being developed.
  • Secondly, teachers’ assumptions about motivations in class.

Adrian shows us a quote from De Chazal (2014), saying that motivation is teacher-led while in EAP stakes are high and students are very self-motivated, clear intrinsic motivation from a clear goal. In GE students may not necessarily see tasks/topics relevant in terms of what they need, while in EAP they do.

Next we looked at example materials from GE and EAP, based around the same topic area of climate change.

  • EAP – “Selecting and prioritising what you need”  – students are taken through a series of skills: choosing sources, thinking about what they know, looking at the text, looking at language of course and effect, leading into writing an essay. The assumption is that students will be motivated by the knowledge that they need these skills. The page looks sober, black and white, reflecting the seriousness of EAP.
  • GE – Cambridge Empower, also leads to writing an essay but first there is focus on the topic, listening to new items about extreme weather events and discussion. Then reading a text that leads into writing skills focus on reporting opinions and it leads into the essay. It arouses interest in the topic through: strong use of visual support, active discussion of the topic, listening and speaking tasks used although it’s a reading and writing lesson. Lots of variety of interaction and general fluency practice.

These reflect the different needs of GE and EAP learners, reflects the more serious nature of academic study. This is fine if we can assume that learners in EAP classes are in fact motivated and have a clear idea of their needs and how what is being done relates to that. De Chazal uses “can be self motivated” and “are more likely to be working towards a clear goal” – not definite.

Adrian puts forward a spectrum on which GE, GEAP and SEAP on it but says that many students occupy a place somewhere in the middle of the scale i.e. learning English for study purposes but also need GE and may not have clear study aims. E.g. Turkey. Students who study English in addition to their subject of study in University context. Need to get to B1+, preparing for a programme where some content is in English but not wanting to study in an English-speaking university so don’t need full on EAP, may not necessarily be motivated. In the UK, students need an improved IELTS score, need EAP skills in addition to general skills and are more motivated. In both of these, EAP ‘light’ may be useful.

For the rest of this session, he says we will look at what this might look like and how it might come out in practice. It is clearly possible to focus on academic skills in a way that is engaging for learners who may not be highly motivated while still providing the skills that they need to master.

Approach 1

E.g. Skills for writing an academic essay, specifically in the opening part, the introduction, where they may need to define abstract concepts. Students might be shown an example which provides examples of the language needed.

It isn’t in itself a particularly engaging text, but it seems to Adrian that there are ways in which this topic could be made to be more interesting and engaging for less motivated students:

  • a lead-in to get ss thinking about the topic – brainstorming
  • discussion with concrete examples e.g. in what ways mght courage be an asset in these occupations
  • personalisation: think of a courageous person you know, what did they do which was courageous
  • prediction: get ss to write a definition of courage without using a dictionary

THEN look at the text.

So this is an example of bringing in features of General English methodology into EAP. This helps to provide motivation, it is generated by the task and teacher, bringing interest to the topic which does not HAVE to be dry.

Approach 2:

To actually choose topics which have general interest even if not related to learners’ areas of study.

Listening to lectures: identifying what the lecturer will talk about using the signals given (EAP focus: outlining content of a presentation). Can be done with a general interest topic e.g. male and female communication.

  • Start off with a topic focus: think about the way men or boys talk together and the way women or girls talk together. Do you think there are any differences? Think about…
  • Leads into a focus on listening skills: students listen to an introduction to a class seminar on this topic; identify how speaker uses signalling language, stress and intonation to make it clear what he is going to talk about

So those are a couple of examples of directions that EAP light could take. This is a crossover between GE and EAP, skills and language defined by needs, but the initial focus is on the topic itself rather than on the skills. Topics selected as academic in nature but have intrinsic interest. Motivation is enhanced through visuals, engaging tasks, personalisation etc.

Q and A

What is a good source of EAP light topics?

Adrian plugs his Academic Skills development worksheets – generally academic nature but of general interest. (They accompany “Empower”) If you are developing your own, look at the kind of topics in GE coursebooks and see if there are any that would lend themselves to EAP.

What about letting students choose their own topics?

A good idea if this is EAP where students are already engaged in academic study, as they will have a good idea of what they need. In GEAP it is important to choose topics which lend themselves to whatever academic skill you are developing as well.

What were the textbooks used in the examples:

EAP – Cambridge Academic English B2 level; GE- Empower B2 level

 

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