Raising awareness of academic expectations:
collaborative work in the EAP classroom
by Scott J. Shelton-Strong
3.0 Materials and procedures
In writing and selecting material for this initial lesson, an attempt was made to respond to the perceived needs of international learners beginning a pre-sessional course (Alexander et al., 2008: 269, 291; McCarter and Jakes, 2009: 148). The process built into the lesson, aims to invite discovery of, interaction with, and initial assimilation of, key issues and skills needed to complete the ensuing class project, and which are considered essential for successful university study following this course (Alexander et al., 2008).
The profile for this group of learners is as follows: the class consists of 12 (B1) students aged 22 to 35. This is an international group of students, six of which are Iranian, three Chinese, two Saudi Arabians and one Japanese. There is nearly an equal distribution of gender with seven male and five female students in the group.
In attempting to create relevant, motivating material which would serve the dual purpose of exposing these learners to several divergent but connected concepts in a time effective manner – use of authentic, Internet based texts in the form of short interactive presentations were chosen. In McGrath (2006), a criteria for selecting material of this nature was consulted which highlights a number of points relevant to appropriateness which are listed below and followed by a brief commentary.
• intrinsic interest of topic
• cultural appropriateness
• linguistic demands
• cognitive demands
• logistical considerations
The texts chosen are thought to be relevant to university study, and in particular, appropriate to international students with little experience within a UK academic context, as they deal with key issues of criticality and academic conventions. The language used is accessible at an Intermediate level (B1) and scaffolded with the aid of the animated step-by-step delivery online. Learners are involved cognitively and visually as they progress through the text and in this way value is added to the intrinsic interest of the topics (Derewianka, 2003). Cultural appropriateness is linked to the learners' 'new' academic reality as they deal with academic and cultural issues, and at an approximate ten minutes from start to finish, the length is thought to be manageable. The quality is high as this is material produced by a reputable Canadian university through its library (Acadia University Vaughan Memorial Library, 2008). The exploitability of the texts is also considered to be high, given the rich content and multimedia design.
In the previous sections a number of theoretical frameworks and approaches to learning were ascribed to as influential factors in the design of the materials. In this section the materials will be evaluated within the context for which they were envisioned to be used (McGrath, 2002: 22; Tomlinson, 2003: 15).
Within an EAP programme for pre-sessional students there is a diversity of needs relating to both language proficiency and acclimatization within the academic context of university study (Evans and Morrison, 2011; James, 2010). These learners, while likely to be representative of a variety of learner styles, will need to be gradually introduced to collaborative group work – the advantages of which may need to be made explicit (Alexander et al., 2008: 112). As previously emphasised, there are also a number of academic issues and skills, which will need to be addressed and developed early on.
As mentioned previously, the texts were selected for their relative manageability, relevance, appropriateness and quality. The tasks set in the student material (appendix 1 - 5) attempt to reflect the approaches to learning which I have outlined in section 2, and respond to the needs of learners in this particular academic environment; allowing for small group collaboration, directed explicit input and later conferencing and planning stages leading to an oral presentation. An attempt to cater for a variety of learner styles was made when choosing the materials and designing the tasks offering a variety of input (visual, textual, auditory), different stages involving movement, both independent and dependent tasks, and studial, analytical, and global approaches to learning (Tomlinson, 2003: 21).
Scaffolding through teacher intervention within the material design is attempted through the provision of explicit step-by-step instructions at each stage of the lesson, and which the teacher is envisioned to support through elicitation, concept questions and demonstration as needed. Further framing or organisational support is offered through the note taking and oral presentation outline blanks provided, as well as carefully staged steps to support the lesson aims and autonomous work at home (Hyland, 2006: 91).
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