Sharing by Fong Yoke Sim

by Fong Yoke Sim


When approached by the CELC SoTL Blog Committee to contribute to the Blog, Yoke Sim (YS) decided to share with readers her answers to Gek Ling’s (GL) questions regarding the ‘Threshold Concept’. This was presented during the Panel Discussion at the CELC-FTEC Briefing in May, 2017.

GL: How did you try to teach an example of a threshold concept (something students must learn before they could understand other parts of the course) so that the students could gain deep or deeper learning from your course? Could you share briefly what you put in place to help students grasp a key and thorny concept?

YS: Though they might be weak in English writing, some of the bright international students initially queried and resisted the Anglo-American convention (AAC) of topic/thesis-fronted discourse. From theories on cultures of learning (e.g., Jin & Cortazzi, 1998, 2006; Kumaravadivelu, 2008; Ryan, 2013), I understand that they come with their own writing conventions (e.g., qi cheng zhuan he and ba gu wen for Chinese students). Thus, to help my students grasp this threshold concept needed for their current academic community, I took time to

  1. a) discuss cultures of learning in order to draw parallels with AAC
  2. b) present the analogy of learning the host language when we enter a new culture
  3. c) assure them they need not give up their original cultural writing conventions to learn AAC. They can adopt AAC as a new lens or an extra arm to be more versatile as a member of the global academic community.


GL: Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2008), describe a taxonomy for measuring student learning. How to measure learning is crucial if you want to be able to claim that learning has taken place, even more so when you need to show an improvement in the type of learning that has taken place. Could you share briefly on how you measured student learning in the year under review for your ATEA nomination?

YS:        a) The ES5000 students had three writing assignments (with two drafts each) over the semester. I look for improvements in their performance over these formative assessments.

  1. b) They also submitted two reflections (mid-term and end-of-course; see sample questions below*). I mined these self-reports for perceptions of learning that had taken place.
  2. c) I also tried to capture how they were progressing in their learning journeys during in-class discussions and conferencing sessions.
  3. d) Lastly, the official online student feedback, especially the qualitative component, was analysed for positive and negative comments. Consistently, over the years, these comments fall into four main categories: commitment, communication, pedagogy and personality. To gauge my students’ learning, I looked closely at their feedback on what they had achieved as supported by these four aspects.

*Write a general-specific paragraph of about 150 words on the following:

What have you gained (skills, insights, confidence, etc.) or lost (anxiety, misconceptions, habits, etc.) after 5 weeks of ES5000?

What do you plan to do next? How? Where do you need help? What strategies (ways/methods) will you use?



Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (2009), A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice(3rd edition). London and New York: Routledge. Retrieved from

Jin, L., & Cortazzi, M. (1998). The culture the learner brings: A bridge or a barrier? In M. Byram & M. Fleming (Eds.), Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 98-118.

Jin, L., & Cortazzi, M. (2006). Changing practices in Chinese cultures of learning. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19(1), 5-20.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008). Cultural globalization and language education. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Ryan, J. (2013). Comparing learning characteristics in Chinese and Anglophone cultures: Pitfalls and Insights. In Cortazzi, M. & Jin, L. (Eds.), Researching cultures of learning: International perspectives on language learning and education. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 41-58.

Leave a Reply