by Chloe Wong
Effective academic writing skills are pivotal for student success in the university setting, as most institutions continue to rely heavily on written discourse as an assessment tool (Hyland, 2018; Wingate & Tribble, 2012). This past spring, I taught first-year students in a university-level English for Academic Purposes (EAP) writing course. This course was designed as a bridging program to introduce the first-years to the academic genre and communication in the university (Centre for English Language and Communication [CELC], n.d.). Regardless whether English is their first or additional language, students who are tested for the course are identified as individuals that would benefit from additional and explicit instructional support as they transition into academic discourse and communities of practice (Lave & Wegner, 1991) in the university and their disciplines.
Issues of Students’ Anxiety and Integrative Motivation in the EAP Classroom
Possibly due to the pre-course testing procedure or previous negative English language learning experiences or a combination of both, students attending the course demonstrated a noticeable degree of learner anxiety. In addition to teaching linguistic and metalanguage features, I was also facilitating learner receptivity (Ellis & Shintani, 2014) towards learning academic discourse in a marked attempt to foster an integrative motivation (Gardner, 1985; Gardner et al., 2004; Dörnyei, 2001) and mediate learner anxiety. There is a need to change students’ remedial mindsets towards the EAP classroom and focus their attention on the value of gaining fluency in academic discourse in order to successfully transition and integrate into their new communities of practice (Lave & Wegner, 1991) in the university and their disciplines.
In second language acquisition research, learner anxiety can be defined as a students’ receptivity or defensiveness towards language instruction (Ellis & Shintani, 2014; Allwright & Bailey, 1991). In a classroom of functionally adequate English users who have been identified as needing extra support to transition into academic communication, two general forms of learner anxiety manifested in the classroom. On the one hand, some students were defensive of their prior English language knowledge and were sceptical of gaining new knowledge in the course. These students may also be resistant towards identifying themselves as a novice in the EAP discourse due to their pre-existing English language knowledge and experiences. On the other hand, there was a relatively larger group of students who were comparatively receptive to corrective feedback, but their receptivity was dampened by their individual defeatist mindset. Burdened by their deficient view of their language abilities, these students’ acquisition of the academic discourse skills is impeded by their substantial anxiety surrounding linguistic difficulties. Whether defensive or receptive, students’ misconceptions of EAP as a remedial English language course fuels learner anxiety.
Whether defensive or receptive, students’ misconceptions of EAP as a remedial English language course fuels learner anxiety.
At the beginning of the course, most students shared that it was not their personal choice to attend the course and some were only looking to get a passing grade in order to graduate (Personal communication, January, 2020). The misalignment between the students’ remedial view of the EAP course and the institutional integrative objectives for the program is a cause for concern. The socio-educational model for language learning suggests that integrative motivation facilitates language acquisition, whereas language anxiety has a debilitating effect on learners’ achievement and communicative competence (Gardner, 1985; Gardner et al., 2004). The concept of learners’ achievement and communicative competence can be expanded to the learning of academic discourse skills—which involves linguistic and literacy skills such as research, paraphrasing, summarizing and argument development. Consequently, I postulate that it is also relevant to look into ways to diffuse learner anxiety and promote integrative motivation to ensure learner achievement and communicative competency in the EAP.
Moreover, it is advantageous to shift students away from the negative belief that EAP is a remedial course for students at-risk (Wingate and Tribble, 2012) and introduce the course’s value-adding objectives to the students at an early stage. EAP is an influential programme that helps students more effectively transition from school discourse to university discourse and contributes to their relative academic success (Krause, 2001). The scale and complexity of academic writing go beyond just linguistic proficiency and involve more abstract epistemological fluency (Wingate & Tribble, 2012). Hyland (2018) effectively summarizes the necessity of an EAP curriculum as a bridging course: shifting students from “proficiency-focused personal essays” (which they have become accustomed in mainstreams schools) to university “disciplinary writing” that has specific demands (p. 391), many of which are set in place by experts in a field and may not be readily apparent to novice scholars. If students gain a deeper appreciation for this crucial transitional feature of the EAP course, it can promote learner receptivity and integrative motivation and lead to a greater likelihood of learner achievement and self-confidence (Dörnyei, 2001).
Future Considerations: To Improve Effectiveness of EAP Curriculum, Instructional Practice & Research
Rapid integration into their communities of practice is particularly important for students transitioning from school to university life. According to Krause (2001), the rate of rapid integration is strongly correlated with university retention rates, a student’s ability to positively steer their academic development, and can potentially influence a student’s sense of competency. Actively integrating students into communities of practice through a bridging EAP course in the university can be crucial in ensuring that students enjoy successful academic careers in the university.
While the students may have been tested for the EAP course, efforts should be made to prevent them from arbitrarily labelling themselves as a weak English language user pressed into a remedial class. To effectively induct students into a university EAP writing course, there is a need to address the gaps between institutional expectations and student interpretations of what is involved in academic writing (Wingate & Tribble, 2012, p. 489) and academic writing programs. Language proficiency and academic discourse proficiency may share some overlapping basic linguistic features, but the higher goal of an EAP course is to introduce students to the academic genre, conventions and communication. Furthermore, if a community’s discourse conventions and rhetoric remain unarticulated, students may find it challenging to achieve full participation in the communities of practice found in their university and discipline, which in turn, will limit learners’ achievement and self-confidence.
The higher goal of an EAP course is to introduce students to the academic genre, conventions and communication
Going forward in my classroom practice, I plan to investigate better pedagogical approaches to tackle learner anxiety, promote learner motivation and support students in achieving the key objectives of an EAP classroom—integrating into the university community. For example, in the past semester, while some students shared feedback on how they had come to view the EAP course as an asset to their university learning experience, the feedbacks did not provide sufficient specifics to fairly evaluate whether these students’ mindsets as novice scholarly writers changed from proficiency-based writing to a more complex epistemological discourse. The feedback also falls short in identifying which of the tasks, activities, instructions or even corrective feedback approaches in the classroom were key in engineering the positive change in the learners’ view and understanding of EAP course objectives.
Additionally, there may be room for longitudinal studies that feature a comparative analysis of learners’ achievement between those who benefited from EAP courses and those that did not. While there is significant literature on second language learner motivation and learner achievement, it may be presumptuous to assume that the literature can be fully adaptable to a different subject matter like EAP. EAP is a complex course to teach and practitioners are often teaching students from varying disciplines with varying learner needs and profiles. Even though I have used second language acquisition research in an attempt to understand my learners better and improve my teaching practice, I believe that my practice may also benefit from more varied analytical perspectives. EAP practitioners should employ varied streams of theory and research in the course of our work as we deal with diverse students, disciplines and epistemological practices. More than language and linguistic features, EAP focuses on discourse and how communication is “embedded in social practices, disciplinary epistemologies and ideological beliefs” (Hyland, 2018, p. 390). Longitudinal studies would provide more quality data for holistic analysis and research which can further legitimize EAP and move it off the rungs of “low-rent margins” of the university and inspire students, teachers, and university administrators on the “merits of specialized teaching of writing” (Hyland, 2018, p.389).
Allwright, D., & Bailey, K. (1991). Focus on the language classroom: An introduction to classroom research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Centre for English Language and Communication. ES1103 – English for Academic Purposes. National University of Singapore. http://www.nus.edu.sg/celc/programmes/es1103.html
Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R., & Shintani, N. (2014). Exploring language pedagogy through second language acquisition research (R. Carter, & G. Cook, Eds.). London & New York: Routledge.
Gardner, R. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitude and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.
Gardner, R. C., Masgoret, A. M., Tennant, J., & Mihic, L. (2004). Integrative Motivation: Changes During a Year-Long Intermediate-Level Language Course. Language Learning, 54(1), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2004.00247.x
Hyland, K. (2018). Sympathy for the devil? A defence of EAP. Language Teaching, 51(3), 383–399. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444818000101
Krause, K. L. (2001). The university essay writing experience: A pathway for academic integration during transition. International Journal of Phytoremediation, 21(1), 147–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360123586
Wingate, U., & Tribble, C. (2012). The best of both worlds? Towards an English for Academic Purposes/Academic Literacies writing pedagogy. Studies in Higher Education, 37(4), 481–495. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.525630