Thursday, 8 May 2014

New ideas on writing from IATEFL 2014



I was fortunate enough to attend IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate for 3 days. I attended lots of really interesting sessions as well as catching up with some online in the days after. Because of my current teaching and interests, I went to several sessions that in some way related to academic writing.
The first one of relevance was by Jennifer MacDonald, called Getting Discipline Specific in the EGAP classroom. This was an excellent talk, full of useful practical tips for teaching. When talking about writing she recommended using a genre approach.  Genres are “complex, evolving mental abstractions held by individuals within communities” (Johns, 1997, p22). In the same way that a holiday postcard would have certain typical, predictable features (a salutation, “having a lovely time here in…”, a mention of weather, food and activities, use of present continuous and present perfect continuous, and so on) an academic genre has certain conventions that we can help the students to identify. Swales (1990) recommends using a consciousness-raising approach and that instead of teaching how to write a genre, we should enable students to analyse texts themselves to develop an awareness of the texts they have to write.
MacDonald added to this by suggesting some practical tips on how to approach genre in the classroom. She suggested two good sources for finding texts: Google Scholar and the Directory of Open Access Journals. Google Scholar is my site of choice, but working for Sheffield University, I automatically have access to a large number of subscription only journals that others may not, which is why an open access site is a welcome addition. Activities that come from this include setting students the task of conducting a genre analysis on a text from their field. An extension of this is to ask students to write a text in the genre of their chosen field. One problem of this though is that EAP students’ intended genre is the IMRAD, but in order to write this, students need research, which they don’t yet have when on a pre-sessional. MacDonald recommended finding a text from Scientific American and having students extract which information would go into which section of an IMRAD report for higher levels or to compare a report and an essay for students at lower levels. When getting into the details, genre analysis involves identifying moves and steps: what purpose is achieved by certain sections, or certain phrases or sentences. MacDonald suggested focussing just on 2 or 3 salient points to make this more manageable for students.
An interesting contrast to this came from Edward de Chazal. This was not from a presentation but an article in Modern English Teacher which I was given in the IATEFL resources fair. In it he outlines his focus on  ‘Essential Elements’, which involves highlighting sections of a text and giving them labels, for example, ‘definition’, ‘explanation’ or ‘exemplification’.