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CamTESOL: Developing academic literacy of science students
 

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Presentation given at CamTESOL 2010: Developing academic literacy of science students: Matching pedagogy and practice

Presentation given at CamTESOL 2010: Developing academic literacy of science students: Matching pedagogy and practice

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  • The aims of this paper are to 1. describe the process and findings of a needs analysis conducted in the context of an English for Science course at City University of HK; 2. raise some questions relevant to the particular context and describe the teaching method that we have adopted as a result
  • Maths and chemistry are less demanding language-wise than biology. Problems stem from difficulties with content, not difficulties with language. Note that this means that there is a lack of opportunities to practice language in their own discipline.
  • Possible opportunities for the development of academic literacy and language skills include… Other guidelines and training opportunities includes the department efforts, e.g. briefing sessions, and interactions with supervisors, e.g. the provision of a template or previous final year project for reference (Bong).
  • Students perceive that they need help with their social English. They feel confident with their academic English. The quote here is taken from the same Chemistry student.
  • Students differ in the extent to which they feel that they are becoming a biologist, chemist or mathematician
  • So the question is: In view of this diversity, what common needs can be identified, and how specific can we be in fostering the development of academic literacy through this course?
  • Using this approach we can cater to the variety of different students that we have because they can take the underlying approach and apply it to their own lab reports or maths projects. But for this to work we have to provide students with opportunities to reflect on their writing purpose and how they meet the needs of their audience.

CamTESOL: Developing academic literacy of science students CamTESOL: Developing academic literacy of science students Presentation Transcript

  • Developing academic literacy of science students: Matching pedagogy and practice Christoph Hafner, Lindsay Miller, Connie Ng http://www1.english.cityu.edu.hk/acadlit
  • Outline
    • Course background
    • Rationale, methods, data sources
    • Findings
    • Key issues
    • Teaching approach adopted
  • Course background
  • About the course
    • ‘Inherited’ EN2251: Communication Skills I
    • Course Aims:
      • This course aims to develop students’ ability to read a variety of scientific texts, and appropriately communicate (through speaking and writing) the findings of scientific projects in an academic context.
    • Target departments: Biology and Chemistry (BCH), Mathematics (MA)
  • Outcomes and assessment
    • In groups, orally present findings of an English for Science project
    • In groups, present in writing (i.e. as a lab report) findings of an English for Science project
    • Individually, utilize corpus tools to explore academic vocabulary (Thurstun and Candlin, 1997, 1998)
  • Rationale, methods, data sources
  • Motivation for a needs analysis EN2251 Lab report BCH Lab reports Maths projects ?
  • Aims and questions
    • In order to better understand the difficulties that students face in their development of academic literacy, the following research questions were developed:
      • What are the academic literacy practices of students in the BCH and MA departments?
      • What literacy practices do academics expect their students to develop in the course of their studies? Do students meet these expectations?
      • What measures can be taken in order to further support students in the development of academic literacy in science subjects?
  • Approach adopted
    • Qualitative interpretive approach (Richards, 2003), which involved ongoing monitoring of students throughout the semester
    • Small-scale, sampling of students and academics in BCH and MA departments
      • 11 BCH students (incl. 3 FYP)
      • 5 MA students (incl. 2 FYP)
      • 5 faculty (3 BCH, 2 MA)
  • Data sources
    • Student background questionnaire
    • Weekly learning journals by students (weeks 3-12 Sem B)
    • Structured focus group and individual interviews with students (week 3, week 14)
    • Student academic and social communication logs (week 5, week 9)
    • Student work
    • Structured interviews with academics
  • Weekly meetings with participants Weekly collection of learning journals Distribution and collection of communication logs Interviews with students and staff
  • Findings: Communication logs A snapshot of student academic literacy practices
  • Academic settings: Average hours per participant per day
  • Social settings: Average hours per participant per day
  • Findings: Participants’ perceptions
  • The importance of English language for scientists/science students (1)
    • English is perceived as:
      • a useful global lingua franca in the scientific world
      • an important instrument in achieving career aspirations
  • The importance of English language for scientists/science students (2)
    • [English is] very important because when you go to a career interview, if you can speak a very good English, the interviewer will have a good impression on me.
    • (Chemistry student)
  • Variation in academic literacy practices (1)
    • Different disciplines and sub-disciplines are perceived as demanding different literacy skills:
      • Biology: More descriptive, so more demanding in terms of English literacy
      • Chemistry, Maths: Demands fluency with the conventional symbols used to express chemical calculations or mathematical proofs
  • Variation in academic literacy practices (2)
    • So basically, as soon as you understand the concepts and then do the calculations right, correctly, then they should be fine. Whereas the requirements of language would be not as important as in other courses like those in biology. They need to have a lot of descriptive answers, explanations, concepts, and so on. For my courses, they are a little bit but not a lot, so I think it’s relatively easy if they can do the calculations all right and get the numerical answers correctly.
    • (Chemistry Professor)
    • [In Maths] we seldom need to write English.
    • (Maths student)
  • Task expectations (1) From lab reports/assignments…
    • Lab reports/assignments:
      • Closed tasks with expected results, which must be reported accurately in order to obtain the full marks
      • Lab reports which focus on the display and interpretation of results and neglect the description of relevant theory and procedures
      • English does not play a role in the assessment of lab reports unless the language used is so poor as to obstruct communication
  • Task expectations (2) …to Final Year Projects
    • FYP:
      • A more challenging, open-ended research project, in which students investigate a fresh problem which may have diverse outcomes
      • Good use of English, the clear presentation of results and academically rigorous scientific reasoning becomes essential
  • Task expectations (3)
    • Answer their questions and no matter how good your English is they’re just looking for the right description or right wording and they’ll just tick it.
    • (Chemistry student)
    • So I think this is the main difference is for a lab report I have [pause] I will come to the end, it's the end of the lab report, the lab practical. However in FYP if you need me to write a proposal to continue this project or to further explore this bacteria, I can write a lot of things and I have many ideas like many background information and I think it's endless thing.
    • (Biology student)
  • Developing academic literacy and language skills
    • Major subject
      • Disciplinary reading and writing
      • Technical vocabulary
    • Discipline specific English course
      • A good lab report is just like what you have taught me in EN2251 (Chemistry student)
    • Other guidelines and training opportunities
  • Perceived strengths and weaknesses
    • I'm very confident to use English in my subject because since secondary schools, I have used English for my subjects…
    • … most of the time I do not use English for social communication, so I do not have any confidence.
    • (Chemistry student)
  • Motivation and uptake of institutional measures
    • Actually there are a lot of chances of learning English in CityU but I just don’t use them
    • (Chemistry student)
    • Of course I know that chatting with a foreigner is the best practice to improve both my listening and oral skills. I think I do need to be more active in making an exchange friend.
    • (Maths student)
  • Identity: Becoming a biologist, chemist, mathematician
    • Actually, during the whole process, I have some kind of sense of belonging in the lab and also to the people… So after there I hope… I still want to contribute to the lab with what I’ve learned so far. So, uh, if I have chance I will also choose to do my RA [research assistantship] here.
    • (Biology student)
    • I have no talent to be a Mathematician.
    • (Maths student)
  • Identity: Future career destinations
    • Future destinations include:
      • Teaching
      • Lab work
      • Programming
      • Sales
      • Further study
  • Q1: Academic literacy practices
    • What are the academic literacy practices of students in the BCH and MA departments?
      • Very varied across disciplines, e.g. lab reports in Biology/Chemistry, Maths assignments
      • Students perceive that disciplinary courses provide few opportunities to practice academic writing in English
      • English perceived as a useful global lingua franca in the scientific world, an important instrument to achieve career goals
  • Q2: Expectations
    • What literacy practices do academics expect their students to develop in the course of their studies? Do students meet these expectations?
      • Students are expected to use appropriate academic language for their Final Year Project
      • Academic literacy and language use is not generally perceived as an issue in lab reports and assignments prior to this
      • Is this a missed opportunity for literacy development?
  • Q3: Further measures
    • What measures can be taken in order to further support students in the development of academic literacy in science subjects?
      • Greater focus on academic literacy in disciplinary assignments: English across the curriculum
      • Maintain and refine the opportunities provided through EN discipline-specific courses, with a focus on transferrable skills: How specific should we be?
  • Key issues
  • Variation and Diversity
    • Variation in disciplinary literacy practices
    • Diversity in student background:
      • Different disciplines
      • Different career destinations
      • Different interests
  • The question of specificity in this context
    • In view of this diversity:
      • What common needs can be identified?
      • How specific can we be in fostering the development of academic literacy in the context of this course?
      • (See Bruce, 2002; Hyland, 2002; Spack, 1988)
  • A focus on education or training?
    • To what extent do we adopt:
      • …a procedure which focuses on the process of learning about, and how to participate in, genres (an educational approach), as opposed to a procedure which focuses solely on the end- product of specific varieties of genres (a training approach).
    • (Flowerdew, 1993)
  • Teaching approach adopted Project-based learning and transferable skills
  • English for Science Project*
    • Provides an overarching structure for the course
    • Students complete a quasi-experiment in groups:
      • Research the topic provided
      • Collect data
      • Orally present and interpret findings (groups)
      • Present and interpret findings in writing (individuals)
    • Simulates the process and communicative demands of a (generalized) science project
      • Need to present projects according to scientific conventions, using appropriate scientific language
      • The task is not limited to a particular disciplinary approach
  • Works cited
    • Bruce, N. (2002). Dovetailing language and content: Teaching balanced argument in legal problem answer writing. English for Specific Purposes , 21 (4), 321-45.
    • Flowerdew, J. (1993). Concordancing as a tool in course design. System , 21 (2), 231-244.
    • Hyland, K. (2002). Specificity revisited: How far should we go now? English for Specific Purposes , 21 (4), 385-395.
    • Richards, K. (2003). Qualitative inquiry in TESOL . Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Spack, R. (1988). Initiating ESL students into the academic discourse community: How far should we go? TESOL Quarterly , 22 (1), 29-51.
    • Thurstun, J., & Candlin, C. N. (1998). Concordancing and the teaching of the vocabulary of academic English. English for Specific Purposes , 17 (3), 267-280.
    • Thurstun, J., & Candlin, C. N. (1997). Exploring academic English: A workbook for student essay writing . Sydney, NSW: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research.