|‘Writing is never general’
Specifically, Wardle (who writes from a US Composition Studies perspective) claims that (pages 31-2, bold added):
Donald Judd also argues (from a US perspective), drawing on Critical Realism, that writers always need a reason to write, a reality to write about. He therefore encourages writing teachers who have the task of teaching ‘writing in general’ (school teachers, first year composition studies (in the US) or general EAP (in the UK), to design tasks that engage their student writers meaningfully. He has some well thought-through, generalisable and educationally-sound suggestions that don’t necessarily require writing to be discipline-specific (but they do require caring about a topic and having an audience in mind).
From an EAP perspective, I think this quote from Huckin, 2003 (abstract, p.3) more or less sums up my own stance on this:
In commenting on Huckin, Hyland (2016, p.18) claims:
So, this got me thinking, as usual, about how we teach writing on a general EAP course. I know there are many who think EAP should not be general (I have references for this, sorry – I just don’t have them to hand, it’s late, it’s Saturday, I have food in the oven), but the fact is, most EAP is taught ‘in general’. And given that it is, how can we turn this to our advantage, make it a meaningful experience for our students and ourselves, and perhaps even give it an added edge over and a separate remit from English for Specific Purposes, which seems to attract far more sympathies and favourable arguments than English for General Academic Purposes?
I have several ideas, including ideas on giving general EAP an interdisciplinary identity and focus (but more on this another time and in another post/article). In the meantime, I have proposed the following summer staff development session where I work. It still hasn’t been accepted by my department, but regardless of this, I wanted to share my thinking on how to meaningfully go about teaching general EAP with my wider #tleap community.
And the reason I wanted to do this is because I want to know what you think – what should and could we be teaching on ‘general’ EAP, given Wardle’s and Judd’s, and those who favour ESAP (English for Special Aademic Purposes), consensus on the non-feasibility of teaching writing ‘in general’?
On practising what we preach
The following twitteration caught my eye the other day, and since I have given three talks this year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect with a view to improving my practices and to sharing with students:
I don’t know the full context of this conversation, but since Alex and Tyson are both involved in language, literacy and teaching English for Academic Purposes, I imagine they were having a bit of a rant about colleagues who probably teach presentation skills to their students but are not necessarily great presenters themselves (Alex, Tyson – forgive and correct me if I am wrong …).
So, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and reflect on how I fare in the presentations department.
I’m going to list some negative and positive feedback that I have received over the years and add a few comments/justifications. My aim is twofold: to become a better presenter myself AND to show students that like them, I get nervous, mess-up, but survive.
Below are a few recurring things that audiences have said to me after a presentation.
- you talk too fast and too much – yes, this is something I haven’t yet cracked. Like with word-counts, I struggle to keep to time limits. I need to follow my own advice here and actually rehearse the whole thing a couple of times beforehand, using the ‘record’ facility on PowerPoint so I can play it back to myself
- you use big words – I know there is a fine line between using too much or too little jargon, but if you count ‘philology’, ‘semiology’ and ‘ontology’ as big words for an academic conference, then I make no apologies. Firstly, I assume that many in my audiences are familiar with this terminology; and secondly, if they are not, we almost always have internet access in a conference, so look it up and be glad you’ve learnt a new word! That’s exactly what I do when I come across new words and what I expect my students to do, too.
- you have really wordy slides – yep, I do. I use a lot of quotes in my presentations so not sure how to get round this one. I think I need to develop a less ambitious approach to presenting, i.e. saying just enough and leaving the rest to post-talk conversations …
- you are inspirational – I’ve been told this often and I feel really, really happy when someone says this because the best talks I have been to are ‘inspirational’, even though they don’t follow all the conventions
- you’ve taken an interesting angle – this happens quite often, too, and it paves the way for then having really good conversations
- you’ve made me think – when someone comes to look for you after the talk, this is such a good sign! It means they want to know more, carry on the discussion, share references, examples, insights. If this didn’t happen after a talk, I would feel defeated because it would mean no ideas were sparked
I’m taking a huge risk here, but if you have ever been to any of my presentations over the years, will you tell me what you thought? Honestly … You can comment on the blog or email me directly. I need honesty not diplomacy, please, because I genuinely do want to improve and genuinely want my students to see how all of this works.
Fingers crossed …
Could a multimodal approach to academic writing be a harbinger of fairness in recognition of a diverse 21st century literacy landscape?
Some key quotes and reflections from recent #acwri readings
This post is linked to others on multimodality here and here. It helps me keep track of readings, but it may be of interest to both teachers and learners of academic writing including Research Writing, EAP (English for Academic Purposes), Academic Literacies, and Writing Studies. All bolds are mine (they refer to key words in my research).
Multimodality refers to a field of application rather than a theory (Bezemer and Jewitt, 2010, p. 180 cited in Archer and Breuer, 2016, p. 1).
Most research on academic discourse has been based on the analysis of written text and as a result, most classes on the teaching of academic writing have concentrated on language (p.1)
What is seen as ‘academic’ writing is contestable and always emergent (p.2)
[…] the writer does not have complete freedom to change genre characteristics – especially if the writer is not a long-standing member of the academic community (Bhatia, 2004, 2010; Hyland, 2004 in Archer and Breuer, p. 3)
When comparing academic texts emanating from different academic contexts, one can see that students from English speaking backgrounds tend to focus on creating linearity in texts that contain content that is topic relevant […]. Other academic approaches, for example, in France, Germany, Russia, Arabia, do not cohere to this rule of linearity but prefer to present a wider picture of the topic or of taking different perspectives on them. Reading these texts is more demanding , and could result in academic communities being seen as elitist, trying to ‘keep out’ readers that do not belong to the academic community. These traditions tend not to ‘sell’ ideas as does the English academic community, but rather to ‘tell’ them […] and the text is understood as working as a “stimulus for thought or even intellectual pleasure” […] (p. 3)
On the one hand, it would be in their learners’ interests if they [teachers] could help them to conform to the expectations of the institution. On the other hand, by doing so, they are reproducing the ideologies and inequities of the institution and society at large (p. 4)
The cartoon argument below sharply brings into focus the claims made in a recent Times Higher Education article in which the writer argues that the priviliging of writing in academic assessments leads to inequalities and discrimination.
I would also argue that priviliging writing leads to missed opportunites for exploring diverse epistemological commitments and perspectives because different modes afford different things: this cartoon, for example, connects more directly, in my view, with our embodied experiences of education than a verbose academic abstract or quote might do, and if one of the purposes of academic communication is to trigger action – see Threshold Concept # 1.5: Writing Mediates Activity – then, arguably, this visual stands a far better chance of generating discussion (at least).
I also find the comments posted in response to this article indicative of profound political and ideological orientations towards education more broadly, and to academic writing (literacy), specifically. I’ve copied these comments below hoping to hear what others think:
Interestingly, Commentators #2 and #3 seem to be unaware of the fact that it is possible to “rethink the relationship between modes, for example, the interaction between image and writing in a text” (p. 7) and that a fairer, more just and more inclusive approach to academic writing consists in “recognising student ‘interest’ […] and agency as people who choose how to represent meaning from a range of possibilities […]” (p. 7).
These commentators also seem to assume that writing (i.e. language) is the best and only way to put forward an argument and be ‘scholarly’. This view is challenged by many in the field of literacies and writing studies such as Archer and Breuer (Eds), by Andrews (2010), and Andrews, Borg, Boyd Davis, Domingo and England (Eds) (2012). In their extensive body of research on what argumentation is and what the best way of advancing it might be given the range of modes available to us, they strongly argue that relying on language alone limits our academic expression.
Archer and Breuer’s edited collection provides many examples which extend our conception of academic writing beyond its propositional remit (i.e. language) and towards its mutlimodal affordances whereby mode is undersood as a “socially shaped and culturally given resource for making meaning” Kress cited in Archer and Breuer, p. 5).
I’m ending this post with a visual reflection on why education matters.
Archer, A. and Breuer, O. (2016) ‘A Multimodal Response to Changing Communication Landscapes’ in Multimodality in Higher Education (Archer and Odilia Breuer Eds.) Brill: Leiden/Boston: 1-17
Andrews, R. (2010) Argumentation in Higher Education: Improving Practice through Theory and Research Routledge
Andrews, R., Borg, E., Boyd Davis, S., Domingo, M. and England, J. (Eds) (2012) The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses, Sage
Sousanis, N. (2015) Unflattening, HUP
Photo credits: I am ashamed to admit that I dowloaded these straight from the Internet and now can’t re-trace their origins. If anybody objects to me using them here, please let me know and I will either credit them (if you know their source) or take them down.
All writing is multimodal
This blog is allowing me to trace my research thoughts on #acwri (academic writing). As such, it is a multimodal affordance, affording several opportunities, including: allowing me to write more frequently and freely than my PhD is letting me; making my thinking visible to my Self and Others; forcing me to present a publicly-digestable thought (rather than an incoherent note in the margins of my books); capturing quotes from books that I have borrowed and have to give back ☹; creating links with other thoughts over the last 3 years …
Cheryl Ball and Colin Charlton (Threshold Concept #2.4) – in this edited book by Adler-Kassner and Wardle – argue that in order to understand what writing is, specifically ‘academic’ writing, we need to conceive of text* as being multi-modal matter, language being just one of many modes that make a text ‘academic’ (other modes include, eg. image, music, gesture).
The following quotes are linked to this threshold concept and come from my recent readings on how the PhD thesis itself is being and will be affected by the ‘epistemological commitments’ (Kress, 2012: 254-5) of multimodal forms of knowledge representation.
I have reported them here with no further comment, other than to say that they form part of my research warrant:
Like any other doctoral student, as my writing developed I became increasingly aware of the ill-matched relationship between the capacity of my chapters and the data I wanted to fit into those chapters (Fransman, 2012:150)
I became increasingly frustrated with the difficulties of presenting data and discussion on contemporary multimodal communication practices in traditional format (Yamada-Rice, 2012: 157-8)
There is a general assumption that language is a communicational and representational medium which is fully adequate to the expression of anything that we might want to express: that anything that we think, feel, sense can be said (or written) in language. The obverse of this assumption is that if something cannot be expressed in language … then that thing is in any case outside rational thought, outside articulate feeling, and therefore need not be said or should not be said (Kress, 2000: 193 cited in Yamada-Rice, 2012: 173, my bold)
A big issue for the PhD now is to assist in a whole set of questions which are the result of social matters as much as of the technologies of dissemination, representation and production. PhD researchers are called upon to provide tools for recognistion of that which has hitherto not been recognised, left aside. They will increasingly be asked to do the unusual, the entirely innovative, in a genre beset by still relatively tightly controlled convention. That is, PhD researchers for a while to come will face the problem of a mis-match between their university’s regulation and what the world around the discipline and the university both enables and demands (Kress, 2012: 256, my bold)
*“what counts as text includes both permanent (eg published books, written reports) and performative (eg oral story-telling, informal conversations” (Kress: 221) and “By ‘text’ I refer to Halliday’s (1978) definition of a cohesive unit of meaning used for purposes of communication rather than a paraphrase for written language” (Yamada-Rice: 166)
Fransman, J. (2012) ‘Re-imaginging the Conditions of Possibility of a PhD Thesis’ in The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses (Eds. Andrews, R.; Borg, E.; Boyd Davis, S.; Domingo, M. and England, J.) Sage Publications: London: 138-156
Kress, G. (2012) ‘Researching in Conditions of Provisionality’in The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses (Eds. Andrews, R.; Borg, E.; Boyd Davis, S.; Domingo, M. and England, J.) Sage Publications: London: 245-258
Yamada-Rice, D. (2012) ‘Traditional Theses and Multimodal Communication’ in The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses (Eds. Andrews, R.; Borg, E.; Boyd Davis, S.; Domingo, M. and England, J.) Sage Publications: London: 157-176
Soonish, I will be giving a lecture on UK higher education to a large group of international students who come from Saudi Arabia, China, Iraq, Iran, France, Kuwait, Jordan, South Korea, Egypt, Brazil, Kazakstan, and more.
These students are mainly postgraduates, mostly in their mid-twenties, many have young children, and, generally, they have conditional EAP offers (English for Academic Purposes) to study Masters and PhDs in a range of disciplines, including: International Law, Chemistry, Philosophy, Nanotechnology, Immunology, Public Administration, Contemporary Chinese Studies, Business and Culture, Education, Theology, and Psychology.
I feel a great sense of responsibility.
With this post, I am therefore hoping to garner additional ideas, references, and suggestions from interested and experienced readers so that what I say to these young adults is not exclusively born of my experiences, understandings, and orientations.
Therefore, given the audience profile above, I am addressing this post to:
- students (any discipline, secondary and tertiary, any nationality, age, social background): what would you want to know from a lecture on Higher Education in the UK (past, present, and future)?
- academics, researchers, lecturers, professors: what would you want such a generation of students to know, knowing they could be on your Masters and PhD programmes?
- parents: if your child were in the audience, what would you want them to know? And if you were in the audience, what would you want to know?
- academic writing teachers, lecturers, researchers: what should I tell them about writing in the academy?
- administrators, student services, international officers: what does a young, educated, international student need to know about your procedures and practices?
I’d love to hear from you either in the comments to this post, by tweet @serenissimaj or @EAPTutorJM, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Depending on how this crowd-sourcing goes and on how the lecture turns out, I’ll write another post with an update, acknowledgements, slides, etc. I’ll also keep replies anonymous (if you want me to).
A personal review and commentary
I’ll start by quoting from one of the themes that single out this latest edition (the 3rd) – first published in 2002 – namely digital advances and social media:
Most blogs … show a careful informality, strong stance, tolerance of views and creative linking (p. 243)
Aside from making me think about whether my own blog fits – or should fit – (any of) this description, it has also got me thinking about the extent to which such bloggy properties apply to ‘canonic’ academic writing (see, for example, Patter’s views on blogging as #acwri).
But I’ll save those reflections for another post ….
What I liked about this book
There is lots in here to like if you are as nerdy about academic writing as I am.
First and foremost, for me, is the breadth of Hyland’s literature review. This is because I have been finding, as I do my own research on writing, that I often gloss over the basics, the things that ‘I’m meant to know but actually don’t really‘.
Hyland’s review covers familiar writing orientations such as those which are text-focused (following the structuralist tradition of De Saussure and Chomsky, p.4); writer-focused (following the expressivist tradition of Elbow and Murray, p.12); and reader-focused (following the social constructivist tradition of Nystrand, Park, Barton, Fairclough, pp.21-30) as well as providing examples of research methods and methodologies ranging from Think-Aloud Protocols, to Interviews, Corpus Studies, and Ethnographic Case Studies all of which he illustrates with examples, commentaries and relevance to the orientations mentioned above (Ch. 4, pp.73-141).
The other thing I found useful was the way he succinctly summarises a tradition by outlining its purpose – or what it is a response to – and then promptly shines a spotlight on its limitations (as he sees them).
Ethnographic approaches … take a more contextual view of writing than positivist approaches and presuppose a more prolonged engagement with the research site (Hyland: 85)
however, they are:
sometimes criticised for a lack of generalisability to other settings (Hyland: 86)
In fact, this rhetoric of ‘here is what the theory says’ and then ‘here is what is wrong with it’ recurs throughout the book. Pages 165 to 166 are a prime example (of which there are many). This is where Hyland outlines the affordances of critical pedagogy (with reference to Benesch) and then proceeds to draw out its weaknesses by carefully reviewing the literatures (eg Usher and Edwards; MacCallister; Grande; Pennycook). This passage is a brilliant example of what a literature review should do because what emerges from these pages is the conversational, dialogic character of a literature review. It’s a passage that would lend itself beautifully to being re-genred – to borrow from Fiona English – as a dialogue or graphic vignette.
More specifically …
Hyland raises issues such as ‘what’s the basis for believing that you can teach writing as a set of generic skills that prescribe accuracy and the avoidance of error? (Hyland, p.146-147; 151). A view that Hyland claims (albeit with no evidence) is:
still very much alive in many classrooms around the world, especially where English is taught as a second or foreign language. In many schools, writing classes are grammar classes in disguise and students are asked to write simply to demonstrate their knowledge of syntactic rules. In these situations, grammatical accuracy and clear exposition are often the main criteria of good writing (Hyland, p.146)
He goes on to claim that:
This autonomous, decontextualised view of writing also carries over into the design of many large international exams (Hyland, p.147)
focusing on accuracy is exactly the wrong place to look for writing competence, as there is little evidence to show that either syntactic complexity or grammatical accuracy are the best measures of good writing (…) no particular feature can be said to be a marker of good writing (ibid)
Other issues he broaches are ‘how did the view of writing as a social practice come about, what was it a response to (Hyland: 93; 157)’? He also has a fair amount to say about feedback and the part it plays in writing development (e.g. Truscott, pp.62-70), as well as a critique of the research construct of Coxhead and Nation’s early Academic Word List (Hyland, p.206) swiftly followed by an endorsement of its newer version, the Academic Vocabulary List of Gardner and Davies (Hyland, pp. 216-210). Plagiarism, concordance software and reference lists divided into topics such as EAP, ESP, and Literacy are also given prominence as is a final list of web resources on writing, researching, teaching, etc. (although these being web-based, they may have since evolved).
What I was less impressed with …
Important caveat: The following is intended to highlight what a 4th edition might include, and is not in any way aimed at undermining Hyland’s valuable resource and reference book: my intention is to share knowledge that may also be relevant to others interested in this field and, rather more selfishly, to help me revise and reflect on my own knowledge and understandings, so far.
Despite many references to the ‘Literacy’ studies conducted by Barton, Hamilton, Ivanic, Clark, etc. (eg. pp.134-136), there is no reference to its related tradition, the field of Academic Literacies, in the plural form.
This seems like a significant omission in a literature review of ‘teaching and researching writing’ given the prominence that the Academic Literacies tradition has in this field, including the field of EAP, which Hyland belongs to.
Yet, on page 50, at the end of his Chapter on ‘Key Issues in Writing’ Hyland claims:
This chapter has examined some of the key issues in writing today. Because it has been necessarily selective, I have chosen to look at topics which have not only motivated much recent thinking in the field but which also best illustrate where contemporary research into text and composition is going, and which reflect our current understanding about writing
I would argue, rather, that it is not so much ‘necessarily’ selective as ‘personally’ (as all selections are). This is because many key studies on writing are not there. For example, although a reference is given to Lea and Street’s influential 1998 article on Academic Literacies (on p.230, but misleadingly under the singular heading ‘Literacy’), no update is given of subsequent research in the field, including that by Scott and Lillis (2007); Wingate and Tribble (2011); the 2012 Special issue of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes on Academic Literacies and Systemic Functional Linguistics (edited by Caroline Coffin and Jim Donohue), this edited collection; and Lillis and Tuck (2016, forthcoming in Hyland’s own Handbook of EAP). This tradition has been prolific, and the need for it to be understood in the plural has been argued by Scott and Lillis, 2007.
Other omissions include recent work by Lillis and Curry on literacy brokers (credited, rather, to Shuman 1993 and Barton and Hamilton 1998, p.37); reference to the field of research writing (other than Swales), for example, Paltridge and Starfield; and reference to the work of Europeans and South Africans who are raising important questions about periphery writing.
And on a more personal note, describing Patter in terms of a ‘link to several blogs on academic writing’ (p. 257) is wholly inaccurate.
This is a great resource for EAP practitioners, in particular, and for those embarking on a related MA because it provides a range of examples of the main methods and methodologies for doing research into writing (in educational settings). However, I don’t feel it is advanced enough for those thinking of doing doctoral research on writing, despite my initial claim that it provides a general overview.
My main reason for this reservation is that it is too broad and insufficiently focused on the ontological, epistemological, and ethical underpinnings of ‘what writing is, how we know what it is, and who are we to make such judgments’. It doesn’t, for example, deal with the theories of language (eg integrationist, representational, critical, etc.), of literacy (eg normative, social, educational, political) or ideology (eg dominant literacies) that underlie our orientations to writing.
I would therefore tentatively suggest that ‘EAP’ and/or ‘in higher educational settings’ be added to the title of any future edition in order to capture the predominantly EAP and tertiary lens on writing that this book embodies.
PLEASE comment, qualify, correct me, challenge me on any of the above. I need it!
Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Taylor and Francis for sending me an inspection copy of this book. They asked for feedback. I hope this counts.
Hyland, K. (2016) Teaching and Researching Writing, Routledge
Lillis, T. and Curry, M.J. (2010). Academic writing in a global context . London: Routledge.
Lillis, T. and Tuck, J. (2016). Academic Literacies: a critical lens on writing and reading in the academy. In Hyland, K. and Shaw, P. (eds.): The Routledge Handbook of English for Academic Purposes. London: Routledge.
Scott, M. and Lillis, T. (2007). Defining academic literacies research: Issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics 4(1), 5-32.
Thesen, L., and Cooper L. (2013). Risk in Academic Writing: Postgraduate Students, Their Teachers and the Making of Knowledge. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.