Raising awareness of academic expectations:
collaborative work in the EAP classroom
by Scott J. Shelton-Strong
4.0 A rationalisation for procedure and purpose
4.1 Lesson flow
The flow of the lesson moves from brainstorming and prediction to initiate schemata, or background knowledge, of the topics given to each group to work with, shifting to individual reading and analysis online and later returning to purposeful group work as notes are culled, compared and main points identified and selected for the oral presentation. This progression should allow for collective support, explicit, cognitive focusing on content and form, and later further collaboration and rehearsal time before the summary oral presentation. The groups are allowed private time to help each other and prepare for the shared public presentation with the teacher at hand to guide and feed in language as required. The learners are supplied with explicit guidance in the form of worksheets and both peer, and teacher support in the role of a facilitator, (Wilson, 2007) is available which may provide a safe, structured environment for those who are unused to this approach to learning. Learners are asked to prepare questions to ask each group after each presentation as an incentive to listen critically and remain involved in a collaborative sense.
To conclude the lesson, learners are given the opportunity to engage in self-reflection in order to foster personal response and further investment in directing their own learning, thus perhaps leading to increased autonomy, "a crucial requirement for successful English-medium academic study" (Alexander et al., 2008: 294-301). The homework returns the learners to explicit exposure to the information pertaining to the remaining topics to be covered, where they are directed to make further notes and to write a short introduction for homework, synthesising the main points across the four areas. This, it is hoped, will lead the students to consolidate the points made in the oral presentations they had listened to, completing the loop from implicit to explicit input, to transformed output.
In this paper I have attempted to identify the theory which informed the creation and selection of what I believe to be an appropriately staged lesson aimed at a group of international pre-sessional adult learners who are initiating their rite of passage to membership within their chosen field of academic study in a UK university context. Justification for this material and the process through which it is envisioned to be used was supported by the relevant literature and in turn evaluated within the context in which it is to be used.
Collaborative group projects are becoming an increasingly popular framework in both seminars and assessment in Higher Education (Alexander et al., 2008: 291). The practical application of social-cultural learning theories, supporting not only the much needed language acquisition and development goals of the majority of international learners attending EAP courses, also serves as a safe induction to collaborative work from which learning (of language and other skills) is supported by peers and instructors. Additionally, it is suggested that when combined with opportunities for self-reflection, while scaffolding is slowly removed, opportunities for developing autonomy and a greater confidence to rely on and nurture a balance of initiative and collaboration is increased, supporting EAP learners' success in English-medium academic studies (Alexander et al., 2008: 291).
Scott Shelton-Strong has been involved in teaching and training over the past 20 years and has lived and worked in Spain, Jordan, Tunisia, New Zealand, the UK, the USA , and Vietnam. He holds a CTEFLA, the Cambridge DELTA and has recently (2012) completed an MA TESOL from Nottingham University. He is currently teaching at the British Council in Jordan. His interests include action research in the classroom with an emphasis on building learner autonomy, teacher development and training, and using literature in ELT.
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