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The Applicability of ESA Strategy to Academic Research Writing Instruction

The Applicability of ESA Strategy to Academic Research Writing Instruction | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In this report, I describe how I, an English, but not ESL/EFL instructor, employed a scholarly text as a model which Chinese students used for their assigned academic research paper. I evaluate my work by considering ITTT ESL/EFL teaching techniques. My purpose is to explore ESL/EFL augmentations to my English comp teaching methodologies.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Drayton H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Process Genre Approach

In researching ESL/EFL instruction in writing English language research papers, I find a method called "the Process Genre Approach." ["Developing Research Paper Writing Programs For EFL/ESL Undergraduate Students Using Process Genre Approach," Kim Thanh, et al., Higher Education Studie, 2016]. Its features include:* They are using scholarly research essays as models for analysis-based imitation by students under the guidance of instructors.* One part of PGA tasks the instructor to identify for her students the model article's knowledge content, plus cultural aspects of that content and how those aspects are expressed. For example, a left-of-center American economist wrote a report that typically contains a normative value and content salience assumptions possibly invisible in their very obviousness to an American reader like-minded to the author. These matters of, say, Western perspective or "context" -- rather than being invisible -- may stand out to a student in, say, Confucian cultural space, but as odd or incomprehensible. Learning to understand them is a reading reception ability ostensibly taught by PGA and seemingly can only be achieved through extra-linguistic instruction in the Western cultural beliefs and norms themselves. * Some proponents of PGA employ lists of "genres," such as "business letter writing" and "argumentative writing." Scholarly research writing is another "genre." PGA teaching is lecture and Q&A -centric. Adventitiously (having not heard of PGA), I used a PGA-like modeling methodology in my instruction reading reception phase.

Outcomes

The assigned finished product, an academic essay culminating a two-semester course, would satisfy the standard introductory English virtues of expository writing: unity, development, coherence, a good thesis statement, and so on, but beyond this, also evince student-level scholarship, express some original thought, employ APA citations, and include an abstract. During the 2015 - 2016 winter break, I happened upon the 2015 Oxfam "briefing paper" on world poverty, "An Economy For The 1% How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped." I saw it as a promising candidate core teaching material for my course's second semester.

With its world poverty and development themes, the Report's appeal stemmed from its seemingly genuine interest to my students: as recently as half a decade ago, The Peoples Republic of China officially called itself a developing country; it is also a country with an internal market economy and an emerging middle class. My students, being children of this new middle class, would see personal connections in the Report between their lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents as those lives were illuminated by the Report in connection with countries today less advanced than China, but following its same track.

The Report seemed of interest to these business students in the second place by adverting to financial and business-related information and concepts. This leads to a further advantage of the choice, viz. It covers a welter of business-related sub-topics from extractive industries to the financial sector and the lives of sweatshop workers. Among many others, students were offered an extensive range of research topics. For all these reasons, the Report looked fecund for achieving the official course objective of fostering research writing proficiency (in my class, as a first stage, with drafting and the like to follow) through modeling analysis focused on reading the Report.

One qualification, I attempted to convey in class, must be registered. While exemplifying imitation-worthy scholarly research, the Oxfam report is not an article apt for academic journal publication. Because it strongly promotes a left-critical orientation on its issues and presentation, and because it develops its problems somewhat less thoroughly than typical journal articles, rather than "scholarly research," an appropriate genre title would be "advocacy scholarship."

Methodological Basis

Two out of numerous teaching techniques that I used with the Report are these: * Since the ability to summarize material is a desideratum for scholarly writers, I pointed to sentence headings under graphs as good sources of compressed content. On the Report's p.13, under "Figure 3," we find the following by-me annotated comment, my additions not in single quotes: "The graph depicts two lines, 'Wealth of bottom 50% ($bn)' and 'Wealth of richest 62 individual people (From Forbes. $bn),' crossing in 2015. The graph says that in 2015, 62 individual persons together had the same amount of wealth as the 3.6 billion people of the bottom half of the world population. * Scholarly research is facilitated by sensitivity to "signposts" in a researched text. Moreover, for the signposts to effectively anticipate the content related to them, an awareness of synonymy should be cultivated. The Oxfam report is rich in section and sub-section headings, i.e., signposts developed in the Report in the manner of topic sentences. Example: Under "1 THE WORLD IS GETTING RICHER, BUT SOME GAIN MORE THAN OTHERS, (p. 8), we find the sub-heading: "DENIED THE BENEFITS OF GROWTH." Two development sentences under this sub-heading are: "Digging behind the global and national aggregates reveals huge differences in income and wealth at the individual and household levels. Data on global income shares show that interpersonal income inequality is extremely high..." Both these summarizing and signpost-support models were apt for imitation by the students in their writing.

Vocabulary

The students' major was, again, business. For this reason, the technical vocabulary of the Report, that of economics, was familiar primarily to them. I say this because they were third or fourth-year business students and because it was confirmed by questioning. At least most plausibly new vocabulary was scaffolded off the pre-existing known language through sheer dictionary reference or cultural information from me. The "one-percent movement," for example, had to be taught from scratch, but its sense and connection were readily grasped given the students' prior understanding of banking and finance, the stock market, etc.

Turning in conclusion to self-evaluation of my instruction in scholarly writing in terms of ITTT methods, I mainly have a sense of regret over lost opportunities, as many of those methods, canvassed below, would have benefited my teaching.

ITTT Theoretical Base

I was looking at Unit 7. Teaching Vocabulary/Selecting Vocabulary: "appropriacy to the student [and]to the task"; "Frequency and Coverage"; Teachability," I give myself creditable marks on all these criteria. (For substantiation, I refer the reader to my paragraph beginning with "I was tasked with...") Under "what do students need to know...," I would say I did a decent job of helping students scaffold from already familiar to new vocabulary. They had no trouble assimilating, e.g., the concept of tax havens in this way (as with the "one-percent movement").

As for the cultural dimensions of new vocabulary, I'm not as sure. I did not teach on the other items listed here (Unit 7): grammar, interaction, spelling, and pronunciation. Assuming the worst, that these areas did need coverage for new vocabulary, I failed in them. I fell most egregiously, however, in the use of teaching activities, which were neglected in my English Department, PGA lecture/Q&A style teaching. I engaged in virtually none of the activities under the straight arrow ESA lesson plan encapsulated on pages 2 and 3 of unit 7, for example. Thus, by this standard, I rate myself as earning a D. (By standard English Department standards, perhaps a B.)

Turning to Unit 11 on Receptive Skills. I give myself credible marks on pre-teaching vocabulary, if only because the fundamental speech was mainly already in place. As for "careful" text selection: In subject matter, the Oxfam report's choice was good in all the before-mentioned ways. But the reading was appreciably though not overwhelmingly tricky for my upper-intermediate level students. The option's most significant drawback was its length of 35 pages, not counting six pages of citations. In retrospect, I should have lessened the reading load like this entailed by, say, assigning aggregations of pages to 4 or 5 student groups.

They would have, for activate phases, been given time to creatively prepare presentations of their design and medium, going on for two to three class meetings per set of pages. Did I "create interest"? Not enough; while at the outset, querying with my students some ideas about China's development and its presumed personal bearing on them, I mainly counted on intrinsic interest on their part in the Report. Finally, I identify my main overall failing as my before mentioned eschewing teaching activities (role-play the use of handouts, etc.), other than occasional pair or group work. My failures here now strike me as chances passed up to make my classes more vivid and exciting and, therefore, more motivating than teaching episodes than with my implicit use of the PGA, bare and unaugmented. (I also believe that the entire ESA lesson planning framework could be beneficially combined in, as well, but that's another and larger question.) So, I do see great benefit in taking your course in teaching writing, even including scholarly writing. And areas far afield from that, too.

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