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Book review of 'Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts'


Rob Playfair, English Language Centre, University of Liverpool

Book review of: MacDiarmid, C. and MacDonald, J. J. eds. 2021. Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts. Bloomsbury. eBook: £64.80. ISBN: 9781350164819.

KEYWORDS: critical thinking, pedagogy, context, collaboration, EAP, practitioner


Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts is the second in the Bloomsbury book series 'New Perspectives for English for Academic Purposes', which aims to represent 'what happens when it's the practitioners who ask the questions' (p.14). This book certainly does that, focusing on questions that in my experience concern EAP teachers most - course and lesson planning, teacher and student interaction, learning and its transfer to other contexts. Each of the 11 chapters, reported from South Africa, Brazil, Canada, the US, Turkey, Norway and the UK, describes a specific course or lesson. The chapters are ordered from general towards more discipline-specific practices, representing a spectrum of specificity rather than perpetuating the traditional and often unhelpful dichotomy of English for General or Specific Purposes - EGAP and ESAP respectively - which is often laced with pejorative tones towards the former (for a useful discussion of this, see Bodin-Galvez and Ding, 2016). In the spirit of challenging these dichotomies further, I have organised this review by the chapters' relative emphasis on three aspects of their contexts: social, linguistic and institutional.

Social contexts
The first two chapters set out to help students develop a critical approach to their immediate environments. Working with undergraduate students on a foundation year in Canada, McGaughey and Song (Chapter 1) describe an attempt to develop students' 'critical intercultural communicative competence', drawing on critical multicultural education and critical race theory. In the United States, Conrad (Chapter 2) tackles the ethically murky issue of 'literacy brokering', presented as degrees of outside involvement, with contract cheating at one extreme, moving to proofreading and then more informal support from friends/family at the other. The lesson described aims to raise students' awareness of 'the collaborative and social aspects of the writing process' (p.45). The lesson activities are explained in detail and include accompanying resources. The chapter concludes with students' written reflections on this lesson which provide a fascinating insight into the impact of Conrad's pedagogy. In a similar way to chapter 1, the result of the pedagogical intervention is that students have a more critical awareness of the social context in which they are studying.

Chapters 4 and 5 also concentrate on social context through questioning assumptions and encouraging students and teachers to 'make the familiar seem strange' (Thomson, cited in Molinari, 2017). Chapter 4 (Solli and Muir) outlines an Academic Writing Programme for PhD students with professional backgrounds at OsloMet university in Norway. The chapter explores pedagogical responses to the tensions students experience between their identities as practitioners and as researchers. Many of the innovative lessons described ask students to step out of the rules of academic writing to explore their research, and themselves as researchers, with an unfamiliar gaze. My personal favourite is 'glorious failures' from Paré (2010) in which students write about their research in forms not for conventional publication, such as fairy tales or cartoons. Ferreira (Chapter 5) responds to the peripheral positioning of Brazilian academic writers in global knowledge production by developing her science students' 'theoretical thinking' at the university of São Paolo, Brazil. Both lessons described expose students to the rhetorical patterns of academic writing but present these in their wider historical or social context, providing space (often through guided questions, which are helpfully shared) for students to decide to 'resist or to use... in their service' (p.97). This approach is underpinned by a 'Developmental Teaching' method, in which teachers and students create visual models of the writing concepts they are learning, adapting them as their understanding develops, applying them to different contexts and evaluating their learning as a result, from which critical thinking emerges. What I particularly appreciated about this method is the symbiotic attention to both student and teacher development - teachers are sometimes overlooked in discussions of criticality, perhaps on the assumption that we don't need to do this or can do this already.

All but two of the chapters in this book were multi-authored, illustrating the very social nature of EAP work. Perhaps unsurprisingly the process of collaboration was most explicitly discussed in the later, more discipline-specific, chapters of the book. Lu and Zou (Chapter 8) report on subject tutors' perspectives of collaboration with EAP tutors in a Chinese EMI university. They present many practical examples of EAP-subject tutor collaboration, providing a relatively unseen perspective on collaboration from the 'other side' of EAP work. MacDiarmid et al. (Chapter 11) describe the integration of EAP and discipline-specific pedagogy on a pre-sessional course for medical students at the University of Glasgow. For EAP teachers working within specific departments, this chapter suggests that being attentive to discipline-specific pedagogies could be a fruitful area of enquiry. In Chapter 10, Carr et al. focus on collaboration between EAP Practitioners across the UK as a method of enquiry in the form of Collaborative Autoethnography. This method involves a collective pooling of experiences which can reveal a rich picture of teaching contexts and the roles EAP can play (the authors' recent webinar expands on this). Based on their shared experiences of working on creative arts courses, the authors' findings provide insights into an under-researched area of EAP work, including the challenges of teaching in a garden and making sense of unfamiliar genres such as the 'visual essay'.

Linguistic contexts
Two chapters focus on the explicit teaching of linguistic knowledge to help students be more critical consumers and producers of text. Walsh Marr (Chapter 3) describes teaching three 'hero moves' of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to her first-year EAP students at the University of British Columbia: nominalisation, Theme, and verbal processes. She acknowledges that including SFL metalanguage and concepts can be intimidating for teachers new to the theory and this chapter addresses that well by providing detailed examples of lesson activities, student-friendly explanations of SFL concepts and advice about helping students learn these concepts. She argues that such knowledge can '[propel] our students' success beyond accuracy and compliance to developing more varied linguistic resources to be deployed critically' (p.71). A similar ethos underpins Chapter 9 (Myers et al.) which describes the principles and practice of a general EAP course in a UAE university. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical perspectives - genre, SFL and critical realism - the authors argue persuasively for a teacher-centred pedagogy in order to develop genre literacy, with the goal that students are able to transfer this to discipline-specific contexts. The authors discuss the compromises that limit the benefits of the course, such as an institutionally mandated number of marking criteria resulting in students being distracted from the learning outcomes, alongside the many benefits, such as the high quality of student work and reduced cases of plagiarism. Because of the contextual richness and what could be seen as heresy in EAP - a teacher-led, rather than student-centred approach - I believe this chapter offers many areas for reflection among EAP practitioners. Taken together, these two chapters are compelling examples of how EGAP approaches can be designed for transfer to disciplinary contexts.

Institutional contexts
Chapters 6 and 7 tackle the tensions between the institutional requirements for general EAP provision and teacher, student and empirical support for more discipline-specific provision. In chapter 6, Mpofu and Maphalala compare the EAP provision for students on undergraduate education programmes in three universities in South Africa. Using a document analysis method, examining course handbooks, syllabi, learning aims and marking criteria to gain an understanding of the principles underpinning each type of provision, they find all provision tends towards the generic study skills approach. I found the literature review of this chapter, which includes an overview of language policy and practices in South African HE, especially informative. A pragmatic response to these challenges is presented by Aksit and Aksit in chapter 7, which describes an EGAP course for undergraduates at a Turkish university. The course described is informed by four main contextual factors: university policy, critical thinking, students' academic needs and personal interests. These contextual factors are then related to the course's 'philosophical foundations' which guide course development. What could be seen as conflicting philosophies such as essentialism (mastering a set body of knowledge) and reconstructionism (challenging power structures and conflicts) sit side by side. They conclude by linking these foundations to a 'pedagogical model of EGAP'.

The introduction and afterward chapter frame the core of the book well, emphasising the often-overlooked aspect of pedagogy in EAP scholarship. As would be expected with such a range of approaches and contexts across the 11 chapters, there are conflicting rationales and approaches. I found this invigorating. And as I read, I found myself questioning my own sense of pedagogy - which approaches do I warm to? Which bristle? And why? The evidence for the efficacy of the approaches described include links to theory and some empirical accounts of student learning, but for me, the chapters do not offer a method guaranteed to work, but rather an insight into thoughtful responses to different contexts and an invitation to consider what might be relevant to our own.

Two areas that I felt were underexplored were practitioner precarity and assessment. How representative of EAP pedagogy are these cases when most EAP teachers (in the UK at least) are precariously employed and have little free time or autonomy within EAP departments to develop their pedagogy in this way? Some of these voices were presented at the recent Practitioner Precarity and Coronavirus online event. I was able to consider these chapters from the stance of a relatively securely employed EAP teacher with relative freedom to teach how I see fit, but how about teachers on summer pre-sessional courses bound by strict deadlines, standardised assessments and centrally prepared lesson materials? Is there a different EAP Pedagogy for these situations? In terms of assessment, only chapters 9 and 11 consider this in detail yet the powerful influence that assessment can have on teaching and learning (Shohamy, 2001) suggests that this should be a factor in pedagogical accounts. Without this, chances of the innovative practices presented in this book becoming more widely taken up are reduced as any changes at the level of classroom practice can be undone through contradictory assessment practices, limiting the "possibility for structural change" (Pearson, 2021).

EAP practitioners will find an abundance of practical ideas for lesson and course design which are well-contextualised and with detailed rationales. This is especially useful for areas which are ill-served (or ignored?) in much current published EAP course materials, such as the social practice of writing, the historical development of genres, SFL, academic integrity, 'theoretical thinking' and signature pedagogies. I was revising a course as I read this and found myself able to draw on activities and student-friendly explanations described in this book, refreshing and expanding my pedagogical options.

Address for correspondence:


Ding, A. and Bodin-Galvez, J. 2019. Interdisciplinary EAP: moving beyond aporetic English for General Academic Purposes. The Language Scholar. 4, pp.78–88.

Molinari, J. 2017. What makes our writing ‘academic’? Doctoral Writing SIG [Online]. [Accessed 8th October 2021]. Available from:

Paré, A. 2010. Slow the presses: concerns about premature publication. In: Aitchison, C. Kamler, B. and Lee, A. eds. Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond. New York: Routledge, pp.42-58.

Pearson, J. 2021. Assessment of agency or assessment for agency?: a critical realist action research study into the impact of a processfolio assessment within UK HE preparatory courses for international students. Educational Action Research29(2), pp.259-275.

Shohamy, E. 2001. The power of tests: a critical perspective on the uses of language tests. New York: Longman.