A 5-prong approach to supporting student-centered learning in English for Academic Purposes

International student populations increase in universities around the world as institutions have pushed internationalization efforts. With this initiative, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes have been rapidly changing, bringing an increasingly diverse mix of students to the fore. With each new class, EAP instructors need to make efforts to understand these learners, who each have different skills, knowledge, languages, goals, and interests.

As these demographics shift, the challenge of meeting the needs of each student in the EAP classroom must also change. No longer is the goal of EAP just about teaching English and academic skills, but also helping students to work in a new academic environment, build communication skills, and introduce them to discipline-specific knowledge. Becoming proficient in these areas is essential for success, yet these cultural spheres are not always explicitly discussed, which makes navigating these expectations all the more complex.

To respond to these challenges, Senior Instructor Dr. Subrata Bhowmik and Instructor Marcia Kim have developed a teaching strategy for EAP that can be implemented by all instructors, regardless of their context. Their goal is to promote student-centeredness, and to encourage students to be more involved in their own learning – as language learners, and university students more broadly. The researchers identified 5 key parts to their strategy – academic acclimatization, student voice, teachable moments, reflection, and autonomy – which, when promoted in the EAP classroom, can help EAP learners create a space for themselves in which they are encouraged to be responsible for their own learning.

5-Prong Strategy

1. Helping students adjust to their new institution and academic culture is a critical, but not often an explicit aspect of the EAP curriculum. However, academic knowledge building can be easily integrated into existing classroom activities that help students make connections to their past experience and education. By comparing upcoming courses with previous ones, or researching and learning about their specific areas of study, students can become better acquainted with their new environment and expectations.

2. Instructors are better able to plan and find the most effective way to support students when the students are able to express themselves without fear or inhibition. Non-native English speakers may choose to be quiet when faced with unfamiliar classroom norms, and instructors may choose to focus on the intensive curriculum demands over student voice and self-expression. In a globalized world, effective communication skills are increasingly important.

3. In an effort to make the most out of the limited time that EAP instructors have, teachable moments present a useful opportunity to guide students towards specific learning goals. These spontaneous moments can help instructors respond flexibly to current needs, as well as reference skills that apply to the task at hand. Taking advantage of these opportunities can also promote further instructor-student interactions, which build rapport and trust in the classroom.

4. Through reflection, students can think deeply about what and how they are learning. Beyond just thinking about how to do assignments, students should be encouraged to consider how these tasks relate to other learning opportunities. Students in EAP programs are often focused on learning discrete skills, and using a reflection journal can help introduce metacognitive and reflective tasks to the classroom.

5. Building students’ autonomy, particularly as they transition into post-secondary, supports learners in all aspects of their university career. Autonomous learners are better equipped to organize their time, find and use appropriate resources, and plan how they will tackle their courses and assignments. At its core, autonomy helps students make more informed and varied choices as they progress.

Connecting Concepts

These 5 concepts connect and complement one another in practice. For example, students who are better able to express themselves can be more autonomous, and students who are more familiar with academic culture might reflect and form stronger connections with other courses. These components can already be seen in what already goes on in EAP classrooms, but in order to use this teaching strategy, instructors need to make them explicit and take the time to discuss the different aspects with their students.

Student-centered design is at the heart of this teaching strategy. This requires both engaging students in their own learning, and helping instructors to consider what works best for their current class. These goals can scaffold EAP students towards becoming independent, self-aware, and confident 21st century learners.

See more from Dr. Subrata Bhowmik on his profile

See more from Marcia Kim on her profile

Connected Citations

Bhowmik, S. K., & Kim, M. (2018). Preparing diverse learners for university: A strategy for teaching EAP students. TESOL Journal, 9, 498-524.