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I’ve chosen an article that encapsulates all that I admire and abhor (ok that’s a bit strong, but for the sake of alliteration…) about EAP literature; Marianne Grey’s  “Ethnographers of difference in a critical EAP community – becoming”.

Synopsis:

Grey begins her article by outlining a diversity project she had given her students on a Business EAP course. Her students were to venture out into the ‘community’ and photograph “their understandings of diversity in different communities” (p.121) as they saw and encountered it. Grey articulates her ‘joy’ at standing back and observing the palpable excitement in the classroom as the students set off “able to take control of their learning in such a novel and open-ended way” (p.122). Something we do not see every day in university studies (any studies?). Grey then documents the student led discussion of one particular image – a hybrid image of one of the student groups. Students are invited to guess who various parts of the image belong to – Jospeh’s beard? Melanie’s hair?

This image is striking for many reasons, in the context of the EAP classroom where an academic poster presentation is the norm, this image, unexpectedly, is a catalyst for change, for a shift in understanding and perception. This for Grey is what she refers to as a ‘critical moment’, to define what she means by this she quotes Pennycook “a point of significance, an instant when things change … where someone gets it … where someone throws out a comment that shifts this discourse (2004, cited in Grey, p. 123). This ”critical moment’ is then the discussion around the moulding of a group’s various identities into something new, something strange, something haunting. Critical here in the Beneschian sense of requiring students to visualise alternate realities. World’s where identity and power are placed elsewhere. Critlcal too, for Grey, in that the students were left to manage the discussion about this picture, which included ‘facetious’ comments and some uncomfortable moments.

Almost half way through the article Grey explains how this diversity project fits into the Business Communication elective. One of the key strategies for her university is to develop students who are “entrepreneurial in both outlook and practice” (p.125). To contextualise her project within this course, Grey gave her students examples of Australian businesses who had “implemented innovative and transformative diversity policies and practices in their workplace” (ibid.). These businesses’ ideologies matched the university’s ethos of having a social responsibility to the community within and outside of the workplace.

“As the student project was one of critical inquiry, the students collectively posed their own problems around diversity rather than working with a pre-determined curriculum” (p.125) established by the lecturer (Grey). Here Grey paraphrases Kumaravadivelu (2003) restating the point that  “learners can assume mini-ethnographic roles by investigating the structure of issues identified by them as well as interests that underpin them”. The result being, Grey argues, “students’ realities are recognized and used in their learning rather than taking those from a discourse community already in place” (ibid.). In terms of EAP pedagogy, Grey clearly identifies with Pennycook and Benesch. Grey highlights the idea in critical EAP that literacy is “understood as knowledge that is reproduced by students rather than as knowledge that is performed by them,” that the pedagogical staus quo focuses on reproduction at the expense of embracing difference. 

Grey then goes on to discuss the idea of nomadic practice and the role of the nomadic ethnographer. Grey argues that international students occupy a ‘dynamic’ position in the world where they are able to be part of “practices and cultural products which have opened up many possibilities for the exchange of ideas and imagining new ways of thinking” (p.126). She quotes Elkington & Hartigan’s description of nomadic ethnographers as “innovative, resourceful, practical, and opportunistic” (2003 cited in Grey, p.127).

Grey acknowledges that her vision of getting students to negotiate their literacy practice and to engage in very physical (the acts of moving and photographing and sketching) as well as philosophical ways with their ideas of difference is perhaps nonsensical to some students (as well as teachers). And she confesses “I do not claim that a semester of student engagement with a pedagogy of uncommon sense will result in a well planned academic essay or a polished Business report” (p.131). It is however a powerful experience and one she encourages those researching and teaching EAP to embrace.

Grey’s article is not easy to digest. Especially if the reader has not encountered the literature Grey employs in her discussion previously. This inaccessibility can be a barrier in some EAP literature and is a often voiced criticism of some journals. What Grey speaks of, while valid and vital to making EAP all it should be, is not wholy accessible and this is problematic.

Yet, this article is a breath of fresh air for many reasons. Firsly, and perhaps most importantly despite it’s potentially alienating ‘academic’ discussion,  it invites the reader into the classroom. Grey’s wonderfully vivid prose makes you feel more of a voyeur than a  reader, invited to sit in the corner of their classroom and watch the events unfold. There is not enough of this in the EAP literature I have encountered thus far as I have stated above. We may well be keen to examine and reflect on our practice on an ‘academic’ level, but this should never be at the expense of the classroom.

I appreciate this article’s main drive – that students should be encouraged to take control of their learning and produce their own curriculum, that pedagogy should be knowledge production NOT REproduction. Grey’s discussion of critical moments being difficult to identify and manage as well as difficult to make “critical in the moment” (Pennycook (2004) cited in Grey p. 124) made me reflect once again on the value of employing Dogme in the EAP classroom. An approach that, in my mind, maximises the possibility for critical moments to arise. One thing is for sure, these critical moments will not arise with a coursebook in the room.

This article is important because it makes the reader question how prescriptive pedagogy can be. EAP practitioners should be wary of asking students to reproduce, to reformulate, to regurgitate. This one at least is becoming very wary of this the further she delves into exploring what the teaching of EAP is.

On a very superficial level, this article is a breath of fresh air. Its layout, its inclusion of student voices, its inclusion of the much debated image serve to enthuse this reader at least, a reader always gulity of judging a book by its cover. These inclusions prove only to illustrate that breaking traditions, breaking norms, breaking genres, is a very positive, nay POWERFUL, endeavour.

Grey, M. (2009). Ethnographers of Difference in a critical EAP community – becoming. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8 (2),121 -133.

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