March 2019
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APPLYING ESP PRINCIPLES TO IRAQI STEM COURSES TAUGHT IN ENGLISH
Ethel Swartley, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA

A recent decision by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education has created a requirement that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields at Iraqi universities be taught in English. This decision echoes a worldwide trend among high-ranking universities and illustrates the Iraqi government’s desire to improve the quality of STEM education in a postwar environment, to provide Iraqi students and faculty with greater access to international research, and to prepare future scientists for an increasingly globalized job market and economy. With this decision, however, come multiple challenges:

  • Iraqi faculty who have completed their own education in Arabic, Kurdish, or other languages may not be comfortable teaching completely in English.

  • Iraqi students whose primary and secondary education has been in Arabic or Kurdish may have studied English as a language but may not be fully prepared to use English for learning other subjects.

  • STEM faculty in Iraq may not feel prepared to support the language development of Iraqi students as they are simultaneously teaching them complex subjects in the STEM fields.

In response to these challenges, the U.S. Department of State English Language Programs, in partnership with AMIDEAST, recently invited me to provide two 10-day training workshops for STEM and English faculty in Iraq. The 48 faculty in the two workshops represented six Iraqi cities, 18 universities, three high schools, and at least 23 academic disciplines. With such a varied group, including both language teachers and content instructors, I chose to provide training that included both English for specific purposes (ESP) and content-and-language integrated learning (CLIL) approaches.

The first day of workshops addressed issues surrounding the use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) and the various ways this requirement is interpreted by faculty worldwide. The findings of Park (2016) in South Korea were used as examples for discussing what approaches to EMI were already being used in the Iraqi university context. Park found that Korean faculty interpreted the EMI mandate very broadly, including at least these four classroom models:

  • all instruction, texts, and class interactions in English
  • lectures given in English, then summarized in Korean
  • lectures given in Korean, with assessments done in English
  • content given in Korean, and English language taught separately

The Iraqi faculty discussed the pros and cons of each of these EMI models.

During Day 2 of the Iraqi workshop, faculty were introduced to the content-language teaching spectrum (see Table 1).

Table 1. The Content-Language Teaching Spectrum (click image to enlarge) 

EMI = English as a medium of instruction.

Faculty were next asked to analyze a series of case studies showing different ways in which content and language could be integrated to facilitate the learning of both STEM and English in the same classroom. Several case studies were pulled from Nordmeyer and Barduhn (2010) and from a free online journal, the Latin American Journal of Content and Language Integrated Learning, as well as from several other Asian and European sources. Cases were chosen in order to illustrate CLIL applications in a variety of academic disciplines across the full spectrum of education (primary, secondary, and tertiary classrooms). Based on the case studies, the following models were discussed:

  • language instructor serving as content expert (content-based instruction, or CBI)
  • language course offered prior to content studies (ESP or English for academic purposes)
  • provision of language assistants in the content classroom
  • paired content and language classes
  • content instructor also serving as language teacher (pure CLIL)
  • language instructor serving as consultant or trainer for content instructors
  • content instructor serving as consultant or trainer for language instructors

After summarizing each case, the participants were asked to discuss which models might be feasible and helpful for their own Iraqi university classrooms.

During Days 3–9 of the workshop, faculty were led through ESP’s ADDIE Model (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) as we sought to determine what the students’ language needs were in each professor’s classes, how those needs could be addressed in the Iraqi STEM or ESP classroom, and how to assess whether new skills were being acquired.

During analysis, participants identified the stakeholders who were most concerned with the outcomes of their academic programs and discussed how these stakeholders could be included in determining the situations in which students would need to use English. In addition, the faculty talked about how students’ current levels of English and other context constraints might affect the “starting point” at which language and content could be learned in their EMI classrooms.

During design, the faculty identified language tasks that students might need to perform in order to be successful in their STEM courses, and they were led through the process of completing a communication task language analysis. Based on these communication task language analyses, participants were able to more clearly see the relationship between learning STEM and learning English and to design performance or learning objectives related to language for their STEM courses.

From these learning objectives, the faculty worked to develop communicative lesson plans during the workshop’s development phase. Although many of the STEM faculty had learned ways of making their content courses interactive and “hands on” for students (through demonstrations, lab work, etc.), few had considered how to teach language using this hands-on interactive approach. Many participants had come to the workshop assuming that teaching language meant teaching grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation in the same ways that they had learned them in general English courses. However, as faculty were asked to share authentic materials from their fields, we discussed how to use these for teaching language in more STEM-relevant ways. The development phase provided excellent opportunities for the language faculty in the room to share teaching ideas with their STEM colleagues, and this sharing served as a foundation for collaboration throughout the remainder of the workshop.

A number of pedagogical patterns were addressed and challenged during the workshop’s implementation phase. Building on the new language-teaching ideas shared during development, the faculty discussed student motivation and how designing lessons that integrated both language and content in a communicative way could be a powerful force for motivating student learning. The professors participated in an “implementation showcase” in which they demonstrated their best or favorite lessons to teach in their field, and the group gave feedback on ways to integrate language smoothly and communicatively into those lessons. The showcase was a highlight for many in the group who had never taught in English in front of peers before, and the activity raised an awareness of the benefits that can come from peer observations and reflective teaching.

On the last two days of the workshop, participants designed evaluation plans for the CLIL and ESP courses they had been designing, and then made presentations about how they expected to apply ideas from the workshop in their own classrooms. Throughout the 10-day workshops, I stressed the idea that I was a consultant training consultants and that the faculty being trained could serve as consultants for each other long after I had left Iraq. By Day 10, the participants seemed to have embraced this idea fully, and many shared intentions of calling on each other for help as they implement new ESP and CLIL approaches in their Iraqi STEM courses.

References

Nordmeyer, J., & Barduhn, S. (2010). Integrating language and content. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Park, J. (2016, April 8). Pedagogical approaches and professional development needs for English-medium instruction. Paper presented at the annual meeting of TESOL International Association, Baltimore, MD.

 

NOTE: Iraqi faculty from Ethel Swartley’s 10-day training workshops will be in attendance at TESOL 2019. Stop by the U.S. Department of State booth in the exhibition hall if you would like to talk with any of them directly about their workshop experience.


Ethel C. Swartley is a former chair of the TESOL International Association English for Specific Purposes Interest Section, TESOL 2019 strand coordinator for content- and language-integrated approaches, and teaching associate professor at the University of Denver English Language Center.
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