Reviewed by Christina Healey
4 December 2017
NB This replaces a shorter version of the review published on the BALEAP website on 4 December 2017.
In this book Wingate proposes a role for the practice of academic English language learning and teaching based, as the title indicates, on three concepts central to the idea of the university in the early 21st century, namely ‘academic literacy’, ‘student diversity’ and ‘inclusive practice’. Other key phrases that emerge during a reading of this book are: ‘limitations of current instruction’, ‘calls for transformation’, ‘much needed change in literacy pedagogy’, explicit instruction and, first of all, ‘problem’.
Chapter 1 Academic Literacy and Student Diversity: what is the Problem?
In this first Chapter Wingate outlines the purposes of the book starting with the ever-present discourse within academia which highlights apparent deficits in students’ academic writing and their required ‘remediation’ by agencies other than the students’ own departments. Wingate relates the rise of this discourse to the growth of student diversity which she documents carefully, although some of the information may now be out of date. Her response to these apparent ‘deficits’ and the forms of remediation in response to them is a robust and positive one. First she argues that the usual definitions of students’ language deficiencies are much too superficial, usually focusing on surface inaccuracies in grammar and spelling and, secondly, she argues that the solutions need to be more radical.
Wingate refers to Hymes (1972) in order to re-define ‘academic literacy’ as ’communicative competence within an academic discourse community’ (p.6). She is emphatic that ‘literacy’ includes reading as much as writing and, I’m sure, (personal communication with the author) she would also include oracy. She emphasises that “this competence includes knowledge of the discipline’s epistemology and socio-cultural context” (Wingate p.161). She then uses the logic of this definition to argue that such competence is best developed within discipline-specific curricula and in the closest collaboration with subject tutors. She also argues that the development of such competence is as much needed by home as by international students. She quotes Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) as arguing that academic language is ’never anyone’s mother tongue, even for the privileged classes’ (Wingate p.11). Which brings us to the Problem referred to in the Chapter heading which is: “ . . . the persistent failure by universities to support students adequately in their development of academic literacy” (Wingate p. 9).
In Chapter 2 Approaches to Academic Literacy Instruction and Chapter 3 Current practice in Academic Literacy Instruction Wingate draws on much reading to support her arguments only a small amount of which can be indicated here. But it is one of her great strengths that she never strays far from the classroom and the learners. She draws upon a range of authorities such as Lea & Street (1998) Ivanic (2004) and Hyland (2002a) to review existing pedagogic models of academic language development such as skills–centred, process, social practice and genre (op cit. pp.16-24) and suggests that an over-dogmatic adherence to a certain model may, in the past, have prevented academic literacy professionals from promoting the discipline-focused collaboration that she advocates. She herself opts for an eclectic range of approaches but focuses on genres and their social context / communicative purpose. It is noteworthy that Wingate drops the popular plural ‘literacies’ but affirms plural forms of ideology and pedagogy. Just as she advocates an ’inclusive’ approach to curriculum management she also advocates an ’inclusive literacy pedagogy’(p.16).
In Chapter 4 Discipline-specific approaches to Academic Literacy Instruction Wingate has practical ideas about how such collaboration and inclusion would work. Drawing upon Dudley-Evans and St.John (1998) she outlines three different levels of co-working: ’co-operation’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘team-teaching’. And she presents her own table of different types of academic literacy development ranging for the extra-curricular to the curriculum integrated. She then moves from delivery model to pedagogic approaches to language and literacy instruction under two broad headings: genre based and corpus–informed.
Chapter 5 Reading and Writing is self explanatory but well worth reading. Chapter 6 Academic Literacy development and the student experience is about some of the difficulties that can be involved in becoming academically literate.
First it propounds a framework which she chooses to call ‘language socialisation theory’. Then, from an over view of the research, Wingate identifies three areas: Mismatches, Critical thinking and argumentation and Student identities. Wingate claims that ‘mismatches’ “typically exist between students’ levels of academic literacy knowledge and institutional requirements and expectations” (p.104). She claims that these requirements are often not made explicit. She also notes mismatches between feedback as envisaged by the tutor who writes it and as read by the students who receive it and mismatches between student and tutor as to the nature of the genre of text which is required to be produced. e.g. argumentative essay, discussion of results etc.
The second area of concern that Wingate identifies is around ‘Critical thinking and argumentation’. Here existing research is quite limited, focusing as it does almost entirely on students from what are known as ‘Confucian Heritage Cultures.’ (CHC) The gist of this concern (somewhat over-simplified in this review) is that CHC students are less inclined to the practice and language of critical thinking and argument than are students from ‘Western’ cultures.
The third area of concern identified by Wingate is that of student identities and again existing research is limited being mainly concerned with the experiences of mainly Asian, mainly post-graduate students in Anglophone universities.
As always with Wingate her writing is never very far from actual learners and actual learning. In the second part of Chapter 6 she presents the results of some research conducted into the language socialisation of first year home students on one particular course in a UK university. Her conclusions are salutary.
“. . .the difficulties involved in academic discourse socialisation and the extent of student learning needs may not be fully understood. Despite the high level of expertise and awareness of the lecturers’ part, the literacy instruction was not fully adequate.” (p. 124)
Chapter 7 Towards an Inclusive Model of Academic Literacy Instruction and Chapter 8 Towards the Implementation of an Inclusive model of Academic Literacy Instruction, as their titles imply, are concerned with the implementation of the Wingate vision via certain proposed principles:
Wingate has a vision.
“Subject-integrated literacy instruction requires structural and organisational changes . . . The investment is worthwhile as this provision will most certainly result in lower attrition rates, better progress for many students and greater student satisfaction.” (Wingate p.152)
But is this demonstrably so? Where such changes have occurred have they always been fully documented? Does the Wingate vision need more rigorous evaluation? Although she advocates a complete re-design of the HE curriculum Wingate is still operating from within the EAP silo. And there are other silos on campus: most notably the disability or disabling silo but also the ‘ academic and study skills support’ silo and the information literacy silo. All have their strengths and also their limitations. (For a sobering assessment of how contemporary Higher Education is structured around silos see Macfarlane 2011)
This book should be required reading for any EAP tutor who is interested in the future of their profession. The irony is that it is not EAP tutors who have the power to make Wingate’s vision come true. But perhaps, having read this book, a few EAP senior managers might be inspired to come outside their silos, meet up with a friendly head of Engineering, or Science or Health and Social Care and negotiate a pilot collaboration . . . . Collaboration doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.C. (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Newbury Park, Sage.
Dudley–Evans, T. and St.John, M.J. (1998) Developments in English for Specific Purposes: A Multi disciplinary Approach, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Hyland, K. (2002a) Teaching and Researching Writing, Harlow, Pearson Education.
Hymes, D. (1972) On communicative competence. In J.B.Pride and J.Holmes (eds) Sociolinguistics (pp. 269-293) London: Penguin.
Ivanic, R. (2004) Discourses of writing and learning to write Language and Education, 18 (3) 220-245.
Lea, M. & Street, B. (1998) Student writing in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach. Studies in Higher Education. 23 (2), 157-172.
Macfarlane, B. The Morphing of Academic Practice: Unbundling and the Rise of the Para-academic Higher Education Quarterly Vol. 65, No.1 January 2011.
Christina Healey (firstname.lastname@example.org), 24th August 2019