Pathways towards Success for Novice Academic Writers in a CLIL Setting: A Study in an Asian EFL Context

Pathways towards Success for Novice Academic Writers in a CLIL Setting: A Study in an Asian EFL Context

John Adamson (University of Niigata Prefecture, Japan) and David Coulson (University of Niigata Prefecture, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6619-1.ch010
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Abstract

Courses taught in English are emerging in Japanese universities. From an English-education perspective, this raises the question of how best to prepare new undergraduates at various proficiency levels to move onto such courses. The authors investigate a class based on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) principles, with a focus on academic listening and writing tasks. Research (Dalton-Puffer, 2007) suggests that a CLIL approach may not be effective in developing the skill of writing. However, the results show that scaffolding of writing literacy assisted students towards developing autonomous academic skills. Specifically, students were encouraged to access materials and advice across the campus, with no restriction on L1 use. Consequently, in addition to linguistic development, the authors observed that the class became increasingly useful as a resource for future content classes themselves. This helped to give the class extra validity and support all students' motivation level.
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The Growth Of English-Medium Preparatory Courses

In recent years in Japanese colleges and universities there has been a rise in the popularity of academic courses taught partially, and even completely, in students’ second language, usually English (MEXT, 2009). At the behest of institutional reform committees, there is now a widening struggle among the English-teaching faculty, as well as other subject specialists, to create courses of study and academic preparation courses in which English is, to a greater or lesser extent, an integral part of instruction. Such courses are thought to be attractive to a large number of Japanese L1 students who have persevered with English through arduous high-school curricula and entrance examinations and are thus keen on using their English. In addition, the high costs associated with studying overseas are a major impediment to many students developing practical, academic skills in English. So, in the scramble to attract the strongest students from a rapidly-declining student base, many Japanese universities now find themselves embarking on mould-breaking pedagogical initiatives.

The Importance of Writing in English-Medium Preparatory Classes

For many institutions and individual faculty members, there is an intense period of trial-and-error as a response to the question of how to deliver such course. The same applies to required foundation classes. One major issue in the design and delivery of these English-medium preparatory courses is their internal and external quality. To secure students’ motivation and application, they must have a sense that the activities and tasks required can prepare them for the rigor of their future major courses. One means of meeting this concern is to focus on writing assignments, since they represent concrete evidence of students’ learning and function as an enculturation process into the academic norms of their institution. The process of writing in-course assignments allows teachers to guide students towards self-direction as they necessarily become more responsible for mastery of basic academic skills. These processes and outcomes can also be made visible, acting as a resource to demonstrate the program’s validity. In addition to deflecting doubts and criticisms, written achievements can also be the basis for emerging inter-disciplinary cooperation between foundation course teachers and other faculty specialists. Students can take forward new academic skills and knowledge into their major courses, thereby cross-fertilizing practices and norms between English and content faculty.

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An Overview Of Our Study

In this paper, we describe an academic preparatory class in our institution (a provincial liberal arts university), that focuses on a first-year academic lecture class. This class met 30 times over 9 months and students were required to listen to academic lectures of increasing length while practicing the skill of note-taking. The topics each week looked forwards and backwards as we aimed to give students a coherent framework of interrelated themes which would form the basis of a course-end discursive essay. This preparation class was created when our university was re-launched in 2009 with a view to eventually implementing major courses of study through the medium of English. In planning the class, we had to consider how to go about training all first-year students, regardless of proficiency, in the fundamental skills necessary to take planned English-medium lessons in economics, environment, culture, and health, with a particular emphasis on listening, reading, and final outcomes of writing. We also had to consider how to assess the effectiveness of our approach, which gave rise to this investigation.

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