Being relatively new to the world of EAP, I am constantly open to ways in which I can improve. Who better to advise than the master of EAP: Edward de Chazal? In his book, English for Academic Purposes (2014), the reader is encouraged to put students at the heart of their teaching practise and to view them “as potentially rich resources of knowledge and experience.” (p.31)
This struck a chord and reminded me of advice from another of my favourite authors, renowned coach Nancy Kline. Kline developed the system she calls the Thinking Environment™ which is, in essence, a way of being with other people. It is founded upon the premise that the human mind is a brilliant, wonderful thing. The best way to bring a person’s brilliance to light is through listening attentively, without interruption, to their thinking process: “The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.” Kline (1999)
This primary component of a Thinking Environment™ was identified while Kline was co-running a Quaker school decades ago. Over years of observing the results of helping teenagers to think for themselves, she and her colleagues “found that IQ, age, background, gender and even experience seemed to have surprisingly little to do with the times when students thought well.” Kline (1999, p.16)
Students’ ability to think well boiled down to the degree of attention they received from the person listening to them. Attention – putting the student at the heart and viewing them as a rich resource.
This kind of attention lends itself well to the EAP classroom, possibly more so than regular EFL classes. Learners of English often have a certain expectation of their teacher: that they will “tell” them what they need to know in order to communicate in English. From what I learned working with CELFS on the pre-sessional summer courses, it is more important to “train” students how to think. Thinking critically needs to take precedence over language accuracy for that short period of time. I suspect the same is true for most of the time these learners’ spend at university as post graduates.
Which brings me back to de Chazal, who points out that EAP students tend to arrive with at least ten years’ of education, not to mention a wider scope of general and professional experience. They are unlikely to benefit much from a ‘deficit’ teaching approach. (de Chazal, 2014, p.31) Not that I am saying EAP teachers intentionally treat their students as “recipients of remedial work.” What I am saying is, through a Nancy Kline type of approach – listening generatively – we can intentionally give our EAP students the space and time to think more deeply about what they want to say, and how best they can say it.
“The best conditions for thinking, if you really stop and notice, are not tense. They are gentle. They are quiet. They are unrushed. They are stimulating but not competitive. They are encouraging. They are paradoxically both rigorous and nimble.” Kline (1999, p.37)
I for one, continually strive to change my ingrained habit of speaking too much in class. Remembering to trust in my students’ abilities, knowledge, experience and intelligence, and to step back, I can enjoy the act of listening to them think. It really is a privilege to be there in that moment when the light bulb goes on. And we both know who was responsible for the ideas which gave power to the lit bulb – they were!
De Chazal, Edward (2014) English for Academic Purposes. Oxford: OUP
Kline, Nancy (1999) Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. London: Cassell.