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Strange bedfellows: Embedding development of skills into discipline curricula

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  1. Strange bedfellows: Embedding development of skills into discipline curricula Kate Chanock Craig Horton Academic Language & Learning Unit

  2. The context Pressures: • Wider Participation • Good Practice Principles • Graduate skills/attributes/capabilities Opportunities & risks for ALL providers • Unis need ALL support • But do they understand what is needed and why?

  3. Skills generic & transferable? Common language, but different referents, e.g.: “[t]erminology widely used by tutors and/or guidelines to name academic writing conventions …. [such as] argument and structure.…have been signalled … as being hugely problematic by a number of researchers” (Lillis & Turner 2001, p. 58) Problem solving, critical thinking: “the status of data, how evidence is evaluated and the assumptions about the sort of evidence that can be used are quite different depending upon the epistemological context" (Jones, 2009,p. 88).

  4. Transfer from generic to discipline-specific?? Disciplines differ in epistemology → Questions → Methods → Genres → Structures → Language → Use of sources Jones: "rather than a set of discrete, … technical skills that transcend disciplines, generic attributes can be understood as social practice”; it follows that "rather than a super-disciplinary list of skills, generic attributes require a fine-grained examination of disciplinary and professional practice" (pp. 93-94). 

  5. “… not 'learning how to learn' but learning how to do the learning in that subject—how to think, question, search for evidence, accept evidence, and put evidence together to make an argument that is acceptable in that discipline. …. has to take place in specific contexts before any aspect of transfer can be made, rather than the other way round.” (Kift & Moody, 2009) AALL’s submission to the “Good Practice Principles” endorses the shift from generic tuition in academic reading and writing to “an integrated approach, [in which] the literacy demands of the discipline become an explicit part of the subjects that students study” (Appendix 2, p. 9).

  6. Whose responsibility to teach? Wingate (2006) “Doing away with study skills” -- & study skills teachers? “Because of the disciplinary differences in the construction of knowledge, the support of subject tutors rather than that of external ‘learning experts’ is needed” (p. 395)

  7. Why don’t discipline lecturers teach skills explicitly? • Think of skills and knowledge as separate • Think that focus on skills must be at expense of content

  8. “Best practice” rarely practised! • Baik & Greig: In Australia, “the most common approach to LAS development is still a generic study skills model typically consisting of extra-curricula short courses and workshops on various academic skills” (2009, p. 402) • UK, too, Wingate: “[a] common approach to providing learning support … [is] by extra-curricular ‘study skills’ courses, often offered in dedicated learning support centres…. as opposed to the ‘built-in’ or embedded approach where learning is developed through the subject teaching” (2006, p. 457).

  9. But we came close … 2011: Our mission from Hum & Soc Sciences • Encourage retention in large, challenging core subjects in 8 major disciplines taught across 5 campuses • Design parallel tutorials for wks 2-5, to • Anticipate problems • Explain subject expectations • Practise reading, note-making, planning & writing • Train [extra] discipline tutors to teach these • Provide support during roll-out

  10. Problems of implementation • Imposed on subject coordinators with little consultation, little time for planning, preparation • Minimum collaboration: • Share learning guides & reading lists • Hire tutors • Maximum collaboration: • Meet with us 2-3 times • Talk about design of subject, purpose of assignments, nature of texts • Read our drafts of tutorials, criticise, contribute ideas • Work with us in training tutors who would teach tutorials

  11. Short of embedding, but more integrated than generic approach To prepare, we • read the subject guides, assessments, and early essential readings; • found passages in subject readings to exemplify our teaching points; • wrote tutorial plans incorporating • teaching points • passages to focus on • activities • handouts • visual aids Trained the tutors: purpose & use of materials Across all campuses of the university, 40 tutors and their students participated in the program.

  12. In a nutshell • Using the set readings for each subject in those weeks, and working towards the first marked assignment in each subject, the tutors show students: • § What is characteristic of thinking at university • § How that way of thinking is embodied in the structures and styles of academic texts • § How we use sources • § What these practices look like • In this way, students get an introduction to the culture of enquiry in HuSS; a sense of how it works in their chosen discipline(s); and formative practice towards an imminent assignment.

  13. Outline of tutorials Tutorial 1: Time and task management • Introduce culture of enquiry: knowledge as constructed by disciplines, via conversations in print • Subject design • Activity: in pairs, map the semester’s work onto a planning grid Tutorial 2: Language of enquiry • Meaning of “argument”, “opinion”, “critical” • How to recognise argument early in a reading • Activity: work out what arguments might be made in answer to next assignment, rough out a possible introduction

  14. Tutorial 3: Awareness of text structures • “Deductive” structure of Anglo-western academic texts • Skimming for argument of whole reading • Paragraph structure (point + evidence) • Coherence (links and transitions) • Activity: devise a framework for making notes from current reading, distinguishing points from evidence Tutorial 4: Use of sources • why, how, mechanics of quoting & paraphrasing • Seen in reading • Used in writing • Activity: students write sentences drawing on sources for use in next assignment

  15. Some materials were common

  16. Others were tailored to subjects

  17. Evaluation: subjective Surveyed all students, tutors, coordinators (scale: low 1- 5 high) • Students: • Relevant for this subject: 4.0 - 4.5 • Relevant for other subjects: 3.2 - 4.1 • Recommend to others: 3.8 - 4.3 • Tutors: • Run again: 3.0 - 5.0 • Coordinators: • Run again: 3.5 - 5.0

  18. Evaluation: objective End of semester, compared: • students’ marks with previous year’s • students’ entrance scores with previous year’s Results, combining As with Bs and Ds with Fails: • Despite fewer students with entry score over 70 at all but one campus, As+Bs rose in 14 out of 19 groups. • Despite more students with entry score below 60, Ds+Fs dropped in 16 out of 19 groups.

  19. Engaged vs. Disengaged coordinators • Subject One • As+Bs rose by up to 17%, • Ds+Fs dropped by as much as 24% • Subject Two • As+Bs rose by up to 18%, • Ds+Fs dropped by as much as 19% • Subject Three • As+Bs, rising slightly overall, dropped in 1group by 10%, • Ds+Fs, down slightly overall, rose in 1 group by 3% • Subject Four • As+Bs dropped by 12% • Ds+Fs rose by 5%

  20. 2012? • No money, but some momentum • Hope to promote genuine embedding: • We provide teaching point, identify suitable text as example, design activity • 5 x 15 mins • Subject teaching staff teach each point in their regular tutorials

  21. References • Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) (2009). Good practice principles for English language proficiency for international students in Australian universities. Report to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Canberra. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from • Baik, C. & Greig, J. (2009). Improving the academic outcomes of undergraduate ESL students: The case for discipline-based academic skills programs. Higher Education Research and Development 28 (4), 401-416. • Jones, A. (2009). Redisciplining generic attributes: The disciplinary context in focus. Studies in Higher Education 34 (1), 85-100. • Kift, S. & Moody, K. (2009). Harnessing assessment and feedback in the first year to support learning success, engagement and retention. Paper presented at the ATN Assessment Conference 2009: Assessment in Different Dimensions, held November 19-20, 2009 at RMIT University, Melbourne. • Lillis, T. & Turner, J. (2001). Student writing in higher education: contemporary confusion, traditional concerns. Teaching in Higher Education 6 (1), 57-68. • Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education 11 (4), 457-469.