Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

I’ve been looking back over my notes from IATEFL 2017 to find inspiration for another blog post. I’m a bit late now to just summarise talks, but I’d like to come back to one of the questions that was posed at a talk I attended. It was “Building bridges: the disciplines, the normative and the transformative” by Catherine Mitsaki. 

Catherine’s talk looked at the EAP/Genre-based and Academic Literacies models of academic writing instruction and assessed the pedagogical potential of the different approaches, whilst sharing her experience from teaching for UK and international students. As I said, I don’t want to summarise her whole talk here, but one key question she raised. Students from her classes gave feedback suggesting they would prefer to have been taught the specific academic writing skills required for their assignments (within subject classes) right at the time they were working on those assignments. Catherine calls it “just in time” teaching, and she asked us what we thought.

I have to say, I can’t embrace the “just in time” teaching concept fully when it comes to academic writing. There is just too much that students need to know. It might possibly be more appropriate if students entered university programmes with a strong foundation of writing skills, which could then be honed by focussing on the relevant points and skills for each assignment. But this is not the case, at least not where I work. I always feel I’m squashing in a huge amount of input and practice into our essay-writing modules, and they run for 14 weeks! With all of the competences that are involved in producing good academic writing, I find it is much better to give students the chance to digest the input and practice applying the skills to their work over a period of time so that everything can really ‘sink in’. They need time to practise actually transferring the transferable skills we’re teaching them, especially at undergraduate level!

Also, as Catherine pointed out, “just in time” teaching would seem to contradict Academic Literacies models which aim to promote criticality towards established norms as a productive way of growing academically. As she puts it in personal correspondence, “There is no room for questioning well established models if one is struggling to deal with the norms as they are.”

So I’m not convinced that doing what students want or think is best (easiest?) for them is the best approach here. Perhaps a better option is explaining the rationale for our writing courses to the students, in an attempt to increase the receptivity to the classes we teach.

What do you think? Could “just in time” teaching work where you are?



One thought on “Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

  1. As I was saying in response to this on twitter, I think that academic writing teaching to be of maximum use to students if it is taught both in a foundation course such as a pre-sessional, and then again as an in-sessional course. I saw all my students for one-to-one tutorials yesterday – we are coming to the end of the pre-s – and I told them all about the free in-sessional classes they could do at the university. I think that partly this is because I believe there is a lot to be said for Merrill Swain’s output hypothesis and it is when output is “pushed” ie. when sts are forced to use it, they increase their chances for acquisition. Teaching academic writibg skills at the point when sts are about to use it therefore is probably a goid idea. So this is an argument for the “just in time” idea mentioned in Clare’s post. But I think that if you need something and there is already something in the back of your mind which tells you you have already come across this piece of knowledge then that will be best. Reading an academic text/ having in-sessional academic writing classes will reinforce what you have learned on your pre-sessional.

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