TRANSFORMING PRACTICE THROUGH AN UNDERSTANDING OF SOCIO – CULTURAL CONDITIONS IN THE CLASSROOM

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Alison Abraham

Abstract

Much of the debate on the teaching and learning of English and academic writing occurs largely from Eurocentric or Western perspectives on local contexts. This paper explores the role of the local English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in transforming the way English for Academic Purposes is taught and learnt, particularly in higher education settings in Malaysia. In order to challenge Western notions, ESL teachers need to know their local contexts and students well enough in order to explain the complexities that arise within an education system that is continually shaped by historical and socio-political shifts in the country. The purpose of this paper is to inform ESL and academic writing teacher-researchers that it is possible to transform practice by paying close attention to the complexities of socio-cultural conditions. Using action research methodology, the case study presented here illuminates and exemplifies the recognition and explicit inclusion of socio-cultural conditions within academic literacies in a tertiary English language class for engineering, computing and business discipline students in a Malaysian university. Three narratives are critically selected using the Critical Incidents Technique and examined from a pool of qualitative data which comprised student letters, student interviews and teacher diaries. Green’s typology of operational, cultural and critical dimensions of literacy events is used to analyse how socio-cultural conditions within and beyond the classroom can affect the kinds of literacy which are identified by the teacher and used to improve student engagement and performance in the language besides enhancing the quality of teaching and learning academic writing. Findings reveal the need for greater leadership support for grass root level decision-making by the ESL teacher and a deeper understanding of the use of mediation as a tool to maximize social interaction. Even traditionally used teaching materials for language teaching can be brought into connection with broader genres and conceptual ideas by focusing on social interaction in classes. An extensive use of the English language through social interaction with explicit attention to social and cultural ESL contexts proves to be a highly significant means to aid the rapid development of students’ English language learning, so that students can be better prepared to meet global challenges.

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