Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Chapter Six: New Directions: Academic Literacies

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Chapter Six: New Directions: Academic Literacies

Article excerpt

It has become increasingly evident that writing is not a skill that can be taught in isolation from other areas of the curriculum. Learning to write effectively in English should go hand in hand with acquiring other competences that are more closely bound up with specific disciplines or curricular areas. Perhaps the most productive way to think of this is in terms of helping students to acquire academic literacy skills. This chapter looks at recent approaches that focus on the acquisition of different forms of academic literacy within real university contexts, both in Europe and elsewhere. After considering the background in recent theories of academic literacy, we shall look at approaches to the teaching of writing that aim to integrate writing with the acquisition of other academic skills, to promote socialisation into disciplinary communities, or to equip students with a profound understanding of the nature of communication in academic circles. Although it may not be appropriate to pursue such goals at all levels or in all circumstances, it is at least useful to see why such aims have been formulated and how they might be achieved in practice.

As mentioned in Chapter Two, the context of academic literacies was developed by Lea and Street (1998, 2004) to explain how students manage to cope with the demands of in higher education in English-speaking countries. Their ethnographic study showed that the types of demand made on students in different subject areas across the curriculum were extremely varied, and there seemed to be no consensus, even within a given subject area, as to what constituted satisfactory written work. Some teachers tended to value integration of personal experiences, others graded in terms of informational content, while others gave primacy to argumentation and general rhetorical skills. They noted, however, that despite many idiosyncratic features, the general trend showed substantial differences between disciplines in ternis of what written work was required and how it should be done. In this, their findings concur with those of scholars such as Hyland (1999), who have mapped out major differences in style from one discipline to another as far as published research is concerned. Lea and Street (1998, 2004) suggest that it would be beneficial for students if the teaching of writing were better integrated into the academic cultures of different disciplines. In their academic literacies model, students should gain a deeper understanding of the communicative situations in which academic tasks are embedded, and the practices which are habitual in these contexts. This is a complex task, because such practices are underpinned by a particular epistemologa a specific set of power relations, and a strong but inexplicit institutional culture. As we have also seen, studied on academic genres by authors such as Hyland (1999) and Giannoni (2010) provide support for some of the key notions in this approach: different disciplines have radically different ways of seeing the world and understanding academic roles and identities, which play a fundamental role in shaping the nature of the communication that takes place and the kinds of academic writing that are valued.

The academic literacies approach places a special emphasis on the multicultural nature of the university and the multiple cultures of university disciplines. It is important for students to learn about mechanisms such as identity creation, power relations and disciplinary culture, so that they can develop their own stance and voice, and so that they can acquire flexible skills that will enable them to negotiate the boundaries between different disciplines in the course of their academic experience. In this, the academic literacies approach complements and completes the type of "academic socialization" model of writing advocated by some specialists in genre (see Chapters Three and Five), by subsuming its positive aspects (generic awareness, acquisition of disciplinary customs and values) into a broader model in which the student can stand above or aside from the different branches of academia and view them in perspective, rather than simply being absorbed into one of them. …

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