Rejected!

logoI got news yesterday my proposal to present at the TESOL International conference in March was rejected. Fair enough; I apply to things all the time that don’t get accepted. What was interesting about this particular rejection letter is that they included comments from the 3 reviewers who did a blind review of my session proposal. Two of these comments were constructive, but one just blew my mind.

Here’s my proposal (which, incidentally, is for the same one I presented at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate):

Getting discipline-specific in the general EAP classroom

There is much debate in the world of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) over English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) versus English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP). Is there really one general ‘academic’ English? How much can we really generalize across disciplines?  Despite the increasing popularity of ESAP courses, many EAP teaching contexts, both pre-sessional and in-sessional in both universities and private language schools, continue to be EGAP classes which group together students of a variety of academic backgrounds. For logistic and financial reasons, this practice is bound to continue. However, student preparedness for future study, as well as motivation can suffer in an EGAP context that is too generalized.

This talk will help instructors bridge the gap between EGAP and ESAP by giving practical ideas to be completed within the context of a EGAP course that allow students to delve into the genres, vocabulary and literacies of their specific domains of present and future study. A variety of resources, activities and project ideas will be presented, utilizing freely available digital and physical resources. The talk will focus on classroom practice rather than theory and will maximize adaptability of ideas presented to teachers’ own teaching contexts, classroom make-up, and course structure.

Here are the responses from two of the reviewers:

“The presentation sounds very interesting and I would most likely attend as I feel that this is indeed a topic worth exploring. I would have liked to have seen a bit more specificity and more details in describing this gap and which genres/domains that will be used as examples for adaptation.”
“Your proposal sounds very interesting to me as an ESP teacher.  I’m not sure really what to expect in this though.  I guess what I would be looking for is something more specific about what I could expect in the session.”

I think they’re fair, and constructive; the point about being more specific is well taken.

Here’s reviewer #1:

“I’m concerned about the distinctions the author makes regarding EAP, EGAP and ESAP. I hope the author reconsiders the distinctions. ESP is the umbrella, not EAP. Making the ESAP distinction ignores basic ESP principles. ESP DOES recognize SPECIFIC needs in academic and workplace settings. Another category, ESAP, ignores this underlying principle. t also adds to the alphabet soup. Some in the EAP community have forgotten/ not understood this and have “discovered” the need for consideration of a specific needs focus, calling it  ESAP, English for Specific Academic Purposes.”

Woah, what? It seems to me apparent that this reviewer is, firstly, not involved in the teaching of EAP and secondly, seems to be completely out of touch with what’s currently going on the world of EAP whatsoever.

We can argue ’till the cows come home about underlying principles, and the true “nature” of EAP as a sub-domain of ESP, and the validity of the category ESAP, etc., but this was a 200-word conference proposal, not a journal article! It seems that this reviewer disagrees with my big picture framework–fine, I’m all for healthy debate!–but it seems like this person is completely disregarding the proposal itself based on that conceptual difference. This reviewer doesn’t say anything about whether they think my session would actually be a good one or not, which is the criteria they’re supposed to be taking into account. That doesn’t seem like the best way to build a varied line up of sessions for a conference, if you ask me.

Regarding acronyms, regardless of how much you want to argue over whether or not ESAP is it’s own “category”, there is no denying that in EAP curriculum design the question of specificity is central–how do you balance general academic English, and  discipline-specific concerns in the course content? It simply can’t be ignored. And so, in a 200-word description of a presentation on themes of specificity in EAP, why wouldn’t one use a pair of acronyms (ESAP and EGAP) that are in very current use to make their text more concise? I didn’t invent this distinction; it’s already well-represented in the literature. What does this reviewer’s rant about alphabet soup have to do with my session proposal, again?

I think the reviewer’s last sentence (Some in the EAP community have forgotten/ not understood this and have “discovered” the need for consideration of a specific needs focus, calling it  ESAP, English for Specific Academic Purposes.)  shows borderline contempt for many EAP practitioners. The reviewer seems to have forgotten the fact that the audience of my presentation IS those in the EAP community! So, while we may all be completely ignorant of the differences between ESP and EAP and drowning our poor little brains in alphabet soup, this was a presentation by an EAP practitioner, FOR other EAP practitioners–why not let us live in our world together? It seem kind of unfair of the reviewer to deny that opportunity for those involved in EAP to share with each other just because s/he doesn’t seem to be involved in the world of EAP and doesn’t get it.

Once again, if the reviewer thought the presentation didn’t look very good, then fine–reject it on those grounds. But if it looks like a decent session that happens to differ from your views, then accept it, and come on down to the session to heckle and debate and argue over the nature of EAP! It would have been quite the time.

Post Script: I got word last week that this very same proposal was accepted to the BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers in EAP) conference in Leiceister this spring. It’s so curious: this same proposal was accepted at two conferences in the UK, and rejected from TESOL (and TESL Canada last year, I should add.) Far from alleging any kind of conspiracy, I’m simply left wondering if there are bigger regional divides in EAP that I had previously been aware.

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4 thoughts on “Rejected!

  1. Oh no, how frustrating 😦 It sounds like a rather arrogant, quick skim and reject on a personal prejudice kind of a review to me. One of those where you really want a right to reply!

  2. Shocking. This is the only word that comes to my head now. I’d have loved to see your presentation. Sounded really interesting (even though i don’t necessarily subscribe to everything in your proposal).
    In your comment below you said that the spectrum is a bit narrow. I’m going to the conference for the first time next year. Do you think there will be anything on EAP?
    Best

    • I’ve never been to the TESOL conference before, so I can’t speak from experience. I do hope that there’s a range and variety of presentations on EAP, as it accounts for, in Canada anyway, a sizable (and rapidly growing) proportion of the English language teaching activity happening today.

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