Learning transfer from an in-sessional ESAP module to International Relations and Development students’ core disciplinary writing assignments: Teaching semantic gravity to support cumulative knowledge building
Supporting English as an Additional Language (EAL) students in higher education to become aware of, and develop, the academic and knowledge practices of their chosen disciplines is a key role of an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) practitioner. The transfer of this knowledge from the contexts of an EAP course or module to students’ disciplinary concerns points to the success of these teaching interventions (James, 2014). This action research investigates International Relations and Development (IR & D) undergraduate students’ learning transfer of semantic gravity (SG) in Legitimation Code Theory, which was taught in an in-sessional English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) module, to students’ disciplinary writing assignments. SG presents a lens to view knowledge practices of writing in students’ subject disciplines. It helps to make knowledge displayed in a text visible, through ‘meaning-making profiles’ (Kirk, 2017), to those trying to understand and organise written work to the expected standards of their academic discipline (Martin, Maton & Doran, 2020). Teaching SG in the ESAP module aims to help students visualise, and, in turn, compose their own written arguments in line with the expected standards of their academic discipline. The researcher interviewed three students who had taken the ESAP module and, combined with a textual analysis of writing assignments produced for their core IR & D modules, the study reveals important pedagogical considerations for supporting students' cumulative knowledge building (Maton, 2013). The results indicate that students are able to demonstrate understanding and application of taught features of SG to written work produced for their IR & D modules. The researcher’s recommendations to improve teaching practice in the ESAP module include differentiation of semantic wave profiles for a wider selection of essay question types; a precise semantic wave profile to help differentiate knowledge types within IR & D texts; and potential to embed SG into the students’ subject teachings as an effective way of supporting cumulative knowledge building.