Saskia Van Viegen Stille, Valia Spiliotopolous & Joel Heng-Hartse

Towards a disciplinary literacy approach to supporting EAL students in higher education

As many Canadian universities are becoming increasingly diverse and globalized, a fundamental contradiction has emerged between the aspirations of inclusion and internationalization, and the challenge of meeting the unique teaching and learning needs of students for whom English is an additional language. Students are expected to read and write in more sophisticated ways, to engage in increasingly decontextualized and cognitively challenging tasks with high lexical demand, and to develop complex content knowledge in particular disciplines. Moreover, faculty expect high standards for oral and written communication, student engagement and academic integrity, yet tend not to understand how to assist multilingual students to meet these expectations and learning outcomes while teaching disciplinary content. Responding to these circumstances, Simon Fraser University (SFU), a large comprehensive university in western Canada, has recently launched the Centre for English Language Learning and Teaching Research (CELLTR), to develop credit-bearing EAL and discipline-specific courses and to serve a service and coordinating function relating to academic English language and writing support for the SFU learning community. The Centre’s activities are paired with research anchored in key theoretical and empirical questions within the broad fields of applied linguistic and education. Drawing upon current research-practice partnerships (Coburn & Penuel, 2016) with interdisciplinary faculty at SFU, this paper proposes a framework for understanding key processes in developing disciplinary literacy in higher education, including: linguistic competence, cognitive processes, critical disciplinary thinking and self-regulated learning. These processes are fundamentally integrated in the higher educational learning context, requiring students to develop skills and strategies to think, communicate and inquire like a member of their disciplinary community. The paper concludes with implications for faculty developing appropriate pedagogies for teaching students from diverse linguistic backgrounds.