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ITACorp Project: A Corpus-informed Approach to Developing Academic Discourse Competence

Project team:

  • Steven L. Thorne
  • Paula Golombek
  • Jonathon Reinhardt

Project Description:

This project involves a Vygotskian and corpus-informed curricular innovation to an International Teaching Assistants’ (ITA) English language and teaching preparation course at Penn State. While ITAs are often proficient in English for research purposes, many are challenged by the interactional and pragmalinguistic demands associated with American institutional expectations of language use in lectures, discussion sections, and office hour consultations. Based on a functional and contrastive corpus analysis study of ITA language use in office hours contexts, several high frequency features of the professional discourse of teachers have been identified that many ITAs may use with unintended consequence, for example directive language, and politeness markers (Reinhardt, in progress).

We build upon what McCarthy (1998) describes as a ‘corpus-informed’ (rather than ‘corpus-driven’) approach that emphasizes the pedagogical framing of corpus-rendered language data into purposeful and contextualized illustrations of actual communicative activity. The incorporation of Vygotskian pedagogical principles (e.g., Negueruela, 2003; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006), specifically the use of explicit and conceptually framed objectifications of the units of language that expert speakers utilize in carrying out academic functions and roles, reconciles corpus-informed pedagogy with the goal of enhancing language awareness. The current project develops a mediated corpus-informed approach to language (ESL) pedagogy as a middle ground between corpus-driven methodologies and the pedagogical uses of corpora as a mere data sources facilitating inductive learning. Importantly, this work is critically framed in that the contrastive analyses are not meant to indicate deficiency on the part of ITAs – rather within the framework of grammar as choice and language use as a form of social action, we emphasize critical language awareness and the making visible of linguistic resources associated with teaching and office hours consultations.