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English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx

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English for Specic Purposes

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Exploring the practices and cognitions of Iranian ELT instructors

and subject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension
Mahmood Reza Atai , Mosayeb Fatahi-Majd
Department of Foreign Languages, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: In spite of extensive research on reading comprehension in EAP, the literature on how it is
Available online xxxx conceptualized and taught by teachers is still scanty. Moreover, in some contexts, EAP
reading comprehension courses are taught by two groups of teachers with different spe-
Keywords: cializations, that is, ELT instructors and subject teachers, which, in turn, may render the
Teachers practices and cognitions gap in teachers understanding of EAP reading comprehension instruction wider. In this
Discipline-based EAP study, we explored the actual classroom practices and cognitions within and across these
EAP reading comprehension instruction
two groups of teachers teaching EAP reading comprehension in Iran. Three ELT instructors
ELT instructors
Subject teachers
and three subject teachers teaching discipline-based EAP courses at a university of medical
sciences were observed for eight sessions. In addition to carrying out observations and tak-
ing eld-notes, we conducted semi-structured interviews with the teachers in order to
probe their underlying cognitions. The ndings indicated considerable inconsistencies
among the subject teachers compared with the ELT instructors as well as noticeable dis-
crepancies across the two groups of teachers with respect to their practices and cognitions
in EAP reading comprehension instruction. The ndings point to some new ideas, issues,
and options for reection in EAP reading comprehension instruction and promise implica-
tions for EAP teacher education programs.
2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

Reading comprehension has generally been recognized as a signicant need of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) stu-
dents worldwide (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001; Grabe & Stoller, 2002; Jordan, 1997; Robinson, 1991). Compared with the
extensive research in English for General Purposes (EGP) reading comprehension methodology (Grabe, 2004), research on
EAP reading comprehension instruction is still scanty with researchers mainly addressing the nature of EAP reading compre-
hension and the signicance of going beyond an exclusive focus on factual information in the text in order to help EAP learn-
ers read various sources extensively and develop adequate comprehension and evaluation of content knowledge (Bloor,
1998; Grabe, 2009). Although the previous literature provides some basic methodological principles and guidelines, there
is a pressing need to gain insights into the actual classroom practices adopted by EAP reading comprehension teachers,
the rationale behind their practices, and whether EAP teachers conceptions of EAP reading comprehension methodology
match the current principles and guidelines.
The current literature on EAP methodology highlights three major approaches to EAP reading comprehension instruction.
The rst approach signies a shift in understanding the purpose of reading comprehension from that of reading text as a
linguistic object to that of reading text as a vehicle of information (Johns & Davies, 1983). The second approach emphasizes

Corresponding author. Address: Post Code 15719-14911, No. 43 Mofatteh Street, Department of Foreign Languages, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran.
Tel.: +98 21 88828416; fax: +98 21 88306651.
E-mail address: (M.R. Atai).

0889-4906/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Please cite this article in press as: Atai, M. R., & Fatahi-Majd, M. Exploring the practices and cognitions of Iranian ELT instructors and sub-
ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
2 M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx

both skills and language and aims at gearing the EAP courses to language, skills, and strategies uniquely important to EAP
students (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998). The third approach, known as genre-based pedagogy, builds on the premise that
making texts and contexts a focus for analysis allows teachers to raise students awareness of the interdependence of
disciplinary valued genres, the resources used to create meaning in context and how powerful genres can be negotiated
(Hyland, 2006, p. 89).
Some of the basic approaches and principles in EAP methodology include implications for EAP reading comprehension
instruction as well. Generally, EAP has been conceptualized and practiced according to two perspectives (Hyland, 2006;
Jordan, 1997) variously termed as: English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) versus English for Specic Academic
Purposes (ESAP) (Blue, 1988), common core EAP versus subject-specic EAP (Coffey, 1984), and wide-angle EAP versus nar-
row-angle EAP (Williams, 1978). Hutchison and Waters (1987), advocating the rst perspective, present eight basic princi-
ples as the cornerstones of the learning-centered EAP methodology. They contend that subject-specic teaching should be
avoided. Hyland (2006), on the other hand, argues that the target tasks and genres that learners need to confront are highly
diverse and not easily approached through the exclusive use of a learning-centered model. He highlights the role of genre in
EAP methodology and emphasizes consciousness raising and scaffolding as complementary methodologies in order to en-
hance students genre awareness and discourse knowledge. Some other scholars support awareness-raising and learner
training, project work, lectures and seminars, role plays, and simulation as dominant features of EAP methodology (Dud-
ley-Evans & St John, 1998; Jordan, 1997; Robinson, 1991). Also, it is argued that, due to the highly accountable nature of
EAP, the methodology should be geared to the most efcient means in order to empower students to perform adequately
in their target communicative settings (Basturkmen, 2006; Belcher, 2006; Hyland, 2006; Watson Todd, 2003). Despite many
scholarly insights and recommendations on EAP methodology, little is known about teachers practices and conceptions of
appropriate methodology for reading comprehension instruction.
The gap is particularly wide in some countries where two groups of teachers, that is, English Language Teaching (ELT)
instructors and subject teachers, teach EAP reading comprehension courses. This situation is quite common in teaching
EAP in Asia (e.g., Chen, 2011) and particularly in countries like Iran where the two groups of teachers tend to run the courses
independently based on their own cognitions and experiences (Atai, 2002b, 2013; Atai & Nazari, 2011). A number of studies
on EAP teachers (e.g., Arnold, 1986; Scott-Barrett, 1989; White, 1981) mainly focused on the practices of the two groups of
teachers and highlighted ELT instructors lack of specialist knowledge. However, these studies did not explore the rationales
behind EAP teachers classroom practices. Sterzik and Farser (2012, p. 104) argue that in order to teach students how to
read, teachers need to be able to articulate what is required, but more importantly how to do it. Also, as Bernhardt
(2011) maintains, how one assists learners in becoming effective comprehenders is a critical area (p. 54). In addition, tea-
cher education literature indicates that teachers cognitions shape their framework for practice and affect their actual class-
room activities (e.g., Borg, 2003, 2006).

1.1. Teacher cognition research

Teacher cognition (TC) research, or the study of the unobservable cognitive dimension of teachingwhat teachers know,
believe and think (Borg, 2003, p. 81), originated in mainstream teacher education in the 1970s (Freeman, 2002; Johnson,
2006). The concept was initially taken up in ELT by Woods (1991, 1996) and later explored extensively in EGP and skill-based
EAP courses (see Alexander, 2012). The extensive literature in both ELT and mainstream teacher education (e.g., Borg, 2003;
Freeman, 2002; Shulman & Quinlan, 1996) suggests the signicance of TC research and practice to teacher education (John-
son, 2006).
Some studies have addressed teachers cognitions in teaching EGP reading comprehension (Collie Graden, 1996; El-Oka-
da, 2005; Johnson, 1992; Meijer, Verloop, & Beijaard, 2001, to name a few). However, there is a gap in EAP teachers cogni-
tions on teaching reading comprehension instruction where few, if any, related studies are available (Borg, 2006). Besides, in
contexts like Iran, where EAP courses are offered by either subject departments or language departments with little or no
collaboration between subject teachers and ELT instructors (Atai, 2006), little is known about the cognitions and actual prac-
tices of these two groups of EAP teachers. Systematic EAP teacher training may not be easily available in other contexts
either. For example, an online survey of EAP teachers routes to professionalism in the UK revealed that in the UK few teach-
ers had formal training in EAP (Alexander, 2007, cited in Alexander, 2012, p. 100).

1.2. EAP in Iran

EAP education is currently a signicant part of the university curriculum for all academic programs in Iran. Since its
beginning in the 1970s, EAP education in Iran has increasingly aimed for content specicity in terms of academic disciplines
(Atai, 2002a). The discipline-specic EAP courses generally aim at fostering students reading comprehension skills, follow-
ing the unveried and intuitive assumptions of the curriculum developers regarding the target needs of the students (Atai &
Nazari, 2011; Atai & Shoja, 2011). Although some textbooks have been developed through the collaboration between the
English instructors and subject teachers under the supervision of SAMT (an ofcial organization of university materials
development and research afliated with the Irans ministry of science, research and technology) and according to a strict
and consistent framework of materials development, there is no cooperation between English language instructors and sub-
ject teachers at the classroom implementation level. Hence, the courses are run independently either by the corresponding

Please cite this article in press as: Atai, M. R., & Fatahi-Majd, M. Exploring the practices and cognitions of Iranian ELT instructors and sub-
ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx 3

subject departments or English language centers (Atai, 2006). Also, similar to some Asian contexts such as Japan (see Fukui,
Noguchi, & Watanabe, 2009), subject teachers are generally perceived as better candidates for teaching these courses be-
cause knowledge about the eld can take precedence over knowledge about language learning and teaching (Anthony,
2011, p. 2). However, in the absence of systematic EAP teacher education/training for either of these two groups of teachers,
little is known about EAP teachers cognitions and classroom implementation.
Atai and Tahririan (2003), in their nationwide investigation of the status of EAP education in Iran, concluded that these
programs do not generally enable the students to read their academic texts with optimal comprehension. Further, they iden-
tied some major problems in the Iranian EAP curriculum, including students inadequate level of general English prociency
(GEP), a demotivating classroom atmosphere, lack of interactions between teachers and students, and excessive reliance on
translation as the dominating reading comprehension instruction technique. In another study, Atai (2002b) probed the ac-
tual implementation of EAP courses in Iran and the methodological differences between ELT instructors and subject teachers.
According to what students reported, ELT instructors and subject teachers practiced different methodologies:
Whereas subject-matter instructors tended to translate the reading materials sentence by sentence, their counterpart ELT
specialists favored exploitation of more question-answer chains in English as one of the main techniques in EAP reading
instruction. Likewise, subject-matter instructors offering EAP courses assigned their students translation tasks more fre-
quently than ELT specialists. Further, ELT specialists generally insisted on English as the main medium of instruction. . ..
However, the two types of EAP instructors were not signicantly different with respect to the frequency of pre-reading
and post-reading activities, emphasis on improving reading skill, analysis of text structure, and classroom participation.
(Atai, 2002b, p. 13)
Although these ndings are interesting, the study, however, was limited in scope as it did not include detailed observa-
tions of teachers actual practices in classrooms. Hence, given the highly specic EAP context under study, more in-depth
qualitative studies are required to explore teachers voices and probe the cognitions and beliefs behind their reading com-
prehension policies and practices.

1.3. The research questions

Grabe and Stoller (2001) assert that, in academic contexts, reading is the main channel for getting information and devel-
oping critical evaluation skills. Moreover, they argue that reading is the primary means for independent learning, whether
the goal is performing better on academic tasks, learning more about subject matter, or improving language abilities
(p. 187). However, Borg (2006) reports no single study of teacher cognitions in EAP reading comprehension. The present
study aimed to ll this gap by exploring the practices and cognitions of two groups of EAP reading comprehension teachers
in Iran (i.e., ELT instructors and subject teachers). The study addressed the following research questions:

1. Are there any within-group similarities or differences for Iranian ELT instructors and subject teachers in conceptualizing
and teaching reading comprehension in discipline-based EAP courses? If yes, what are the similarities or differences in
these teachers practices and cognitions?
2. Are there any across-group similarities and differences between Iranian ELT instructors and subject teachers in concep-
tualizing and teaching reading comprehension in discipline-based EAP courses? If yes, what are these similarities or dif-
ferences in these teachers practices and cognitions?

2. The study

2.1. The context

This study was conducted at the English Language Center (ELC) of Danesh University of Medical Sciences (DUMS), a pseu-
donym used for ethical purposes. The ELC has designed and run EGP and EAP courses for many years. About 1500 students
were enrolled in the language courses offered in the second semester of the academic year in 20092010. The teaching staff
included 45 full-time and part-time ELT instructors and four subject teachers who mainly offered EAP courses for the stu-
dents of medicine and dentistry. It should be pointed out that EAP courses in Iran are mainly taught by subject teachers
and the ELC was deliberately chosen by the present researchers in order to study practices and cognitions of the two groups
of teachers in one context; therefore, we nullied the possible contaminating effect of contextual factors. According to the
policies of the ELC, the teachers must pass a general English prociency test to qualify for teaching EAP courses. However, as
far as knowledge of ELT methodology is concerned, teachers are typically assessed and screened on the basis of their years of
teaching experience.
The main goal at the ELC is developing students reading comprehension skills. The textbooks are chosen by the ELC ex-
cept for some sub-disciplines for which there is no published textbook available in Iran. As far as methodology is concerned,
the ELC recommends that the teachers maximize interaction with students through adopting a learner-centered approach,
use English as the medium of instruction, and provide students with supplementary and adapted materials for further read-
ing. The scheme for assessing students is determined by the ELCs testing committee. Teachers decide thirty percent of stu-
dents scores based on active classroom participation and classroom tasks, while seventy percent is based on the mid-term

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
4 M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx

and nal examinations. The tests are developed by the testing committee with no collaboration with the teachers. As a result,
some teachers simply teach to the test.
EAP classrooms are equipped with video projector sets and computers. Around 30 students can enroll in each class. The
students represent various ethnicities in Iran; however, as they have been educated in Farsi and use it for formal commu-
nication, their rst language background can be considered the same.
At DUMS, rst-year junior students are placed in different classes based on the results of a general English placement test
developed by the ELC. Prior to enrollment in the EAP courses, low-prociency students are required to pass two remedial EGP
courses for which they cover the New Interchange series (Richards, Hull, & Proctor, 1997) and Interactions 1 (Kirn & Hartmann,
1996). Also, Interactions 2 (Kirn & Hartmann, 2001) is included in their syllabus in order to help them practice reading com-
prehension skills more intensively. The underlying assumption, as pointed out by the assistant head of the ELC, is that an
optimal level of general English prociency is fundamental to students achievement in EAP courses.

2.2. The participants

Three ELT instructors and three subject teachers teaching discipline-based language courses to undergraduate students at
DUMS participated in this research. The researchers carefully chose these teachers who taught in the same context to stu-
dents in the same discipline so as to make more valid comparisons among these teachers. All the teachers were teaching EAP
courses for sub-branches of medical science (paramedics: three ELT instructors; nursing: two subject instructors; and med-
icine: one subject instructor). The rationale behind selecting the rst two EAP courses was that the students were almost at
the same level of prociency, as indicated by the results of the placement test administered by the ELC. The only exception
was that in the EAP course for the students of medicine, the course was more specialized in terms of content and the stu-
dents were more procient in English as indicated by the results of the placement test. However, we hoped that this much
heterogeneity could provide more layers of analysis and contribute to the depth of our interpretations. Additionally, as Mul-
lock (2006) argues, intact classes and teachers who are not prepared for research purposes may add to the ecological valid-
ity of the context.
All the teachers were Iranian and native speakers of Farsi. There were both male and female participants in the two
groups with masters or PhD degrees. Subject teachers were educated in different sub-branches of medical sciences with
no formal training in ELT, and ELT instructors had ELT education in their proles. It should be pointed out that in Iran, as
a norm, many subject teachers with reasonable English prociency are invited to teach EAP courses, in addition to subject
courses and the majority of EAP courses are taught by subject teachers. On the other hand, many ELT instructors are not will-
ing to teach EAP courses for technical elds like medicine, science, and engineering which require highly specialist content
knowledge. In this study, only one subject teacher taught EAP courses exclusively. In fact, this is a rare case and, as she said,
she had applied for both EAP and subject courses but she had been invited by the ELC after passing the English prociency
test. Teachers in both groups could be called experienced in teaching EAP as the fewest years of experience reported was four
years; however, the three ELT instructors were about 7 years more experienced on average. Their demographic information
is summarized in Table 1. In order to observe ethicality, we sought for teachers consent and promised to maintain anonym-
ity in reporting the results. Accordingly, teachers names are not mentioned and we use alphabetical letters to refer to them
so that subjT-A, for instance, stands for subject teacher A and ELT-X stands for ELT instructor X.
Among the participants, ELT-Y served both as a teacher and an administrator of the ELC. He shared some information
about the policies of the ELC in an in-depth interview so that the researchers could examine whether teachers followed their
own cognition or were affected by the expectations and policies of the ELC.

2.3. Data collection methods and procedures

A variety of data collection methods, including non-participant observations, eld notes, semi-structured interviews, and
conversations with teachers before and after classes, were employed to triangulate the methods and to increase the credi-
bility of the research ndings.
From the very beginning, we tried our best to establish an atmosphere of trust in order to prevent probable changes in the
participants real behaviors during the observations. To this end, we reassured the teachers that the purpose of the study was
not to evaluate their performance, but rather to understand how they viewed EAP teaching as well as what challenges they
might be facing in the Iranian EAP context. Moreover, to earn the teachers trust, we assured them about the anonymity of all
data collection procedures and about the ethical codes of qualitative research we planned to observe throughout the study.

2.3.1. Non-participant observation

We developed an observation checklist following the three-phase framework proposed by Grabe and Stoller (2001) for
teaching academic reading; namely, pre-reading, while-reading, and post-reading. Based on the recent literature, we built
the basic principles and practices of teaching EAP reading comprehension, such as considering learners needs and working
on discourse and genre organization, into each phase so as to observe and understand the activities the teachers may poten-
tially be implementing in their classes. The observation checklist was piloted and improved according to the feedback we
received on the content coverage of the checklist from three experts in EAP teacher education research, who were university
professors in Iran with many years of experience in both EAP research and instruction. This process allowed us to use their

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
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Table 1
Teachers demographic information.

Name Gender Field of study Degree Teaching EAP or EGP training Distinguishing The EAP course taught:
experience opportunities language learning English for the Students
experiences of. . .
General EAP
SubjT-A Female Obstetrics & MD 0 4 Getting hints from her sister Studied in the US for Medicine
Gynecology who has an MA TEFL degree 11 years
SubjT-B Male Physiology & PhD 8 8 Studying a few books on ELT Nursing
Neuro Science
SubjT-C Female Nursing & MS 25 10 No history of in/formal EAP Studied in the UK for Nursing
Public Health or EGP education 10 years
ELT-X Female TEFL & BA in TEFL & MA in 8 7 Some university courses in Degrees in both Laboratory Technology
Linguistics general linguistics Applied Linguistics Linguistics & TEFL
ELT-Y Male TEFL & MA MS 17 12 University courses in EGP & Health Information
Medical ESP Management
ELT-Z Female TEFL PhD 24 24 University courses in EGP & Radiology

Note: General teaching experience for ELT instructors refers to years of experience in teaching EGP, and for subject teachers it refers to experience in
teaching courses related to their areas of specialty.

reections on EAP areas of research and the content of the checklist as qualied experts comments (see Tsui, 2003, for a
similar practice). It should be noted that in teacher cognition research, teachers own beliefs, practices, and underlying con-
ceptualizations should ideally be explored extensively and deeply. Accordingly, the observer researcher (the second author)
was cautious not to restrict his attention to the content of the checklist and to anticipate novel tasks and activities.
In order to make the teachers and their students feel that the project was a natural part of their courses, the second author
attended the classes from the very rst session. At the same time, to ensure that the teachers did not change their practices
and to minimize the observers paradox effect (Labov, 1970), the observer did not attend all the sessions regularly so that
the classes could go on normally. Eight full sessions for each teacher were observed and audio-recorded. The teachers prac-
tices were observed closely to see whether there was any dominant pattern of routine practice in the procedures adopted by
each teacher in the three phases of teaching reading comprehension. While observing the classes, the observer researcher
followed the checklist but also watched out for any practices that may not t into the checklist.

2.3.2. Field notes

To keep track of the events happening during observations, the observer researcher also took eld notes. McDonough and
McDonough (1997) maintain that putting recordings and eld notes data together represents a move away from reduction-
ist observation methods towards something one might usefully call elaborative description (p. 112). Immediately after each
observation, the recorded data were transcribed and the salient and subtle features of each teachers practice were summa-
rized to provide a quick reference for comparing teachers performances with those in subsequent sessions. New questions
that occurred to the observer researcher during observations were written down in the eld notes for further investigation.
This cyclical process, in turn, generated further rened questions for the follow-up interviews.

2.3.3. Semi-structured interviews with teachers

All interviews were conducted by the second author. To avoid any misunderstandings, all interviews were conducted in
Farsi, the teachers rst language, and specialist terminology associated with applied linguistics and ESP teaching was
avoided to provide equal opportunities for both groups of teachers to interact with the interviewer. In order to elicit teachers
in-depth comments, the interviewer let the conversation move on in a more interactive manner. The interviews took from
1 h and 6 min to 1 h and 55 min, with an average of 90 min.
Each interview consisted of two main parts. The questions in the rst part addressed general aspects of EAP instruction as
well as EAP reading comprehension and vocabulary instruction. More specically, the questions addressed teachers concep-
tualizations of EAP instruction including

 the objectives of the discipline-based language courses,

 whether they were interested in teaching EAP and why,
 their perceptions of students needs,
 how EAP learning can be facilitated,
 whether the expectations of the ELC were in line with their cognitions,
 how EAP reading texts should be taught and why,
 whether they cooperated with subject or language teachers,
 whether teaching vocabulary was important to them and if they assumed any responsibility in this regard, and
 what major challenges they perceived in teaching EAP.

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
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In the second part of the interview, the interviewer researcher recounted the routines of the teachers methodologies in
teaching reading comprehension to them and asked for the reasons behind their practices. The details of their activities were
also discussed in order to help them clarify their cognitions. For instance, in one interview, the researcher asked ELT-X why
she adopted a fast rhythm in teaching and she replied: I have to nish the two textbooks in just 14 sessions and prepare
learners for the exit exam. Certainly, I would have gone slowly if I had enough time.

2.4. Data analysis

To analyze the data, we coded the teachers practices following the observation checklist. Those patterns that did not
t into the checklist were coded when we analyzed the eld notes. Practices observed to have happened at least ve
times during the eight sessions of each teacher were coded as his/her routine practices. The others were coded as
non-routine practices. After we identied the reasons behind these practices through interviews with the teachers,
we then reanalyzed the practices in order to identify the similarities and differences within and across the two groups
of teachers.

3. Findings

Our analysis of the data pointed to both similarities and differences in practices and cognitions among each group of
EAP teachers. The results of observations and interviews are summarized according to Grabe and Stollers (2001) three-
phase framework for teaching EAP reading comprehension and presented in Tables 2 and 3. Grabe and Stoller claim that
their framework is applicable to a wide range of EAP reading contexts. In all of the following tables, denotes teach-
ers observed practices and asterisks  represent teachers cognitions regarding their practices as disclosed in the

Table 2
Similarities and differences among the three subject teachers reading comprehension practices and cognitions.

Phase Similarities Differences

Pre-reading: No specic pre-reading activity with the clear aim of One teacher (SubjT-A) asked students a few broad
activating learners background knowledge was observed. questions about the themes related to the reading texts.
Two teachers (SubjT-B & C) had no ideas about pre- To encourage active participation from the students
reading and one teacher (SubjT-A) had developed a nave whom she noticed as reluctant to participate in class. She
perception about this phase. asserted: I try to encourage students to participate in the
lesson, because they generally feel reluctant.
Students were required to read the text prior to attending
the class to save time and to feel responsible for their own
While-reading: Asking for the meaning of the vocabulary items in the SubjT-A asked students a set of comprehension-check
text.  Because they considered vocabulary as the main questions (while providing little guidance on how to read
component of texts which should be attended to. SubjT-C, the text) to check whether students know the details.
for example, stated that teachers should explain the
meaning of vocabulary items.
Reading aloud to let students improve their SubjT-B asked students about the meaning of some
pronunciation. technical words and discussed the details of their meanings
in the corresponding eld; no attempt to attend to the
main idea of the text to make sure students know the
meaning of key words and specialist terms.
Considering reading comprehension as a product which SubjT-C asked students to translate the text accurately
can be checked rather than taught. In response to the to see if they got the overall message. Inconsistent and
question asking for the best way to teach reading contradictory reasons were stated by SubjT-C. While she
comprehension, SubjT-C asserted that They should get meant to check general understanding of the passage, she
students to translate the text several times and correct asked for accurate translation of the text as well.
their problems.
Indeed, two teachers seemed unfamiliar with reading
comprehension strategies or discourse specicity and did
not attempt to foster students reading strategies or to raise
their awareness of discourse features of the academic texts.
Post-reading: Mainly doing the textbook exercises while emphasizing SubjT-A devoted adequate time to this phase while the
vocabulary parts as they regarded vocabulary knowledge other teachers did not.
important; according to SubjT-A and
SubjT-C, it comprises a good part of nal exam.
Assigning student lectures based on relevant articles to SubjT-C: Its the students responsibility to answer
teach students how to develop and present their comprehension-check questions.
vocabulary knowledge. SubjT-B: Students can answer the comprehension
questions following the texts irrespective of the content
information given in the text.

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Table 3
Similarities and differences among the three ELT instructors reading comprehension practices and cognitions.

Phase Similarities Differences

Pre-reading: The ELT instructors made some attempts to implement Unlike the two other teachers, ELT-X had no clear
this phase. However, this phase was not generally taken conception of the pre-reading phase and considered it as
seriously by the teachers. Two instructors acknowledged a means to improving the students listening
the importance of this phase in their interviews but comprehension.
introduced time-limitation as a justication for their
reluctance in implementing this phase.
The instructors did not recommend that students read
the texts in advance because they unanimously believed
that it leads to bad reading comprehension habits
including reliance on dictionaries and not using
appropriate strategies such as guessing the meanings of
unknown words.
While-reading: The instructors taught some general text-decoding Each teacher favored certain strategies depending on his/
skills applicable to all reading tasks of various elds to her professional background:
encourage the students to x their bad reading habits ELT-X provided some language awareness through
developed during mainstream English language highlighting different kinds of phrases and sentence
education at high schools. They assumed that students structures because grammar knowledge is necessary for
resort to word-for-word translation; hence, reading reading comprehension.
strategies may help them read more effectively. ELT-Y insisted on using L2 as the medium of teaching
and favored implicit strategy instruction. ELT-Y also
asked questions with embedded clues to the answer  to
enhance learner interaction and to guide the students
through the text.
ELT-Z, who respected students thinking and reection a
lot, encouraged students to employ their logic to see the
connections within and among sentences. ELT-Z also
asked a number of WH comprehension-check questions
to guide the students through the text.
Post-reading: The instructors checked textbook exercises on an Since there was no published textbook for the students
irregular basis because they thought students of radiology, ELT-Z used some articles in radiology as
themselves should take care of them. reading texts; hence, no focused post-reading questions
were based on the main text. However, during the while-
reading phase, she asked the students a number of WH
comprehension-check questions.
The instructors provided students with articles
extracted from journals to be read as further reading tasks
because students should read as much as possible.

The second research question addressed similarities and differences between ELT instructors and subject teachers with
respect to their practices and cognitions in teaching reading comprehension. Our data analysis indicated across-group sim-
ilarities and differences with differences outweighing similarities. Table 4 summarizes the major ndings.
In order to examine EAP teachers cognitions more deeply, we investigated their dispositions towards methodological is-
sues beyond those related to EAP reading comprehension instruction, as well as their assumptions concerning the underlying
sources of their cognitions. Table 5 summarizes the cognitions of the two camps based on of the ndings from the observa-
tions and interviews.

4. Discussion

Our ndings indicated that, among the three ELT instructors, the similarities in practices in teaching EAP reading com-
prehension overshadow the differences. The teachers generally motivated students to acquire reading comprehension strat-
egies in order to read EAP texts more efciently. From the observations and interviews, we noticed that, by reading
comprehension strategies, they meant some compensatory techniques to manage reading texts such as guessing the mean-
ing of unknown words; using all available knowledge sources, including context, logic, morphology, parts of speech, apposi-
tives, and structural clues; as well as drawing on sentence structure, paragraph organization, and discourse markers. In a
sense, these teachers intended to help their students learn things that apply to all texts (Nation, 2009, p. 28). They were
seriously concerned about students poor reading comprehension habits and criticized high school English teachers undue
emphasis on word-for-word translation of sentences. To help students overcome their poor reading comprehension habits,
the teachers asked their students not to read the texts in advance in order to practice reading comprehension strategies in
class. ELT-X asked students not to use a dictionary if they wanted to read the text in advance. ELT-Z even brought extracts of
reading materials taken from sources beyond the students textbooks to class to see whether students could transfer the
strategies presented in the class to their real reading comprehension tasks.

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
8 M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx

Table 4
Similarities and differences in EAP reading comprehension practices and cognitions between ELT instructors and subject teachers.

Phase Similarities Differences

Pre-reading: Both subject teachers and ELT instructors were In contrast to subject teachers, ELT instructors were
reluctant to implement pre-reading activities. aware of the signicance of the pre-reading phase and
provided more detailed comments on the importance of
this phase.
While-reading: They asked students about the meaning of the words Although both groups of teachers carried out a
in the text. reasonably wide range of activities, the ELT instructors
activities were consistently geared to improving students
reading comprehension skills and strategies.
Unlike ELT instructors who asked questions to guide
the students through the text, subject teachers asked
questions to check the students comprehension of
content information.
Contrary to subject teachers who highlighted
pronunciation as an important aspect in academic
reading, ELT instructors did not perceive it as an
important component.
Post-reading: They checked the textbook exercises quite Subject teachers focused on vocabulary exercises very
unsystematically and on an irregular basis even though much compared with other post-reading activities such
the majority of teachers (ve teachers) considered as comprehension check exercises.
exercises as the only advantage of textbooks compared
with genuine articles extracted from journals.
For further activities, ELT instructors provided students
with articles as reading comprehension tasks. They
believed that exposure to language is quite necessary for
students in Iran because they have few opportunities to
learn out of the classroom.

As for the sources inuencing teachers cognitions in EAP reading comprehension instruction, the ELT instructors similar
understanding of EAP reading comprehension methodology may be attributed to their teaching experiences and ELT educa-
tion background as commented by some teachers. ELT-Y, for instance, asserted: my eld of study and years of experience in
teaching EAP help me diagnose my students problematic areas and decide what to put emphasis on.
As for the three subject teachers practices, our ndings indicated that the differences in teaching EAP reading compre-
hension were more than the similarities. There were some similar practices such as focusing on vocabulary instruction and
asking students to read aloud to check their pronunciation, which they regarded as an important part of an EAP reading com-
prehension course. However, the three subject instructors were quite different from each other. SubjT-A mainly asked de-
tailed comprehension check questions, SubjT-B was mainly concerned about checking and discussing the meaning of
technical terms in texts, and SubjT-C worked for accurate Farsi translation of texts.
The three subject teachers cognitions were indeed varied, making it difcult to formulate a consistent pattern. As the
analysis of the interviews revealed, except for SubjT-B, the other subject teachers had no clear conceptualization of reading
comprehension as a skill. SubjT-A seemed to rely on the guidelines and tips she reported to have learned from her sister, an
MA student of TEFL. She stated that reading comprehension is basically a matter of understanding of the main ideas. How-
ever, she assigned her students to read the texts before attending her class and asked detailed questions about specic con-
tent information in the text in class, a practice which seemed to contradict her focus on students understanding of the main
ideas. SubjT-Cs dominant classroom practices with an overemphasis on translation activities suggested the possible lack of
clear perceptions of reading comprehension skills and strategies. SubjT-B was familiar with reading comprehension strate-
gies as a result of reading some teaching methodology books; however, he was reluctant to follow a strategy-based approach
in his instruction because, to him, such practices were simply beyond the scope of the objectives of a discipline-specic lan-
guage course. He found the main difference between an EAP reading comprehension course and an EGP reading comprehen-
sion course in the degree of emphasis on specialized language, with specialist terms being the most salient feature of EAP
Our analysis of the three subject teachers proles and their understanding of their perceptions about the factors which
they considered crucial in shaping their cognitions indicated that their divergent cognitions can be attributed to their expe-
riences of education as graduate students abroad (SubjT-A and SubjT-C), the washback effects of examinations administered
by the ELC (SubjT-A and SubjT-C), and their occasional practices of consulting TEFL manuals (SubjT-B) and ELT instructors
(SubjT-A and SubjT-B). For instance, SubjT-A said: studying abroad was the positive side of my learning experience. A
friendly atmosphere prevailed in the classes and all learners were encouraged to participate actively in discussions. I tried
to do the same in my classes.
In a few instances, however, the three subject teachers understanding and practice of reading comprehension instruction
were similar. For example, all subject teachers expected students to read the text prior to attending the class to save time.
The ndings from interviews with teachers revealed that this approach to teaching reading comprehension had its origin in

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx 9

Table 5
Teachers cognitions regarding other aspects of EAP methodology.

Area Similarities Differences

Objectives as dened by Both groups set reading-comprehension as the goal. Unlike ELT instructors, subject teachers set specialist
teachers: vocabulary instruction as an important priority.
How to meet the Both groups considered high general English prociency While subject teachers considered expanding vocabulary
objectives: as a prerequisite for EAP students success in reading knowledge as the key to students success, ELT instructors
comprehension courses. emphasized teaching reading comprehension skills and
strategies and exposing students to discipline-specic
Reaction to examinations: Both groups had examinations in mind when selecting Subject teachers seemed to be more inuenced by the
their post-reading exercises. washback effect of examinations than ELT instructors. For
example, they overemphasized vocabulary exercises.
because they considered them important in students
performance in the nal exam of the EAP reading course
Conceptions of specicity: Both groups of teachers believed that specicity of EAP While subject teachers worked on specialist terms, ELT
text is basically related to the specialist terms and the instructors asked students to read specialist texts after
content in the text. class. Both groups did not reveal an explicit awareness
about discourse specicity and genre variations across
elds. However, ELT instructors seemed to have developed
some awareness of academic discourse. For example, they
referred to the frequent use of passives in academic texts.
Medium of instruction Although all teachers were recommended by the ELC to Subject teachers commented that, contrary to their
(L1 or L2): use L2 as the medium of instruction, the teachers in both beliefs, they needed to use Farsi in class, because they
groups sometimes used L1 too. thought students were not procient enough to
communicate in English only. Two ELT instructors insisted
on using Farsi sometimes for a different reason. They
considered Farsi as a better medium for the explicit
teaching of reading comprehension skills.
Teaching supplementary Subject teachers either saw it irrelevant to the course
materials (i.e., objectives or taught it for vocabulary enrichment reasons.
Interactions II): ELT instructors used it as a remedial attempt to make up
for the deciencies of the main textbook of the course and
as a springboard for teaching reading comprehension skills
and strategies. The series exposes students to a range of
reading comprehension skills and strategies including
vocabulary enhancement.
Interest in professional All ELT instructors stated that they did not study recent
development: ELT research ndings because of time limitations. Among
subject teachers, only SubjT-B stated that he had recently
studied some books on ELT methodology.
Perceived problematic 1. Outdated and uninteresting books
areas in EAP programs: 2. Students low general English prociency level as a
barrier to reading of specialized texts
3. Low student motivation
Factors affecting teachers Almost all the teachers pointed out that their own While ELT instructors emphasized the role of their
cognitions according to learning experiences somehow affected their cognitions in teaching experiences and ELT program, subject instructors
their assumptions EAP methodology. For example SubjT-A and ELT-Y pointed to their learning experiences, the washback effect
remembered their teachers who were not exible enough of examinations on their practices and cognitions, and
to elicit students ideas or accommodate their suggestions. consulting ELT instructors or ELT manuals.
They tried to establish rapport and have more interaction
with learners.

subject teachers pedagogic content knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1987) in teaching subject-specic courses. Specically, in
the mainstream subject courses in Iran, textbooks are written in Farsi and students problems are basically due to their inad-
equate specialist knowledge, rather than language. Therefore, subject teachers often expect their students to read their text-
books before class to gain adequate comprehension of the content and develop some questions. The three subject teachers
may have transferred the same technique to their EAP teaching methodology. Only SubjT-A had no experience of teaching
subject courses and, as she commented during the interviews, she took it for granted that generally students should read
the materials prior to attending the class in order to achieve some level of preparation. As a result, the teachers typically
assigned students to carry out the while-reading phase at home. Accordingly, the range of classroom reading comprehension
activities was basically limited to the post-reading phase. When SubjT-A gave a few minutes to students to read the text
quickly in class and to provide a summary, very little skimming seemed to happen because the students had already read
the text at their own pace before class.
Our analysis of classroom practices of the three ELT instructors and the subject teachers revealed some sharp contrasts
across the two groups of EAP teachers. The ndings are generally consistent with Atai (2002b) who noticed that ELT and sub-
ject teachers developed different practices in EAP reading comprehension classes. However, given the qualitative nature
of this study and its scope, our data analysis highlighted more systematic variations in actual EAP classroom reading

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
10 M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx

comprehension practices within and across the two groups of teachers and provided a thicker description and explanation of
what the teachers did in all three phases of EAP reading comprehension instruction. For example, we noticed that, compared
with the subject teachers, the ELT instructors provided students with several strategy-based while-reading activities. In
doing so, they seemed to have engaged the learners in the process of learning EAP reading comprehension. Their practices
incorporated consciousness raising, learner training, and scaffolding which Hyland (2006) and Jordan (1997) highlight as
supplementary EAP methodologies.
Indeed, while the three ELT instructors implemented some reading strategy instructional activities, in line with what has
been acknowledged as effective reading comprehension pedagogy by many reading comprehension scholars (Bernhardt,
2005; Grabe, 2004; Grabe & Stoller, 2002; Hedgcock & Ferris, 2009; Hudson, 2007; Koda, 2004), subject teachers seemed
to follow no well-identied approach in EAP reading comprehension instruction literature. However, unlike subject teachers
in the studies by Arnold (1986) and White (1981), two subject teachers (SubjT-A and SubjT-C) in this study performed some
language work in addition to interpretation of text information. For example, they helped students learn terminology
through teaching afxes and, at times, explained some structural points to students when they could not translate a sentence
into Farsi.
One important factor which had a bearing on the divergent practices across the two groups of teachers was their cogni-
tion of specic language and content. Language specicity fostered two different reactions among the teachers in the two
groups. The three subject teachers argued that EAP students should primarily learn specialist terms in EAP courses. In con-
trast, the three ELT instructors maintained that specialist terms should be attended to in subject-specic courses, and strat-
egy instruction and the practice of general reading comprehension strategies in academic texts were of primary importance.
The three ELT instructors cognitions are compatible with some previous arguments (e.g., Anthony, 2011; Ferguson, 2002)
that ELT instructors are not responsible for teaching specialist terms. The ELT instructors did not hesitate to elicit the mean-
ing of unknown technical terms from their students. In fact, contrary to Wu and Badger (2009) in the context of China,
where, following Confucianism principles, ESP teachers tended to adopt face keeping strategies by avoiding questions, the
three Iranian ELT instructors in this study openly admitted that they did not know the meanings of some technical words.
A major across-group similarity lies in the teachers views on the methodology related to EAP. Compared with the broader
literature on EAP methodology, the teachers in this study supported the assumption which claims no difference between EGP
and EAP methodology (e.g., Hutchison & Waters, 1987; Robinson, 1991). As observed and later probed in the interviews, the
teachers did not appreciate the specicities of academic discourse and genres which have been extensively emphasized by
EAP scholars in the past two decades. Hyland (2006), for example, considers the concept of genre as highly signicant to any
EAP methodology. The reason why the teachers in this study favored activities other than making students aware of genre struc-
ture and other features of academic discourse such as high lexical density, high frequency of nominalization and impersonal
construction (Hyland, 2006, p. 26) might not be due to any eclecticism or informed pedagogy but to the lack of professional
background knowledge about the features of academic discourse. Indeed, their compensatory model for reading development
(Bernhardt, 2011) was narrow in terms of scope. Perhaps what guided these teachers cognitions were their experiences and
common sense knowledge which made their practices neither compatible with the narrow angle view nor with the wide an-
gle view (Williams, 1978). That is, while they used discipline-specic texts, they were involved in presenting a range of activ-
ities applicable across different disciplines, that is common core EAP (Coffey, 1984) and did not gear the strategies to the tasks
and disciplines closely (see Atai & Nazari, 2011; Atai & Shoja, 2011). This being so, the process of socializing novice students into
the discourse community may not have been implemented. Finally, teachers in both groups were similar in considering a good
GEP level as a prerequisite to students success in EAP courses. The previous empirical literature supports the signicance of
students GEP level upon entry to EAP education (e.g., Atai & Tahririan, 2003; Uso-Juan, 2006).

5. Conclusions and implications

This study examined the cognitions and practices of Iranian ELT instructors and subject teachers teaching EAP reading
comprehension courses. The ndings pointed to many dimensions of EAP teachers cognitions and actual implementations
of EAP reading comprehension which can contribute to enhancing EAP teacher education and methodologies in Iran and sim-
ilar contexts. More specically, regarding the Iranian EAP context, subject teachers could benet tremendously from training
in applied linguistics due to their inadequate understanding of reading comprehension instruction, at least as seen in this
study. On the other hand, in the absence of systematic EAP teacher education programs, ELT instructors may also struggle
to keep up with recent methodologies individually in order not to avoid lagging behind the research-based innovations in
ELT and EAP. The comparison of the patterns of cognitions and practices of the two groups of EAP teachers disclosed some
gaps between what both groups thought and practiced in the EAP reading comprehension courses and what is theoretically
and empirically substantiated in the current EAP reading comprehension literature. Bernhardt (2011) argues that the key
feature related to instruction is the extent to which teachers are prepared to offer second language reading instruction
(p. 55). The ndings in this study, then, call for more systematic EAP teacher education programs for both ELT instructors
and subject teachers. Both groups of teachers need to be exposed to the relevant theoretical and empirical literature on
EAP instruction. Also, teacher educators should work for more communication between the two camps of teachers so that
effective partnership and teachers satisfaction with their practices, as recommended by Stewart and Perry (2005), can be

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ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),
M.R. Atai, M. Fatahi-Majd / English for Specic Purposes xxx (2013) xxxxxx 11

There are several implications of the study for the EAP community. To date, in spite of the interdisciplinary nature of EAP
research and pedagogy (Hyland, 2006), there has been a general lack of sufcient EAP teacher training programs and a gen-
eral disjunction between ELT instructors and subject teachers in designing and running EAP courses in Asia. The underlying
sources of disjunction between these two groups of teachers and their corresponding university departments may range
from identity, institutional, and pragmatic reasons (e.g., Chen, 2011) to divergent conceptualizations of the nature of EAP
education and teacher qualication requirements on the part of teachers and administrators (Atai, 2006). Thus, the results
of this study can offer some ideas, issues, and options for reection and evaluation in order to empower EAP reading com-
prehension teachers to enhance their professionalism in teaching and limit the numerous self-efcacy doubts they may face
in their demanding career. Also, less experienced EAP reading comprehension teachers can use the ndings as a springboard
to reect upon the frequent challenges they typically encounter and the possible solutions to such challenges.
Since the present study provided a reasonably thick description of EAP reading comprehension methodology in the Ira-
nian EAP context, it highlights many potential areas for follow-up research. Future research can explore the efciency of de-
tailed description and observation as well as ethnographic classroom research in socializing EAP teacher trainees into the
target professional communities. Also, further research may address EAP practices and cognitions of the two camps of teach-
ers in teaching other EAP skills, that is, writing, listening, and speaking. The comparison of the cognitions of teachers in Iran
with those of other countries may provide fresh insights into the effect of contextual variables and background educational
systems on adaptation and localization of teachers EAP practices and cognitions. Finally, future research can look into the
effect of technical EAP reading comprehension methodology courses, as part of teacher education programs, on ELT and sub-
ject teachers cognitions and actual practices.


We are grateful to the editors and anonymous reviewers for the scholarly comments and constructive suggestions they
provided on earlier versions of this paper.


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Mahmood Reza Atai is associate professor of applied linguistics at Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran. His research interests include ESP, needs assessment,
genre analysis, and EAP reading comprehension instruction. He has published on EAP issues extensively in national and international journals. He has also
co/authored ve EAP textbooks for Iranian university students.

Mosayeb Fatahi-Majd obtained his MA in TEFL from Kharazmi University, Iran, in 2011. His main research interests are EAP teacher education, language
testing, and discourse analysis. Currently, he is the educational manager and teacher trainer of a language institute in Iran.

Please cite this article in press as: Atai, M. R., & Fatahi-Majd, M. Exploring the practices and cognitions of Iranian ELT instructors and sub-
ject teachers in teaching EAP reading comprehension. English for Specic Purposes (2013),