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Monday, 17 April 2017

Investigating the learning transfer of genre features and conceptual knowledge from an academic literacy course to business studies: Exploring the potential of dynamic assessment

This is an article based on my doctoral study. It was published in print in January 2017.

Shrestha, Prithvi N. (2017). Investigating the learning transfer of genre features and conceptual knowledge from an academic literacy course to business studies: Exploring the potential of dynamic assessment. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 25 pp. 1–17.

The abstract and the conclusion are below to sum up what the paper is about. The full article can be accessed via The Open University repository here. Due to copyright restrictions, you need to request a copy following the instructions provided there.


Academic literacy courses aim to enable higher education students to participate in their chosen academic fields as fully as possible. However, the extent to which these students transfer the academic skills taught in these courses to their chosen disciplines is still under-researched. This article reports on a study that investigated the potential of dynamic assessment (an assessment approach that blends instruction into assessment) in the transfer of genre features and conceptual knowledge among undergraduate business studies students in a UK public university. The data includes three students’ written assignments (N = nine), interviews (N = three) and business studies tutor (N = three) feedback. Drawing on Vygotskian sociocultural theory of learning and a genre theory based on Systemic Functional Linguistics, the data were analysed. The findings suggest that dynamic assessment may contribute to the transfer of genre features and conceptual knowledge to a new assessment context. Implications of this for academic literacy instruction and assessment design are presented.


The goal of this paper was to explore the value of DA in transferring students' academic writing skills and conceptual knowledge from one AL assessment task to a new context of undergraduate business studies. For this purpose, DA was operationalised as a method of instruction and assessment. SFL genre theory was applied to examine the independent learner performance regarding the case study analysis genre schema, macro-Themes and hyper-Themes which were identified as problematic in DA1. Additionally, the students' capacity to make ideational meaning was tracked through their DA and TA texts. Feuerstein's (Feuerstein et al., 2002) notion of far transferwas applied to examine the aforementioned aspects in the
student assessment texts. 
The findings suggest that DA may contribute to the transfer of learning. In this study, the transfer of using generic stages, macro-Themes and hyper-Themes, and conceptual knowledge of these and business studies concepts appeared to take place in the TA texts albeit differently for each of the three participants. They seemed to be able to transfer genre features, or show their awareness as in Cheng (2007), and conceptual knowledge to their TA although one student, Natasha, appeared to be the most successful. These students' (except Natasha) reconstrual of their conceptual knowledge was not as successful as their academic writing skills (i.e., genre, macro-Themes and hyper-Themes). This suggests that writing and conceptual development is a lengthy process that may benefit from a greater amount of mediation, learner motivation and commitment.
Additionally, various other factors may have influenced these studentstransfer of learning such as time and business module materials.
This paper contributes to the growing body of AL research that uses SFL and sociocultural theory as frameworks. However, in terms of studies on learning transfer in the field of AL, these two frameworks do not seem to have been employed together despite them being robust tools. Future studies in learning transfer in AL may find them valuable tools.
As this study is limited to three students only, a larger study may be built on this one in order to evaluate DA's contribution to students' ability to transfer genre features and conceptual knowledge to their chosen disciplinary areas. The same methodology used in this study may also be deployed for ESP programme evaluation which seems to be under-researched
(Tsou & Chen, 2014).


Cheng, A. (2007). Transferring generic features and recontextualizing genre awareness: Understanding writing performance in the ESP genre-based literacy framework. English for Specific Purposes, 26(3), 287e307.
Feuerstein, R., Falik, L. H., Rand, Y., & Feuerstein, R. S. (2002). The dynamic assessment of cognitive modifiability: The learning propensity assessment device: Theory, instruments and techniques (Revised ed.). Jerusalem: ICELP Press.
Tsou, W., & Chen, F. (2014). ESP program evaluation framework: Description and application to a Taiwanese university ESP program. English for SpecifiPurposes, 33, 39e53.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Dynamic assessment and academic writing: evidence of learning transfer?

This is the abstract of the paper I presented at the BALEAP Biennial conference (19 - 21 April 2013) at the University of Nottingham, UK:

Dynamic assessment and academic writing: evidence of learning transfer?

Dr Prithvi Shrestha, Department of Language, The Open University


In the context of higher education, many higher order skills and knowledge are expected to be transferable by lecturers. Sustaining these skills and knowledge is therefore central to learning and disciplinary writing development. English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses can contribute to this purpose as they aim to enable Higher Education students to participate in their chosen academic communities as fully as possible. Despite learning transfer being a key purpose in ESP, research in this area is still limited (Cheng, 2007).
In this context, this paper reports on a small-scale study investigating the transfer of academic writing skills and conceptual knowledge among undergraduate business studies students. The data are derived from a larger study (Shrestha, 2011) conducted at a British university. One assignment text each was collected from four students who studied an ESP course for business studies. While three students had received interactive feedback on their previous two assignments, following a Vygotsky-inspired dynamic assessment (DA) approach, one student was provided with traditional tutor feedback. DA blends instruction with assessment by targeting and further developing students’ potential abilities (Poehner, 2011) whereas traditional tutor feedback is less interactive and hence, may not sufficiently target learners’ potential abilities. The student texts were analysed by drawing on Vygotskian sociocultural theory of learning (Vygotsky, 1978), and genre theory (Martin & Rose, 2007) based on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). The findings suggest that the transfer of academic writing skills and conceptual knowledge occurred more in the texts of the students that underwent dynamic assessment than that of the student who followed a traditional assessment approach for their first two assignments. Implications of this for ESP instruction and assessment design will be presented. [281 words]
Key words: academic writing; dynamic assessment; learning transfer; business studies

Sunday, 12 June 2011

DA for widening participation

DA is generally associated with special education in general education. In particular, Feuerstein and his colleagues have always worked in this field when it comes to the development and research of DA. However, Vygotsky did not develop his concepts of mediation and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), both central tenets of DA, for special education but for general education. Nor did he develop any assessment approach applying these concepts to assessment. It was later psychologists and educationists who extended these concepts for assessment and instruction. My own DA research goes beyond special education and face-to-face learning as it investigates business studies students' academic writing trajectory in a distance education institution. There are some interesting findings that I will be sharing on this blog.

As higher education institutions in the UK and elsewhere grapple with their agenda of widening participation, they will have to find various options for assessment regarding fair access and opportunities. DA can prove to be one of them. I would like to push this forward int eh institution where I work. But it remains to be seen how easily the institution buys this idea.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Some thorny issues around DA?

As before somewhere else, after the presentation at BALEAP PIM, there were questions regarding the difference between DA and formative assessment, and DA and what a good EAP teacher does in his/ her classroom. I do agree that DA is a form of formative assessment as it is strongly linked with learning and development of a learner. The main point of DA is that it has a strong learning theory (i.e., sociocultural theory) underpinning it and sees assessment as a part of learning rather than it being separate.
On the other hand, it was difficult to convince people how it was different from those EAP tutors who do do certain things that are promoted in DA. Yet, my own view is that the EAp tutors do not follow a particular theory of learning per se; rather they use their discretion as to how to scaffold the learner. Often such support is ad hoc or provided in a 'hit or miss' fashion. To me, in order for DA to happen, there should be INTENTIONALITY from the part of the tutor and the learner, RECIPROCITY (learner responding to the tutor), TRANSCENDENCE (transfer of skills and knowledge to a more challenging task) and MEDIATION of MEANING (conveying the meaning to the learner in a learning-friendly environment that promotes better relationship with the learner through emotional support (affect) and positive outcomes). I do not think these are considered in a general EAP teaching session all the time.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Presentation at BALEAP PIM, Nottingham University

Yesterday I gave a presentation on my dynamic assessment research at the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP) Professional Issues Meeting (PIM). My main focus in the presentation was two aspects of Textual metafunction: macro-Theme and hyper-Theme which emerged as one of the key areas that the students needed support with. The presentation was well received as there were over 25 people in this concurrent session and raised lots of interest in the EAP community. I was also pleased that Professor Liz Hamp-Lyons, the keynote speaker, mentioned my paper as an option in EAP assessment in higher education.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

In this blog, I will be posting my research related to Dynamic Assessment of academic writing, which is driven by the Russian psychologist Lev S. Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of learning and Michael Halliday's Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and the genre theory developed by Jim Martin and his colleagues in Australia. Although the latter has been extensively used in open and distance learning (ODL) for textual analysis, the former has not been examined in ODL. As an attempt to fill this gap, my study examines business studies students' trajectory of academic writing in the discipline over time.

Watch out for more postings here as I continue to reflect on my research journey.

Any thoughtful comments are welcome!