After convincing myself that my new position as Director of Studies left me “too busy” to write a blog-post, this week’s just underlined for me that, a teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do… so I’m back. With a confession-cum-mission statement.
I’ve always been sold on Dogme ELT, and I’ve always considered myself a Dogme teacher. But it’s time for the Dogme movement to, well, chill out a bit. Because I don’t think it really serves the students in its current form.
Why? Well, here’s what I was asking myself… what is it about my coursebook-free class that STILL makes me kinda nervous when my students start turning up?
For nearly two years now, my institute has been running two Dogme-style courses, with, to be honest, varying amounts of success. In July, we had an inspection and both courses were observed – the upshot of which was that there was speculation that neither of them were really, truly, quite as Doggy-style as they could (should?) be. But I’ve decided that’s a good thing.
Honestly, it’s a toughie… how do I make sure that my class is:
…whilst still making sure that the students have enough variety of receptive and productive skill-tasks to focus on to, basically, keep them from going “oh no, not again!” when the day’s conversation gets underway. Sometimes… they don’t always want to talk.
Is this a failing of Dogme or a failing of mine? You decide, but what I’m sure about is that, while even the chattiest students don’t always want to talk, they DO always want to learn. That’s what they’re paying me for!
As evidence for my suggestion, here’s the latest Dogme class that I was really happy with.
By the way, this is an advanced-level class, who are following a syllabus. I know, Scott, I’m sorry, but, really, which teacher doesn’t have a syllabus to follow?
Pre-class, I’d asked (told) one of the students (we’ll call her Fernanda – she’d like that) to email me with some options for what to look at next time. I told her it could be an article, song, video… whatever she wanted. Ok, not too Dogme so far. Bear with me…
- Fernanda sent me various options, including an article (see link) on how to deal with hangovers. If you’re not a student in my class, sorry to all 999,999,999,993 of you (via Facebook, anyway), this is a private joke about alcohol. The link has, as you can see, tips on avoiding hangovers and a short vid from the Oprah chat show.
- I looked over the article and watched the video pre-class and noticed many instances of verbs/nouns/adjectives collocating with specific prepositions (on their syllabus) and decided that’d be our language focus. Come on… which English student doesn’t hate prepositions with a passion?!
- All we did was talk about hangovers re. who’d ever had one, why, etc. Now, in my teaching context, as in many others, this raised questions about the moral-side of alcohol. Was I worried about this? No. Vetoing student-supplied lesson material seems utterly counterproductive.
- We then watched the video, before which I dictated three questions to focus my students:
- · What should you do the night before the hangover?
- · What should you eat the morning after?
- · What medications should you take?
- We watched this twice and then went through the answers. Apparently my British accent isn’t as easy to follow as a US accent…
- I gave my students the article with the tips and gave them a tip each to read and then present to the class. The advantage of the tips was that they were short! This removed the “can’t we read it for homework?” loophole.
- We talked about all of the tips and discussed which ones we had used before ourselves and whether they actually work, discussing expressions such as “hair of the dog” and Argentine party/binge-related aphorisms such as “calavera no chilla”.
- I put up the following verb/noun/adjective preposition combinations, but without the … prepositions (all but one from the text):
- women tend________ to have lower metabolic rates
- pay attention ________ how different types
- so stick _________ having only one or two
- a hangover can make you feel down _________ life
The students then simply completed these, and their homework was to find other examples of the above in the text.
The idea of this was awareness-raising rather than anything else and I intend to follow up through the rest of our course by getting them to add to their “verb/noun/adjective preposition” list as we go.
Anyway… we all thoroughly enjoyed the class. Great. But… is it Dogme? Umm… back to the list…
- Materials light. More or less… a video and text – but all student-produced.
- Conversation-driven. There was certainly more talking than anything else. But not JUST conversation AGAIN… they are getting bored with that! The novelty has worn off!
- Emergent language. No… I decided what we were going to study. Should I have done? Well, I AM their teacher… kinda what they pay me for, isn’t it?
So here’s my “welcome back” challenge to you:
You cannot run Dogme-style classes, on a course-length basis, and follow the rules at the same time. You need to mix it up. The Dogme ’95 film movement couldn’t follow their own edicts either.
BUT… the above way of teaching is still Dogme for me. It’s teaching away from the hegemony of coursebooks, it’s totally student-centred, it’s engaging but it doesn’t rely on everyone being in the mood to chat.
This is “Dogme 2.0”. Dogme should be as “2.0” as the internet now is, i.e. the students have as much say in the proceedings as the teacher – even the “Dogme Light” 3-basic-rules-version doesn’t allow for mixing it up in class as much as you should for your students.
Why doesn’t it? Because language is about communication. And as there’s more than one way to communicate, there’s absolutely no need to deprive the students (or ourselves!) of the other three.
If we ignore the other skills, we ignore the following question: where are students going to encounter English apart from in the classroom? Um… outside of it! So why ghettoise the learning experience by insisting that the only English allowed in is that which is orally produced by the people in the room?
If language is a medium, not a subject, let the students bring in the English they find outside, just like Fernanda did. That’s what I call using the students as your best resource. That’s helping our students become more autonomous learners.
But is this still Teaching Unplugged? Well, it’s unplugged from any coursebook, it’s unplugged from any prescribed activity and it’s unplugged from any kind of dogmatic/exclusivist approach.
You see, the longer we Dogme-ticians stick to our puritanical guns, the more we isolate ourselves from the real world, and the less effectively we serve our students.
Yes, “Dogme 2.0” is still Dogme – but like all successful species, Dogme has to evolve.
Discuss. (that’s the 2.0 bit!)