Having had a hugely enlightening and entertaining discussion with a good friend and teacher in which I listened to descriptions of Dogme teaching by someone who had never heard the term Dogme teaching / Teaching Unplugged before, I had a stark realisation that I needed to stop just knowing about Dogme and actually try it out.
So I did, with a new low-intermediate adult group.
Some classes I entered the room with a plan, of sorts, or an activity to kick-start the lesson (a dictation or dictogloss – or some pictures). Many classes I entered with a plan of differing degrees of detail, mainly because I hadn’t grown the proverbial pair to walk in naked. Funnily enough though, on none of those occasions did I teach the lesson plan but instead conversation started and we took it from there. I guess I couldn’t bear the prospect of having nothing in front of me. The ironic security of a plan that you know in the back of your mind you aren’t intending on using!
By and large, I had the feeling the lessons were good, compared to studying with the coursebook or a plan or worksheets or a scheduled video viewing. The most prominent difference for everyone in the room was this:
The sheer amount of language that came up in the course of conversation and the rate at which students made notes about it was seriously eye-opening. Admittedly, I need to think about how to improve my board work in a Dogme classorom, but regardless of that, I had never seen that kind of range or complexity of language produced in class regardless of level of student (“they are pre-int, so they don’t need to know about past passive modals”). All of it relevant and provided and used at the point of need.
Sure, the board was often a bit of a mess but there was a pathway through the carnage in which one could track the flow of conversation. I think a valuable activity would be to have students reflect on the state of the board at the end of class, to act as a recap and review. Then they could email me their lesson report.
In terms of activities, we have used:
• Dictation and dictogloss
• Making mind maps
• Using the senses to brainstorm vocabulary
• CLL + Dogme (CAT: A Framework for Dogme as described by Ken Lackman in ETP 87:July 2013)
• Making vocabulary cards
• Role play
• Writing letter of complaint to a restaurant
• Writing and invitation
• Using an unplanned interruption from an outsider who came to deliver a message for the students as the catalyst for authentic language use in the form of translating his message about a social club into English and then writing invitations to the club. Even this moment developed itself from very formal and cold invitations I urged them to be more informal and open (this was an invitation to an English Club, not a board meeting!) for their homework assignment.
• Writing lesson reports for homework
• Making and delivering a short group presentation
Amongst these we managed some practice with required grammar issues that arose and we discovered a good moment for some focused intensive listening about listening for weak form auxiliary verbs in questions. I found that these chances focus on form came at the end of the lesson, again an inversion of how I would normally plan a lesson.
All in all, it’s been a fascinating month and a half of teaching for me.
So, it came to the tutorials. Here are a few of the student comments that seem to validate the switch away from the coursebook and toward conversation driven and exploited lessons:
‘the seafood lesson was the most memorably because it came from me’
‘I can’t focus on the book’
‘I liked the topics’
‘I was excited so I can remember new vocabulary from the seafood lesson’
‘I don’t miss the book’
This little Dogme experiment has gone a long way to convincing me of the benefits of conversation-driven lessons. It’s a wonder how these pros were not strikingly obvious until now.