An eye-opening 6-week Dogme trial: teacher and student reflections

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:

travel
travel
presentation planning
presentation planning
presentation feedback
presentation feedback
talking about coffee
talking about coffee
travel
travel
seafood
seafood
starting from beer clubs
starting from beer clubs

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)
• Storytelling
• 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.

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