So it seems that some students have been complaining about their teachers not using the assigned coursebook and the discussion about whether the use of the coursebook should be encouraged/enforced has yet again risen.
With the Dogme approach to language teaching becoming more widely accepted in the TEFL world in the recent years, I had assumed that the debate was more or less over. That it was clear as day that a materials-light classroom where the use of students as the main resource was almost a given. I have taken for granted the fact that everyone knew that when done correctly, such lessons are rather taxing on the multi-tasking Dogme Practitioner, and that the benefits to their language learning process were for all to see.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a Dogmetician teaching without a coursebook for over 3 years. Perhaps it’s because Thornbury and Meddings have given the approach an official label and wrote an award-winning book alongside countless journal articles and blogs with solid theoretical backup of the approach. Perhaps it’s because I’ve come to see Dogme not as an approach or methodology, but simply as improvised but principled eclecticism and good teaching. But all teachers apply Dogme in very different ways. After all, it is what a teacher has in their ‘bag of tricks’ and how principled their version of improvised eclecticism is.
I have always enjoyed analysing language, and been rather systematic in the way I clarify grammar, lexis or pronunciation, and perhaps this comes through in the way I conduct my Dogme classes. I have also invariably learnt my foreign languages in the same fashion. Whether it be Japanese or Italian, coming in contact with the language through authentic texts and real life communication (whether it be Japanese pop songs or arguments with in Italian with my ex) had been what motivated me to put the systems I’d learnt to use. Our own learning experiences undoubtedly influence how we see the language learning process. And most of our students have been students of language classrooms prior to our encounters with them. They, therefore, have certain expectations of what their classes should entail. And one of these expectations might very well be a structured journey through a coursebook.
But we know language learning is by no means linear, and that learners remember and use so much more of the language when they themselves have noticed the gap in their knowledge and have seen their need for it. Students clearly prefer communicating about themselves, their classmates and their teacher than doing predictions and receptive skills tasks about the faceless Johns and Janes in a coursebook. When I did my action research project on Dogme several years ago, students surveyed quite unanimously claimed that the Dogme lessons were much more motivating and effective. So how is it that we have students complaining about the coursebook-light classrooms at school?
Could it be that they find the lack of structure daunting? Could it be that they feel they are not learning anything in class? Could it be that skills work have dominated these lessons and that students are unable to recognise this as language learning when little grammar is involved? How is it that the clients of executive business classes who have never been prescribed a coursebook are not voicing the same complaints?
I hope I’m not preaching to the converted but here are some things that I do to try and address the above issues:
1. Needs Analysis
This is crucial in a classroom where a coursebook is not going to be followed. A detailed needs analysis needs to be carried out on Day One, and the interests of the students, their language needs and expectations need to be identified. I make sure I ask the following questions at the beginning of every course, and allow time for students to discuss them in pairs/groups:
- How long have you been here? How long will you stay?
- Why are you learning English? Why did you decide to come to this city/school?
- Who will you be speaking English to in the future? In what kind of situations?
- Do you find it more difficult to speak or to understand?
- Do you use English outside the classroom? When and who with? How do you feel when using English in these circumstances? Do you read the news or watch English TV programmes?
- Which skills would you like to work on? Speaking? Reading? Writing? Listening?
- Which systems do you think you need to work on? Grammar? Lexis? Pronunciation? Why?
- Do you find it difficult understanding native speakers? What about native speakers?
- What did you like about your previous language classes and what didn’t you like?
- How do you think you improve your English best? How do you try to remember and use the new lexis or grammar structures that you learn?
Because our school provides free coursebooks for General English students, when I give out these new books on Day One of a GE class, I would get students to turn to the content page and discuss the topics and language areas (grammar, functions, lexis) that they wish to cover. To add to the topics in the book, I’d put up several topics on the board e.g. Travel, Food, Current Affairs, Fashion, Health, Education, Politics & History, Technology, Music, etc. The negotiation process would then begin. Students would confer with their partners and the class would vote for the topics they would like to see in the coming weeks (each student gets five votes). This allows me to steer conversations towards the areas they are interested in, to ask more questions when these topics come up, and to be ready to use the appropriate activites/methods that I need from my teaching ‘bag of tricks’ to address their language needs. My end-of-day-one notes would often look like this.
Maria – Nurse from Spain, been here for 2 months, staying for another 3.
Needs English to keep up to date with the advances in the medical field and to communicate with people from different countries when travelling.
Loves shopping and clubbing.
Lives and hangs out with other Spanish-speakers after class. Watches many English films with English subtitles.
Finds it more difficult to understand native speakers.
An organic learner who prefers to pick chunks of lexis up through frequent contact.
Thinks that she needs to work on her grammar because her last teacher told her it’s important and that she’s bad at it.
Hates activities that require her to stand up.
Yukiko – Flight attendant from Japan, been here for 1 month, staying for another 5.
Needs English for work and loves the sound of the language. etc etc…
Results of Needs Analysis and Negotiation
Systems : 1. Lexis; 2. Grammar; 3. Discourse; 4. Pronunciation.
Skills: 1. Speaking; 2. Listening; 3. Writing; 4. Reading.
Topics: Food (10 votes); Education (8 votes); Health (8 votes); Current Affairs (5 votes), etc.
Grammar Areas in Coursebook: Conditionals 2 & 3; Relative Clauses; Passive Structures; Story-telling tenses, etc.
2. Explaining why I do what I do
We do sometimes walk around with the ‘teacher-knows-best’ attitude assuming that our students will trust us no matter what approach we use. Students, however, often have a set idea as to how they learn best, and sometimes gently going through the hows and whys of the approach we’re employing (preferably backed up with a few sentences that start with ‘Scientific research into language learning has proven that…’) could not only take the mystery out of this unfamiliar way of teaching, and encourage them to see the benefits of it for their English, but resolve any false assumptions about language learning. I don’t just do this on day one but every time I employ an activity or method I haven’t done with them before e.g. progressive deletion, running dictations, TBL etc. I try to provide students with the pedagogic rationale behind it.
3. Working with emergent language and corrections.
Dogme has been accused of being ‘winging it elevated to an art form’. For it to rise above being merely a chat in the pub, it is crucial that the teacher is noticing opportunities to feed in new language, to board and extend upon the language emerging, listening for the language problems that students are having and finding the right moments to work on them to the appropriate extent.
4. Drawing attention to the language covered
In order to avoid a situation where students are unsure of what language input they have been given, I find it worth highlighting to students at the end of the class what lexical/grammatical work they have done that day (‘Look at all that grammar we’ve done today!’). Keeping a language column on the side of the board that is gradually filled out during the lesson does help, but I also get students to tell each other what they have learnt that day a la the end of a Sesame Street episode (‘Sesame Street was brought to you by the letter Z and the numbers 1 to 10’). Recalling the previous day’s lesson and carrying out recycling activities at the start of the next day also helps reaffirm this (shameless plug: my last blog on recycling in a Dogme classroom).
5. Taking notes
If students are not using the coursebook, it is all the more important to get them to keep an organised notebook. My students often have three notebooks. One for taking notes in class, a lexical notebook they keep at home where the lexis covered in class in re-organised into either an alphabetical order or by topic, and a grammar notebook which they also keep at home. The transferring of information from their class notebook to the home one helps students to remember and revise what they have learnt that day and allows them to have the time and space to raise questions about the use of that language. It is also important to make sure students are given time in class to write down what you have boarded and clarified.
6. Controlled-practice exercises
Coursebook-less classrooms don’t equate fluency-focussed classrooms. There can be accuracy work done too. This could take the form of pairwork e.g. Teaching an elementary level ‘there is/are…some’, ‘there isn’t/aren’t…any’: Tell your partner about the shops near where you live’; Teaching a mid-int class past modals of obligation: ‘Tell your partner about the rules you had when you were at school’; Teaching an upp-int relative clauses: ‘Bring a photo of your friends and family tomorrow and tell your partner about the people in the photo’.
‘But those are semi-controlled/freer practice activities!’, I hear you exclaim? I often find that controlled gap-fills, sentence transformations, matching and categorizing activities in coursebooks and grammar workbooks tend to use random de-contextualised sentences that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic you are discussing. Making up your own enables you to exploit the context that delivered that language and helps students to focus on not just the form, but the meaning and use as well.
Having said that, I recognise that with some grammar structures, it is quite difficult to keep all the practice within context (which is probably why the books too find it hard to produce contextualised controlled practice). In such cases, using the students’ names and their real experiences or making a friendly joke about the students in the exercises often help memory and retention. e.g. teaching Vanessa, who is a journalist and loves celebrity gossip, relative clauses, I wrote the following sentence transformation exercise on the board: ‘Vanessa wrote that article about Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie punched Vanessa during an interview’ This, of course, wasn’t true, but following Derren Brown’s maxims on memory tricks: Keep it visual and make it funny!
I remember teaching a Saudi student the structure ‘so+adj + that + clause) on the day after he had been to the dentist. Among the many sentence transformations about his classmates was one that read, ‘Ahmed looks so gorgeous with his new teeth that everyone standing beside him now looks ugly.’ Ahmed was writing the sentences on the board down in his notebook when he noticed this one and laughed, ‘I’m never going to forget this structure now!’
7. Ensuring variety
We tell trainees on the Celta in week one about different styles, and although I’m not a big fan of the VAK paradigm, the aim of that input session is to convey the message that we need to vary the activities we use in the classroom. But so many of us get lazy and start to rely on the same tricks day after day. Teachers might find their favourite boil-in-the-bag lessons much easier to execute than using a coursebook. As Chaz Pugliese said in his talk at IATEFL this year, ‘Teachers have fun! Or you might bore us!’
8. Not letting gimmicks and technology dictate
On a very different note from the last point, I have often seen teachers who spend a lot of time preparing their lessons and trying to spice things up, creating the most amazing materials using the plethora of features that the internet and IWBs offer. This is hardly materials-light to classify as a Dogme approach, but I simply felt that I needed to include something about that in this post. Arguably, one can still make lessons interesting and ensure variety by focussing on the lives of the students and the stories they have to tell us.
As much as I believe teachers should harness their creativity, the focus needs to be taken off the fancy tools of teaching and placed on the very people we are teaching. Several years ago, the British Council produced some telling results of a focus group research they conducted where students claimed that they felt that the use of IWBs and technology was taking their teachers’ attention away from them and onto the technology. The novelty of IWB gimmicks might impress students to start with, but when that starts to take centre stage, the development of our students inevitably suffers. We are not in competition to see who can create an all-singing all-dancing lesson about the present perfect continuous. We are in the business of helping students understand and use the structure. And I’m all for the most efficient way to go about doing this.
9. Giving homework
Homework in my classes often entail students keeping their notebooks up to date, reading an article their classmates have brought in, doing some research on a topic online, preparing presentations or writing emails/blogposts/journals/essays. Depending on the needs analysis of course, including writing skills work is essential in giving students a ‘rounded experience’ of learning English. Using the controlled practice exercises in coursebooks as homework can also placate students who feel like their coursebooks are going to waste, and help them to see that the language covered in the classroom does correlate to the syllabus in the coursebook.
10. End-of-course retrospective round-up
Speaking of correlation, at the end of my courses, after rigorous rounds of recycling and revision activities, I get my students to turn to the content page of the coursebook once again, like they have done on Day One. I then get them to discuss with their partners which topics and which language areas they have covered over the month that are in the coursebook. Students are often pleasantly surprised to find that not only have they covered everything in the part of the book they were meant to cover, they have also acquired structures and language beyond that syllabus.
If students are still complaining despite all this, perhaps it’s simply due to the fact that they’ve been given a free coursebook that they haven’t got to use. The solution then is simply: Stop giving them free coursebooks and save the school some money. *wink*
21 thoughts on “Making Student-Centred Dogme Student-Friendly”
Well argued points, but really UK-centric. 99% of ELT teachers and students worldwide don’t work in the same situation as you and your students.
Luke, Scott – and hopefully you as well – have to show non-NEST teachers working with mono-lingual groups of students how to make Dogme ideas work in classes where the students have to be there, have to complete the material in the book (because of end-of-year exams) and don’t really have much say or thoughts about how they want to learn. These are the working circumstances in the vast majority of English classes.
Thanks Ken and Naomi,
First of all, yes, I was writing mainly in response to the debate taking place at my workplace at the moment, and of course, writing based on my own experience. Nevertheless, I hope I have shown through the post that it is possible to cover the language areas listed in a book or required for an exam but doing it Dogme style. Even when students do not have much say or thoughts about how they want to learn, they have lots of interests and life stories that can be exploited. These make for great resources in the classroom. The teacher then has to consider how they might deal with the gaps in the students’ knowledge based on what they are required to know, and steer them towards that.
I remember my colleagues doing teacher training in China talking about how the teachers there were very resistant towards the communicative approach of teaching and saying that pairwork and contextualisation does not work for their teaching contexts. And I suppose the same argument stands for both the communicative approach and for Dogme. Improving the students’ ability in English is not only going to help them communicate better, but these results will eventually show through in the exams too.
Although you are referring to teaching contexts very different from my own (adults, language schools) there are certainly many relevant aspects for all settings. I’m particularly excited by the Sesame St. idea (brought to you by the letter Z…)
A post to keep!
Brilliant post! Really useful, thank you! Glad Twitter led me to this one 🙂
Saw Marisa Constantides share this on Facebook, and am glad it’s a nice lazy morning and I can read word by word w/o feeling rushed [“easy like sunday morning” Lionel Richie comes to mind 😉 ]
From the very start of this post, I kept thinking of my experience teaching in China, and you then mentioned a similar reflection within your comment to Ken.
How can we make Dogme student-friendly when students’ expectations make it unfriendly? I had many classes in China where it was tough to get the communicative/non-delivery approach rolling in class because there was very little student impetus to speak in a larger group. Eventually I found that it had to be more partner-based, or “planned” but even then I struggled with students speaking more and more chinese during class. Like anything it was a question of trial and error and eventually I found a middle ground.
Bottom-line is what you’ve said— we feel the value of Dogme as teachers and also as learners, and WITHOUT a DOUBT, it requires the teacher to be creative and find ways to allow this value to shine. Your 10 ideas are good, especially communicating WHY the approach can be more beneficial for the students themselves.
I understand where Ken is coming from, but I also think that we’re probably not in a position to give the advice non-nest teachers need to properly employ Dogme in class. Those teachers within their own context are the ones with the experience, so now I’m on a mission to see who has been using this approach effectively in their non-nest classrooms.
I’ll mention this post in my next post which is surprisingly close in direction through from a more general perspective, inspired by a trip to the Musée d’Orsay where I saw Dogme in a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. Cheers
Thanks Brad for your kind comments. I agree. I think the thing is Dogme is such a loose term and everyone applies it rather differently. It would be great to be able to talk to some teachers who are teaching mono-lingual classes and see how the Dogme approach works out.
Exactly. And they’re out there. I keep spotting more and more on twitter. Now, it’s just a question of creating a space or direction for this conversation. Hmmm…
BTW, I’ve mentioned your post in the post I had previously said I would post 🙂
Lots of great points on here, Chia. Many thanks for this summary of really good teaching practices.
One question. Where does the quote ‘winging it, elevated to an art form’ originate? I’ve read it so often, in dogme-related articles and discussions.
People still tend to be split over the dogme issue, I find. I was talking about dogme teaching ideas with some colleagues recently, and one of them said: ‘Dogme is for English teachers who want to play air guitar!’
Like who we call the Tommy and Tina TEFLs? Hahaha… What are some of these people’s concerned about Dogme? I’d really like to hear that point of view too…Why do they think it’s only for the liberal hippies? (I’m not that left wing, for that matter…*cough cough clear throat*)
I’ve got the article somewhere with the quote. I’ll look it up and get back to you on that, ok?
As always, a very inspiring and thought-provoking post!
Yes, using dogme in (mainland) China. I think there is an important place for dogme in China.
Many Chinese students don’t want to speak up in class and we need to be creative to get them to be a little braver. There is an assumption that students love to “talk about themselves”. I have seen that in China, this is often not the case. It is not uncommon for one of my students to get married and keep this secret from everybody but their family and closest friends. Also in business English classes, such as where I work as an in-house trainer at a company in Beijing, students don’t want to expose too much of themselves, afraid that one of their professional rivals might find a way to use this information against them one day in the future.
On a similar note, when I was teaching a conversation class a few years ago about the importance of expressing their own opinions, one of the students asked “but what if my opinion is the wrong one?”
So we end up with silent classes and many teachers throw in the towel and turn the class into a lecture or stand up comedy act, which makes the students feel comfortable, even if they know it’s not what they need.
The irony is that the most popular activity with Chinese learners already has many of the principles of dogme – the English Corner. In case you’re not familiar with this term, English corners are open free-for-all gatherings where everybody agrees to speak only in English. There is often an English teacher present, but they are referred to as ‘the host’. English corners seem to have a culture of their own and often students will express themselves in the English corners far more than in the actual regular class times. This institution in English schools and universities all over China can be used if the teacher is skilled and experienced AND wants to put in the effort to make it work better. Sadly, English corners often turn into a speech by the English teacher or a general chat without any of the 10 Rs outlined in ‘Teaching Unplugged’.
I think we can use dogme in China, and the place to start and experiment is the English corner.
A very useful and enlightening comment, Chris. As you might have guessed from my name, I’m ethnically Chinese and was born and educated in Singapore. Although English is the first language in Singapore, culturally, the people share many Asian values and mindsets, and I often find that I can utilise that part of myself to empathise with my Korean, Japanese and Chinese students. There was a terribly racist joke that was circulating when I was back at school and I’m going to take the risk and share it here…
An American, a Ethiopian and a Singaporean were engaged in a discussion at a conference and the topic was ‘What is your opinion on the price of luxury items in your country compared to other countries?’ The Ethiopian asked, “What does ‘luxury items’ mean?’ The American asked, “What does ‘other countries’ mean?” and the Singaporean asked, “What does ‘opinion’ mean?”
Although jokes like that are of course based on sweeping generalities and stereotypes, and most Singaporeans I know have lots of opinions on many things, there is (or should I say ‘was’ because things are changing rapidly now) a trend in education that simply required lots of memorising and reproducing and opinions were not explicitly encouraged. I was taking O Level English Literature and we had to write an essay about the characters in The Taming of the Shrew. I remember having some uncommon views on the play and my teacher refused to read or hear my justifications but simply said, ‘That’s not the RIGHT answer.’ Funny how the attempt to encourage analytical thinking by implementing essay writing and project work was not fully understood by the teachers who still believed that there are the model answers and then there are the wrong ones. No wonder they used to say we all graduated with Bachelors in Photocopying back at university. Haha.
But jokes aside, I think part of the challenge is helping students to make that gradual shift between a paradigm where things are right or wrong and the destination is king and one where the process of analysing, discussing and reconsidering is what helps develop the mind. Of course, the shift is not going to happen overnight (neither did it for me but I might have been one of those terribly opiniated ones…) and in a Dogme or any language classroom, we might have to start small and build up. Sensiitive or controversial topics are evidently a ‘no no’ at first, but asking about their opinions of the last restaurant they went to, and what they think makes a good restaurant might go down a little better. Also, you avoid the issue of probing too much into secrets that someone might not want to share. I also have found that when dealing with students from cultures like mine, it might be easier to ask about simple facts rather than opinions to start with. e.g. What subjects did you study at school? Was the teacher strict? Who was your best friend then? What foods do you like to eat? What type of holidays do you prefer? etc…
I love the idea of the English Corner. It really is in the spirit of Dogme and Open Space, isn’t it? I would love to hear more about how you use that. Is it part of the school timetable? How does it work? BTW are you on Twitter?
Delighted to see such a rapid reply to my comments.
On a similar note, I was born and initially educated in South Africa and then in (what was then) Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the education system I was exposed to didn’t encourage critical thinking or forming one’s own opinions either. It was only when my family moved to the UK when I was ten years old did I start to see how constrained my mind was compared to the British kids around me. I was also able to look at my birth country and culture from a fresh perspective and question everything I had taken for granted – turbulent teenage years! So I can, kind of, understand a little bit of where my Chinese students are (although never completely), especially those who have gone/been abroad and are going through the same reflexive phase I went through with lots of conflicting ideas chasing each other around in their minds.
The approach you mention is exactly the one I have been taking with the addition that I never ignore a student who suddenly comes out with something in class and always (gently) ride the wave. In fact, in China we have the generation Y phenomenon (it’s called “baling hou” or “after ’80”) and this generation are full of opinions and a desire to express themselves in any way possible.
But I hesitate to dominate your blog with the China angle and discussion on English corners and dogme.
Sorry no twitter in China – I do have a weibo account though – teacherchris.
Although I can’t access my weibo account for now…
Thanks for the post! It seems that I cannot go a few days without reading a Dogme post. I am still considering it, and now won’t be teaching much til the fall, but I’ll be working on incorporating some of the ideas. I’m still not ready to jump all on board, especially from my experience here in Turkey. My students did not exhibit enough responsibility to take control of their own language learning. So, I do think that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration, but I did appreciate your 10 points, they will help me as I begin adapting my lessons to fit these theories in!! Thanks for sharing!
Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.
Please feel free to post there whenever you want to share.
Compared with many I am relatively new in the world of ELT. Since coming to Germany 2 years ago with my CELTA under my arm and the PPP approach firmly drilled into me, I soon felt uneasy with my at the time training methodology. Somehow it was going against my own grain of who I was and how I wanted to teach. I soon realised there was much more to discovered / explored and more effective ways of training. So I began to build my knowledge, build my experience and experiment with my self created and other’s ideas. Since coming across ‘Teaching unplugged” about 6 months ago and having countless ‘Aha’ moments while reading the ‘teaching unplugged’ book and online articles, I have tried bit by bit to implement a ‘Dogme’ approach in my classes. I am happy to hold my hands up and say, I am still finding my feet, building my confidence, building my ‘box of tricks’ and knowledge in this arena, but it is clear that the more experience I gain in Dogme teaching and the more I implement it in my lessons the more effective and productive my lessons become.
As most are aware, German people (especially Bavarians / Frankonians) are generally highly stuctured and rule orientated and their experience of English learning (especially the middle aged and above) is grammar and course book based which certainly goes against the grain of Dogme / Unplugged teaching. In spite of this once the methodology has been explained / discussed, my 50% unplugged (maybe a bit more) teaching approach has been very much welcomed and enjoyed in my lessons…apart the very few times of isolated resistance! Even these moments of resistance and challenge have easily been overcome by clarifying the principles, explaining the advantages and benefits of unplugged teaching and reviewing / highlighting emerged language and achievements.
I have found that an excellent way of making it learner friendly is to do an awareness building task by asking the to complete a questionnaire which I created which contains statements on the principles of Dogme. The Ss discuss the points in pairs and then state their opinion (if they strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree or strongly disagree with each point). Each point is then openly discussed and debated as a whole class. I use this opportunity to promote Dogme and if necessary to sensitively challenge learners opinions ( if their’s are against the Dogme principle). Very often though, I don’t even need to challenge them as they already agree with the Dogme principles.
Before Christmas I did a learner feedback survey with a majority of my classes which included my teaching style and methodology . I don’t like blowing my own trumpet but the feedback was extremely positive and I didn’t receive one negative comment or score. For me the unplugged approach is 100% the way forward!
That’s certainly an interesting way of getting learners to become more aware of what teachers are doing in the classroom and to get them discussing their beliefs about language acquisition. Very clever, Karl!
I too have learners who are highly structured and rule-oriented, and you know what, I’m that sort of a learner myself too. But I think that is one of the biggest misunderstandings of Dogme. I believe the teacher can make a Dogme lesson structured, with significant language focus and effective and systematic focus on rules and patterns of language. As Luke mentioned, the second stage ‘Pause’ in the ‘Play Pause Play’ of Dogme, gives students a change to look at the language in need of reformulating, or the +1 in need of being fed in, and allows for some meaty language clarification and rule-discovery that many students expect in a classroom. But because of the initial ‘Play’ stage, the language is already contextualised within the student’s use of the language and the ‘Pause’/language focus stage is more likely to be tailored to what the student needs, to the actual +1 rather than pre-selected Grammar Mcnuggets that assumes a linear view of language learning.
My learners are expected to take notes of the language covered in the classroom and by highlighting the grammar and lexis they have encountered at the end of the lesson and during recycling activities, students are made even more aware of the structure and the systematicity of the method. There is order in the chaos, my fellow Jedi Dogmetician!