Dogme for Learners I – Revising Revision

Teaching Dogme is a new way of teaching but learning Dogme is also a new way of learning.

A rant about class tests

The German school system has always believed in class tests as the Golden Egg of learning. School law sets a fixed number of them for every subject taught at school. My English students have to take 2 each semester (only in English – they have 10 other subjects, too!). Class tests are considered to be the fixed stars of the school universe around which everything else is circling. Each and every on of them has to be prepared for a few days in advance in hope for a positive outcome.

In order to underline and perpetuate this system students are usually given three or four days between class tests. This leads to a way of learning that requires the students to do a few days of intense revision for each class test and then readjust the focus on a new subject, a new class test. This kind of working is implemented so deeply within the system and the minds of teachers and learners that the German language doesn’t even make a difference between revising and learning. The word for both is ‘lernen’, which lures people into thinking that they are the same and that doing intense revision for three days twice each semester is an effective way of learning.

Class tests and their corresponding marks are the predominant extrinsic motivation for my students and who wants to blame them? They have to cope with a system where they are tested about two times a week, where they are rated in numbers and where they have to meet the expectations of teachers, parents and themselves – all often focused solely on their grades.
Their main way of coping with this is doing revision for class tests. Apart from set homework it’s the only kind of work they do. So, they do revision to do well in their class tests, not to learn something. I give my students lots of opportunities to take their learning in their own hands, most of them, however, reject them – just because they are used to a different mindset of learning which works just fine for the system they are in.

A silver lining?

My students deeply distrust my claims that learning a language is a long-term process they have to take in their own hands and that it can’t be tackled effectively they way they are used to. I was wondering if some sort of prefrontal training – as suggested against bad habits by neuroscientist David Eagleman in his fascinating article on how we should alter our legal system according to biology – might help. It would let the students envision themselves working on their English skills for a few minutes EVERY DAY resisting the urge to do short term revision.

In an enlightening blogpost Scott Thornbury has written about the possible positive effects visualization can have on different aspects of language learning and I wonder if it could have the same impact on learning itself. In a recent blogpost Karenne Sylvester was reflecting on different kinds of motivation making the fair point that learners might just be too complex to squeeze them into narrow taxonomic systems. I just wonder how to make use of our knowledge about motivation to get my students to learn foR themselves Rather than revise for a test.

Dogme and the class test

I managed to go Dogme in my teaching (at least to some extent) without facing huge restraints by the school system in which I’m working. Now I’m facing the fact that it won’t be that easy to go Dogme for my students, as Dogme is centered around learner autonomy which is not given to my students on the level of ubiquitous testing. Is there a Dogme approach to testing? If yes, what does it look like? And, can I implement Dogme testing – and with it Dogme learning – within the boundaries the German school system is setting?

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