Dogme for Learners II – Things to Hold on to

One of the benefits of coursebooks is that they give students something to hold on to. Their linear structure might be flawed and will often obstruct meaningful conversation, but at least they give some sort of structure. And don’t be mistaken, students WANT structure, they NEED structure. As much as intelligent scaffolding is useful for language instruction, it is central to many other aspects of your teaching and your students’ learning. By renouncing coursebooks the Dogme approach (sic!) also gives up on their greatest strengths: visible and comprehensible – if sometimes illusionary – structure.

Having gone Dogme for a few months I therefore felt the need to establish and strengthen structuring elements in my teaching. This was backed up by feedback from my students who said that the ‘re-structuring’ elements helped them greatly. So, here are the structuring principles that emerged from my first months of Dogme teaching.

Structure your time. Even if Dogme teaching suggests drifting along with classroom conversation and letting the students decide on the things they want to discuss, it also has a strong focus on form. To make it work I strongly recommend sticking to a very simple time-management that reserves a good part of every lesson to a focus on form, vocabulary instruction and related exercises.

Structure your boardwork. One of the most obvious, if difficult, ways of helping your students to keep track of their lessons is clean and structured boardwork. It is dependent on what kind of board is available to you, your own abilities and needs, but also the needs of your students. Therefore you have to ask them for feedback on your boardwork and adjust accordingly. My students once told me, my ‘n’ and ‘u’ were indistinguishable on the board, so I have been trying to watch out for this ever since.

Make a post-plan. In their book Teaching Unplugged Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury outline an activity that suggests making a simple ‘post-plan’ to record the outcome that emerged from your lesson. “Divide a page into four, and decide what your four ‘big’ organizing principles will be.” (p. 63). I use ‘new vocab’, ‘things we discussed’, ‘forms we explored’ and ‘skills we worked on’. As the end of a lesson is approaching, I try to give my students a few minutes of work, so that I can fill in the four areas of my post-plan and go to the copy machine to make enough copies for everyone in class. When the students flock out of the classroom, they take the copies with them. Looking at the post-plans of the last semester they make a great ‘post-syllabus’ helping students revising and keeping track and helping the teacher reflect on past lessons.

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Get back to your lessons. In order to show your students that you value the language that emerged from a lesson you have to recycle it regularly. There are numerous ways of retrieving language from past lessons. Among my favourites are regular vocab tests. In his insightful book Vocabulary Myths Keith Folse states:

What you test and how you test it tells the students what you value. Students will respond to your expectations. If they know that you expect them to learn a certain amount of vocabulary each week (…) they will do this. Therefore, it is imperative that you include vocabulary in your student assessment. (p. 157)

Another more informal but ingenious way of recycling language from past lessons was suggested by Andrew Pickles in his blog. He uses an envelope filled with squares of paper on which there are references to the language that is to be recycled. At the beginning of each lesson he lets a student draw a square from the envelope and refocuses on the language that’s on it. In its non-linearity this activity feels very Dogme to me and is well combinable with post-plans (you just need to cut out the language areas of the post-plans and put them in an envelope).

References:

Folse, K. (2004). Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.

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