When the students decide: What I make of it

29 Oct

ImageLast post, we left off with students’ enthusiasm for games they had suggested for practicing spelling. We also left off with their less-than-enthusiastic reception of the semester course booklets. As promised, here’s what I make of the situation.

We started the session with some basic but real communication. I needed to note their names in my course record book. To do so, they needed to spell their names. In doing so, both teacher and students realized the gap in many students’ interlanguage, namely the confusion with certain letters like A vs. E vs. I, J vs. G, and the pronunciation of Y and H. Most of the students had the same pronunciation problems and the teacher picked up on the problem that had emerged to try to remedy it.

Then, rather than taking a prescriptive approach and just telling the students the correction, the teacher asked how the students would like work to improve their pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet. In fact, recognizing that the students could and should be actors in how the course proceeds empowered them. They could draw upon their own experience, what was successful, what they liked, etc. to decide what to do to solve the problem they themselves had noticed.

The content of the lesson was based on what was shown to need work and the procedure was decided by the students themselves based on their own past language learning experiences. Some worked in several small groups or pairs and some worked as a whole (well, half) class, depending on what they preferred.

Although I don’t know if we could say the activity placed a lot of demand on the students in terms of language complexity, I believe it relates to what Adrian Underhill calls “demand-high teaching” in that I expected them to lead the lesson. Confronted with my expectation of them to co-construct the lesson, they responded. I doubt (though I cannot say for sure) that this was often the case in their past courses.

It is not easy for students to simply flip into the role of course content decision-maker. In my  Dogme experimental practice semester, this comment came up a few times. It took a few classes for learners to get used to being solicited for input as to what the next step should be. In the experiment, several students commented on how motivating that was. The same seemed to be the case with this group of students.

However, I’m not sure why this group seemed to move into the role of decision-makers more easily. In following lessons, they have also enthusiastically responded to the call to be actors in their course and thrive on less teacher-fronted activities that allow them to help each other and optimize the communicative opportunities of the lessons. Do I need to look into the group’s past ELT experiences or could group dynamics be the main influence? Maybe both and perhaps the question could be put directly to the students themselves.

But now I have begun to wonder: Have I just come upon a fantastic group of students or is there something deeper that’s been tapped into?

And for the anecdote, last week I had this group for a 2-hour session after a run of 6 hours of lessons with 2 other groups. Lacking the energy to Dogme the lesson (it happens to all of us, right?), I set them to work on a few activities in the course booklet.

And I was promptly met with “But Miss, what about Dogme?” 😉


Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Dogme


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2 responses to “When the students decide: What I make of it

  1. Willy Cardoso

    October 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    very interesting!

    about not having the energy to “Dogme the lesson” after some hours in the clock, I’ve always thought about this. And maybe more should be written and/or discussed in this regard, because in the end if ‘my’ ‘best’ ‘approach’ [caution here] makes me more tired than other ways of teaching, it’s not entirely the best, is it? What I’m trying to say, and I admit I’m not saying it very well, is that it’s just very, very easy to acknowledge the premises of dogme, but then just do the usual follow-the-book thing because it’s more economic from the teacher’s perspective.
    I’ll think more about it, and then express myself better, but I’m glad you raised the question, even if it’s not the point of your post, sorry I divert.

  2. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

    October 30, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Willy,

    Actually, it’s a good diversion that you got onto and a very pertinent question—how practical of an approach is Dogme if it can be mentally fatiguing / difficult to sustain over a long teaching period / actually lead to more work for the teacher / (insert other argument here) ?

    My humble opinion here is that it is a good approach when done well. To be done well, the teacher has to be up to the challenge. But what do we mean by that? It could be in terms of teaching skills; building rapport with students; mental stock of varied activities to avoid monotony; energy to think on your feet; mental alertness to pick up on emergent language to deal with. Except for that last one, those criteria could pretty much apply to any method/approach, so they’re not exclusive to Dogme.

    Perhaps where Dogme differs from a more heavily pre-planned lesson is that the teacher decides what language will be worked on according to what the students produce; and not the students produce and work on what the teacher pre-decides. This means that after succeeding in doing so, they have to think up some way of focusing on the language so that it becomes salient enough for the students to notice the target structure and how far they are from it. I think this is where the issue of “after-a-long-day-I-don’t-have-the-energy-to-Dogme” can impact our judgment of how good our “best approach” is. Like any skill or performance, you just cannot be at your best if you’re flat out.

    That being said, I’ve also had busy days (though shorter than 8 straight hours) where I went into a lesson tired and drew energy from working unplugged with a student. It can also be very stimulating to the point where afterwards I thought “Hey, I’m really glad I went into that lesson like that.”

    I would say Dogme doesn’t allow you to just go through the motions, whereas a lesson that is heavily planned, step-by-step, does. I doubt that’s any better.

    But I agree with you, there is more to be written on the subject because I think long days are something teachers around the world face. Maybe a “Dogme for tired teachers” post?


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