Dogme Through Students’ Eyes: Recap and thoughts

04 Dec

ImageListen to students. Ask for their feedback. Really listen. Let them help decide how THEIR lessons are shaped. Have the courage to change what you usually do after listening to what the students have to tell you. Show them you have really listened.

Doesn’t sound so revolutionary. Or does it?

At the November 2012 TESOL France annual colloquium, I presented a talk called Dogme Through the Students’ Eyes. As you can imagine (if you weren’t there), it was all about what two groups of students had to say about a semester in Dogme-land. We went a whole semester pretty much naked—no materials, little pre-planning, and a lot of soliciting learners for their ideas, suggestions, and raw input.

It was an experiment, so I needed to listen to what they had to say not just in class, but about the class. I asked for their impressions of Dogme after a first “test” lesson. Got their feedback halfway through, along with permission to continue the experiment. After 12 weeks, they told me what they liked and disliked, what they understood Dogme to be, and how it measured up against traditional courses. Then they defined “traditional course” and it wasn’t so pretty. Maybe listening to the students really is more revolutionary than it seems to some of us.

I don’t want to post all of their feedback here—it’s about 20 pages long! But in a nutshell, here’s what the students had to say about the approach, along with some select morsels (of course “select” implies some sort of bias, so if you want the full feedback, I’d be happy to share. Just drop me a line!)

• They liked having to think for themselves and learning at their rhythm, as well as gaining confidence in speaking. They felt Dogme prepared them better for real life outside the classroom.

• It was hard to get used to being so involved at first, and sometimes a little slow because they had to think about what to do next rather than just jumping into an activity.

• A few resources and grammar exercises never hurt anyone! But stay away from the all-grammar-all-the-time lesson! They prefer spot reinforcement as needed.

And a few feedback quotes:

“It’s good to create a good relationship between
the learner and the teacher in order to discuss
the best way to learn English.” –Antoine

“Maybe it could be interesting to include
some short texts with some specific vocabulary
or grammar to improve our level.” –Clement

“Dogme forces and allows the students
to learn for themselves.” –Meriem

“I think that in a certain way, teachers can bring us a lot
all the while being sensitive to our reactions to
their teaching techniques. This allows the teacher
to continuously observe and develop him/herself.” –Lucie

“Even if the course is more interesting,
maybe we don’t do as much as in
a traditional course.” –Thibaut

“The stereotypical image of a “traditional course” is
tests, irregular verbs, revision of lots of tenses in one sessions,
conversation subjects that aren’t all that passionate.” –Thomas

“This semester was a good experience and I really liked coming to class.
It’s the first time in my life! We learn at our own rhythm and aren’t afraid of
others making fun of us, so there’s a good ambiance. I felt comfortable speaking in class.”–Mireille

So, Dogme yes, but if I want to heed what my students are telling me, I can’t forget that texts, listening exercises, and grammar drills also have their place here. Students sometimes need something they’re familiar with. Sometimes they need to slow down and focus on form to feel better about unfamiliar language.

Here, the students liked being decision-makers in their class, but maybe not the ONLY decision makers in their class. After all, we teachers can also bring things into the classroom—our pedagogical experience and, thanks to having listened to our students in past years, some fresh ideas to share.


Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Dogme



4 responses to “Dogme Through Students’ Eyes: Recap and thoughts

  1. eflnotes

    December 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    hi christina

    very interesting feedback there. wish had been able to see your tesolfr talk (an ex colleague of mine found it very very good)

    i was wondering how one can tease out other factors that may be at play were you to develop your experiment. e.g. how to control for teacher motivation, student autonomy, teacher-student relationship etc
    do you have plans to extend your study?

  2. RebuffetBroadus

    December 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Hi Mura,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that your ex-colleague enjoyed my talk. It’s very kind of him or her to pass the compliment along!

    As for your question, those are indeed some things to consider if the experiment were to be developed on. I think, that like with any experiment, there are certain factors that influence the results and that would vary from group to group. That’s why I did this experiment with 2 different groups (biology + chemistry students vs art history students), but over the same period of time, to see if there were any major differences in their feedback.

    I did notice that the science students tended to be more balanced in their feedback, giving both positive and negative considerations. The art history students seemed more willing to just jump in and get gung-ho about the approach. They gave very little negative feedback, even when asked. Now why that is is difficult to say. My first reaction would be to say science students are more trained to observe objectively whereas art history students may be used to working more with feeling and affect, but that seems too stereotypical to be the only explanation.

    Could it be that the science students had class on Monday at 8 am and the art history students on Friday at 2 pm and were thus “warmed up” by the time they got to my class but also relaxed because the weekend was coming up? Maybe.

    Student autonomy would also be an important factor to look at, but would maybe be difficult to measure. It seems that students who are more comfortable with making decisions about their learning may adapt better to a Dogme class, but again, that’s something to be put under a microscope and that my own study was too limited to include.

    And of course teacher motivation (and energy) are big factors. A Dogme lesson can be tiring because you have to be so alert and quick on your feet. If you’ve done a ton of contact hours before that lesson, this may negatively impact your Dogme lesson and thus how the students see that lesson and in turn the approach itself.

    You’re right in bringing in all those other factors that come into play but that were not explicitly explored in my research (you can’t do everything at once, can you?)

    I would indeed like to extend this study because the results of this first one were very encouraging. The feedback suggested that students (at least in my own context) are ready for this kind of approach and they find it refreshing. It also suggested that they are very attuned to their own learning context, the teacher’s attitude, and their implication in their learning.

    However, one of the big positive qualities they often cited was that it was new and different. I’d really like to find out their reaction to Dogme after a longer period. After a year or two, would 85% of them still say they learn better than a traditional class? Or would Dogme lessons just become plain old English class?

  3. carolyn kerr

    December 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Dear Christine,

    Sorry for taking such a long time to comment. Thanks for posting this and for sharing the learners views.

    I’m interested to know what the learners general aims are? How much does English ‘count’ in their results? What’s are their drivers for taking the class?

    I’m also interested in your comment here:

    “So, Dogme yes, but if I want to heed what my students are telling me, I can’t forget that texts, listening exercises, and grammar drills also have their place here. Students sometimes need something they’re familiar with. Sometimes they need to slow down and focus on form to feel better about unfamiliar language.”

    Can you go into this in more detail? It’s a question that seems to be out there looking for an answer. What are your views on this?

    Thanks again for your post

  4. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

    December 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks so much for your comment and sorry for taking so long to answer. Blame the holidays!

    As for the learners aims, they are pretty general for both groups. For the science students, they have separate ESP classes to help them learn scientific English, how to write abstracts, and things like that. Their English class was optional and meant to help them develop communicative skills in everyday situations. They took English because they have a choice of optional classes and English is an attractive option because it’s always useful.

    The art history students only had my English class and English is a mandatory part of their program. However, the university doesn’t set any specific goals for their English class nor do they set any specific requirements in terms of exams. The teacher just has to supply the administration with a mark at the end of the semester. Not sure what that says about how much the admin care about what the students are learning, but I digress. This meant that with the art history students, we often talked about what they wanted from the class and I tried to cater to that. While they did like working with artsy topics, they were also happy to build up their speaking skills on any subject they found interesting.

    For both groups, English counts for less than their subject courses. Often three times less, and sometimes even more for very specific subject-matter classes. This seems to be pretty standard in many of the institutions I’ve worked at in France. Depending on students’ motivation, they can either see it as a fun class to learn something under less pressure or as just another class that drains their energy from working on assignments in the “more important” classes. Fortunately for both these groups, it seemed many of the students took the former attitude.

    As for your question about texts, drills, and slowing down, remember in this experiment we tried to go with zero materials. However, I think that bringing in a stimulus such as an object, text, photo, etc. (or better yet, having students bring these things in) can give a different energy to the class. It may add a focus or just a springboard to start the conversation and the ideas flowing.

    In the science group, one student asked if he could bring a poem and an article in because he was interested in them and wanted to share them with the class. It was different because I wasn’t the one leading and I didn’t have all the answers to give, especially with the poem and how to interepret it. Giving the students this sort of power and freedom modifies the teacher-student relationship because the student often knows more about the thing he/she brings in. I think it helps show them that their contribution counts and is welcome, that they aren’t just there to take what the teacher gives.

    As for slowing down, I often found it helpful to have students create exercises/activities to practice new language that came up. It’s not enough just to board new vocabulary or do some guided discovery. It takes time for students to get their brains and their tongues around unfamiliar language and sometimes something as simple as “repeat after me” a few times can be beneficial. It sounds basic and a bit old school, but it can be a welcome break in the ever-advancing conversation.

    Just to give a personal example, I’ve recently started learning German and sometimes I stop the CD and just repeat the word or expression over and over and over. I need the active break. Also, being able to do so (simple as it may be) makes me feel better about learning the new language because I can do it. Baby steps are just as important as great strides when it comes to building up confidence.

    As for the listening exercises, I think students may feel that unless they do a traditional “listen to the audio and answer the questions” the listening part of the lesson may be missing. I emphasize the word “feel” here because all conversation involves listening skills as well. However, in their past classes, all perceived listening work was done when the teacher pressed play on the CD player. For some students CD=listening and if there are none, then it may look as though listening skills were ignored.

    Perhaps it could also be useful to remind students that listening to audio (or video) recordings is just one type of listening skill–the type they’ll use to listen to the radio or to watch movies in English. Listening to participate (as in a conversation) is another type of listening skill, but still helps them develop in this area.

    I hope that answers your questions, but if you still have some, please don’t hesitate!


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