Listen 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.