Category Archives: Dogme

Dogme Through Students’ Eyes: Recap and thoughts

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



When the students decide: What I make of it

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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Me: “Here are your booklets.” Them: (groan)


A few past booklets

I am not anti-course book. I have nothing against course book writers. In fact, some of my wider-world colleagues are course book writers. It’s starting a lesson with “Open your books to page 7 and look at exercise A” that bugs me.

This reflection came up after the first month of a new academic year. During this first month, the new classes begin, we discuss how the students like to learn, what they liked and disliked about past English classes, and the students’/teachers’ roles in a class where content is co-constructed–not dictated and transmitted.

Also, the students receive their course booklets for the semester. Each time “I’m going to hand out your booklets for this year” was met with “(groans and sarcasm) Oh yay, THE booklet.” Two students in two different groups actually asked “Is it for burning?”

For context clarification: Each semester, the students get a new booklet. Most of my groups are in their 3rd semester and as such are used to the booklet system.

Content-wise these booklets are not half-bad. They’re produced in-house by a dedicated head teacher (not me, just for the record), incorporate authentic materials, and are updated every year to improve on last year’s model. Sure they lack the glossy cover and full-color illustrations of publishing house course books, but don’t we have a popular idiom in English…something about not judging a book by its cover?

After witnessing the same less-then-enthusiastic reaction with several groups, I wanted to try something. With one lower level group, the first module in their book was spelling practice. Instead of handing out the books and asking them to do the exercises, I asked the students to spell their last names so I could note them in my records. As usual, there was confusion with the pronunciation of I vs E vs A, J vs G, Y, and H. After getting names, I suggested we do a little letter pronunciation practice and asked how they’d like to do so.

The students had lots of ideas—hangman, crossword puzzles, scrabble, etc. For these last two, I suggested that the person would have to spell the word they wanted to place while their partner actually wrote in the word to add an actual pronunciation element. Some students wanted to do this in plenary, others wanted to work in small groups to be able to have more speaking time (yes, one student actually said that’s why she preferred to work in a small group).

We put two groups off to the side while I led a round of scrabble with about half the class, drawing a grid on the white board and having students spell the words they wanted to add. They all paid close attention as words were being added, probably trying to plot where they could place a word come their turn.

This activity wrapped up and I gave out their booklets. As expected, students let out little groans. Then I opened the book and pointed out that the week’s lesson was supposed to be…spelling practice. I think at that point they saw through my little tactic of starting off with a task that would lead to work on the programmed target language. Needless to say there were no “Oh, so the booklet isn’t so bad after all” jumps for joy!

But they had been engaged in the work we had done. They had looked like they were enjoying it. When we wrapped up the lesson with a review of those problematic letters—A, E, I, G, J, Y, H–there was noticeably less confusion.

So what made the difference? After all, the content of the book unit and the content of the actual lesson were the same.

I’ll share my reflections on that in the next post. In the meantime, what do YOU think changed the way the students reacted to the activity?



Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Dogme


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Talking Dogme at TESOL France Lyon

Just got back from doing my first teacher-fronted presentation (you know, where you stand in front of a room full of people staring at you, the PowerPoint projector glaring in your face). It was TESOL France Lyon’s inaugural event and I was there in the name of Dogme…

The crowd wasn’t huge, around 15 people or so, which:

1) made it less frightening and

2) meant we could actually do a demo Dogme lesson because you guessed it—I presented the experimental semester.

Only a few people in the room had heard of Dogme and fewer knew what it was. Sonia, another speaker of the day came up with a pretty good summary. Something like “not planning too much what you’re going to do, but taking what students say and building a lesson around it, based on what needs to be worked on.” Sounded like a good start

So on we went through a bit of student feedback from their time with Dogme, the background of the movement or the Danish connection as I call it, and some key components of the approach:

  • Conversation Interaction-driven
  • Materials-light (not necessarily mats-free!)
  • Focused on emergent learner language

I also talked about POST-planning lessons as a sort of bird killer (as in “kill 2 birds with one stone”—nothing “afowl” of course!) It keeps a record of what was done in class in case another teacher needs to sub for you one day and helps you track what’s actually been done rather than just what you had planned to do. Plus it provides a chance to reflect on how the lesson went, what worked, and how to build on that.

Maybe the best part though was actually going through a demo Dogme lesson with fellow teachers. We did an accelerated, condensed lesson, talked about how it unfolded,  then brainstormed how it could have gone differently. The demo lesson was heavily inspired by the first half of Lesson 7 and suggested alternatives looked a bit like this:

From feedback I got, they really enjoyed this part because it offered the opportunity to see what the lesson looked like and how it could have gone in alternative directions, depending on the interests of a particular group of students.

The participants asked lots of stimulating questions, leading to lively discussion (and thankfully no one just wanted to pick a verbal fight—I was a bit nervous about that, I must admit!)

Two questions came up for which I didn’t have answers, so fellow Dogmeticians, I need your help here!

  • (How) could you do Dogme with an ESP class or an exam prep class like a TOEIC class?
  • What suggestions do you have for doing Dogme with 5-year olds?

I’ve done non-Dogme TOEIC prep and kids aren’t really my thing, but if anyone has any responses to these questions, I’m all ears and will transmit the answers to the people who asked them (crediting you, of course!)

Finally, a touch of advice for anyone thinking about presenting for the first time—GO FOR IT!!

More to come on that subject, though!


Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Dogme


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Students’ (real) explanation of what Dogme is

Last week, in one of my other Dogme classes with a group of 12 art history students, 3 new students were suddenly added, 5 weeks into the semester. Make that a group of 15 art history students then.

I wanted to make sure these newcomers knew what was going on in class, so instead of me explaining Dogme, I let the “old” students do it for me.

In pairs, they had a few minutes to think about how they could explain the approach. Then they would do some real communicating with their new classmates. This of course had two purposes:

  1. The new students got filled in on Dogme
  2. I found out how students saw the approach, now that we’ve done 5 weeks of it

Here’s what I got from each pair, based on the notes I scribbled as they were talking:

  • It’s about communication between students in the class. The new vocabulary, etc. comes from students’ communication and from the teacher’s help. It involves re-working what we said to correct it.
  • We often work in small groups, then we compare with another group, then we share as a class
  • It’s a new way to learn English. The students get to decide what we want to work on and the themes of the lessons
  • It’s more practice than theory and is an original method
  • It’s communication exercises with vocabulary help and homework based on what came up in class. We share with others and it encourages communication about ourselves between the students

I think that pretty much sums up the way the class has been working. I was glad that they recognized the very communicative element of the approach. The theory-practice dichotomy also made me smile, as many classes here in France are often criticized for being all theory and no practice.

I’m not sure what I would have liked them to say more. Perhaps that they are more involved in the approach or that it gives them opportunities to take control of THEIR class. Perhaps this means that I should encourage them more strongly to be really active in what goes on in class.

These students are indeed more involved than some of my traditional classes, so maybe now I can push them just a bit more in the second half of the semester…

Do you think they missed anything?

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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Dogme


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Almost halfway there and where will we go next?

I stopped by a newsagent’s on my after-work walk today and picked up a magazine called Sagesse Asiatique. It had a little book of proverbs and quotes with it. I read through a few and found this one, attributed to Buddha:

Life is not a problem to solve but a reality to experiment with.

While I’m not contradicting anyone’s religious figure, we could also substitute “life” for “the lesson.”

I’m nearly half way through my Dogme experiment, which so far seems to have shown that students do indeed like to experiment with reality, their own or the teacher’s. By that I mean having students share their lives and gradually open up with each other, the lessons pave the way for deeper involvement, physically, yes, but surely also cognitively.

We started this semester with a first lesson based on my life and the last two lessons (four and five) have been based on the students’ experiences. During the activities, the students really do talk to each other, and in English! I can’t say if it is just because they are lovely students or because this new approach feels more supportive, but I like to think it is a bit of both. This contrasts with another group in which the approach is much more traditional. For a description of what this class is like, see my comment on Phil Wade’s blog post EFL Experiment 2: The ultimate Dogme criticisms and responses.

I am really enjoying working with my Dogme students, but I feel that I myself still need to do some developing to become very comfortable with the approach. I wouldn’t say there are problems that need to be solved, but definitely some more things that need to experimented with.

I’d really like to focus on:

  • Using the study-able language that comes up in class in communicative activities rather than talking about the language itself
  • Better encouraging the students to take control of THEIR class. For the moment, I feel like I’m doing a lot of leading
  • Keeping up the pace–for me it’s not always easy to tell the difference between reflective silence and “just waiting” silence

Next week I put the question to my students: Do we continue this semester as a Dogme experiment or do we try something more traditional? After all, letting the students decide is what this is all about, right?

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Dogme


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