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Walk on the wild side and fly free!

Book cover - walk on the wild sideIn case you missed the announcement from the round last week, I’m happy to announce that our first book was published this week ! I say « our » because it is the fruit of a joint collaboration between Jennie Wright (who runs the fabulous TEFL Helper blog) and myself (who runs this blog, but you probably know that already).

Before getting into the book itself, just a quick word on the launch. When we posted the news to Facebook and Twitter, we got so many messages of congratulations from colleagues around the world. We really felt how much the wider teaching community supports each other’s efforts and it was an awesome feeling! Thanks a lot guys (and gals)!

So, the book…

Inside you’ll find five chapters, one for each selected experimental area : Dogme, lexical chunking, corpora, translation, and CLIL. Within each chapter, you’ll get the history & background of the approach/method, lesson objectives, a (beautiful) sample lesson plan, the principles and explanation of that lesson plan, a list of dos and don’ts for testing the approach/method, opportunities and risks that come with it, and a toolbox packed with resources for finding out more. All that for about the cost of large fancy Starbucks! Sure it’s got less caffeine, but it’ll last longer and you can’t spill it while on the bus!

Where did the idea come from? It’s pretty simple and is really just another story of necessity being the mother of invention. Jennie and I were doing our Delta module 2 together at ESOL Strasbourg in 2012. When we got to the experimental practice assignment, our trainers showed us all sorts of resources for exploring possible experiments.Wouldn’t it be great to have a single go-to reference with resource lists, an overview of experimenting with a particular method, and a bit about its background? And wouldn’t it be even better to have a compilation of a few possible experiments laid out like that to be able to compare and choose? “Oh, we could write that book!” we thought. So we did!

As for the cover, that’s the fine work of designer Mark Bain. The cage is open. The bird is free. Imagine the metal bars as the rut that we all get into at some point of our teaching careers. We start relying on the same old exercises, going through the same lessons and slowly we create our own cage. Then one day, we decide we’re tired of being locked in. We want out. So we experiment, try new things and shake ourselves up a bit. The cage door flings open and we’re free, just like the bird you don’t see on the cover. We’re out of our comfort zone and walking on the wild side!

Experimental Practice in ELT: Walk on the wild side is available on all Amazon sites and on Smashwords.

 
 

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IATEFL Liverpool: Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley’s “From Preparation to Preparedness”

“The dark matter of teaching.” That’s how Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley describe the spontaneous interaction, the improvisation, the here-and-now of lessons. It’s not about the planned, the prepared, the unquestioned road map. True to their word, they let us know that they had not planned this talk down to the minute. Practicing what they’re preaching, I suppose.

We watched a video clip of two jazz pianists playing, or rather improvising a duet. The concert wasn’t scripted and they weren’t following sheet music. Then came a video of two people in clown school, team drawing something then acting out a scenario. Neither knew what the other was doing. They had to find out as they went along. It absolutely captivated the audience, so much so that I stopped typing this post to avoid breaking the silence.

In both videos, the duos are simply there, in the moment. The clowns don’t know where exactly their improvised wordless story begins, but something gradually emerges and they run with what the other is doing, reacting and building on it—the excitement of the unknown.

With the musicians, they know some things—it’s a 12-bar blues, played as a duo, but that’s it. They react to each other’s music, flowing together. It’s risky. They could make mistakes but at the same time, mistakes are part of the process. Mistakes can be picked up on and worked with.

The clowns are practicing improvisation and spontaneity in clown school. The musicians are thrilling the audience because they’ve developed this skill through practice. See the metaphor for teacher training into spontaneity?

Rather than risk and fear, we should rejoice in the unknown. We should get excited about it. Alan and Adrian offered a few ideas about what spontaneity is:

  • interplay with what is happening now
  • risking the unknown rather than making it like last time
  • drawing ourselves into a different world of existence because we co-author the existence
  • playfulness
  • free flow rather than a hard effort.

So how can we develop our teaching dark matter?

Adrian suggested breaking rules–reflecting on your teaching and the rules that you follow, the things you always or never do. These are your rules. Take one and break it. Try something that goes against your grain and go with it. In doing so, you’ll have to improvise in some way and confront the dark matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean the new thing will be better, but it will help you avoid routine and think about what could be better.

And this can be a very small thing—teach at the back rather than the front. Move your students around in a different set up. Teach with a board instead of powerpoint or vice versa. Think about something small you could change in your teaching this week. Try it out and enjoy the excitement of change. If you make mistakes, learn from them. Trust me, learners make for better teachers.

How can we regain the joy of the unplanned, especially in teaching?

Experiment! Try new things, think creatively how you might teach a unit of a coursebook for example. We are constantly making decisions in class—do I correct that mistake? How long do I let the activity run? Who do I call on? Think about what determines how you make the decision and make it differently.

In teacher training, we need to prepare trainees to  manage  the unprepared, not simply teach them how to write lesson scripts. Adrian and Alan  gave  7 suggestions for developing “being prepared-ness” in teacher trainees:

  1. Theatre games
  2. Presentation skills
  3. Reflecting on methodologies that eschew pre-planning, such as Dogme and Community Language Learning
  4. Have them provoke unpredictability by doing the opposite of what they would normally do
  5. Include spontaneity and improvisation in post-lesson discussions of lesson observations
  6. Encourage them to see teaching as an act of inquiry rather than in the hope of being right
  7. Discuss ways to spend less time trying to control people and more time trying to connect them with each other and with what they’re doing

For us as teachers, we can also prepare ourselves for spontaneity:

  1. Bother less about trying to control. Encourage connectivity instead
  2. Work with what is happening, rather than with what you wish was happening
  3. Start conversations about whatever matters to whoever is there
  4. Give up trying to be interesting and reach out and connect
  5. Make plans but don’t expect them to happen
  6. Increase intuition—follow hunches, be vulnerable, risk fear, leave gaps, be messy, hang loose and welcome student spontaneity
  7. See your school as an adventure park for YOUR learning not just a place to work

To finish, they particularly recommended several books to help teachers experiment with creativity, spontaneity, and the joy of the dark matter:

-Casenave, Christine P. and Miguel Sosa. (2007). Respite for Teachers. University of Michigan Press.

-Fanselow, John. (1987). Breaking Rules. London/New York: Longman.

-Lutzker, Peter. (2007). The Art of Foreign Language Teaching. Tubingen und Basel: Francke Verlag.

-Maley, Alan. (2000). The Language Teacher’s Voice. Oxford: Heinemann/Macmillan.

-Pugliese, Chaz. (2010). Being Creative. London: Delta Publications.

-Thornbury, Scott, and Luke Meddings. (2009). Teaching Unplugged. London: Delta Publications.

They ended by pointing out that we are perhaps seeing a trend in ELT where this spontaneity and reactivity have a place in teacher training alongside lesson planning skills. Of course it may be a long time before spontaneity as approach becomes mainstream, but it is no longer a dark art, despite dealing with the dark matter of teaching.

 
 

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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.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Dogme

 

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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?” 😉

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Dogme

 

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

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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?

 

 
3 Comments

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!

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Dogme

 

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Hyperion resurrected and the end of the Dogme experiment

ImageLast Monday was the final lesson with the science students. The end of a semester of experimenting with Dogme. The chance for the students to tell me what they thought about the experience.

Before getting into this, though, we had to go through their exam. I wanted to go through their exam with them, to take the time to let them see their mistakes and what they had done well. In correcting their work, I made sure to include both, in red and green ink, respectively, as I thought it was important to point out where improvement still needed to be made, but also when they had used some new vocabulary or a particularly challenging structure. Plus, since part of the exam was to write a short story, I could add my comments, questions, and reaction to their story without bleeding all over their papers.

For the corrections, I used the marking symbols out of J. Harmer’s How to Teach Writing. The idea was for them to figure out the correction themselves. Beforehand, we spent some time trying to guess what the code meant. Some, like “sp” or “g” were easy to guess, while we had some discussion about “c” for concordance, “wo” for word order, and “λ” for something’s missing.

Then, they spent nearly an hour working on correcting their work (which was a reaction to a text + writing a short story). I circulated to help with questions, reformulations, and checking their work. I noticed that they seemed particularly into the activity, looking from their paper to the symbol key on the board, to their paper, and sometimes asking each other for help. It’s difficult to say if the energy poured into the effort was because this is a group of good students or because they liked the challenge and the personalized activity, but it felt like gold.

We transitioned with end-of-semester feedback forms. I wanted to make sure that they took the time to think about and complete the forms, and I’ve learned that the quantity of feedback given runs pretty much in proportion to how close the end of class is. In other words, don’t expect a novel when the group has to rush to their next class right after filling in your feedback form. (P.S. their feedback is in another postJ

After I had collected their forms, we rounded off the semester with a final performance by one of the groups who hadn’t been able to show us their work last lesson because half of their pair was absent. We followed the same format as in the last lesson, as it seemed to encourage both communication between the groups and an opportunity for language work.

Surprisingly, the story seemed quite complex, with a narrator to recount the background to the plot and a few character swaps to manage 4 roles with 2 people. The story built on the poem Hyperion that we studied in Lesson 9, but didn’t just bring the poem to life. It rewrote the story completely!

In short, Hyperion, who was the keeper of the sun, had fought and lost against Atlas. To show his despair, he hid the sun from the humans. One day, a farmer realized that without the sun, his crops, and thus his family could not survive. The farmer went to see Atlas (on a chair-mountain, with a heavy backpack on his shoulders) to explain the dire situation. Atlas told the farmer that he would have to walk for many days (symbolized by the student pacing in circles around the room) to do plead his case directly with Hyperion. He found Hyperion, who offered to turn provide light to humans by setting the farmer’s body on fire and allowing it to burn in place of the sun. As the farmer climbed on a desk, his arms outstretched like a crucifixion, the narrator told of the farmer’s brave sacrifice for mankind and why the sun we see today is in fact a burning farmer’s body. Not bad, huh?

And thus we ended our semester of an experiment together with Dogme.

Students, I thank you for your willingness to try this out with me and for your valuable feedback. Let’s hope it will help us better understand what you, the learners, think about how we teachers do our job.

 

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Lesson 9: Hyperion by John Keats (suggested by a student)

Admittedly, I don’t exploit poetry enough in class. So maybe it was a good thing that the second text Student A chose to bring in last lesson was…a poem. John Keats’ Hyperion to be precise.

I’ve never studied this particular poem, which created conditions for authentic discovery and reflection. The teacher didn’t have the “right” interpretation of the work. I put the students in groups of 4-5 and asked how they wanted to approach the poem. They suggested:

  1. Reading it again silently (good way to start—gives them some thinking time)
  2. Working on new vocabulary (it’s a 19th century poem, so there is a bit of fluffy vocab)
  3. Discussing their ideas in L1 to make sure everything is ok (Thanks, Ken Wilson for the reassurance that this is not ELT heresy)

Activity 2 was particularly useful on two levels—first it introduced students to a bit of culture générale as they say here in France. They found out that Hyperion was not just a Dan Simmons character but also figure of Greek mythology and I learned that it’s also the name of one of the moons of Saturn. Same goes for Saturn—not just a planet, but a mythological figure.

It also led to a class discussion on how to handle unknown words. They suggested using context  or the gist of the text to help (good) and looking for familiar roots (impressive!). When I picked up a student’s smartphone from her desk, though, her first reaction was “Sorry. I’ll put it away immediately.” Funny that for 1st-year university students, no one had thought to use mobile technology as a learning tool.

After dealing with necessary vocabulary, they discussed their ideas in groups and each came to a consensus. Interestingly, some of the groups had very different interpretations.

To inspire them and create continuity from our lesson on color symbolism, I had created Wordles with the poem with various color schemes that could be associated with the interpretations—black, gray and red for a darker interpretation; pinks and lavenders for romance; sky blue, sea green, light gray for tranquility. You get the picture.

Each group chose the color-scheme Wordle that best matched their ideas about the poem and amazingly, each group chose a different one. I asked each group to then create a Hyperion-inspired story, script it, and come to class next time ready to act out their story and explain the link with the Wordle they chose.

In feedback, many students said they enjoyed working with the poem but that it was very challenging. I could feel that as they worked to find meaning in the obscure language and the unfamiliar references to Greek mythology. It wasn’t the most comfortable class we’ve done, but one that got me thinking about quite a few things.

Thank you, Mr. Keats.

Lesson 8

 

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Lesson 8: Surrendering power

This week, I took a step into the unknown.

At the end of every lesson, we spend the last 15 minutes or so doing structured feedback. By that I mean, the students have a form that they fill out every lesson with four criteria, based on the suggestion in Teaching Unplugged:

  • What I liked about this lesson
  • What I didn’t really care for
  • What I found useful
  • What I found less useful

Students fill out the feedback form, I flip through them, and we discuss their feedback. Last lesson, one student suggested working with a text in class. So, naturally I asked for a volunteer to find a text for the next class. And the next class was today.

StudentA sent me the text by email the evening before the lesson. His last-minuteness maybe was a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t tempted to create all sorts of worksheets to scaffold, pre-teach vocabulary, etc. It was a short text, about 3 short paragraphs, easy enough vocabulary.  Oh, and the title was “An Introduction to a Modern Theory of Color.

I gave the students the title and asked them to think of any words that came into their heads. We mind-mapped their concepts and ideas, then they got into small groups to read the text and sort out the ideas.

Then I asked them how they could relate to the text. What did color mean for them? How do we use color in our lives? Here was where the ideas flowed.

Each group spent about 20 minutes preparing a presentation on their ideas. Some mentioned cultural aspects of color–how red meant luck and happiness in China, while black was worn for funerals in Western cultures. Some mentioned how we use color when decorating our homes to encourage different moods or how “blue and white in the bathroom reminds of beaches in Brittany.” Another group took a more artistic perspective, talking about high-contrast, b & w, or sepia-toned photos and how they effected the way we saw the photo.

After each presentation, I encouraged questioning to find out more and then I asked the listeners to summarize what they had understood to check that they had indeed followed what was said. In most cases, they got a surprising amount of info right!

Then the last group, which included StudentA, explained the real modern theory of color–that artists should use opposing colors on the color wheel to create deeper and more natural shadows in their art. This was the most interactive presentation, where the other students really seemed to want to know more (because I didn’t have to prompt them to ask questions afterwards!)

I was relieved that the students took to the subject. The night before, I was worried that the text was too narrow in scope, that some students just wouldn’t care for the subject, or that it would be so “everyday” that they would have nothing to say. I guess you don’t always need the “big” topics to get students’ ideas flowing.

However, on the feedback forms, the “less useful” activity that came up most was the reformulating stage. They didn’t really seem to see the point in it. I could tell as we were doing this–I either had to do hardcore eliciting or let the class sit until the silence got, well, awkward. Not sure if this is the route to go, but I know that I do thave a bad tendency cut thinking time short after asking questions.

Perhaps this activity would have been more engaging had there been a real need to summarize what was said. We may have relapsed into “display chatter” here, which would explain the reticence.

Overall though, I was pleased to see their reaction to the text. They even thanked StudentA for bringing it in. That’s powerful feedback.

Lesson 7                                                                                                                           Lesson 9

 
 

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Lesson 7: A recipe for better Dogme lessons

This morning, I started class with the question I usually ask this Monday morning group: “Did you have a good weekend? What did you do this weekend?” Sometimes the answers are less than enthusiastic but this morning one student seemed enthusiastic to tell me that he had made a cake.

Aha! Here was the beginning of a true Dogme moment! And we went with it.

“Who else cooked something good this weekend?”

We got vocabulary for broccoli and apple quiche, fish with sauce (and not fish sauce, as was pointed out), lasagna, and Ramen noodles (after all, they are students!). Another student admitted he had eaten chicken nuggets, but that it didn’t really count as cooking to him.

Of course, the discussion generated a board full of food vocabulary and some interesting bits about American vs. French cooking. We even worked on trying to find a satisfactory American equivalent of French lardons and settled on chunky bits of uncooked bacon.

I shared a life tip that I saw on a cooking show once: always have three dishes that you master, that are quick, easy, and cheap to make. That way, when friends just pop over, you can impress them with your improvisational kitchen skills.

Students worked in groups to prepare a recipe exchange. Each group brainstormed a recipe or two and wrote it out. As they worked, I put my own recipe, bananas poached in coconut milk with lime juice, on the board. Again, lots of food vocabulary emerged.

Students compared their recipes to mine for genre conventions, cooking vocabulary, etc. and made any necessary changes as I walked around to help them spot any differences.

To round off, students explained (and I insisted that they not read) their recipes to the other students. We got some basics like chocolate chip cookies and crepes, but also tiramisu, tomato and comté quiche, tuna peaches (a curious one indeed!)

This activity went well in my opinion for a few reasons: It emerged naturally from a real conversation, gave students something they could actually use in life, and let them share their own knowledge. On the daily class feedback forms, they all cited this as something they liked and found useful.

After, though, I think I artificially steered the class in another direction L

Last week’s homework was to choose a book from a bag I had brought in and write a story loosely based on the book’s subject. Since I had assigned it for homework, I wanted to make sure that we did something with it. After all, what’s the point of giving homework if it just sits in students’ binders afterwards?

Not all students had done the homework, and a few were absent last week so they didn’t have a book, but each group had 1 or 2 students with a story to tell. They shared their stories in their groups, I circulated to help with language.

I asked what they would like to do with their stories next and someone volunteered “listen to each others’ stories and guess the book that inspired it.” OK.

The books were all displayed in the front of the class and students shared their stories while others guessed. They all did the activity, but we had lost the energy of the first part of the lesson. I encouraged the listeners to ask questions to know more about the stories or to get clarification and some did, but it felt less authentic than before. Meef…

I think we could have saved this activity for another lesson and I’m sure the students would have understood. In my desire to show that they hadn’t done homework just for the sake of doing it, I think I prematurely aborted a lesson that was going well. Lesson learned—in Dogme, you really do have to roll with what comes up, maybe explaining to students the reason for delaying the homework-based activities. We could have just as easily started up next lesson with the story –telling and then branched out from there, in a more natural way.

What do you think? What should I have done?

Lesson 6                                                                                                                            Lesson 8

 
 

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