This week has been a fairly busy week, a lot of hours away from my computer screen for a change, and lots of walks in and out of shady Plaza Mina in the centre of old town Cádiz. That’s where the TEFL del Sur event took place last week (see last post) and that’s where a lot of my reflections have kicked off this week, starting on journeys home through the square, writing and rewriting this blog post in my mind, revisiting and rethinking my – and other people’s – impressions of the morning.
There were three sessions, and although we hadn’t planned it that way, the three balanced each other very nicely. The opening session by T (Teresa Bestwick) offered Fifteen things to do on Monday and was practical, hands-on and exactly what we needed to wake us up on a (relatively) early Saturday morning. The second session by Simon Pearlman was an inspiring talk from the heart about discipline and control in the YLs classroom (from VYLs to teens) and explored both sides of (an) Iron Fist, (in a) Velvet Glove. After a coffee break in the sun, it was great to sit back and listen to someone speaking passionately and eloquently about a topic they feel strongly about (at the end of the post there are links to Simon’s slideshow and notes taken during the session).
In the third session, Dogme: what’s it about? we changed the room around and switched from listening to speaking. We sat in a horseshoe, I sat at the front, but to the side and I started as I’d intended with the word Dogme on the board and asking the others to jot down a couple of questions they’d like to ask. The question writing spilt over into conversation and loathe as I was to stop it, I did, and handed out board pens so that people could come and write their questions on the board.
We looked quickly at the questions and the range and feel and depth showed that there were a lot of people in the room who already had definite feelings and ideas that they wanted to share. But before plunging into the more detailed questions we went back to basics and answered – in part – the apparently simple, but actually enormous, question “What is it?” I asked everyone to write a simple definition of what it meant to them, individually or in pairs or groups as they preferred. I had forgotten to ask them to write it within the limitations of a tweet (as I’d seen Scott Thornbury do at TESOL Spain) and so asked them to go back and pare it down to 140 characters before handing it on to the person/people next to them. We then called out a few and discussed the elements that came up. Here are a few of the definitions and reactions to them (thanks Sarah for taking such great notes during the session!) :
- communication based learning technique invented by a Kiwi (sic).
- a paper free teaching approach that emerges from students’ needs.
- it’s a spontaneous, unplanned (not unprepared), minimal materials class.
- reactive teaching that is prepared. It’s always prepared because you are a teacher. Your mind is constantly acting and considering past experiences. You go into a class with a starting point. Bring in all of your teaching skills.
- use the students as a main resource. The student is in control.
- the teacher is thinking outside the book, letting students decide where the class goes and what the lesson will concentrate on.
- the class focusses on emergent language instead of following set grammar and vocabulary. Students are playing with and starting to form, conversations that come up as they enter the class. Emergent needs feed into the class. It can be better for students, giving them what they need.
- listening activities are all based on interactive listening skills which is better than a CD. Teacher is more a participant in the group, less the teacher more part of the class. The students can bring in their own audio to ask for help.
- there are Dogme moments in all types of class. The students often continue the conversation from things that come up in textbooks.
- it’s always been part of what we do, it’s nothing new.
As the conversation started to lose momentum, I asked for a show of hands of people who felt confident that they could explain the roots of the approach/movement. There were enough volunteers to be able to divide the session into groups which then shared what they knew about the Dogme film movement and the links between the two. Again there was plenty of discussion. We pooled our information and I shared a scoop.it link with articles and short video clips for anyone who wanted to delve further (I also posted it on our facebook page later that weekend).
We then turned to the questions on the board (apologies for the quality of the image – taken on my phone with the blinds halfway down – if you click on it you’ll get a bigger, clearer picture) :
Rather than open them to the floor I asked everyone to take another look, decide which questions they’d like to discuss and then asked the teachers to mingle, discussing their questions or issues with people they hadn’t spoken to yet. I asked them to regroup three times, aware each time that I was breaking up conversations, but knowing also that some might be picked up again at the end of the morning.
I don’t really know what went on in those discussions. I picked up on a couple of common themes and when we regrouped we kicked off with one: the question of whether dogme is more suitable for experienced or inexperienced teachers. One view was that you needed to be experienced in order to have developed a repertoire of activities or lesson templates that you could call on, as well as the language analysis skills to be able to pick up on and exploit emergent language, while others suggested that more experienced teachers might actually find it more difficult to break out of the mould of coursebook-based lessons.
Time was running out and to tie up we looked back at the questions and whether or not we were any closer to answering them. There was a general consensus that yes, dogme is fashionable at the moment, but no, it’s not showing off. That yes, there may be an element of dogma in the “thou shalt not ..” commandments of the vow of chastity, but that there are definite benefits in terms of responding to students’ language and learning needs. There was a question in some teachers’ minds as to whether there was a role for controlled practice in a dogme classroom and it was argued that yes, there was, as there is also room for “teaching moments”. We quickly discussed the question of ages and levels. It was felt that with YLs there could be a dogme element but that VYLs also love and enjoy set pieces like songs and nursery rhymes.
In response to the question about exam classes, I mentioned the cry for help from a school in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquake, for ideas for teaching exam preparation classes without text books. Here’s a link to the blog post by Anthony Gaughan asking for help and ideas. In response to the question about student awareness of what they were learning – and a sidelong look at providing evidence of learning – I talked about my own experimental course where the students wrote lesson summaries and shared them initially by email and then on a class blog, pinpointing learning outcomes and language areas covered during the classes. And that really was about it.
Looking back I wish I’d taken some kind of “exit poll” at the end, asked everyone to write down or articulate one thought, question or idea they were going to take away with them. But I didn’t. Maybe if any of you are reading this you could add your thoughts in a comment? The session ended there, but the conversations didn’t.
As has become the habit with the TEFL del Sur events, the next move was down to the square to cash in our beer vouchers, and there we talked about coursebook restraints, and dogme moments and standby classes and personal loves and hates of planning and going unplanned. And I think there may be space for a session in one of next year’s events to share stories of “dogme moments” or ”unplanned” lessons with a range of different classes, ages and levels. Anyone fancy it, just let T and the rest of the TEFL del Sur committee know!