Sunday, 13 March 2011

teaching 'unplugged' and dogme

DOGME is a fascinating teaching philosophy which seems to capture many things I am trying to do with my 'freestyle' classes - I am using no course books and trying to go much more student centered in direction of classes. with an emphasis on communicative, authentic language.  all sounds very much in accordance with the points put forth in the wikipedia summary and some other articles I've read.

See the ten main points as listed in wikipedia

"Dogme has ten key principles.
  1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
  2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
  3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
  4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
  5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
  6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
  7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
  8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
  9. Relevance: materials (eg texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
  10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases."

It was all sounding very appealing, however I just read Jo Bertrand's article  which sounds a lot more DOGMAtic on a number of points than I am willing to go. Paradoxically, I see it as both too inflexible   and too anarchic for me - or most of my students -  to feel comfortable using in such a way.

Inflexible in terms of methodology, what a teacher must do to teach DOGME style. (And I'm going to call it DOGME style, because I still can't quite get over what an ugly name chosen for a rather nice if idealistic teaching philosophy...)

Anarchic in not allowing the teacher to pre-plan a route through the class, or indeed perhaps, to plan the class at all. Even the multiple contingency plan addendums to plans that all teachers probably get good at leaping around in is too structured to meet true DOGME style teaching. It takes a special kind of teacher, with a special kind of character and charisma, and an encyclopedic memory for effective activities (- and I DO know there are some of them out there! bless them! -) to be able to orchestrate a sterling, top-notch class, filled with meaningful learning opportunities off the top of their head, on the fly, as it were, right there and then in the classroom, and with no use of outside resources.

No, let me correct that; I doubt even this type of teacher - and we have probably all had to try to be this type of teacher at least once or twice in our careers - is able to orchestrate their MOST successful, sterling top-notch class filled with meaningful learning opportunities in these circumstances.

I am a good teacher. I have had my moments of glory - as well and misery -  and the occasional DOGME style no-resources SUCCESS. BUT I am not comfortable - actually I am quite a LOT horrified - by the prospect of going into a class without a plan, and contingency plans, and a few great extra activities up my sleeve, and knowing I can provide rich and varied input for students - reading, listening, multimedia -  to stimulate the learning process.

Most teachers I know I can't working optimally or even happily under DOGME style restrictions as outlined by Bertrand.

And I suspect this might be even more the case for students. The idea sounds more feasible for upper intermediate an advanced students, but for lower level students the concept is more challenging. Even with my very small groups, I can't see my students being happy just coming to class and identifying in each what they wish to work on. Particularly in the case of my beginners, I just can't see it working effectively for them to be establishing what they need in each class, when we all know,  what they need is EVERYTHING.

SO while I love what I have read of the general philosophy of DOGME teaching (except for that awful name!) - I am less than convinced by some of the claims of the optimal way to bring the principles into the classroom for all but perhaps a handful of teachers who have the necessary package of tools incorporated in their very personalites to make it happen just right.

This shall be a point of further reflection and practice, how it works for me and my students and
I shall be returning to this topic as I continue tripping happily with my students down my course-book free path.

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