by Małgorzata Bryndal
Clov: What is there to keep me here?
The following assignment explores a recent methodological proposition in TEFL, known as Dogme ELT. In Part I of this assignment, Dome’s theoretical background and practical applications are presented. This is followed by a short discussion of my professional interest in this approach and a final section listing the set objectives for the experimental lesson and the ways of measuring the outcome of this experiment. Part II includes a detailed lesson plan with a commentary and a retrospective evaluation with an action plan for future professional development.
Dogme ELT’s theoretical basis.
Just like many other language teaching methods and approaches in the past (cf. Richards & Rodgers, 1986), the philosophy of Dogme ELT has originated as a reaction against current trends in the language classroom. Its proponents, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, fighting against the omnipresent culture of grammar-driven, level-oriented course books, have called for material-free (or material-light) teaching, unburdened by an excess of materials and technology (Thornbury 2000 & 2001, Thornbury & Meddings 2001). Inspired by the Dogme-95 film group, whose intention was to rid film-making of an obsessive concern for technique and to rehabilitate a cinema which foregrounds the story and the inner life of the characters, Thornbury (2001) has adopted their name and adapted their vows of chastity arguing for leanness and rigour of language teaching practice (1). The resulting Dogme ELT is pedagogy restored to its pre-method state of grace, focusing on the social nature of learning and social purposes for which languages is used. It is pedagogy of bareessentials (or poor pedagogy, cf. Thornbury & Meddings 2001), where the sources of all materials are learners themselves and learning is grounded in the experience, beliefs, desires and knowledge of the people in the room (Thornbury 2001). This is what makes it humane and relevant. After all, language is not only grammar, language is a socio-cultural artefact. As Stevick (1980) pointed out, successful language learning depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analyses and more on what goes on between the people in the classroom.
Dogme ELT opposes material-driven teaching not because published language materials and available technology are intrinsically bad, but because they have the power to inhibit the necessary conditions for language learning. The masses of photocopies, flashcards, OHP transparencies, videos, CD-ROMs, textbooks, etc., suffocate real learning opportunities, real communication and the inner life of the student. As Woodward (1991) puts it:
“…content is very distracting. We all tend to be blinded by content. Students, when asked what they learned at school that day, are very likely to remember interesting flashes of parrots and desert islands rather than the main learning point the teacher was trying to illustrate.” (Woodward 1991, p. 66)
Dogme ELT views language and language acquisition as an emergent and complex phenomenon, socially motivated and dependent on the concerns, interests, desires and needs of the user. Engaging learners in a L2 dialogue fosters L2 acquisition in the true Krashen sense of this notion (Krashen 1981). It happens at the background, emerges slowly, without ostentatious learning taking place. Therefore, any attempt to control it from the outside (for instance by means of a prescribed textbook) is futile. The worst scenario in Dogme ELT is to allow imported grammar-driven materials to rule teaching and learning, and in effect, reduce our learners to passive consumers of “grammar McNuggets” as Thornbury calls them (Thornbury 2000 (i)). Feeding our students with discrete units of grammar, irrespective of their own learning needs and styles is similar to Freire’s banking model of education: teachers make deposits of information which students are to receive, memorise and repeat (Freire 1970). The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop critical thinking, creativity and communication skills.
The abundance of teaching materials results in our treating the language as something coming from outside, rather than something coming from inside, i.e. a tool for self-expression. By bringing the socio-cultural aspect of language back into the forefront of teaching, Dogme ELT captures language as a means for self-expression. Language learners are, after all, individuals and their learning goals are defined by what the learner wishes to express. This means that they have their own unique and personal learning syllabuses. Therefore, Dogme ELT forbids any pre-selected syllabus of grammar or lexical-notional items. Instead, language learning is to happen through social interaction and dialogue. A course syllabus must be negotiated with the students.
The concept of dialogue as an essential prerequisite in learning has its roots in dialogical pedagogy (Freire 1970) and informal education (Jeffs & Smith 1996). It allows learners to take ownership of their learning and share responsibility for what is being taught in the lesson. Dialogue helps Dogme ELT to achieve the same goals that ‘conventional’ teaching achieves through the more closed varieties of interaction, characteristic of transmissive teaching or even the communicative approach. Emergent in its character, dialogue tends to be unpredictable, and if placed at the centre of Dogme lesson activities, may pose quite a challenge for teachers, especially the less experienced ones. It requires them to 'go with the flow’ and show the capacity to respond to situations and students’ experiences, to shape the language that emerges from participant-driven input, output and feedback, and most of all to see an opportunity to teach. This is a reactive focus on the learners’ language, where language is as much the process as the product of instruction (Thornbury & Meddings 2001 (i)).
1. See Appendix A for the list of Dogme ELT Vows of Chastity.
The emphasis on dialogue does not mean that Dogme ELT focuses on spoken language only. Dialogue is understood in its broader sense here, as a meaningful exchange that is seen as a springboard to practise any language area or skill that can be captured in the language emerging from that dialogue. Teachers must ensure that lessons are language rich, but language must not be used for display (metalanguage), but for meaningful communication, relevant to students’ learning and socio-cultural context (cf. Thornbury 2001). Without satisfying students’ social needs and looking into their inner lives, we cannot satisfy their pedagogical needs.
A Dogme ELT classroom is similar to an informal education classroom, where the primary goal of the teachers is to facilitate learning (and not just to operate learning materials). The nature of the student-teacher relationship is rid of the traditional student-teacher, them-and-us division. Both students and the teacher in the Dogme ELT classroom are members of a small culture with local needs and local concerns, and learning potential. It is then logical that the texts and topics they require should be locally generated. This might mean the students themselves choose their topics and texts. (Thornbury & Meddings 2003).
Student is foregrounded at all times, being the source of all language emerging in the classroom. Language practice activities are more direct and relevant for the students: they are asked to talk about themselves and their experiences. The focus on their interest increases their intrinsic motivation, whilst the interactive activities push learners to produce more accurate and appropriate language, which in turn provides input for other students (cf. Hedge, 2000). Language is not a subject in itself, but a medium for other subjects, so there is potentially an inexhaustible supply of topics that may prove of interest to students (Thornbury & Meddings 2001). They are encouraged to communicate in English, but the use of their first language is not prohibited if it facilitates acquisition at the time.
Teacher’s task in the Dogme ELT classroom is to scaffold this emergent communication process and teacher’s authority derives from his/her ability to manage and facilitate the social processes out of which and for which language develops. Rather than preparing lessons and taking students through a list of items on the plan, the Dogme teacher should prepare for the lesson that will be co-written by the people in the room. Dogme ELT teacher is:
The principles and techniques of Dogme ELT are idealistic and very humanistic. Dogme ELT elevates student-centred lessons and the idea of student autonomy to its most desirable state. All things considered however, Dogme ELT applicability raises my concerns. Though the teacher’s profile in the Dogme ELT classroom is low, there is still a lot of responsibility on his/her shoulders in terms of appropriate needs analysis, course design, accommodation of diversity in the classroom and reacting to the emerging language on the spot, which could prove to be an insurmountable task for an inexperienced teacher. Even in its material-light version, applying Dogme ELT is quite challenging. Reflecting back on my own teaching experience I am positive, that this methodology would not attract my attention at the beginning of my teaching career, as like many other teachers, I would simply not be able to deliver a lesson without a carefully prepared plan. Moreover, the decision about rejecting resources should be an informed one, underpinned with previous experience of using them, which (inexperienced) teachers might simply not have. Also, banning the use of grammar-driven teaching materials (or any other materials for that matter) is more likely to make a bad teacher into a worse one, than it is to improve already good ones, so we should really be careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Finally, we should not forget about students’ expectations and learning habits. While it is true that when some students come and ask for a course, they come to learn English, not to do a book, it is also true that others demand a book. They grew to depend on it (just as teachers did) and they like the culture of the textbook. My experience with Polish, Pakistani and Chinese students, taught me that they are used to working with language as an external subject distanced from themselves. They do not like the ‘unmasking’ that is involved in using the people in the room as human, personal subject matter. They are not used to student-centred lessons, and expect teacher to provide them with ready-made “grammar/lexis McNuggets”. Too much student autonomy makes them feel uncomfortable and left uncared for by the teacher.
My professional interest in Dogme ELT.
My decision to experiment with the methodology of Dogme ELT has been influenced by a few factors. First of all, my current teaching context, being community-based, is very ‘dogmesque’, not only in terms of its strong socio-cultural focus, but also in terms of the lack of essentials (such as a learning-conducive classroom or a white board), let alone readily available ELT materials. Such teaching environment has made me look for an alternative teaching route to what I have been accustomed to. Dogme ELT lends itself ideally to my teaching context, in that it transforms the lack of ELT paraphernalia almost into a blessing in disguise, making a pedagogical virtue of necessity, and at the same time looks into the life of the students to fish for the learning content and real learning opportunities.
Secondly, whilst reading about Dogme’s principles I started to reflect on the value of my teaching practices and habits. I believe that any ELT development that fosters me to think about my own teaching is an instrument for self-improvement, which is what any teacher should aim for. My initial strong and rather negative reaction to Dogme ELT has given way to questions about the amount of photocopies I bring to the classroom and how I let them become a filter between me and my students. It made me realize that perhaps I have become too dependent on teaching materials, stifling students’ real learning opportunities, and it would be interesting to see if I were able to teach effectively without the excess of paper and technology, in the true spirit of community or informal education.
Thirdly, Dogme ELT made me think about my profile in the classroom. My teaching style can be quite controlling, and I would like to try and adopt a lower profile in the classroom, giving students more ownership of what is happening in class and letting them guide the direction of the lesson.
The objectives for the experimental lesson.
The class I have chosen for the experimental lesson is a pre-intermediate group of Muslim women, attending a community-based English course ran at a local library. It will be interesting to see how they react to a lesson format different from what they have been used to, and if Dogme ELT, proves workable in this teaching context.
The objectives of the experimental lesson are therefore, threefold:
I intend to measure the first objective of the experiment by means of a simple questionnaire that students will be asked to complete after the lesson. I will also ask a more experienced colleague to observe the lesson and feedback his/her remarks regarding the second and third objectives after the lesson.
Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.
Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. OUP
Jeffs, T. & Smith, M. K. (1996) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning. Ticknall: Education Now.
Krashen, S.D. (1981) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. English Language Teaching Series. London: Prentice-Hall International (UK) Ltd.
Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S. (2003) What Dogme Feels Like. Humanizing Language Teaching, Year 5, Issue 6, November 03.
Richards, J. & Rodgers, T. (1986) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, CUP.
Stevick, E. (1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways., Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.
Thornbury, S. (2000) A Dogma for EFL. IATEFL Issues 153, Feb/March 2000.
Thornbury, S. (2000 (i)) McEnglish in Australia. A paper given at the 13 th EA Educational Conference in Fremantle ,Western Australia. (URL: www.teaching-unplugged.com/mcenglish.html)
Thornbury, S. (2001) Teaching Unplugged (Or That’s Dogme with and E). It’s for Teachers, Feb Issue
Thornbury, S. & Meddings, L. (2001) Roaring In the Chimney (or What Coursebooks are Good For). Modern English Teacher, Vol. 10/3, July 2001.
Thornbury, S. & Meddings, L. (2001(i)) Dogme out in the Open. IATEFL Issues, Vol. 162, June/July.
Thornbury S., Meddings L. (2003) Dogme still able to divide ELT. Guardian Weekly, Thursday, April 17, 2003.
Woodward, T. (1991) Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training. Loop input and other strategies. CUP
Dogme ELT Vows of Chastity:
...” 1. Teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom - i.e. themselves - and whatever happens to be in the classroom. If a particular piece of material is necessary for the lesson, a location must be chosen where that material is to be found (e.g. library, resource centre, bar, students' club…).
2. No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all "listening" activities should be the students and teacher themselves. The only recorded material that is used should be that made in the classroom itself, e.g. recording students in pair or group work for later re-play and analysis.
3. The teacher must sit down at all times that the students are seated, except when monitoring group or pair work (and even then it may be best to pull up a chair). In small classes, teaching should take place around a single table.
4. All the teacher's questions must be "real" questions (such as "Do you like oysters?" Or "What did you do on Saturday?"), not "display" questions (such as "What's the past of the verb to go?" or "Is there a clock on the wall?").
5. Slavish adherence to a method (such as audiolingualism, Silent Way, TPR, task-based learning, suggestopedia) is unacceptable.
6. A pre-planned syllabus of pre-selected and graded grammar items is forbidden. Any grammar that is the focus of instruction should emerge from the lesson content, not dictate it.
7. Topics that are generated by the students themselves must be given priority over any other input.
8. Grading of students into different levels is disallowed: students should be free to join the class that they feel most comfortable in, whether for social reasons, or for reasons of mutual intelligibility, or both. As in other forms of human social interaction, diversity should be accommodated, even welcomed, but not proscribed.
9. The criteria and administration of any testing procedures must be negotiated with the learners. ’’
10. Teachers themselves will be evaluated according to only one criterion: that they are not boring.
(in: Thornbury, 2001 pp.4-5)
Teacher observation guidelines:
Please observe and evaluate the lesson according to the following criteria:
The lesson plan
Time: 60' (first lesson of a 2.5 hours session)
No. of students: 8
Class profile There are 8 students in the class, all Pakistani females, ages ranging from 18 to 45. They are all Urdu speakers and some of them can also speak Punjabi. They have lived in Nelson, Lancashire, for a few years. The mature students: P, N, G and Ch are stay-at-home mums and want to improve their spoken and written English to be able to better communicate with teachers at school, doctors and other people in the community; the younger students: Nd, A, S and B need to work on their English to be able to go to college in the next couple of years. They are a very motivated group, (the classes were organised in response to their request) who show a lot of commitment and exemplary attendance. We meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for a 2.5 hour’s session each time. The course follows a scheme of work, based on initial needs analysis and ESOL Core Curriculum, and is supported by a variety of published teaching materials. The students have different educational backgrounds: P and N have not attended any learning courses since they moved to Britain and they had very little education in Pakistan; G and Ch have not been to a college in Britain, but they are educated to a degree level in Pakistan; Nd, A, S and B went to primary and secondary schools in Pakistan and now, except English, they are also attending a few other short courses organised by the local library in Nelson (e.g. a computer course). Their speaking and listening skills in English are at a pre-intermediate level, with rather small skill diversity between the students. A, G and Ch, are the most talkative, but not the most accurate learners in the group and have a tendency to dominate the class if the teacher allows them to. Nd, B and S, are quite fluent, though they do need help with pronunciation and need more encouragement from the teacher and the peers to actively participate in classroom activities. P and N are the least fluent speakers and lack confidence to take part in class discussions. All the learners need to work on increasing their vocabulary range and grammar accuracy. Reading and writing skills on the other hand, indicates a wider range of diversity among these students, setting apart the weaker ones: P and N, who struggle with reading comprehension and free writing tasks and require a lot of guidance and support, from the most able ones: A and G, who can handle writing tasks in different genres (letters, postcards, descriptions, short stories) and are also quite independent readers. B, Nd, Ch and S can cope with reading and writing tasks with medium teacher support. They are generally a lively class with good inner-group dynamics. Initial assessment and ensuing classes revealed that the majority of them are auditory-visual learners, e.g. they would ask me to spell an unknown word first and only then to write it on the board for them. They also enjoy occasional kinaesthetic activities (involving moving around the classroom, or language exercises involving reordering, matching or selecting target language written on cut-out paper bits, etc). They prefer group or pair work to working individually, and are happy to change partners for different activities.
Aims and Objectives
Solution: Teacher brings in a few extra copies just in case.
Materials and teaching aids
The learners that will participate in my Dogme lesson are all members of one language community. Despite the fact that they live in the UK, they don’t exercise their opportunities to practice their English everyday. The language barrier and lack of confidence has been a cause of their problems with finding employment and successful assimilation into the British society. They have embarked on the English course I deliver as part of their involvement in tackling unemployment and learning skills for life programme. Therefore, the content of their English classes must be socio-culturally motivated and heavily functional, to help them develop communication skills they require to survive in everyday life in the UK.
Their learning needs agree particularly well with Dogme ELT principles of student-driven input, socio-cultural view of language, fostering learners’ autonomy and building confidence. The fact that Dogme invites student to co-create the content of the lesson, means that my students will be able to lead the lesson into the language area they need, making it more relevant to them, and more ‘at-hand’ for their everyday errands and chores.
In the genuine Dogme ELT lesson, it is the learners (or rather the emergent language they produce) that set lesson aims and objectives. Therefore, to make this experiment worthwhile, and stay true to Dogme principles as much as I possibly could, I will prepare for the lesson bearing in mind Dogme planning strategies(1) and humanistic principles outlined below.
I intend to continue with the theme of Home hoping to focus more on vocabulary pertaining to household problems and relate that language area to the skills of speaking and, to a lesser extent, reading ( scanning for specific information) and listening (in the assumed context of making a phone call to a service provider and booking a service call (2)). Such focus of the session is motivated by the fact that these learners have quite a limited vocabulary range and would like to increase their word power (in terms of quantity and quality, i.e. pronunciation). Their poor vocabulary range affects their speaking skills and causes communication problems in real life. And so, by engaging my students in a range of activities that will foster a lot of language production in a friendly environment, I am hoping to help them improve their communication skills. The content of the lesson, although driven by the students, will be moderated by me to some extent. I will try to keep my profile low, but will exercise my authority to manage the flow of the emerging language and will pick on language areas that will seem most relevant to the topic, most problematic from the linguistic point of view (based on students’ actual performance), or most useful from the functional point of view.
Whatever language work will be done during class, it will be based on what emerges from the students as the outcome of the following three planning strategies:
Dogme ELT’s humanistic principles combined with learner-centred techniques must lead to creating a classroom in which:
Bearing in mind that according to Dogme ELT principles teachers should post- plan rather than pre-plan their lessons, the following lesson plan, is in actual fact a retrospective look at what happened in the classroom during that lesson. The emergent language and what was subsequently done with it during class activities, constituted the basis for establishing the main and subsidiary aims for the lesson.
1. This could mean identifying clear lesson objectives (or re-formulating them) post-lesson, since if we truly allow the learners to take full ownership of their learning, it is difficult to predict where they will want to take the lesson that day, and what kind of emergent language we will have to deal with.
2. This however might change if the students wish to exercise other spoken text form.
Stage 1 - Warmer:
Timing: 5 mins
Procedure: SS & T seated in a circle. T starts the lesson by telling SS an anecdote about a household problem she has recently experienced. T encourages SS to ask any questions about the anecdote.
Stage 2 - Discussion (capturing emerging language):
to give SS a chance to take ownership of the lesson and generate language they need to express their ideas on the topic.
Timing: 8 mins
Procedure: T asks SS about similar experiences of household problems they have had and lets the discussion develop.
SS talk about common problems in the house and services for the home.
T keeps her profile low and facilitates the discussion only when necessary, by prompting ideas, providing required vocabulary.
While SS are discussing T makes a list of any emergent language pertaining to household problems SS mention and writes it on the board (e.g. power cut, gas leak, blocked sink, water leak, breakdown, fault etc).
Stage 3 - Reaching a consensus:
Timing: 5 mins
Procedure: T ask SS to look at the board and check if she has included all of the problems SS talked about. Then T asks SS to sort the problems from the most to the least common ones. SS work as a group and decide together on a final order of the problems. T asks one S to rearrange the list on the board.
Stage 4 - Looking for information about services:
Timing: 14 mins
Procedure: T asks SS to discuss who can assist them with solving the problems they talked about.
SS generate a list of service engineers and other professionals, one S notes them on the board matching the problem with an engineer type (e.g. blocked sink – plumber, power cut - electrician etc.)
T asks SS how/where they can find information about these service men, accepts their ideas.
T puts SS in pairs and asks each pair to find the information about one of the specified serviceman, in the resources available in the library (phonebooks, internet, other local information guides). They are to find a name, address and telephone number.
SS work in pairs, locate the needed resource in the library and retrieve required information.
T asks SS to come back to their seats and ascertains that everybody has their information by asking if everyone has got an address, telephone number and the name of their serviceman.
Stage 5 - Preparation for role play
Timing: 10 mins
Procedure: T asks SS what kind of thing they would like to know before booking a service call accepts their ideas and puts them on the board. (e.g. prices, availability, how long it will take to fix the problem etc). Then elicits questions SS would need to ask to get this information. Puts them on board in cued form. E.g.:
SS are then asked how they should start and end a formal telephone conversation. T accepts ideas, puts them on board in short note form. E.g:
SS are put in pairs. T asks them to order the stages of the telephone conversation from the cues written on the board. SS work in pairs.
T asks one pair of SS to present their idea of the telephone call, asks other SS if they have any other suggestions.
Stage 6 - Role play:
Timing: 13 mins
Procedure: T puts SS in pairs.
Each pair selects a different problem they discussed at the beginning and a relevant service provider.
T tells each pair to establish which S in the pair is a service provider and which is a customer.
T asks SS to conduct a telephone conversation between a customer who wants to book a service call and a service provider taking bookings.
SS conduct a role play.
T monitors and notes down any good emerging language, and any problems worth discussing after the role play.
At the end of this stage T recaps the activity asking each pair a question relating to their conversation, e.g: When is your service man coming? How much will you have to pay? How long it’s going to take them to fix it? Is the service expensive? Was the provider polite on the phone? etc.
Stage 7 - Feedback:
Timing: 5 mins
Procedure: T first commands SS on good language uses and gives them examples.
T puts a few selected errors on the board and asks SS to discuss in groups how to correct them.
T feedbacks their answers. Checks with the whole class if the errors have been corrected properly.
T sets homework, thanks the class for good work.
Post Lesson Evaluation
This experiment helped me understand the role that published materials (especially textbooks) have played in my development as a teacher. My dependence on them at the beginning of my career left me filled with classroom skills, activity ideas and language awareness, and also gave me the confidence to become more independent from them now. Having done the Dogme ELT lesson, and having exercised dealing with the emergent language on the spot, I can see that working without a textbook can be quite liberating.Action plan for future professional development.