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Dogme: A teacher's view
- Dogme is...
- My Dogme classroom
- Learner objectives
- The lesson plan
- The Dogme file
Dogme is a teaching philosophy. It goes beyond the standard pedagogical methods that we are so often used to hearing about.
- The thinking behind it is that students learn when they feel involved and interested in the subject.
- If the material they use isn't relevant to them then the likelihood they'll retain any information is slim.
- The solution within Dogme basically consists of removing all irrelevant material to enhance learning. It involves in fact removing all material.
- A Dogme classroom is a textbook free zone. To a certain extent we could say that a Dogme space is a classroom free zone as we know it.
Scott Thornbury is the main force behind this revolutionary movement. He and his colleagues realised that too many classes were being invaded by lesson plans, textbooks, workbooks, tapes, transparencies, flashcards, Cuisenaire rods, tapes and other such gimmicks that the students themselves were no longer (assuming they once had been) the focus of the lesson. By inventing Dogme they've put the learner back into learning.
There are Dogme rules that can be followed but in true Dogme style they are there to be bent and moulded to your own teaching context. Here are some of the main ones:
- Resources should be provided by the students or whatever you come across. If doing a lesson on books then go to the library.
- All listening material should be student produced.
- The teacher should always put himself at the level of the students.
- All language used should be 'real' language and so have a communicative purpose.
- Grammar work should arise naturally during the lesson and should not be the driving force behind it.
- Students should not be placed into different level groups.
My Dogme classroom
The students aren't seated behind desks. It's much harder for them to express themselves in this artificial setting. There's no reason why they can't have some paper and pens but definitely no textbook. I always have a paper board or white board for them to use, if possible some comfy chairs or with larger classes a comfy floor space and cushions, and some music playing in the background. In a 'pure' Dogme classroom though there wouldn't be music unless produced by the students themselves. The atmosphere should definitely be relaxed. Once the students understand the concept of autonomy and controlling their learning I find they are far more willing to participate, lead the sessions and discipline almost becomes a thing of the past. They soon enter the classroom brimming with ideas and enthusiasm while you sit back and facilitate the learning process rather than drown it.
Before looking at the detail of a lesson itself I always begin the year by looking very closely at the students' objectives. With younger students the linguistic objectives are more likely to resemble each other, but the older they get the more aware they'll be of why they're learning English and what areas they need to work on. However this is not always the case and spending time on this before you launch into a course makes so much sense to the learners themselves as you progress through the year. The advantage of doing this is that each lesson the students can refer back to their personal objective sheet and relate everything they choose to do in class to at least one of their objectives.
The lesson plan
I always start a lesson by putting the class into three or four smaller groups. How you organise this stage of the lesson will obviously depend on the number of students you have in your class.
- Each group decides what they want to work on in the lesson with their objective sheets close to hand. This could take the form of speaking skills and 'practising talking in front of other people' or 'improve grammatical accuracy when speaking' for example.
- Then a spokesperson from each group goes to the board and writes up in note form a couple of the most popular choices from what the group has decided. This process should be fairly quick and will become quicker as they get used to it. I prefer to leave the classroom and return when the time limit is up and the notes are on the board. However for security reasons this is not always possible and with the younger pupils I make it clear that I am not going to intervene at all in this process.
- Then I read what the students would like to work on and use this information to facilitate the rest of the lesson.
- You may find that some students want to concentrate on writing while others on listening. This is up to the students to negotiate whose objectives they're going to work on in that particular lesson and up to you to have activities up your sleeve that enable them to work simultaneously on different skills. A great example of this is a running dictation where some people can work on their writing, some on their listening, some on their reading and others on their speaking.
The Dogme file
I do find it helpful for students to have a file of what they learn and I advise on ways to record their work. It is of course up to them how they organise their files but it's useful to guide them on the various possibilities in the beginning. I do say though that they should keep it a monolingual file as much as possible.
- Instead of writing the translation next to the English word for nouns and adjectives I get them to draw a quick picture. For students to become more independent they always have access to monolingual dictionaries and are free to look up words when they want. This enhances a thirst for knowledge and they are more likely to remember the word than if I were to tell it to them.
- One of the ways I advise them to record their language is in different subjects rather than alphabetical or chronological order as it's often easier for them to retain and reuse the word.
- From a teaching point of view it cuts down tremendously on preparation time.
- The students feel completely in control of their learning and are therefore so much more motivated.
- It keeps you alert and spontaneous as you never know exactly what could happen in class and so must think on your feet.
- You can handle almost anything once you've taught in a Dogme classroom.
- Students are constantly aware of the 'why' behind everything they do.
- Some students may feel uneasy about it at first, feeling they're not being spoon-fed a teacher-led lesson.
- It might be daunting for a newly trained teacher to work without the security of a textbook.
- Some teachers may be locked into a specific syllabus.
- You may be working in very large classes where tables are bolted to the floor.
- Some teachers may feel that their role and 'power' is being undermined by this more student-centred approach.
For me, the Dogme classroom is far removed from the preconceived idea of a lazy teacher, not having prepared their lesson, walking in and saying "So what do you want to talk about today?". It's so much more than an open conversation class. It involves a hidden structure which allows the students to become autonomous in their learning and gives them complete control over what they learn and how they learn it. You are there to guide the process and watch your learners bloom into enthusiastic English speakers.
You can also join the Yahoo Dogme discussion forum http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dogme/ where lively Dogme related debates take place and exchanges of ideas are constant.
Jo Bertrand, Teacher, Materials writer, British Council Paris