Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dogme and me. Or me and my dog.

Unfortunately, language teaching usually takes place in a classroom environment involving large numbers of students. It’s often an experience similar to group sightseeing with a tour guide at the front waving a little flag and hoping that students will follow. For those of you who have been elsewhere there is an exciting and admirable movement afoot in ELT called ‘Dogme’. The pillars of dogme being materials-light, conversation-driven learning with the teacher and students alert to emergent language; all worthy and to many teachers somewhat obvious aims. I suggest this attitude is an ideal we should aim for and should be inspired by.

Let’s go back to the sightseeing analogy though. Imagine taking forty 7-year-old kids on a full-day tour of, say, London.

Before you got to London, would you prefer the students had some idea what they were going to see and do? Probably.

Would you like their parents to be informed about how they were going to spend the day? I guess so.

Would you take them to Picadilly Circus and say ‘OK, everyone! Listen up! We’ll meet you back here in 2 hours.’? Umm. No.

Might you consider giving them a map and some important contact details? I would.

I agree that in some ways the 40 kids might learn a great deal by being given a freer rein. You’ll not end up with forty of them though and it’ll be fun explaining to their parents why sixteen of them spent the whole day on the London Eye, ten of them sat in an amusement arcade all afternoon and only one of them stumbled on the British Museum by chance, spent two hours in the souvenir shop and then left without realizing where they had been. There were also the three that got on the train to Birmingham and the chap who sat in McDonald's all day eating chicken nuggets. I’m sure you can have fun thinking of other students in this scenario.

I have done a great deal of Dogme-like teaching. Actually it led me to become involved in creating materials. It works better the less students you have, the more responsible and individually motivated they are, the greater your understanding of the target language, the greater the students' language ability, the more time the teacher has to devote to preparation of attractive lessons and the less control the system requires.

Most young learner environments are heavily weighted towards the wrong end of these scales. That's not to say we should give up.

A well known ELT editor once uttered the immortal line in a karaoke booth. 'Sing something more Springsteenesque!'. I would say that all teachers should aim to be more Dogmeesque but you might find a decent coursebook comes in very handy on the journey. What a decent coursebook is is material for another day.


David Warr said...

Excellent post Patrick. Really vivid. One of the best analogies I've heard, and one which I completely agree with. (I can see where your next post is going ;-))

Richard said...

Like it, Patrick. The London trip image reminds of summer school, where sometimes you kind of wish that some of them, well a couple of them, ok usually just ONE particular student won't actually come back! ; )

Disclaimer: I don't really mean that, honest. I would never think such a thing.

Patrick Jackson said...

@David I am glad you can see where my next post is going because I can't. DM me some ideas when you have a moment!
@Richard We NEVER think such things as teachers. Never, never, never, never. Well, nearly never.

Ken Wilson said...


hilarious analogy - and totally flawed.

The whole point about a dogme trip to London is that the students would remain as a group, and the teacher would be with them all the time, offering help and picking up on emergent language. Visits anywhere with students are in fact the ultimate dogme experience.

To reverse your analogy, in a classroom situation, would a dogme-inspired teacher just let the students wander round the room looking at pictures on the wall? Without being there to work on any emergent language?

I don't think so.

But a truly enjoyable post!

Patrick Jackson said...

@Ken I stand corrected! You're right, the perfect dogme experience would be more cooperative and harmonious. It's a noble aim. As for wandering around, well if only there was more of it.