Dogme and me
August 23, 2011 15 Comments
Dogme and Me
Dogme and me have been good friends for a while now, its just, like many other people, I didn’t know it.
I guess I first met Dogme when I did my Celta at International House Krakow, Poland in 2004. Gosh, 7 years ago now. Dogme came in the room when someone said “you don’t need a course book to teach, you can teach a brilliant EFL lesson with a stick and a stone and some dirt on the ground, in fact many people do”, they said. I was surprised …. over whelmed – would I ever know enough about the English Language to be able to do that? Would I find myself soon in a place with no resources? They stayed in my mind those sticks and stones.
Fast forward 6 years teaching in Poland and The Netherlands to an input session at my current work place, “We don’t need technology the session leader quipped, we don’t need books, we just need to listen to our students more, even better if our lessons go “off plan”. Sometimes I already do that I thought, but fearfully, feeling like a naughty child who might be caught out by her parents, fearing being accused of laziness by my boss or somehow accused of disobeying the rules. But I had been teaching learner-centred business classes for the last four years – had I been teaching Dogme all along?. What exactly is Dogme I thought?
Then I heard Chaz Pugliese talk at a conference about Jazz and Creativity. He said “sometimes we are more interested in the materials than in the students”. I thought, that’s what’s happening to me. I have become over loaded with materials and I am forgetting about the learners. Around the same time I heard a lecture given by Luke Meddings on my Delta course about Dogme. He said “listen and ask”.
I’m at a crossroads, I feel like I’m at a turning point. I’ve been off work for 6 weeks and I’m going back to teaching on Monday. I am ready for a new way of thinking , as Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings say in Teaching Unplugged “Dogme is more than simply a new set of techniques and procedures …” (goodness knows there are plenty of those in the EFL/ELT world – one could spend one’s whole life trying out different people’s “techniques and procedures”) but no Dogme is “more an attitude shift, a state of mind, a different way of being a teacher.” I know that at times I have had Dogme moments, which have ranged from spontaneously encouraging conversations, letting them run and then responding to emergent language in both group classes and one to one lessons, making specific lessons based on students personal interests. I have created on the spot lessons based on language emerging from a student’s problems (mentioned on Dale’s blog before) when one of my students came into class in tears because she had seen a photo of her famous footballer boyfriend on the front of a local newspaper with another man. The lesson that transpired from this was one of the best and most engaging lessons I have ever taught on modality and giving advice. It’s happened in other situations, as Phil mentioned, I have also had an amazing lesson on Saudi Arabian marriage traditions when one of my students gave a spontaneous presentation resulting from a conversation about love and the sea. The language which cropped up formed the basis of a whole week of lessons on marriage and different cultural traditions and relationships. Language for opinions, interrupting, softening, idioms, lexis, chunks and grammar emerged abounded and were recycled.
This all sounds well and good. But for me it’s all about courage. Where do you get that from? That’s the key, courage to embrace the unknown. For me anything truly great in the world comes from embracing the unknown. Jazz music, poetry, great literature, dance, art, sculpture. No one ever knows where it is going to lead. Courage to have faith in one’s own instinct.
Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings suggest starting from physical stimuli in lessons (anything you like – an empty plastic bottle, a pizza flyer picked up on the way to school) and seeing where it leads. Small details lead to greater things. Less is more. Having the courage to see this through is the key.
For me it all makes sense in theory but in practice? I have had a postcard on my wall for years now (I take it around and put in on the wall of every new home I have, believe me I’ve had many) of a road leading to nowhere much like the cover of “Teaching Unplugged”. Bruce Chatwin, Buddhism, accepting what is unknown – Its not an original idea.
Before I was a teacher I taught devised theatre working with individual actors, empowering them to create their own words and movement. My focus with my theatre company was always on the people in the room. I didn’t use pre-planned texts, or written plays. I always used the actors’ lives and experiences to create the work. That said we did often have a starting point, a stimuli, something small to get us going. Nothing has changed really. I also had a quote from a choreographer which I can’t remember now… something about the space itself being enough of a stimulus for creativity. Very Dogme.
So although I am ready for a new way of thinking I suppose its more that I am ready to have the courage to embrace what I have always known.
Dogme has also enabled me to find a solution that has been bugging me for years. I have always felt uncomfortable about being part of the multi-billion pound industry that is ELT course books. I don’t want to be “implicit ” (Thornbury and Meddings. 2009:13) in the global industry, that is course books because I agree with Alistair Pennycook that “English language materials are never neutral… they are about the spread of essentially Western, capitalist, and neo- colonialist forms”. Not all course books are like this, the recent Global publication seems to embrace a less Euro centric cultural reference point but no one can please everyone and we come back to the fact that local language generated in the classroom, emerging from the natural flow of conversation, higgledy piggledy as life and language is, it must be the way to go because it both stimulates students and is directly useful for them.
So Dogme and me and going to become better friends from next Monday onwards.
Watch this space
Have a sense of humour in class.
Be interested in your students always.
Recycle: Don’t be afraid to do the simplest things like saying “ok, now write down everything you can remember from that conversation you have just had with your partner”.
Do process writing together in class. Don’t always set writing for homework.
Set up a reading group.
Have a grammar, a collocations dictionary and access to idioms at your fingertips in class to dip into when needed.
Don’t be afraid to say “ oh that’s very interesting, I’ll research that further and come back to you next lesson” if you have no idea what the answer to a question might be.