5 reasons why newly qualified teachers can do a Dogme lesson and 5 reasons why they should

5 Reasons why a newly qualified teacher can do a Dogme lesson

1. There’s time to brush up on your language awareness

Most teacher training courses request that applicants have a first degree, which means those who complete the course will have studied independently before. It doesn’t take a professor to open a copy of a grammar book for teachers and spend half an hour reading it. In fact, add this to the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about ways to get language emerging and that’s probably less than the amount of time spent grappling with a course book. What’s more, it’s time well-invsted. What I mean by this is that the language awareness gained is useful in more situations;  p.36 of X course book you might only teach once or twice in the next year.

2. Everyone has access to a pen and a piece of paper

Which is basically all you need. One piece of paper for your lesson structure, once piece of paper to note down emerging language. Students bring paper and pens to class. You have your lesson right there.

3. Even the freshest of ears can hear where language is missing

Looking back over the notes in my journal from the first Dogme lessons I did, the gaps I recognized were different from what they are now. That’s not to say they were less relevant, far from it, they were just different. I focused most frequently on the structures misused or the lexis students didn’t have. As time passed however, my ear became finely tuned and now my focus is directed more to ‘what can I add to their language’ rather than ‘what did they get wrong/struggle with’. I’d say that a teacher has a good ear for this even in the first lessons after training.

If it’s difficult:

  • Write the language down to look at after the lesson and design a few lessons out of it (I recently suggested this to some of the trainees who observed me).
  • Ask the students what they found most difficult about the conversation. Who said that you have to do all the work yourself? Give them a few questions after things have died down a bit and ask them to reflect on their difficulties when speaking
Practice makes perfect in this case. And it’s not just applicable to Dogme teaching, you’ll find that there are improvements in quality of your language feedback when in all areas of teaching. There will certainly be improvements in suitability of what to correct (e.g. There’ll be fewer correction sessions of the Chinese and Taiwanese when they don’t use past tenses or when a Pole or Russian doesn’t use an article under the pressures of free spoken practice). This also falls under the category of a more affective teacher in the classroom who understands the sheer difficulty of performing in a foreign language. Although, I’m still not sure whether Dogme attracts affective teachers or creates them.
4. Teachers know how to proactively plan
I’d be shocked if they didn’t. Planning is still an important part of a Dogme lesson. The aim is to plan how to encourage the sharing of personal ideas, opinions and experiences. It’s like switching the conventional paradigm of lesson planning on its head; first comes the personalisation, then comes the practice. A new teacher who knows this can quite easily plan a Dogme lesson.
5. There’s loads of help around
When I started I found one of the difficulties I encountered was where to find ideas; I lacked a bank of practice activities, recycling activities, ways of capturing emerging language. In my search for ideas, I found The Standby Book, Lessons from Nothing, Discussions that Work, and Ways of Doing: Students Explore their Everyday and Classroom Processes really helpful.
6. Learners really respond to it
I normally avoid the cliché  “owh they really love ____”. I have helped out new teachers with their first Dogme lesson, experienced teachers with their experimental practice, and even had the chance of observing a DELTA experimental Dogme lesson. In all three cases the feedback from teacher and student expressed that they enjoyed the lesson more, felt more relaxed about speaking, had more to say and learned more from the lesson.
Reasons why a newly qualified teacher should try a Dogme lesson
1. Less fear of trying new ideas
I think this one speaks for itself. After the first time you ride a bike it gets a lot easier, right?
2. More experimental teachers will reflect more on their practices and spend time thinking about why
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not writing any of this to take a cheap shot at anything taught on CELTA or any other pre-service training course for that matter. What seems quite striking is that organised and well executed experimentation in the early months of a teacher’s career promotes a better understanding of the learning process. By this I mean that there’s more awareness that methods exists outside the paradigms of what a teacher has been trained in. I started to question my own practices after teaching a few Dogme lessons. Is it better to pre-teach vocabulary? Are comprehension questions the road to comprehension for reading and listening? The list goes on…
3. A big confidence boost from a successful Dogme lesson
What surprised me when I unplugged my first lessons was that 1. I am an able teacher who does not need something else to teach something for me 2. I know language 3. I can create a motivating and interesting environment in my classroom. It’s a really empowering experience.
4. A more positive approach to student-teacher relations
Again, I question whether Dogme attracts affective teachers or creates them. I certainly felt like I had more empathy with learners after a few lessons. I think it creates more affective teachers because of the amount of listening required on the teacher’s behalf.
5. More language awareness
Brush up on your systems knowledge for a Dogme class at pre-intermediate, then intermediate, then upper intermediate. Slowly but surely you’ll pick up a better understanding of language, not to mention a better ability to handle the numerous questions that learners have to throw at you in any type of class.
A final thought
Everything I have written here is from my own experience of using Dogme in the first week after CELTA and the benefits I experienced in the year and half that followed. Consequently, this is all from my own perspective, adapted to the contexts in which I taught.


14 thoughts on “5 reasons why newly qualified teachers can do a Dogme lesson and 5 reasons why they should

  1. phil says:

    WHAT CAN I ADD TO THEIR LANGUAGE should be an objective for every lesson and even a tattoo we all get upon CELTA graduation.

    Keep up in the interesting posts.

      • phil says:

        It’s too late I got the tattoo.

        I do like the focus away from errors which automatically move any communicationish class back into grammarland and teacher domination. I’ve been trying more support and then questioning students to push them to rephrase and be more specific. Like you I’ve had lots of high levels, most of my career actually. I even had a post CPE class once. But honestly, Dogme turned things round and I ended up with a great class of students who used to come early because I was actually interested in their thoughts and I challenged them by encouraging discussion. Technically, we did not do ‘heads down’ language work but little snippets and they worked on texts and videos out of class which they digested and then brought the language of to class.

        The problem with Dogme is that it’s a slippery slope, you get hooked because it works. I now can’t go back to the dark side anymore and can only teach student-centred communication driven and with my previous 5 ton of copies. You would not believe the amount of copies I had left this term. So many that I had to smuggle them out of school in bin bags in fear of being asked “why didn’t you use them”. Of course the verb ‘use’ refers to hand out and read through together or lecture about for 2 hours.

        Good luck with your dogme teaching and I look forward to reading more great posts.

      • dalecoulter says:

        Hi, sorry for getting back so late,

        Post CPE? Were you teaching them in the UK or abroad? I bet that ended up being a really fun class for everyone involved.

        Tell me about it, I the buzz that comes from a lesson like that is enough to get the students and the teacher hooked. It does make me ask myself sometime whether I do it just for the buzz. I was reading a book called ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a few months ago and it put it the feeling into words really powerfully, removing the doubts I had. It’s a great read, I’d advise it.

        As far as a course diagram goes, I’ve never tried it, no. Well, not in the form of a visual anyway. It sounds like a good idea though. I keep a record of everything that emerges in a diary to keep track on the emerging syllabus… so technically it would be possible. It’d be interesting too to see how it changes with different courses and different students.

        Thanks for your thoughts


  2. phil says:

    I’ve known a lot of teachers who “won’t do CPE” or ‘high levels’ probably because there were no decent materials or rather the materials tackled bizarre grammar points rather than focussing on communication. The few teachers I have met who had these “difficult’ (as some call them) tended to have a very different relationship and rely more on being friends and chatting. Some even use the term ‘babysitting’ as they don’t see that the students can learn anything else, or rather they can’t teach them anything.

    How do you think a Dogme course could develop these students and keep away from just ‘chatting’? Also do you think the average teacher is equipped to ‘fill the holes’ or ‘extend the language’ of such high levels when it comes to specific topics?

    I look forward to your thoughts.

  3. Rachel Williams says:

    Hi Dale,

    I tracked you down after you were mentioned by Luke Meddings in an interview and the post above has answered most of my questions about how teachers starting out could manage dogme.

    However, for my Delta background essay I do also need to look at possible pitfalls and staffroom discussion suggested that students asking new teachers about specific rules could pose problems. Do you have personal experience of this and if so can I quote you?

    I must also say that I really like your skeleton plans, and although I had considered using one from unplugged I think you may have changed my mind. I am, however, going to test Mr Thornbury’s suggestion (2001) that students should not be graded into levels and have a mix ranging from pre-int to advanced.

    I look forward to your comments.


    • dalecoulter says:

      Hi Rachel, thanks for looking up the blog.

      I hope you enjoyed Luke’s interview.

      As far as pitfalls go, I think low-language awareness is something all newly-qualified teachers have to deal with. You have a point though, making the classroom more student-centred in this way could throw up a few worrying questions for a teacher. In this case, the teacher would be unable to answer the question in the moment. There have been instances when I’ve had to say “look, I’m not entirely sure on this one, can I get back to you with an answer I’m 100% sure about?”. But, that’s not to say that the lesson after can’t focus on the answer and the question provide the stimulus for some out-of-classroom research. Failing that, a teacher could set an extension task while the language point is researched on the internet/in a grammar book.

      To add to the issue you mentioned, I might add a few others.

      1. Student expectations

      Students, especially those from a less-communicative environment might find it difficult to adapt to the demands they feel are on them to speak in an unplugged classroom. It’s like going from the communicative shallow end to the deep end. In some contexts of course, the jump maybe be smaller, in some, it might be nothing short of a dive head first into the unknown. It’s important that a teacher is sensitive to this, explains what they are doing and makes the transition for learners easy, not making them feel under pressure. In this case, there are many activities that involve less spontaneous speaking as Scott Thornbury mentions like a silent conversation.

      2. Scaffolding

      Linked to the previous in a way. There’s a big cognitive burden on a student speak, convey meaning and focus on accuracy. Any teacher needs to consider how to scaffold a conversation to give learners to best opportunity to produce language that’s not only meaningful but also correct. Whether this be preparation time writing(not sure if that’s scaffolding), setting some questions for learners to answer, giving them a framework when answering a question (e.g. describing what they can see in a city, smell, do, hear if they are speaking about a place), constructing a dialogue with the class, putting some lexis on the board from a conversation for students to add grammar to in order to help them complete the task. In other words, anything a teacher can do to help move things along to help learners feel comfortable and at ease and to reach their full linguistic potential in the lesson. Scaffolding is still a term I’m learning about and experimenting with in the classroom.

      3. Teacher expectations

      I repeatedly find I have to treat each class as unique. By this I mean I don’t walk into one expecting the same things as I did from the other. It sounds kind of obvious but it’s easy to expect the same amount of conversation/emergent language from class as the previous. Then, if you’re approaching Dogme for the first time, you may not have an expectation in mind and or the class could seem like it’s going to bloom into a full-blown debate on some important issue. The mundane can be much more interesting than the headlining act. By this I mean little parts of people’s days, the small things, can bring out much more language than what is you perfect holiday/is anorexia wrong/Does the internet ruin people’s creativity etc etc…

      If you’re writing your experimental practice, might I suggest this blog as fantastic example http://unpluggedreflections.wordpress.com/delta-experimental-practice/

      Thanks again for your comment. If you end up using a lesson skeleton then let me know how it goes, I’d be very interested to know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s