Dogme Reality

Great to see the great Phil Wade posting again on the blog. For anyone who doesn’t know the man, he’s an ELT Jack of all traits now teaching freelance in Rèunion in the Indian Ocean.  This time, he’s going to talk about how even bending over backwards to make this personal and student centred, it can be like banging your head against the wall!

I remember having a short Twitter chat with Rob Haines who used to handle the Dogme discussion group about Dogme allegedly being the ‘golden bullet’ to cure all teaching woes. Well, it’s good and brings live to classes of students used to heads down work but it doesn’t always work.

This term I’ve had problems with discipline. Students have been chatting heavily in the L1, messing around and not participating by answering no questions or doing any pair work in
English. It’s been doing my head in as I enjoy ‘Dogme moments’, student choice for activities, working with their output and a general positive attitude.

Finally, I realised that some just don’t want to pass, it’s that simple. It sounds crazy to me but logical if they get to resit a class rather than do another either more difficult one. If they don’t get penalised for failing and graduate anyhow, well, I get it. It’s not the mentality that I wish for or expect but now I understand.

Thus, we’re talking zero student contributions except for turning up and sitting down.

I think we teachers beat ourselves up over getting students on track, keeping them so and pushing them. On the CELTA we learned to push them and to keep lessons snappy and were used to eager students with motivation. Take that away and it’s not the same ball game.

There has to be a point where we admit defeat and just let things go before they consume us. In my case, this may mean letting some L1 chat pass or cutting out pairwork. My official course objectives will still get met as they are for people to complete the course i.e. attend and do the exercises. They may pass the test but many may not and thus fail for the 2nd or 3rd time.

I say goodbye to Dogme hopes for this class and put aside my interesting ideas and student-based activities. Sad but the reality is that Dogme doesn’t work with everyone and in every situation. Sometimes it can be a real uphill struggle changing students attitudes and getting them to see the benefits, this can lead to complaints too and if your colleagues are sticklers for teacher-based lessons then you may even face a serious chat.

My Dogme approach will live to fight another day but as it’s now an integrated part of how I always teach, it means I must teach unnaturally. For me, doing all the interesting and responsive stuff is what I like and what teaching should be about.

7 thoughts on “Dogme Reality

  1. Steve Smith says:

    Even with years of experience you can get unmotivated classes with whom you have to sacrifice your language teaching principles just to make sure some learning is going on. Nice blog, by the way.

  2. Rose Bard says:

    Hi Phil,
    I have been wondering about the reasons some students do not invest in his own English language. And you have made an interesting point about them not being interested in passing to the next level. What is the profile of the class you are talking about? What level of English? What does your program focus on?

    I wrote this post where I reflect on the matter through Dr. Norton work on Power, Identity and Investiment, as well as questioning my own concepts of them.

    I appreciate your thoughts and reply.

    • phil wade says:

      Hi Rose,

      Here’s the info you asked for:

      1)BA students
      2)A1 to A2 but also B1 to B2s
      3)One is on basic grammar, the other on speaking.

      Nice blog!! I’ve noticed myself that students have a certain attitude when I arrive. I’ve had this ever since moving abroad as I often replace or take over from natives but also some English natives. I can tell what their relationship was like with their last teacher(s) immediately. Phrases like “we aren’t good enough for IELTS” or “we’ll never pass …exams or get into…uni so …” REALLY anger me as these are from teachers. I don’t know about you but I thought my job was to develop students to be the next generation of bright minds not to kill their enthusiasm.

      • Rose Bard says:

        Thanks for taking the time to access my blog. 🙂

        I feel the same Phil. Killing their enthusiasm is definetely not in my to-do list. And because of that I am constantly trying to understand them, but does it work always? Not always, you are not alone. We can just keep trying to do our best. And it will take time to change their minds and make them believe that they can and they will if they give it a chance.

        I have always worked with small groups with the focus on the four skills while they are learning the language. But last year I was assigned a new class – prepare them to pass university entrance exams. I did my bargain of the deal, I prepared myself to that kind of course. I know what I should do and what they should do. But their heads is on the traditional methodology or what they think they need to do in order to pass. I bought materials to help me plan the classes appropriately and read academic research in the field to learn from other teachers who has successfully helped students to pass those tests. But the school believe that we ought to just explain rules of grammar and that is what they are expecting. This is far from what the whole thing is about. Grammar is just a part of it. If they don’t expand vocabulary as well as their literacy level of reading in a foreign language, they will not pass the exam. I don’t have the option to quit this classes. I wish I had! This is my third semester and I thought it would get easier for me to accept it. But nope! I still feel miserable about it. No, you are not alone. It is frustrating. In this case, there is already a set culture for this particular type of classes and the commom sense is that they need to focus on grammar alone and all will be ok, but some of them still need a dictionary to read a text. So, go figure!

        The other groups I have are the ones I have been investigating this particular concept of investment as language learners. In my context, I can freely talk to my students about their attitude to language learning, so I add to every class something that will make them think of themselves as language learners and we build it slowly. Some students have already this Longlife Learner profile and some need to develop it. It takes training though. I got a wonderful book couple of years ago on developing autonomy that really helped me change my perspective on how to bring that to class.

        Unlocking their brillant minds is not just about the methodology/approach we chose, or autonomy training, It is about leading them to believing that they can and will if they want to and teachers are there to make it happen with them. It sounds romantic actually, but in my context it works with my small groups. Sometimes it is a long wait, but it happens.

        Thanks for the reply. You made me think of the assigned class I would love to quit and I can’t. I had been avoiding the reflection stage on that one.

  3. dalecoulter says:

    Hi Phil. I can definitely empathise with you here. More and more lately I’ve found that Dogme has become more of a treat every now and then – reserved for some special occasions. While I can see that my teaching style has adapted, I’m really happy to see that the core values of Dogme have remained in my practice. Students still get as many opportunities as possible to personalise, I use their language to extend their learning and try and make things as based on conversation as possible.

  4. Betty Carlson says:

    HI Phil. Was this situation in the French school system in any way? I really can’t see dogme flying there, unless you have a really exceptional group — which it sounds like you don’t quite!

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