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.

Supporting a student-centred classroom through a blogging platform

I started nostalgically glancing over a map of Rome the other day and all of a sudden a wave of memories, charged with bitter and sun-drenched emotion, came charging into the window of my memory, opened by such a small gesture as briefly gandering at a map.

I dare to imagine that such memories are not too dissimilar from the creation of many different interactions and learning experiences in a learner-centred classroom like a Dogme classroom. Memory is a fickle being though, a fair-weather friend ready cut you out with time; after a period of time such seemingly unstructured learning is volatile to cracks. Thus, during an intensive two-hour per day course I created a wordpress blog as a way of giving learners the opportunity to write their own map for the the course, in the hope that some of them might look back in a few months and open a window in their memories.

The blog took form in my mind as a place in which we could extend our discussions outside of the classroom, a way of stimulating more discussion on topics we had enjoyed and a hub for gathering resources we wished to offer to class as input. Very soon off the mark, the class having responded very well to the amount of control I had given them of classroom content, I began using it as a quasi-report/practice stage, not dissimilar in my opinion to the task-based learning cycle.

One of the questions at the forefront of my mind was how I intended on using all the data; did want to exploit it as a diagnostic and running assessment of the class’s language competence, thus removing some of the spontaneity and enthusiasm – this is quite evident if you happen to glance at the articles we chose to translate – and diminishing the blog’s person value. I trod carefully in this area, correcting and offering suggestion upon request and devoting classroom time in which I could focus on individual teaching on a one-to-one basis as a way of giving learners a tangible outlet for this. Some of the class decided on the correction which came in the form of a discussion on their posts, which was done through a specially created email address and the ‘save draft’ option on wordpress (necessary to be in line with some of the rules of conduct on student-teacher privacy in place at school).

Translation

I will only briefly comment on the nature of this activity as it shall play a big part in a future blog post. After some discussion on how to translate a Spanish phrase correctly into English we decided to put our skills to the test and translate articles from students’ native tongues into English but attempt to be as accurate as possible in terms of tone, register, lexis and syntax.

Poster Presentations

After watching and being quite intensely engaged in a TED talk by Dan Pink on the science of motivation, the class designed poster presentations to adapt the idea to some of our specialist areas. As a listening task, I asked the class to concentrate intensively on one presentation in particular that interested them and to use their notes as a guide to write a review of the talks.

Marketing competition

Researching and working within a framework of constraints, the class designed holidays on a budget of £2500 that embodied the sense of a word they had chosen. All the data had to be researched and checked on the internet and the sales pitch came in the form of a blog post. Unfortunately we ran out of time on this activity and were unable to give oral presentations.

Learner training

I set the task of commenting on other classmates’ blogposts and after inputting their comment into the http://www.wordandphrase.info text analysis. Once inputted, students evaluated their style according to the frequency of the words as they appear in different genres. To some I gave the task of reducing the formality, increasing the formality, or making the comment more of an academic style. To those whose comments had a lower lexical density, using very frequent words and less pre-modification I gave the task of searching for collocates in the ‘collocate’ function on the site.

Perhaps it is idealism to hope that in a few months this group of motivated and fascinating people might look back on the blog they created and open that little window again in their minds. Of course, the process of writing the blog will have undoubtedly been an engaging experience which provided writing practice on a previously unknown social-media platform for some which lent itself nicely to the reflective and interactive content of the class – just imagine that at one point we became engrossed in discussion on the difference between a female escort and a prostitute and the current scandal taking place in France – nevertheless I hope it may play a role in the future for reactivating their learning. Here’s to hope.

Take a look for yourselves

Study Skills High

Lesson Skeleton: IELTS news-based writing class

This skeleton has been kindly donated by the debate-master Phil Wade. No materials needed, just blank paper, students, pens and a teacher.

Exams don’t exist in a bubble, or rather they shouldn’t. It’s easy to just ‘teach the test’ but with the speaking and writing it’s also fun and educational to show and use the real world. This is useful on several levels. Firstly, it gives students a wealth of realistic ideas to use (often only the realm of CAE+), it creates a positive and practical purpose for speaking/writing classes and it also avoids students only learning IELTS writing English or memorising examples.

1) Elicit a controversial decision/opinion in the news which is causing debate.

2) Write FOR and AGAINST on the board and elicit one example for each

3) Ask pairs to brainstorm more arguments

4)Set up and run a debate scenario with For/Ag sides

Possibilities

1)Groupings

1 to 1 (for new debaters and higher levels or with more structure for lowers)

2 to 2 (bigger classes and weaker students)

3 to 3 (very big classes and very weak or very organised students

The class is divided into 2 teams

2)Format

30 second arguments in turn (for lower levels or new debaters)

1 min arguments in turn (for medium levels)

2 min arguments+support (for experienced debaters)

2 min arguments including criticism (for seasoned debaters)

Open debating (for discussion or informal debate classes)

5)Give FB on languag, pron, grammar, delivery style

You might cover

Presenting a clear opinion statement e.g. I believe that..

Presenting an opposing view e.g. I do not agree that

Using linkers to give reason e.g. because, on account of, due to

Adding support (cover the logical links and the language)

Adding polite criticism e.g. You failed to consider that

Pausing for dramatic effect

Intonation (rising before pauses/drops on important words/large drops on final sounds)

stress (moving the main stress for effect)

6) Move students/groups according to your observations:

a)Who didn’t speak much

b)Who was not challenged

c)Who was domineering

d)Who felt too comfortable with their friends

7)Make new pairs and ask them to note down and match 2 main arguments.

8)Write an essay style For/Against question on the board, then draw 4 boxes labelled Intro, Main1, Main2 and Conc.

9)Choose 1 student to explain if he is For or Against and why

10)Ask him how he would structure the essay to reflect his opinion.

You might cover

Intro-summarise topic and give your opinion

Main 1 For+support (examples, explatanations, quotes)

Main 2 Against+support (examples, explatanations, quotes)

Conc-summarise the arguments and give a last statement

Or

Intro-summarise topic and give your opinion

Main 1 For+Against+support (compare and contrast)

Main 2 Against+For+support (compare and contrast)

Conc-summarise the arguments and give a last statement

11)Ask new pairs to plan their own essay and present it

Possible areas to cover

1)Logical counter-arguments

2)Strong vs weak support

3)Reprasing the question in the introduction

4)Comparative language

5)Essay writing phrases

6)Including ‘lexical items’, ‘grammar stuctures’ and ‘cohesive devices’ at the planning stage.

12)HW

Write the full essay and post it to the website/VLE

Lesson Skeletons

Here’s the first in a series of lesson skeletons chosen for:

  • Facilitating discussion
  • Using student contributions and emerging language
  • Providing a useful skills and language focus for students to take away

Of course, things do not always pan out the way the plan says. Whenever I use a lesson skeleton I always draw a table and leave two columns blank for what could happen. After all, it is not so easy to put the flesh on the skeleton before the lesson, without the students

Questions and answers

This is an idea I took and extended from Teaching Unplugged this year and added a few ideas to extend the lesson and focus on emerging language.

1. Draw a question box on the board

1.Why 2.Is/are
How Do/does
What
  •  Add modals or semi-modals for higher levels or leave box 2. free
  • Provide an example for learners to answer, e.g. “what’s the cheapest way to get around London at night?”

 

2. Ask learners to write questions they would like the rest of the class to answer. N.B. make sure you let them know the rest of the class will hear the question.3. Sit around in a circle and read out your questions and discuss answers to them. Take it in turns to answer the questions and allow for extra discussion to arise as a result.

  • In this stage, note down some good examples of language and write some reformulated versions of things to improve, adding some new vocabulary.

If the class is not so talkative, the question-answer session can be done in pairs, walking around the room and commenting on each question.

 

3. Give pieces of card or paper with new phrases/reformulations/good examples of language in to groups (written in stage 3) and ask each group to think of the question/resulting discussion in which the phrases came up.

  • Be ready to help check the meaning of phrases but leave learners in control of figuring out meaning from context. Only intervene if asked or you hear a mistake.
  • Check for meaning (if it’s even necessary) and raise awareness of any grammar that usually surrounds these phrases and pronunciation, connected speech (especially in fixed expressions or idioms).
  • Make sure everyone has the new vocabulary copied in their notebooks

 

4. Ask students to take one question and write an agony-aunt style reply to one question.

  • Make it clear this is an opportunity to use new vocabulary
  • Attach them to the wall and comment on the replies in groups
  • Note down some difficulties for reformulation/error correction for either the start of the next lesson/end of the lesson.


Reflective Journals

What exactly is a reflective journal?

This is the same question I asked myself after leaving a stationary shop with a stylish leather-clad diary in hand. I opened it at the first page, wrote the date, some information on the class and the rest, as they say, is history. Having used various forms of a journal in the past 18 months, I have come to realise that the primary aim of it is to provide a space to articulate and download your thoughts. What’s more, using Dogme, I wanted to be sure that I had both a record of what I was teaching and how I was teaching it.

How was my journal conceived?

As I mentioned, about a year and a half ago I started keeping a teaching journal. The thinking behind it involved a desperate attempt to control a class of rowdy teenagers, all uninterested in English at 7pm on a Friday evening. The idea was developed from a black book of successful lesson ideas, tried and tested in the classroom, unpacked and recorded in this book for future use. The new-look journal documented changes in behaviour of the class during the course, including post-lesson reflections on the efficacy of my attempts to pacify the war zone. Three months of reflective experimentation with the class saw improvements in their behaviour, their motivation and my attitude towards the students. Success motivated me to reflect more, including my thoughts from other classes in the diary, including a Dogme class I included in my presentation at IATEFL 2010, but also classes with which I used course books, YLs classes and exam classes.

Dear diary, today…

 

Well, not quite, but some of my entries bear some resemblance to the classic dear-diary structure. Mostly, entries focused on capturing as best as I could remember what had happened in the classroom. With this information on paper, I re-read it and asked myself  for instance why I did things in X way or what would be the benefit of doing X before Y. The guiding question that emerged was:

Is this right because I do it, or do I do it because it’s right?

The bold to me represents ritualised practices and routines, which have a large part to play in a lesson, whether positive or negative. Once on recorded in the journal, I started to question these, asking for example why I used to elicit answers in full-class plenary or why I used pairwork instead of open-class discussion. The implication of this is that established classroom practices become those that are based on successful models, tried and tested in class.

Is a teacher’s intuition and existing belief set enough to act as a guide though? Of course, this relies upon a person being very observant and having a heightened sense of self-awareness regarding their practice.

But doesn’t this mean I will spend more time planning?

I will be the first to admit that it adds to your planning time, around 30-45 minutes per lesson. Consider it a start-up cost, an investment. Much like lesson planning immediately after qualifying, it reduces very quickly. After a few months the way in which I planned had turned completely on its head; reflecting on the lesson after it happened prepared me to teach the next, like retrospective lesson planning.

How do you know the right questions to ask?

 

Good point. I certainly did not have a highly developed reflective capacity at the start and there were times where I felt like I was reaching a dead end. From looking back on early diary entries, the focus was more on capturing the information and detecting patterns in my classroom routine. The addition of student feedback guided me towards what to ask and was included in journal reviews, where I put my practice under the microscope and extracted what to keep and what to throw.

You’ve mentioned ‘awareness’, what do you mean by this?

 

I guess it lies in the ability to look at your classroom as an outsider and pick up on what is happening, This is by no means easy, as the pen is in the teacher’s hand, which is influenced inextricably by existing beliefs on teaching and even the surrounding social and cultural context. Therefore, is subjectivity possible in a journal? Or should the aim be to reflect on, formulate and reinforce your practice?

That’s all very well, but what do you actually write?

From my experiences with a journal, I would recommend putting on paper what is on your mind at the moment of writing. This is already a step towards bringing things to the surface. A lot of the time an entry included my concerns over why learners had difficulties or why some did not seem engaged in the lesson. In fact, these thoughts still come up and often form the basis of a foray into the past, reviewing the lesson structure, materials, interaction, language/skills focus etc in order to make a few pedagogical tweaks to it ready for next time.

Might it not be beneficial to get a second opinion from a more experienced teacher?

I would be the first to say so. In fact, it might be beneficial for both parties, especially if there were some sort of mentor system set up to support this. I found exchanging ideas with a mentor very helpful for my growth as a teacher. In other cases, I found the dialogue-with-myself aspect of the journal very comforting, especially if I did not feel confident talking to colleagues about something, or if nobody was available.

So what are some of the benefits?

1.   Bad lessons are not thrown in the rubbish bin

Everyone has lesson they would rather forget. Instead of being forgotten about, they can serve as useful learning moments for a teacher. Placing yourself in the shoes of the students in an attempt to pinpoint what went wrong has its benefits. Not only does it make you consider your role, but also that you might not be to blame. Sometimes, however hard you try, things just do not go well.

2.     Strengths are identified

We all have them, but sometimes it is easy to forget what we actually do well. Especially in the face of some bad feedback or a lesson that went badly. Not only this, but also, there is an extra benefit of being aware of your strengths: they form the basis of your day-to-day teaching to make sure learners benefit from the best their teacher has to offer.

3.     Areas to work on become more apparent

 

When something appears consistently in the journal as less positive, it is time to make an action plan to improve it. In addition to this, looking out for what is missing (just like we do with our students) can uncover a springboard for a research project and structure a sort of self-directed development, based on what you need at that time.

I will wrap up with a few final thoughts, one from an article written by Scott Thornbury (1990)

“Might not the detection and analysis of teaching rituals… provide insights into a teacher’s image set?”

Now for a few questions…

  • Directors and managers, how can you create the right conditions in your staff rooms to encourage teachers to detect and analyse their teaching rituals?
  • Trainers, how much of your course is dedicated to guiding teachers towards becoming reflective individuals, able to ask questions about their practice in their formative years of teaching after qualifying?
  • New teachers/experienced teachers/senior or expert teachers/EFL gurus, have you tried keeping a journal? If so, what form did it take and would you recommend it?
Dale
Thornbury, S. (1990). Metaphors we work by: EFL and its metaphors. ELT Journal, 45/3

Dealing with emerging language

One of the many bits of Dogme terminology that perplexed me in the first year of teaching was exactly this, ‘dealing with emerging language’. I mean, if you consider that dealing with a problem generally means finding a solution to it, the whole idea seems kind of counter-intuitive if you ask me. Emerging language isn’t a problem, is it?  This issue perplexed a number of my colleagues on DELTA  during the experimental practice. Keen on trying Dogme, there was some doubt about the language focus even if there was great success in facilitating learner-centred, conversation driven lessons.

I got the impression that the easiest way to do this would be reformulation. During my first year and a half of teaching, this issue led me to ask myself whether dealing with emerging language meant only reformulating it to make it sound more natural. If this were the case, then surely it would become rather frustrating if every effort to engage in classroom discussion resulted in reformulation?

The questions that led on from those questions concerned how to expand my repertoire of ideas for dealing with emerging language. In addition to this, I thought about if my choices regarding which language and which topics to focus on, but that’s another story for another post. Now I’d like to share the ways of extending emerging language which have worked best for me in the past 6 months in hope that there might be of some use and that others out there might contribute their favourite ways too.

Gap-filling

For form

Ask everyone to close their eyes and rub off all the verbs for verb-noun collocations or all the prepositions in chunks. Ten should be challenging enough for any level. Although some classes have wanted as many as twenty! Ask everyone to write the answers then give them the pens to take turns filling in the gaps.

This was my board after a conversation on our favourite things to do in London. At the end of the lesson, about 20 minutes remaining, I gap-filled the board.

On the left hand side are some expressions recycled from the previous lesson written on cards.

Language from a debate

Alternatively, after a classroom debate, the gap-filling can be done in teams; one for each side of the board.

Tables can also be good for a focus on word formation using suffixes if I’ve heard a particular problem with suffixation of nouns. I use the emerging language as a basis for the activity and then continue it with dictionaries.

Collocations 

I also find that collocation webs can be a way of extending language from a conversation. If I hear difficulties with common collocations, I write them and put the words on the board, or in the case of a mistake, put the right word (I then mention the mistakes and ask them which is the correct way of saying what they said). The words are copied and joined to make as many collocations as possible.

Form for noun modifiers 

After a quick explanation of noun modifiers, I ask everyone to think of nouns and verbs on the topic of the conversation just had, then we add them to the board and make noun phrases with noun modifiers in groups. They can be as long as as absurd as possible, the only rule is that the person who makes it must be able to explain the meaning of it. These are then written on cards and passed around for groups to guess the meaning.

“a dancing sandwich box”

“A sandwich box which dances”

“an eye removal safety department”

” a department to make sure that eyes are removed in a safe way”

Good for helping students create and make sense of chains of long and complex noun modifiers. At lower levels it fits in well with situational vocabulary, for instance in a hotel. You might get phrases like “hotel swimming pool service”.

2. Pronunciation

When I’ve covered pronunciation, I often take a photo of the board and then remove the stressed syllables, schwas or weak forms and ask students to fill them in, working in groups so that they have to say the phrases to each other to guess. I find it’s sometimes better to leave it a while before doing this to revise, perhaps at the end of the lesson.

Another thing that has worked really well, which I adapted from an idea my DELTA tutor gave me involves take chunks from emerging language written on the board and writing the stress patterns for students to match. This can be done on the board or on strips of card if available.

Here’s an example of the board

Since then, I’ve found that the activity works better with as outlined above with small cards. I sometimes put them around the room for students to match or dish them out to individuals for them to find their pair. Either way, it gets them to focus on stressed and unstressed syllables and keeps thing a bit more student-centred while you’re free to monitor and do a bit of one-to-one pron teaching.

Other times, I’ve drawn a table on the board to focus on past-participle endings and asked learners to mark the consonant sounds, doing the first as an example to help

In this case we also focused on elision of final consonant sounds in past participle endings. I got the class to create every-day phrases where these might appear, for example I missed the bus, a missed call, you’re not allowed to etc.

3. Focusing on meaning

Lexis

1. If I have lots of vocabulary on the board, I ask people in pairs to write a paraphrase of the word/chunk and then the word on the back. I monitor during this stage and make sure paraphrases are not too difficult and do some one-to-one clarification if needed. Cards are then collected and distributed, paraphrase-side up and pairs guess the phrase and check.

2. Alternatively, with higher levels, I write down on card some good phrases said during conversations and reformulate some less accurate phrases. While I’m doing all of this I’ve asked everyone to make a list of the topics they spoke about. I then distribute the cards to groups and ask them to match them to the topic. This will often throw up phrases like “Yeah, we were talking about X and I wanted to say something like this” or “I remember that X said this when we were talking about Y, it means Z”. As a teacher you’re then free to monitor any problems in connecting the meaning to the context and can ask other people to explain.

What I really like about this activity is that it really connects meaning to context, forcing people to think back to the context in which the utterance was said or the context it could be said in. Make sure the phrases aren’t TOO difficult, as it the task is quite challenging already. At lower levels, the reformulated phrases could be added to one side to help. This activity has only worked well for me when the whole class has been in the conversation, otherwise it’s better to make group-specific cards.

Grammar

What I try to avoid is standing at the board explaining grammar. I imagine myself in my students’ shoes when their teacher explains a load of grammar to them and this usually stops me. Although, having said that, it’s nice to have your questions about grammar answered, which is why I often devote time to questions about language. I ask everyone to write one question about the grammar on the board. In groups they try and answer it, the ones that cause difficulty or don’t get answered I then answer after.

Exchanging modals

Exactly what it sounds like, ask them to exchange the modal in the sentence and discuss how this changes the meaning.

Time lines 

I normally put some sentences said on the board and some timelines and we match them. The discussions are always full of questions and beliefs about grammar… it’s possible in these cases to highlight personal preference or stylistic preference. I’m lucky to have intelligent and curious students who ask lots of questions… when asked by them, they are always more meaningful.

The drawback of this is that it has a tendency to draw out lots of rules, some of them helpful, some of them not so helpful. I do however encourage students to make theories about grammar and suggest possible alternatives, making sure not to accept anything absurd or just plain wrong.

Not that reformulation doesn’t play a part in my classroom, it just seems to me that ‘dealing with’ means more than just changing it but also ‘extending’. I guess this falls into the category of ‘doing language work’ too. Also, I want to point out that not all the dealing with emerging language takes place on the board, its just I have the most pictures of this!

So this leads me to ask you: how do you deal with emerging language?

Guest post – Dogme Revolution

It’s my great pleasure to write that this blogspace will be dedicated to Phil for this post, who has written an account of his experience with Dogme. It’s a really great read and offers some thoughtful insights into Phil’s student-centered approach.

Dogme Revolution

How it happened

I was teaching English in a university which in the first term had been very heavy on input via handouts and lecture style teaching. Then when we moved into the second term I was given speaking-based classes which again had plenty of handouts. The prevailing approach of teacher-led lectures or explanations didn’t seem new to the students who were used to it but the result was very poor speaking and even worse writing, as shown in their external English test. As I started teaching the second term I also started studying the DELTA module 3 and taking part in online discussions and began hearing lots about DOGME. Being an inquisitive or rather nosy person I began hunting round on websites for DOGME ideas and principles. Then when I picked up Luke and Scott’s book it was a complete revelation. Ever since my first ever class (a communication skills class) I’ve been struggling to find how to teach speaking or rather with a speaking-based emphasis. And since my current setting I’ve been very keen on teaching without the back breaking amount of handouts all too common to many of us. I then came across Anthony’s blog, the Yahoo group and subsequently Dale’s blog. From watching presentations, reading blog posts, discussions and reflecting on the book it struck me that 1) This is what I should have ALWAYS been doing 2) I need to go back to basics. What I found ground breaking about DOGME was that it was not some top down methodologically rigid theory or method. It was and is a product of teacher’s discussions about what works. It’s also interesting that everyone has their own version or ideas about it because everyone is different. And what’s even more amazing is that you can join in sharing your experiences and get real feedback from some very qualified people.

Thus, I started some serious rethinking about everything I’ve ever understood about teaching and my own approach. I had been studying teaching on and off for years in search methods and ideas to help me become a better teacher but even after finishing an MA I wasn’t satisfied. So then came the experimenting and throwing out of lots of pedagogical theories and fancy tools I’d been accumulating which just got in the way of teaching. From that time on I’ve changed everything, got my ‘mojo’ back and have been very happy with the results, the students too.

What went out?

 

Well, out went all the handouts and photocopies, the grammar and topic lectures, the teacher-dominated IRF style classes, heavy pre-planning and the overall approach of ‘filling empty heads’ or just ‘doing the lesson/handout’. Also all my ‘mixed methods’ and ‘eclecticism’ which I’d been blending in what I thought was a ‘seamless optimal mix of contemporary methods I had studied and would not fail to optimise students learning’ (or so I put in one essay). From possibly studying too much (CELTA, PGCE, MA, DELTA) I had somewhere along the line forgotten about the students and got too much into planning, methods and also the admin associated with my job. Students had become names or numbers and classes just got repeated as they were of the same subject. All of this went in the bin as I went ‘back to basics’. From reading about Anthony’s fantastic unplugged CELTA work I started thinking about what I had initially learned about teaching and how useful it actually was to me now. I came to the conclusion that I had to put the students and learning first and that communication was the key which is what language is for, not filling in gaps in a test. I wanted students to learn and enjoy learning and that was what motivated me to initially become a teacher but that didn’t seem to be true for many teaching contexts where students just jump through hoops and teachers crack the whip.

What came in?

 

My desire to teach, learn and an enjoyment I had not had in a long long time but this was all reflected from the students. Pre-planning came down to a minimum, student choice came in by them selecting topics and preparing talks for each lesson, I moved from standing at the front to sitting down with groups, I began asking opinions more, getting to know students and building the class around them. This was on a lesson to lesson basis but also in each lesson. Even though I taught 4 classes on the same course none of them were the same because the students weren’t. Something would start with a presentation or discussion but it could end with some writing or further discussion or lots of language work.

I started with upper ints, some of who I had never heard speak before and there was another CAE/CPE+ class who had been bored to tears with the low level work we had previously done as we had a policy of teaching the same stuff across the board. I delved into Luke and Scott’s book which I began to read so much my daughter would tap on them and smile. However, after trying some of the activities I still knew there was something missing. It eventually clicked that 1 or 2 activities was not going to make a big enough difference. I had to go the whole hog. I tried internalising the ideas more than the activities and thinking of ways I could encourage and support speaking, language and learning throughout a class and the course.

Dogmeing

 

As I moved more and more into speaking activities, discussions, debates and listening to working on what students came out with they knew something was going on. This shock factor only lasted a couple of weeks as students struggled with the concept of being talked to and engaged and having an input. Lessons kicked off with some general topic but students could branch off into sub groups if they had the option, even groups who started off with the same topic ended up somewhere different and really enjoying speaking freely without being judged on their opinions or language. I encouraged them to ask each other and me for linguistic help, write down problems/questions and then we would have ‘mini linguist’ sessions to look at language and build it up or help with errors. This was very open and I’d answer any related questions. We’d then discuss how to use this language and then go back into another avenue of discussion. I also used blank paper for them to note things down and work on language. I gave no handouts and made them make worksheets for activities like find someone who. End of class revision then became very useful and surprisingly they wanted feedback and direction on how they could develop further. They would even ask what we’d be doing next week and who could present about the topic.

To book or not to book?

 

For a while I had to use a book but I didn’t know how. Then in one student-led talk and subsequent discussion about the Japanese nuclear situation we got onto alternative power which just happened to be the unit for this week. A light bulb burst in my head and I suddenly understood what so many of the DOGME people meant about ‘dipping into’ the book when it is needed. So, the next class and a couple after it involved that. The book became a reference for information to help discussions, debates, writing or just for background or further reading. As such it became useful. Whereas few students bought it or brought it to class before, now it was everywhere and people were quoting the texts.

Results

 

Attendance increased, even students who had passed already and didn’t need to attend did, others brought in their friends and one class had a 100% attendance rate. Students came early, left late and discussed topics before and after class. Their fluency went through the roof, their confidence too. They started thinking critically and in English. Use of the L1 also practically disappeared compared to about 30-50% before. More importantly they started to enjoy learning English and also learning about the culture. They enjoyed the classes and appreciated having a teacher who was really interested in fostering enjoyable classes and putting them in control. But for me the best results were when they opened up and shared things about their lives and cultures. For instance, in one class a strong feminist and an Arabic student had a mature but spirited conversation about having several wives or and in the end the girl agreed that it should be accepted.

For myself I got to enjoy teaching again and finally found out how to do it which no book or class had taught me. I also made some great friends along the way and now look forward to every new class and student. Best of all I really appreciate the importance of being a teacher and helping students to improve. As Anthony says on the TDSIG we should be “interested in becoming the best teachers we can be – for ourselves but also for our students and for our institutions.