Settling for a compromise?
I haven’t written a post for quite some time and I’d like to talk a bit about my classes and the extent to which Dogme is playing a part.
My blog is called An Experiment with Dogme. In fact, it developed into something more than an experiment and ended up revolutionising my teaching in all the ways I have written about in previous posts.
Essentially, it gave me a huge number of options in my teaching, and the confidence to use them. In fact, I wasn’t a particularly textbook-orientated teacher even before discovering Dogme. I’d always realised that the textbook can never bridge the gap to the outside world, and that the teacher is therefore responsible for bringing real-life into the room and providing genuine reasons to communicate. Even so, Dogme still helped me and gave my ideas/approach legitimacy in my eyes. Realising I was not alone in believing such things, I developed the confidence to teach the way I really wanted to.
It’s for this reason that I object to people claiming ‘there’s no need for Dogme’, ‘it’s just good teaching, nothing more’ and so on. For many (more experienced?) people this will be true, but there will also be many people (especially those who have tended to rely on coursebooks more than myself) for whom the existence of a tangible approach called Dogme has helped to guide improvements in their teaching. Such improvements could come about in another way with time, but Dogme principles seem to me as a quite efficient training vehicle.
Just as it is silly for anyone to claim that Dogme is the only real teaching, or practice the kind of “evangelising” that seems to get people’s backs up, anyone who flat-out rejects Dogme, or dismisses it out of irritation at some of the rhetoric, is failing to acknowledge the many many teachers out there from all different backgrounds who can benefit from a challenge to their existing pedagogical approaches and beliefs.
So what has happened to me recently? Well, there are two things I’d like to talk about.
Firstly, my Dogme teaching has always had most success with lower levels. Recently, though, I’ve been teaching mostly higher levels. These are learners who have already reached a certain level of proficiency and are comfortable in most aspects of using English. Put simply, I have found that they need to be removed from their comfort zone and given a lot of input from different sources in order to improve. Now, of course, there are Dogme moments abound in my lessons – occasionally we will completely abandon the book if the situation calls for it – but the book does in fact now form the backbone of my teaching. Sure, the book could be better, and I skip a lot of it, but on the whole I find it to be a good solid source of language input and time well spent.
Secondly, my experiments with Dogme have improved my teaching all round, so that when I use the book now I do so much better than before. This, for me, means incorporating a lot of the principles of emergent language and conversation-driven pedagogy in amongst the text book activities. Or, to put it another way, letting the learners’ emerging language needs guide the lesson and fully exploiting the coursebook to achieve this. Since a coursebook can never meet the needs of individual students, my experience with Dogme has really helped me to be able to recognise learners’ needs on a human level. I feel as if by this happy combination my coursebook based teaching has been ‘brought in from the cold’.
I anticipate some responses along the lines of ‘well I can give my classes even more relevant input by using texts or other materials that students have chosen themselves, or that I choose for them’. I sympathise with this, and it makes a lot of sense. However, having done just that for some time, there are a couple of conclusions I’ve come to. Firstly, as Luke Meddings has pointed out, the textbook is part of the reality of the people in the room – it’s been bought and paid for, probably fits in with their expectations of learning, and so consequently warrants being used. Secondly, I find sourcing and exploiting original texts an awful lot of work. Despite all the practice I’ve had at it, and the bank of exercises I’ve built up for exploiting texts, I can never just leave it at that and always spend a lot of time preparing for the lessons and thinking of different ways it could be done. Could it be that I’m work-shy? Trust me, that’s not the case. But I find that given the point about the reality of the textbook, and given my newfound ability to see the wood for the trees, it seems silly not to use it and let it work for you.
So that’s it for now, please leave a comment with your thoughts!
Interestingly, I’ll be changing to some lower level classes next term, so it’ll be interesting to see to what extent this viewpoint remains.