Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Lesson in Dogme

Yesterday was supposed to be my first Dogme lesson.

(Not a very encouraging start, is it?)

Unfortunately, as a result of a number of pressures--incidental, external, but most importantly internal--the end product was a 'neither here nor there' lesson that rested a bit closer to the 'familiar' end of my teaching spectrum than the 'Dogme' direction I was aiming for. Quite simply, rather than go 'full-Dogme' I instead elected to play it safe. The result was one messy hybrid of a lesson. However, before getting into this point in greater detail, I'd like to discuss some of sources of pressure previously mentioned.

#1 - The Build-up: In the days leading up to the class there was quite a lot of attention placed on my lesson, both online and within the teaching center. I was the first DELTA candidate to attempt a Dogme-style lesson at this school and it attracted a bit of attention. This attention fead into point two...

#2 - You do it to yourself: Remember that Radiohead song 'Just'?

You do it to yourself, you do
and that's what really hurts
You do it to yourself, just you
you and no-one else
You do it to yourself
You do it to yourself

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I think. To say that some of the pre-lesson buildup went to my head would be an understatement. The buzz in the center, the exchanges with co-workers back in Korea, even the attention of the illustrious Mr. Thornbury (courtesy of my tutor's omnipresence online). Oh yes. By this point I was quite clever in my own mind. Quite clever indeed.

#3 - The Final Countdown: (No, not that countdown.) Input sessions finished early on that fateful day (wait, it was just yesterday) and I was left with about 2.5 hours worth of sitting around prior to my lesson. This afforded me the opportunity to a) stew in the juices of my own creation and b) be approached by CELTA candidates every 20 minutes asking to observe my lesson because they'd "heard so much about it." My downfall, dear reader, was by this point fully in motion.

So what happened? Well, as mentioned above, I played it safe. Rather than open the topics of the day to plenary discussion (a hallmark of Dogme teaching) I instead got the learners working almost exclusively in pairs, hacking away at the topic to the best of their individual abilities. This is not to say that pairwork doesn't apply in Dogme, but the net result was that rather than creating a bonfire of emergent language from which we could all draw our language focus, the classroom dynamic more resembled isolated groups of learners huddled around their individual pairwork campfires. In the end, the language focus that came at the end was of interest to some, but not the group as a whole. Not everyone was on the same group-assembled page and my attempts to consolidate and extend their language were largely unsuccessful.

What brought this about? All of the pressures listed above, to start. Also, having a number of fellow candidates in the class observing, people whose opinions I've come to value over the last six weeks, compelled me to hedge my teaching bets. (Play it safe! Looks who's watching!) The last minute decision to record the lesson didn't help. (Oddly, visions of Scott Thornbury watching your lesson on Youtube can be quite distracting mid-lesson.) Finally, the ghost of CELTA-Past definitely paid me a visit during the lesson. The words of my tutor, six years ago now, rang clear in my mind: "Learners have more speaking opportunities in pairwork!" "Watch your TTT!" Looking back now, I can't help but think that this was a real shame. This group of learners have excellent rapport with each other and wonderful cohesiveness. If I'd had the guts to let them loose, who knows what they could have produced.

Anyway. Was the lesson a disaster? No. Was it a roaring success? No, not that either. Did the learners have a lot of opportunities to practice their speaking in an enjoyable atmosphere? Yes.

Did I learn something from this lesson in Dogme?


Anonymous Marisa Constantinides said...

I like this public account and think it is just this type of stewing in your own juices that points to the making of great educators.

Sure, we're human.

Sure, the attention can go to our head.

Sure, there were major pressures; including all the people in your room etc. etc.

But to move forward, you really have to chase out those ghosts of PPP past and be more confident in yourself that if there WAS emergent language, you would in fact be able to handle it.

I am wondering if that might have been a factor and, if it was, cannot see why you were not confident enough to go the whole hog.

And surely, the success of the assignment is not in the teaching but in the reflections - and lessons that it has taught YOU!

Having said that, I think it's a great topic for an experimental assignment and hope other DELTA candidates around the world are not discouraged.

And lest your readers think the publicity was forced on you, you were not named to anyone until you came forward yourself.

So, plenty of food for thought, I should think.

5:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, there was never any concern about my anonymity.

I have no issues sharing my own dissatisfaction with myself to others--far from it!

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Alex Case said...

I do indeed work with you, as it says top right, but ended up here through two totally different random routes, one of which was this:

and the other of which was Marisa's school's Facebook page. It's a small TEFL world!

1:09 AM  
Blogger KALINAGO ENGLISH said...

part 1

Mmmm.... yup. I think with that amount of pressure, I too...of long running dogme pressure would have probably buckled.

It reminds me, god help me, in bringing the whole "religiousity" associated with dogme back on the table... but it reminds me of a discussion I once had on why I was an agnostic.

People want you to be one thing or the other. People want you to either have faith or not to. They don't want you to be in the middle and they don't want you to say, I'm content in not knowing.

No one wants a dogme person to use the occassional textbook or to use technology or to even write a textbook. And like those who would have to decide if there is a god or there isn't a god... I'll say, my own business, thank you very much.

See... the thing about dogme is that you ind of just really have to secure enough in yourself to not know. To not know if today's lesson is going to wrap itself around the future perfect when you're working with a bunch of elementary folk (yea, gods) or whether you're going to review all the vocabulary for body parts. And you have to be okay with anything rising out of the way the conversation goes and be strong enough enough to answer or deal with what does.

For early dogme classes, as Marcos says on Marisa's blog, it's a good idea to have a short and "light" lead in - but only at the beginning of working with a group - my group of IT folk I've been teaching for 3 years so we don't need zero prep, we know what is expected of each other... but every now and then, even with them, I do a stop-check to find out if there's anything in particular we need to be swinging our lessons towards, what will best help them in their interaction with the world in English... but they're used to dogme so they "know" what's expected of them.

Now. Let's go back to your lesson - if you sincerely want to redo this in your own time without a hundred eyes watching your every moment. :-)

2:07 AM  
Blogger KALINAGO ENGLISH said...

part 2

Copy this sheet -... you can download it or just draw it on the board or a piece of paper - and for the first class, you think of a topic that you know is really massive in the news at the moment (do a google search on the news headlines) and place that topic in the center. Put them in groups - not pairs - pairs is a godawful people arrangement requiring intimacy and liking each other and really should be banned from 1stClassEver experiences.

Anyway, alternatively, start your class by talking about something in your own life - a topic you feel will relate to their interests.

Turn it over to them to match your story "has this happened to you" / did you do the same thing this weekend? If you can make the story have a funny ending you'll pull them in even more. Then draw that sheet on the board and place the general theme of your life experience on the board before asking them to ask general questions.

The language, by the way, which will emerge as needing your feedback on will be on the structures of questions - they will naturally make mistakes in placement/ in comprehension-L1 interference differences, plus wh-'s and verb-subject agreement. (Naughty of me to tell you this but I've done this lesson so many times, a pattern emerged).

Plus, of course, the vocabulary they know vs. the vocabulary they don't know in order to handle the conversation...

You know, there's something else,
maybe it's something critical that was missing from your diagram and although Martin clearly thinks about it in his preplanning, it's not clear if it was a top priority for either of you...(correct me if I'm wrong).

But the missing factor was


The creation of a safe environment in which to share. What happened in your class, in particular, was not a safe environment for either you nor your students. :(

And if you reflect on your own life, when you are normally placed in an uncomfortable situation or environment - do you have anything to say? I know I don't!

Anyways stuff to reflect on - after you try out these two things, creating a safe environment to share within and providing a "structurial material that has no structure" do please write me and I'll give you some more tips... I mean, that is, if you want them/ want to do a do-over in the privacy of your own classroom.


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Anonymous Christina Rebuffet-Broadus said...

Interesting to read your reflection--I did Dogme for my DELTA EP assignment, but it wasn't observed and I think that helped me to feel free to try new things out, to play around, but most importantly, I also felt free to fail. And yes, some lessons were more successful than others. Some lessons felt great, others made me feel like I had no idea what I was doing. But going back and reflecting, like you've done, is all part of the learning process. Isn't that what the EP assignment is about?

Putting pressure on ourselves undoubtedly leads us to play it safe. We feel like we're on stage and have to perform and who wants to perform something they've never tried before? We want to impress our colleagues, we want them to hold us in the same esteem in which we hold them. But if we always play it safe, we'll never push ourselves a bit further.

Besides, if we gloriously succeed the first time we try something new, do we really learn anything from it? Learning from a less-than-satisfactory experience, that's real success! (which you seem to have achieved here, so bravo!)

I realize your post dates from nearly 3 years ago, so how have you developed since? Any new, happier Dogme experiences?

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