By Teachers, For Teachers
In my last post, I outlined a few of the language learning principles behind Dogme. In this post, I want to look at somehow giving more space to conversation-driven dialogue in your classroom, focusing on the lives of your learners and using emergent language (especially in the form of content), can make the jump from English Language Teaching to the art of Dogme.
The role of a teacher in a Dogme lesson is to co-construct the dialogue with particpants; learning the language through dialogue is driven by the learners and teachers act as a supporter in the process. Synthesize new learning and evaluate it in discussion with your students. Teaching and researching language learning principles has taught me that striking while the iron is hot is the most effective way to engage students, when their motivation is highest. Dogme classroom ecology is more conducive to freer discussion – students are happy to make contributions and they have more control over the direction of the topic. Ultimately, you have more opportunities to exploit these moments to push your class to evaluate core concepts of the course and apply them to their lives.
First of all, take the time to chat to other teachers over a coffee and enquire about what they are doing with the same students. Not only will you find out a little more about your colleagues, but you'll also get access to valuable information regarding what is happening in the bigger picture across the curriculum. When you have this information, use it to push your learners to make connections between subjects they study at school. For example, I used to use pictures of graffiti my students enjoyed showing each other to extend the conversation into history, art, town-planning and the ethnic and political makeup of the local population.
Confidence and personalizing
A Dogme classroom is one in which learners feel free to share their personal experiences with the teacher and their classmates. It's difficult growing up. At school, you are under constant surveillance of your peers – one foot out of place and you leave yourself open to the vultures. Dogme is a highly personalized way of learning, which might lead you to think your students would find it hard to leave their comfort zone. Therefore, make sure personalization remains in a group format – groupwork with a common goal which doesn't reveal too much personal information on tastes, habits and routines at home, but instead empowers with a common goal and individual identity. From my experience of teaching languages, asking younger learners to talk about their summer holidays poses a lot of risks, but designing a perfect summer holiday for a group of fifteen year old boys allows the group to engage with something distant enough not to be dangerous. You'll find there's a huge confidence boost.
Redistribution of power
Like I mentioned before – Dogme readdresses the traditional teacher-student roles in the classroom by giving students more incentive to share information on matters immediate to them. The change is very noticeable first and foremost in your classroom interaction patterns. Fewer initiation-response-feedback (IRF) help to readdress who has the power over classroom interaction. Dogme. You can explore contributions students make to the classroom dialogue and compliment it with a genuine response. Teenagers really should be employed by the secret services; they are experts at smelling a rat, so the genuine interest will get the best results. Show your enthusiasm for their involvement and give them positive feedback on this at the end of class; it sows the seeds for richer classroom discussion in the future. For some extra structure you can try out an end-of-the-week summary to revisit some of the most interesting quotes from the previous 5 days of class.
I found distancing yourself from the giver of knowledge to supporter of dialogue a real change to my personality with my learners of all ages. It's easier to be yourself when you don't have to play a role. I remember the most charismatic teacher I had at school: he was an economics teacher, full of life and with a burning passion for the subject. He always responded to us with such enthusiasm and genuine interest as we battled with economic theory that I still remember the lessons vividly. Show real interest and develop your students' contributions to class and exploit them for content – when the opportunities present themselves. He used our interests in local football teams, our weekend jobs and other activities outside of school to co-construct supply and demand models. A charismatic approach to your teaching enriches classes with countless memorable moments for both parties.
A Dogme lesson has more space to exploit interactions between students. Help move things along with a little curiosity to bridge the gap between you and your students. In their eyes, there's nothing impressive about a middle-aged teacher claiming to share the same interests as their students. However, one who is curious about them and willing to listen wins a lot of respect. They won't think you're cool, but they'll want to tell you about things. It's the first step towards readdressing the interaction in your classroom: genuine interest.
An ideal way of reflecting on this would be to take a few topics you know are often big hits with your learners and dedicate some time, maybe twenty minutes, to more free-flowing classroom discussion. You could give learners a questionnaire structure for them to complete as part of the activity. Involve yourself in discussions as an active participant, not a teacher. Note down some topical threads that arose in the activity and set a writing task for homework based on these. Why not give it a try? After all, there's always room for another approach to bolster our teaching arsenals!