I cannot find the comfort in this (Dogme) world.

“I cannot stop the thought, running in the dark, coming up a which way sign, all good ‘teachers‘ must decide” (E.Vedder)

I don’t normally write about my lessons until Sunday night, when I have had the weekend to wind down and put my reflection/blogging head on. But tonight I feel the need to blog here and now. There are too many thoughts running around my little brain to sleep. So here goes.

I felt confident about tonight’s lesson. After a weekend of reflection and some positive comments on the blog, I felt ready to go back into class with a new determined vigor and energy. Going back to basics I think was how I put it in the last post.

I opened up with a simple activity. In pairs, I asked the students to talk to each other about their weekends and tell their partner about the best and the worst thing about their weekend. We were off. Some nice conversations started, they were enjoying it, some vocabulary came and went up on the board. A good 5 minutes passed. I asked each student to report back what their partner had said. We listened, I asked a few questions, probed a little deeper. We had a little conversation about sleep, lying in on a Sunday, and then a student revealed that he didn’t like sleeping. He only slept for 5 hours a night because he liked to be active and was simply too busy for it. ‘Teachable moment’ flashed before my eyes, yet I resisted the urge. Very unlike me.

We wrapped up the activity and talked briefly about the last lesson. I checked that everyone had prepared their ‘family’ presentation and gave them a couple of minutes to check their notes. I split them into two groups and asked them to give their presentations. While they were talking, I wanted the other students to think of questions to ask them at the end. Simple enough and off they went. The presentations were actually quite good. Despite my reservations about the last lesson, the majority of them had taken on board the idea of the presentation having a simple structure and also some of the vocabulary from the last lesson came up too. I sat and listened, making notes to talk about at the end. One group was doing well, asking questions and continuing the conversation. Meanwhile the other group seemed to be struggling with follow-up questions. I resisted the temptation to throw in my own questions, then suddenly one of them blurted out a perfectly well constructed question. Excellent I thought, “anymore questions” I asked. Blank faces and the shaking of heads followed. The next person started to give their presentation, this was followed by another silent period and no questions and then again for the following presentation. One of the students had said she shared the same temper as her father and got angry occasionally. I decided to ask her about it to encourage the students to join in. ( it went something like this)

 ” So you get angry like your father then?” (me)

” angry?” (student)

” yes, you said you have a temper like your father” (me)

” I don’t understand” (student)

” A temper? You said your father gets angry sometimes. What does he do when he gets angry?” ( Me. By this time I have really slowed down my speaking voice and I’m now making gestures to signify anger)

“uhhhh…………..” (student)

“Does he shout, or sometimes bang things loudly?” (Me, know gesturing wildly)

A period of about 30 seconds passed. I was determined to get her to talk about this. 

“Go on you can do it, take your time” (Me. At this point I was doing a gesture as though I was coaxing a cat out of a tree)

She looked left and right, shrugged her shoulders and laughed out loud.

“I don’t know” (student)

I gripped the side of the chair and closed my eyes. A big breath and then I launched into the feedback, highlighting certain things on the board.

  • Struggling with saying dates, such as 1994 etc
  • I have 18 yrs instead of I was/am 18yrs
  • Questions to ask about how long or often things happened in the past
  • The pronunciation of words ending in -ed
  • The excellent use of the word ‘rebellious’ one of the students used to describe his brother.

I moved onto the next activity. I had brought a newspaper and cut out pairs of photos that had a common theme. Unemployment, celebration, work, weather, disaster. I asked the students to walk around in their pairs and choose the pictures they would most like to talk about. Once they had done this I asked them to discuss what they thought the pictures had in common and to write one word on the paper next to the pictures to describe this. Celebration came up straight away,  and with some encouragement so did work and unemployment. Next I asked the students to describe to each other what they could see in the picture. Lots of vocab again. I then supplied the groups with one question about each set of pictures that they had to discuss and give an opinion about. Before doing so I elicited different language we could use to give our opinion.  We had a good list;

  • I think….
  • I believe…..
  • In my opinion…..
  • From my point of view……..
  • As far as I’m concerned……..
  • My view is….

Okay we were off. It started well, some of the expressions were used. A little forced but nonetheless being used. I walked around listening and if the conversation dropped I wrote another question down to try to re-ignite it. It was hard going, to say the least. I encouraged them to talk about the question and discuss why, instead of just giving a short and extremely brief answer. We swapped pictures, the same thing happened, we swapped again. Well you get the picture. Blood out of a stone, springs to mind. The class dwindled to an end.

I asked the class to bring in their own picture for the next lesson. I think we need to try again with this one and maybe their own images will prompt some better discussion.

I felt very low at the end of this lesson, the lowest yet. Tonight was difficult, it taxed my patience and even made me a little angry. (see conversation) I’m becoming a little frustrated and perhaps even a little stressed. Feeling the pressure somewhat, I guess. I have never felt comfortable with this class and never feel relaxed enough to simply enjoy the lesson without worrying about what’s happening next. The complete opposite of what I knew Dogme/ teaching unplugged to be before I started this project. Before, in the unplugged lessons I had done previously, things were much more laid back and easy-going. Because of this the lessons were far more productive, I had more energy and excitement and the students fed of this positiveness. Now I feel as though I am only transmitting negativity and this is perhaps affecting the students. I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage. I know that my DOS, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, is watching me closely and will be the first to tell me that it’s just not working and perhaps it’s time to call it a day.

Am I expecting to much, planning too hard, pushing too hard or simply not good enough?

“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off!” (E.Vedder)

 

 

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11 thoughts on “I cannot find the comfort in this (Dogme) world.

  1. Hi Adam,
    You said:
    I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage.

    Have you answered your own question here?

  2. Adam-

    I wish I had the words that would put in all in perspective. I don’t, but I have been there before. There is a flow to any class and sometimes it’s popping off and sometimes it’s not. Maybe there was an emotional element blocking that student’s answer. Either way, as sensitive teachers we listen to these flows and try to follow them, so it makes sense that a low moment like this might bring you down too.

    Keep experimenting and trying new things. Fall back on what you’ve seen work if you have to and feel out of your comfort zone. I can tell you’re passionate about your students’ learning and I’m sure they can see that too. That counts for a lot in their eyes, and in the moments when the class isn’t flowing, they are equally aware of the fact that it’s the environment, them and you… not just you.

    Thanks for your honesty, and I know that challenges like this are exactly what push us forward and make us smarter teachers. Best of luck, bud !

    • Thanks for the comment Brad. Sorry it has taken so long to reply.
      It´s been something of a rollercoaster ride already but my learning curve has gone through the roof. I never envisaged the project being this dificult or even at times emotional.
      It´s nice to know in moments like these that I am not the only one going through these experiences and that more experienced teachers, like yourself, have been through the same thing, yet have carried on and used the experience to improve and become better teachers.

      Thanks again,
      Adam

  3. Brave and thought-provoking post, Adam. I find the exchange with the student about her father’s anger particularly interesting, and such a good idea to transcribe it in such detail. It’s these ‘critical moments’ in lessons that offer a microcosm of what might be going wrong – or right – as the case may be.

    Clearly, this exchange represents a profound (but not untypical) miscommunication episode, and it would be really interesting to get to the bottom of it. Was it simply a linguistic issue, e.g. the student confusing ‘temper’ and ‘temperament’ perhaps? Or even ‘angry’ and ‘hungry’ Or was it a deeper disconnect, at the level of the actual discourse structure, and the perceptions of each person about the other’s intentions? Did, for example, the student interpret your interventions as being corrective, rather than (conversationally) supportive? Clearly, she had trouble seeing the relevance of what you were asking to what she had said, while to you it was totally relevant (in the context of a normal conversation – this is perhaps where Grice’s maxims of cooperation might help in the analysis).

    Also, a tiny bit of me wonders if the questions you were asking would be the questions we would normally ask in a non-classroom context, e.g. if this conversation had emerged naturally. The question about the father’s behaviour seems almost like a concept checking question – to check the meaning of ‘angry’ – whereas perhaps we would ask (of a friend) “What provokes him? Why doe she lose his temper? With whom? Are you the same'” OK – not easy questions to make intelligible, necessarily, but perhaps more authentic. Or not? Now that I write them, I’m wondering if they sound like a therapist! What would I really say in a situation like that – probably something like ‘Oh my father was like that too! He would go into a rage about the smallest thing” Or, ‘Isn’t that funny. My father was the mildest mannered man. Nothing would provoke him”. Etc. I.e. perhaps the most authentic repsonse would be more empathetic.

    Well, this is me just trying to be empathetic too, I guess. Nevertheless, it would be really interesting if you plucked up the courage and went back to the student in question, showed her the transcript, and asked her to tell you what was going through her mind at each point in the exchange. (She might also remember the exchange as being quite different) Now that would be interesting research!

    But thanks so much for posting.
    Scott

    • Hi Scott,

      As always, thanks for taking the time to comment. You raise some very interesting questions and I wish I had the time to investigate and research them further. I will definitely look into Grices´maxim of Cooperation paper.
      I was very tempted to follow up the conversation I had with the learner in the next class as you suggested, but I felt that it might possibly feel like some sort of interregation. In my opinion she has one of the lower levels in the class and I didn´t want to confuse or even scare her away from the class by putting her on the spot, even if it was away from the rest of the class.

      It´s hard to not slip back into proper teaching mode, when asking display questions. I have found by responding naturally, as if it was a normal conversation, can often add to the confusion and requires further explanation. Although of couse this depends on level and the individual learner. So I think it can be a natural reaction for the teacher to slip back into robotic like concept check questioning mode to deal with these sort of problems.

      Adam

  4. Hi Adam, great post – it’s difficult, but analyzing lessons that didn’t go as well as planned is often more rewarding in the long run.

    I liked all your activities and was wondering, since they seem to be a reticient class, if you had considered adding a bit more of a controlled element? Sometimes if it s an affective issue, a bit more structure and preparation time for the students can put them at ease. I’m thinking of things like sentence stems as speaking prompts, getting them to write the questions in pairs first before asking them, requiring them to use a certain number of vocab items on the board in their questions/presentations, etc. For whatever reason, sometimes having parameters actually allows for more creativity. I suppose this is why people like writing haikus or 12-tone music…

    Keep up the good work

    • Thanks for the comment Ben.

      I have been thinking about things such as sentence stems and grammar tables to assist and give that well needed support in class. I think my biggest mistake has been expecting too much of the students and perhaps overestimating their abilities. Just because I am unplugging the lesson it doesn’t mean that I have to take away any supports that a course book, for example, might provide in a similar lesson.
      Also I think one of the biggest things I need to take into account, is that this way of teaching and therefore the way they are learning, is completely new to them. There is bound to be a little bit of resistance or doubt in what we are doing and this perhaps contributes to them being ‘reticent’ as you say.

      Adam

  5. Adam
    That was really interesting and could clearly visualise the moment exactly as you transcribed it. Thinking about when I’ve had those moments in class, there are such a range of possible reasons. Scott’s reply really highlights the issue of ‘display questions’. When I did my diploma I did some action research on this very thing in my teaching – I had someone sitting at the back ticking off number of display Qs bs natural responses and it was very revealing. It’s time consuming, but perhaps you could tape record a meaning-focused part of one of your lesson, listen back to it, and ask yourself a similar question.
    Thanks for the post – made me think.

    Oli

    • Thanks for your comments Oli.

      Yes the display question issue is a tricky one and it always seems to be something that trips me up in my lower level classes. I find myself reformulating a lot of my own display questions before the learners fully understand. I guess this comes down to experience and knowing your student. As Scott mentioned a lot of other factors come into play, such as how the student views the question being asked or even if the question is natural or more class room (concept checking ) based questions. Yet more to think about and reflect upon. Never a dull moment in Dogme world.

      Adam

  6. Hi Adam,
    Really enjoyed this post and the very candid things that you wrote. I appreciate your writing style, because I’ve found that a lot of ‘edu-bloggers’ don’t describe the classroom experience very convincingly, and for me you do. I was taken right back to my own early days of teaching, thrown in at the deep end and having to dig myself out of lessons that were grinding to a halt.

    I can’t really comment on your lesson further, except to say that I’m more a fan of task-based learning (TBL) because in my experience you can set up speaking activities that are closely based on learners needs, and this way you are less likely to have students saying ‘Why are we doing this?’ or ‘Why do you want to know if my father gets angry?’

    So, if it transpires that students may need English for traveling abroad, they are more likely to appreciate participating in a simulation where (eg. in pairs) they have to discuss the price of an airline ticket. If they like the task, indeed if they agree that achieving the task is valuable to them, they won’t question why they are doing it! This doesn’t mean imposing tasks on students, rather that they come up with ideas for the speaking tasks themselves, so the learning comes out of situations that they set up. But, in my view, these activities need to be structured, and agreed, before the ‘TBL cycle’ can proceed.

    Best regards,
    Matt

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