Move, Eat and Learn

So I had ticked off listening from my to do list and the students want list. Now, it was time to move onto the video clips. Luckily for me, I already had something tucked away from a previously trialed lesson, late last year. So, it was just a matter of dusting off the old note pad and seeing what happened.

I asked the students to discuss this question:

If you could move anywhere in the world where would you go?

I wrote it on the board and asked if they recognised the structure. With some eliciting they got it and they began to discuss it with their partners. I listened in and noticed that the majority of the students had immediately reverted to using the word ‘go’ instead of ‘move’. I let it run and then we did pair feedback as a whole class. Error correction and some on the spot pronunciation. I then went to the board and pointed to the word ‘move’ and asked what the difference was between moving somewhere and going somewhere. There were lots of ‘aahs’ and nodding of heads, so I asked if this would change where they said they wanted to go.Instead of changing their answers they justified them by using some interesting bits of language;

“If I moved there I could find a job that links to my degree”

“I would move there because it has a better quality of life”

Now it was time for the video. I explained that they would see a man moving from country to country and I dictated two questions for them to answer while watch.

How does the man scare the pigeons?

What does the man jump over in the middle of the road? 

They checked the questions in pairs and we watched the video.

We watched twice and checked the answers. It was surprising that most of the students didn’t know the word ‘clap’. We talked about the video and the places that they saw in the video. At the bottom of the video is some information about why the video was made and what it involved. I asked if anyone in the class would like to do the same and there was a resounding, yes.

Next questions:

When was the last time you learnt anything and what was it? 

If you had the chance to learn anything, what would it be?

These questions produced some really interesting answers. A lot of the students are at University, so they simply said what ever they had learnt in class that day. One student said that he learnt the word clap and another said he had learnt to change the oil in his car. I pointed out that the majority of things they had learnt was information and that only one person had actually learnt a skill, something that required them to use their hands. This led into a small discussion about whether or not what we learnt was really useful or not and led nicely into the second question.

Second video. Again two dictated questions, pair check and watch the video.

Again, we talked about the video. The students picked out the things they would like to learn and we discussed them. We then moved onto the third and last question.

When was the last time you tried something new to eat?

Unfortunately, due to time running out we didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to discuss this part. Two more questions, pair check and the final video.

It was safe to say that everybody left the lesson hungry, but more importantly everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson. Talking, listening and video, exactly what they wanted. I think it would be great to re watch the last video in the next lesson and launch into a food based lesson. It would be great to know what other people think of these videos and what you would do with them in class. Enjoy.

Been listening

So, two weeks into the new trimester and all is well.

On the last proper teaching day of the project, before the Christmas madness kicked in, I carried out a feedback lesson with the students. A few useful and entertaining activities to gauge how much they think they have improved since the start of the course and what they would like to work on in the new year. I also managed to video all of the class talking about how they think the course is going and their feelings on the unplugged approach to teaching. All positive stuff.

The three main things to come out of the feedback session were these;

  • More listening
  • More grammar (explicit focus on grammar)
  • More videos

No surprise with the grammar or the video one. Although, I was a little surprised with the listening one. A lot of the students had mentioned how they disliked listening activities and that they really liked listening to the teacher (me) as it was natural and I spoke slowly and clearly for them. Anyway, this was what they wanted, so this is what they got.

After a very quiet and poorly attended first lesson, which focused mostly on what had happened during the holidays, we had a near full house for the second lesson. The lesson was based around some old videos I had made while travelling in New Zealand. I started the lesson by bringing in some of my hiking equipment and getting the students to ask me questions about them and what they were used for. Then I briefly mentioned why I loved hiking and because of this I travelled to New Zealand to hike as much as possible. Cue the videos. I had prepared some listening for detail questions, which when I looked back on them straight after the lesson, were simply too hard..

The students were trying really hard during the exercises but I could see that it was just too difficult. What I should have really concentrated on was things such as connected speech and probably more general questions such as how I was feeling or how they thought I would be feeling at that particular time and so on. Lesson learnt. The lesson went well, but I think that the listening had perhaps taught all of us that it’s an area that needs a lot of work and specifically for me, careful consideration of material selection.

Below are the videos I used. I’ve never really shown anyone these, so please don’t laugh. I would be really interested to hear how you would use these particular videos and what exercises you think might be worth trying out with them.

To follow-up the above lesson I decided to do another listening. This time I used my Dictaphone to record the staff in the school talking about the thing they enjoy doing the most. The only rule was, they couldn’t actually mention what it was they were talking about.

After reviewing the last lesson and getting some feedback about the listening exercise, I introduced the Dictaphone and announced we would be doing another listening. I was expecting some moans and groans, but I was surprised when what I actually got was some enthusiastic nodding and people drawing their chairs closer to the Dictaphone itself. The exercise was simple. The students would listen to each extract and have to work out what that person was talking about. They were free to write down anything they heard. During the first listening everyone was listening with great determination and not writing anything down. Some good guesses, but still struggling. Next I asked them to work with their partner and to make sure they write something down as it will help them when discussing it, after listening. I asked them to concentrate on the content words only. During the second listening there was a lot more writing. They discussed in pairs. We reviewed the vocabulary they had written down in open class feedback. I pointed out that if we put these key words together we might be able to find a common topic to help us work out the answer. Words like chords, playing, practising song and strings came up. Suddenly the answer came. “Guitar! They like playing the guitar.” We continued doing the same for the next three recordings. Working on picking out the key words and working out the answer from these. It worked well and we managed to get the rest of the answers and the students seemed a lot happier after this listening than the previous one.

So that’s the listening practice they wanted. There will be more where that came from. Now onto finding some interesting videos to build lessons around and ways of feeding in the grammar they so eagerly want to learn.

The (unplugged) revolution needs to be televised!

I feel as though this post may seem as if I am jumping on the bandwagon. What with all the recent and excellent posts about the ongoing Dogme/unplugged debate, I wonder if there is anything else left to say.

First Chia Suan Chong posted an excellent interview with Dale Coulter Then Jemma Gardner posted her analysis of what she thinks Dogme is and means.  Anthony Gaughn also posted about Dogme. Seeing it as an attitude, first and foremost. Finally, and if I’ve missed anything I apologise, Neil McMahon posted a thought provoking post to try and find out why so many people seem to be waving the Dogme banner of late; Stating that Dogme is nothing new and we should all just stop getting carried away.

So, where to begin? Well, let’s start at the beginning. Dogme for the newly qualified teacher. Is it possible for NQTs to pull off a Dogme lesson straight out of CELTA/Trinity? Will they be able to pick up on the emergent language? Will the lesson just become a conversation?

Above are just some of the questions in the interview with Dale. Another question that I hear and read a lot with regards to Dogme, is the annoying and somewhat tiresome, ” Isn’t Dogme just ‘winging it’ taken to an elevated art form?” (it annoys me just to write it!)

Firstly, Dogme/teaching unplugged is bloody hardwork!! Filling a coursebook-shaped void and teaching the students something useful over a period of 60, 90 or however many minutes with minimal materials leaves you both mentally and physically exhausted, especially if you are a NQT. It certainly keeps you on your toes. Yet, at the same time it can also highlight a NQT’s severe lack of knowledge in areas such as grammar. This can leave the teacher open to criticism and result in a lack of faith from their students, as well as a huge dent in their own personal confidence. Dogme isn’t for the faint-hearted or the lazy. But, I do believe it can be useful and positive for a NQT. It makes you work at your grammar, functional language and all the other aspects of the English language because you know that you won’t have the course-book to fall back onto. You the teacher become the coursebook and the learners decide which particular page they want to learn from.  Yes, there is a bigger chance of failure but don’t we learn more from this? Not that I’m suggesting you go out and fail every lesson, but it can lead to a more detailed lesson analysis about where, why and when it went wrong. Despite the greater potential for failure, when a Dogme lesson goes right, there is no better feeling. And, by saying that, I don’t mean that you wouldn’t get the same feeling from doing a lesson from the coursebook, or guided discovery or whatever approach takes you fancy. It’s just something about using a simple question, visual or text and being able to manipulate it and the learner’s input/output into a full on learning megathon! (Mark William Britton, ) For me, a NQT with under a year and a half of experience under my belt, teaching unplugged has been quite the proverbial roller coaster, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone and at times have wondered why the hell I was putting myself and the students through it all. However, my development as a teacher, observer and, to a certain extent, a learner has been huge and an altogether positive experience. 

So am I advocating Dogme for NQTs? Well kind of! Yes because of the reasons above. It will test you, push you and ultimately make you a better teacher, regardless of whether you do it full-time or just every so often. My main advice would be, little by little. I jumped in at the deep end and have just about kept my head above water. This is mostly through hard work and great support from my DoS, Emily Bell, and through the PLN I have built up through using Twitter. What I found really difficult and at times frustrating was the feeling that I was alone in this unplugged world. Yeah, yeah, I know. Anthony Gaughan, Dale Coulter, Oli Beddall and co are all blogging about it. But I only found out about the majority of these blogs after I had started the project. There seemed to be a lack of people writing and documenting their experiences with using Dogme. I had a copy of Teaching Unplugged (Thornbury&Meddings, 2009), which I had practically stolen from my DoS, but other than that no real background info to fall back onto.

While writing this post I had a very short exchange with Ian James (@ij64);
Ian Jamesij64 Ian James

Meddings (@LukeMeddings) in live unplugged experiment!                         37 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply
Adam Beale

bealer81 Adam Beale

@ij64 @LukeMeddings Why is it billed as an experiment?

Ian James

ij64 Ian James
@bealer81 Me being silly! But, 4 many (if not most) dogme remains an unproven hypothesis which requires more public dissection 2 convince!
He hits the nail on the head. If Dogme is to be taken seriously and to become a proven approach, solid evidence needs to be built up, more people blogging about their experiences and lessons; good and bad. And, it’s not just the teachers we need to hear from. What about the learners themselves? I did a feedback session recently with my project class and recorded their thoughts and feelings about the course. Combined with their learner diaries, it is clear that they are enjoying the classes and finding the approach enjoyable and learning a great deal. It’s all invaluable evidence, but it’s not enough.
I know that Anthony Gaughan and Jemma Gardner are doing great work in Germany with their teacher training courses. Encouraging the teachers to “Teach from yourself, not from a book. Learn to create lessons from nothing, be critical of materials, the sts are the most important thing in the room.” (Jemma Gardner, 2012) Introducing the concept of teaching unplugged from the very beginning would be extremely helpful to a NQT who wants to continue with this style when they get their first job. The questions are, does this take place anywhere else? Would schools accept it being taught on CELTA courses? Chia Suan Chong is a great advocate of Dogme and gives time to a key factor of the Dogme approach, emergent language. “I don’t explicitly talk about Dogme on my Celta courses but focus a lot on working with emergent language.” (Chia Suan Chong, 2012)
In reality, should we really expect to give time to an approach which is not really established, without hard evidence or research to back it up? Of course not. Which is why it needs to happen now. People need to start stepping up and making it happen. We can debate on twitter, yahoo groups and at conferences until we are blue in the face, but until there is conclusive proof that Dogme is an effective approach it will simply stay in the theatre of twitter and the like and will quite possibly fade out of memory.

2 years from now

Teacher 1: Hey Adam, do you remember when you used to teach dogme.

Me: Yeah, they were the good old days. Exciting, thinking on your feet, pushing boundaries.

Teacher 1: Do want a cup of tea?

Me: Yeah, cheers. No sugar for me.

Teacher 1: What were we talking about?

Me: I can’t remember. Nevermind, couldn’t have been that important.

(A big thank you to Emily Bell for her patience and editing skills)