We need to talk about Dogme.

It’s been awhile, I know. After a long break from writing my last post about the project a lot has happened. I took a break due to conferences and then we had the Easter break, which meant that the lessons I did have with the project group, in-between this period, were a bit all over the place in terms of topic, and also lacking in student attendance.

This week has been the first week where I have had all the students back together, including two new students. With such a big break it was hard to go in with any real ideas of where the class was going to go. But, I did have a lesson about giving and receiving good and bad news prepared, just in case.  We started by doing a lot of pair work and reporting back to find out what had happened during the Easter holidays. It was clear that everyone was a bit rusty, so this worked well as a warmer and to ease the students back into the class room. Just at the end of one of the reporting back sessions, one of the students told us that his partner had lost his job and been sacked at the weekend. I asked him how he felt about the events and to give us the reason for the sacking. I then asked the students to tell their partner what the last piece of bad news was that they had received. That lesson was going to come in handy after all. They reported back to the class and I gave feedback and correction where necessary. Next I put the students into groups to talk about how they could make it easier to give someone bad news. we boarded the answers;

  • Telling some good news after or before the bad news
  • using humour / tell a joke
  • don’t tell them the whole truth
  • get someone else to do it
  • do it face to face

I then distributed a worksheet, about advice on how to give bad news from the prepared lesson, and asked the students to work together to fill in the gaps and to read the full article to compare their answers with that of the worksheet. This was a fairly easy and quick task so I moved on to eliciting the language you could use to tell someone good or bad news. I boarded the suggestions and corrected where necessary.

The next step was to get the students to listen to seven short conversations I had recorded onto my dictaphone and work out if it was god or bad news and what the news was. They also had the task of listening for the language that was used in the recording. The recordings really made the students work hard and we spent some time on repeating the different conversations and working out from context and using certain lexical clues to work out what was happening. After some feedback I asked the students to try to remember some of the language that was used in the listening to give good or bad news. I added the ones they had written down to the previous ones on the board.

With the lesson I had prepared there was a set of phrases for both giving good and bad news as well as phrases that could be used for both, depending on the tone of voice and additional information. I placed these on the centre table, all mixed together, and asked the students to separate them into the relevant groups, good, bad or both. After some discussion and a little debate about the ‘both’ group we settled on the final answers and then I went through some drilling exercises. Pointing out the rise and fall in intonation depending on whether it was good or bad news. I repeated the exercise for phrases that we use to respond to good or bad news and also got the students to come up with their own.

The final part of the lesson was to work together and create a dialogue with the situations we had talked about in the earlier part of the lesson, using the language and phrases from the class. The lesson ended here and the idea was to finish and perform the dialogues in the next class.

The next class

So, before hearing the dialogues I went around the class and helped with some rephrasing and structuring in the dialogues. We drilled the language and then the students performed them. They clearly had the hang of where the particular phrases needed to go and there were some quite theatrical performances with interesting use of intonation.

That very morning I had received some bad news myself, my parents were due to visit me for the first time in nearly two years, but there car had broken down on the way to the airport and they ended up missing their flights. From this very unfortunate event, I created a newspaper headline and prepared it before the class and mocked it up into a pretend newspaper. I showed the students the headline and told them it was about something that happened to me and they had to ask questions to gain information and find out what happened. This was where the problems began. The process was quite long and drawn out and the formation of the questions themselves was particularly difficult, and for me worrying, as the students were finding it really hard to get their question word order correct. We eventually got the full story. I checked the students understanding of headlines and why it was so short and why newspapers contract the information in that way.

The next stage was to get the students to write their own headlines about something that had happened to them recently. I worked my way around the room helping them to construct the headlines and to try to keep them short and to the point. This is what they came up with;

  • Gijon are returning to hell (football related)
  • All roads lead to Milan (recent holiday)
  • Lack of sleep can be dangerous
  • Racing are close to going down to hell (football related)
  • Rainy days lead to boredom

The next part was simple, the students would go around the room, ask questions to each other, make notes and then write a report on their favourite story. This very quickly went out of the window. The forming of questions was all over the place, confusing both speaker and listener. This lead to mis-information and a lot of back and forth before actually getting any facts about the story. The amount of errors coming out of the activity was just too much. I didn’t know what to focus on at first and then simply stuck to the questions that were being asked. After 5 minutes I stopped the activity. We were getting nowhere fast and I could see the frustration building. I boarded some of the questions and did group error correction. I then elicited the W question words and what information they were used to elicit. Instead of going back to the milling exercise, I turned it into an interview exercise one person at the front with everyone else asking questions allowing me and the students to concentrate on one question at the time. Again, the process was slow and painful and the students were really struggling, each question needed restructuring and at times was broken down into one word at a time slowly building it back up. Toward the end it got a little better so I moved it back into the milling exercise. Mistake. I was swamped with more errors, too many errors, a tidal wave of errors and the questions spluttered, stuttered and blurted out in all sorts of ways. I allowed the activity to continue to allow myself time to try to work out exactly how I was going to fix this and exactly what I needed to fix. I couldn’t think of anything. I was lost in a sea of errors, confusion and inexperience, my inexperience.

The lesson finished and to be honest I was grateful, and I think the students were too. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had taught them, I wasn’t sure if the lesson was of any use at all. I had no way or idea of dealing with the problems that were coming up. I needed more structure, I needed more support and more importantly so did the students. For me, this highlights certain drawbacks of Dogme for an inexperienced teacher. The ability to deal with emergent language and language problems on the spot is really difficult and there is a lot of pressure to get it right. I feel as though I perhaps did more damage than good in that lesson and it has dented my confidence a little. God only knows what it did to the students. Secondly, what sometimes appears to be a lack of structure and clear aims to the students, in a Dogme classroom, can lead to a class with no clear end results which can be frustrating for the learner who then doesn’t have anything to show for the hard work and time they have put in. This again leads me to another question I have asked myself recently, Who exactly is benefiting from this project, the students or me?

The one positive from the lesson is that I know what I need to work on in the coming lessons. To do this I’m going to go back to the coursebook and really structure the next lessons. I will allow for flexibility and space to react to things that will come up, but my main aim is to restore confidence in both students and myself, resolve the problem of question formation and to get some learning done. I’m stepping away from Dogme and looking to the coursebook, with a critical eye, to provide the support and structure, we as a class, need.


ELTchat summary – Guided Discovery

So out of guilt, seeing as it was my proposal to talk about Guided Discovery, I volunteered to do the summary for the ELTchat that took place on April 4th. The full title was ‘How effective is Guided Discovery in the ELT classroom? Can it help promote learner autonomy?’
Why Guided Discovery, I hear you ask. Well, it all started after Jim Scrivener’s talk at IATEFL about High demand teaching in ELT and the subsequent ELTchat that followed a week later. See summary here by Lizzie Pinard –http://bit.ly/Hr9YCr

I began thinking about how I could implement this in my own classroom and what would really make my students work harder in class and feel as though they have learnt something, rather than simply enjoying the lesson and walking away with relatively little learning actually happening.
Guided Discovery was something I was introduced to on my Trinity Cert course and actually found it rather difficult to get my head around. On a course with so little time and so much to take in I just wanted them to give me the information so I could take it home and study it. I forgot about it and it wasn’t until I read Scott Thornbury’s post on guided discovery that I actually thought about it again. http://bit.ly/liw66q

I was hoping that the chat might lead to some interesting links, resources and lesson plan/ideas. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

We talked about what Guided Discovery was;

@wellmichelle Guided Discovery: students uncovering the rules and structures to the language themselves, but with teacher support #ELTchat

We then discovered that a lot of people use guided discovery, particularly for teaching grammar;

@hartle #eltchat I often use it with a text and the grammar related guided discovery questions refer learners back to context meaning and form
@Marisa_C RT @Shaunwilden: @Marisa_C Well i used it a lot as part of inductive grammar approach #eltchat > so no rule giving but rule discovery
 @reasons4 RT @esolcourses RT @bealer81: So who uses guided discovery? #eltchat  I use it. supplemented with help > isn’t the help the guided but

Then the next question, which for me was the most important, the one where I would be inundated with links and the chance to actual see how a Guided Discovery lesson worked and have, perhaps, a couple of good examples to go away and practise with.

@ShellTerrell What specific lessons have you done in your classrooms that are examples of guided discovery? #ELTChat

And I waited, and continued to wait, and then we went off on a random tangent about Dogme and GD and the chat was over. I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. This was by no means a fault of the ELTchat format or of the great teachers that took part. The impression I get, and this also includes my findings from searching through various books and scouring the internet, is that there just isn’t that much lesson material or research for Guided Discovery done in ELT.  I have managed to find these articles, which provide a good description of what Guided Discovery is http://bit.ly/HYgp1x and http://bit.ly/JfWR9I Perhaps the best breakdown of guided discovery, with examples, can be found here http://slidesha.re/IuRAHu (Vicky Samuell) But, my point remains. There are very few examples being shared and talked about. Which seems such a shame, as Guided Discovery appears to be a very effective way of demanding more of our students and giving them a sense of achievement, leading to greater learner autonomy.

ELTchat may not have answered my question or provided me with the plethora of examples I was hoping for, but it certainly highlighted the need for some further hands on research and investigation. Now, I may be looking in the wrong places or typing the wrong words into my search engine. So please tell me if you know of any great resources. I know that there must be research papers out there, but for teachers what we really need is examples and people writing or talking about their experiences with it. So if you do use Guided Discovery and have some ideas get them out there, blog them or put it out on twitter. If you don’t I may have to do another action research project. Oh wait, that sounds like a good idea!

Here is the complete transcript for the ELTchat – http://bit.ly/HLKaBp

Do you remember the first time?

Recently, I saw a tweet from Alexander Guzik on twitter, announcing to the world that she had done her very first Dogme lesson,

Alexandra Guzik ‏ @AlexandraGuzik

Took my first steps in Dogme world (first attempts to do it at the lesson)!!! Love it!!! #dogme#eltchat

I retweeted and then asked if she would like to contribute to my blog and share her experiences. And here it is. My very first guest blog, and hopefully the first of many. Thank you Alex and I hope the question at the bottom of you post gets answered.

She asked if it was Dogme or my first fifteen-minute Dogme-like experience.

For the last eight months I have seen Dogme as something mysteriously wonderful. Twitter buzzing with discussions of teaching unplugged, all the amazing blog posts and natural curiosity made me eager if not to dive in with the method, but to try how it might have worked with my students. Actually I dream to get my head round it, hence I am a proud owner of the book ‘Teaching Unplugged’, which, to my shame, I have never happen to read attentively enough to acquire the knowledge and embark on a new way of teaching.  I am also terrified to do Dogme as first of all I am not a native speaker and secondly it is my first year of teaching after CELTA.  However, gradually I am coming to the moment of being ripe for a full-length unplugged lesson. My first step was done – fifteen minutes conversation driven.

That had to be a typical planned lesson with my intermediate students. But only three of eight turned up. The absent five were ill, away on holiday or were kept longer at school (I work in private sector). So I ran out of my plan much earlier. That was the moment of no hesitation. I had no backup, but a great wish to do (try to do) Dogme.

We had a silent conversation about weekends past and coming, in which a few mistakes were made.

I opted for the silent work for a couple of reasons: one of the students is a timid girl and she feels more confident when writing, and it is much easier to obtain a good example of students’ errors when having a script. And in case Dogme didn’t work, I could use the conversation the next lesson.

In five minutes, the conversation was over and I picked out a mistake – Indirect speech (I believe grammar might work much better than vocabulary for non-native teachers when Dogme)!

I copied the sentence ‘Our teachers said if we want money we should work at weekends.’ We remembered the rules of reported speech and corrected the sentence. I wrote ‘My mum said “I made sandwiches for dinner.”’ Students converted the sentence in reported speech. Then I asked them to remember who told them what before the lesson. Then they swapped their sentences and transformed them into indirect speech. There it came to the word order when transforming questions. We practiced more in reporting questions, picking real questions they have been asked recently. We had a short discussion mostly about school. The students are having exams in May and the only thing that occupies their minds is school, teachers and tests. That was the end of the lesson.

As homework I asked them to write a report of a lesson where reported speech was unavoidable to be used. In a while I would like to make a video where the students as pretend journalists would report on their interview with somebody (not sure who, time will show)

Right after the lesson I asked myself if it was Dogme. So, is it?


EFL experiment 3: PLN inspiration

So, Phil Wade had kindly asked me to start off his new experiment. Well, to be honest Phil started it when he contributed a video to my IATEFL presentation. See his blog for a far better explanation than I’m about to give. http://eflthoughtsandreflections.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/pln-inspiration/

Phil asked me to record a short video talking about someones blog that has inspired me. Not an easy choice, seeing as there a loads of great blogs out there and I seem to discover new ones every week. Eventually, I went for Dale Coulter’s blog, Language moments, which can be found here http://languagemoments.wordpress.com/

The video says it all, but this is one of the first blogs I ever started reading and would love to achieve this sort of standard one day. Cheers Dale. You’re up next!

Sorry for poor quality of image, but it’s the audio that is the most important. (There is a ten second intro before audio)