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.

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10 thoughts on “We need to talk about Dogme.

  1. I think you’ve been very brave to give it a go and take risks in the interest of most beneficial learning. It’s always been my impression of Dogme that despite the lesson unfolding as the communication flows the teacher working with grammar or lexis on the spot is running off a subconscious course book that sort of organises the language into a tailor made lesson. Knowing what to work on and how to do it in the most effective way possible is quite a skill and one which i believe can only come from years of experience. I guess i could say i’ve had dogmetic moments but I personally need structure and instruction. In saying that, I’m internalising everything I can just so I can teach in such a way someday.

    I hope you’ll keep blogging about your experiences, maybe you’ll find yourself unable to stick to the course book..

    • Hi Josie,
      Thanks for a great response.
      I love the way you have talked about the way we, as teachers, are creating our own course book/ lessons inside our heads and dipping into it and using that knowledge when the need arises. I agree with your comment about the years of experience, although I feel it is not out of reach for new of lesser experienced teachers to teach in this way.
      I will continue to blog about my experiences and I hope you continue to follow.

      Adam

  2. Hey Adam, everyone has a “bad” lesson, whether coursebook-based or not. Just because there is structure doesn’t guarantee learning either, and more than that, doesn’t guarantee the knowledge being retained.

    “Bad” was in quotes because maybe you thought it was bad, but did the students? Have you ever considered having something like Google Docs and you can write reflective questions where the students can answer anonymously if they wish? Questions like “What did you like/dislike about today’s questions?”, “What did you learn today?”, …

    Chin up, old boy! I walk out of classes feeling bad more often than feeling good, but perhaps we are just being too demanding with ourselves…

    • Hi Chiew,
      As always your support means a lot. Yes it wasn’t a great class, but I didn’t get as upset as i would have at the beginning of the year. This time, I simply thought about what was needed in the class and went about preparing that for the next lesson. If the lesson has taught me anything, it is that my ability to recognise gaps in learning and then reacting to that is improving.
      The last two classes using the coursebook have gone really well and everyone, including me, is feeling happier about the class.

      Adam

  3. Hi Adam
    Even tho I know you’re feeling a bit dented right now, this is a great post, a very honest account of how some activities can just go wrong and god knows we’ve all been there! It sounds like a good portionif the lesson was clear and useful (focusing on functional lang for giving news). You drew on their, and your own, experiences, and personalized material in range of modes. I feel exhausted just thinking about all the work you put in 🙂 One activity going wrong is just that, one activity, and it can be a great source of ideas for next time. But I thought your reflection was very valid, and a bit more CB use, interspersed or alternated with dogme ‘spaces’ might be just what you need right now. I agree with Josie, I actually think CBs are a very good support for teachers while they are themselves learning about and reflecting on language points, lesson structures, topics etc. Sounds like you have the right ideas to blend being student-centered with using the CB, and why shouldn’t you? I also appreciate that you are putting your students first- experimenting is great to a point, but the aim is always a better learning experience for them. Sorry for such a long comment. Everything’s a learning curve!

    • Hi Sophia,
      Thanks for commenting and visiting the blog.
      Yes I was feeling dented, but it didn’t last long and I am now looking at the lesson as kind of needs analysis and responding to that.
      I hope they are getting a better learning experience from this experiment. It has been hard for both them and me, although I feel that it has been more of a positive experience than a negative one.
      Sorry for the late reply and the short comment, and you don’t need to apologise for writing a long comment. It helps me to know that what I have written has had some sort of effect on the people reading.

      Adam

  4. Interesting post, Adam, and one I enjoyed reading (not because of your suffering, I should say…). I think this kind of experience and reflection is absolutely vital if we are to develop as teachers. You have no identified something you need to work on and an area the learners need to work on. So, overall, does this make the experience a bad one? I’d say not, rather a learning one for you and sort of diagnostic for your class. They will now benefit greatly from the next few lessons as you’ll be working on an area of need. Do you need to go back to the coursebook for that? Well, that’s up to you, but remember that you shouldn’t feel bad about using the book as it doesn’t make you any less of a teacher, provided that the lesson is a good and engaging one.

    Chris

    • Thanks for commenting Chris.

      It was definitely a diagnostic for the class and one that I am currently working on to fix. It seems to be going well and as disappointed as I initially was, I can now see that perhaps it was a good thing and now the students and myself are benefiting from it.
      I couldn’t agree more with your comment about reflection being vital if we are to develop. This becomes clearer and clearer to me everyday.

      Adam

  5. Eeeek!!!You did the classic newspaper lesson which can open up a can of worms which it did. I’ve done it many times and it never really worked apart from being a bit of fun. As you, I always had lots of language pop up that needs dealing with so I’ve either used it to revise or extend question forms or do some teacher-supported constructions on the board. OR, use the students as mini yous ie they write questions and then ask each other and if there’s an error they discuss it. Easier I’ve just done a quick run round to correct them as students wrote and then later went over the main parts. You could also get groups to write them together, discuss the formulation then work on that.

    I think this is a great example of how important balancing freeish work with supported construction. If they were able to make the questions correctly then this would just be a practice activity but if they had problems (and you had expected them or been extremely on the ball) then it’s a diagnostic test and language work followed by practice.

    Also, the whole headline issue is a tough one in itself and the Q & A followed by writing the articles is also tough.

    I would probably have done all this orally and then got them to write up together or for homework for these reasons.

    Chin up. Some things don’t work because of the activity, how you did it or just the students or the day. You should analyse this and pinpoint exactly what the problem was and how it can help you develop.

    • EeeeK, Indeed!
      Yeah, I have done the headline activity quite a few times and it has always gone well, so maybe that was why I was disappointed too.
      Anyway, things are going much better and the bad experience has been turned into a learning experience and the response has been a positive one.
      Thanks for all your tips and suggestions. They have all been taken on board.

      Cheers Phil for commenting and your on-going support.

      Adam

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