Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning
BALEAP Nottingham April 2013, what a great conference! I can’t believe it was 2 months ago already! It was the first time I’d attended this dedicated EAP event and I got so much out of the different sessions I went to. I also presented a ‘Dogme and EAP: reinvigorating the EAP classroom’ workshop and it gave me so much food for thought, so much so that I’d like to take a few posts to mull things over. So this is Part 1.
When thinking about the session I’d proposed, I realised that it really had to be set up in the Dogme way as it’s the only way I could get across how it works, short of recording a lesson. So I prepared for the session in my head and by brainstorming some ‘paths’ the session could take, or as Ceri Jones so familiarly puts it: ‘the silent conversations I’ve been having with myself’. I had already thought about some of the Dogme principles/tenets that really match the EAP context and put them on a couple of slides; I didn’t know what they might be used for or how I was going to use them, if at all. I wasn’t about to ‘teach’ Dogme to people who already knew about it (don’t get me started on ‘today’s lesson is on the present perfect’). I didn’t prepare a handout (it’s more about the ideas and conversations) and conversation-faciliating slides would be posted in tree-friendly cyberspace. So it was very ‘materials-light’.
Beginning of session: emergent ideas
I kicked off the session by asking the participants to turn to the person next to them and to ask their neighbour why they had come to the session. While they did this I walked around, listened out for and noted down some ’emergent ideas’. This gave me a chance to immediately gauge knowledge levels and therefore envisage in which direction the session might go. There were various definitions of Dogme floating around, mentions of different contexts, opinions of its usefulness and applications, sharing of Dogme practice or ‘experiments’. With students this might work the same. From whatever comes up or emerges, I could address immediate needs, at the ‘point of need’ (interesting article on a ‘point of need’ project here). I collected and boarded a few of these and I addressed and clarified a few points. Here are a few of the extracts I heard and my thoughts on them.
Dogme is perfect for cover and in fact many cover classes I’ve done in this way have been really fruitful. You can go in and the learners truly lead the lesson as you (maybe) don’t know what they’ve done already or you can go in with one resource and see where it takes you. I love covering lessons this way. The students often have burning questions that they may not deem relevant or appropriate in a more traditional, materials-led class. Allowing a student-centred forum really allows them to voice their reflections on language and the learning process in a free and uncontrolled environment. It is at times such as these where my skills as a teacher to faciliate conversation, clarify and explain language items/skills really come into play and when the students listen and engage the most.
It is a bit of fallacy that Dogme is anti-materials. It perhaps comes from Scott Thornbury’s article in 2000 that stated he and a colleague were ‘waging war on materials-driven lessons’. Publishers must have nearly had a fit and many in the ELT world interpreted it as a tirade against materials. However, Dogme is not about doing away with coursebooks/materials, but more about not letting them lead the lesson, not letting them be the lesson. A Dogme approach is, the way I understand it, not going in with a glut of photocopies to ‘get through’, and not doing ‘page-turning’ teaching. Yes, you can teach without materials if you want but the Dogme mindset is not about banning materials. I take in materials but not so much that they smother opportunities for real interaction, prescribe what we’re going to do or don’t leave me time to address what’s coming from my students.
You might, for example, take in a really good example of a journal article introduction as a jumping off point, for example or the day’s news. It’s more about quality than quantity. Getting the most out of a small thing rather than plowing through endless or sequenced exercises/tasks. Not having stuff ‘to get through’ really liberates the classroom by giving me space to teach to the needs and responses of my students.
My ears pricked up when I heard this one as it has been one of my concerns that Dogme is sometimes perceived as a ‘TEFL-y’, ‘flash-in-the-pan’ approach (these are some responses I’ve heard over the years). I am, as indeed many EAP practioners are, from a TEFL background and my first encounter with Dogme as an alternative ELT mindset was in a language centre where new approaches were met with curiosity and an eagerness to experiment and innovate. I am curious to know where the sentiment comes from that Dogme is more appropriate for a TEFL rather than an EAP context. Is it to do with research-informed approaches, in-house material design, departmental restrictions, high-stakes presessional courses?
As you can see, these comments give rise to many themes and questions that in turn produce more themes and questions but, as Plato would have it, it’s all about the questions and the dialogue so please post your questions, musings and responses to the above and I’ll get working on my next post! But, one last note…
Thanks to all those who attended (and gave me feedback on) my session at BALEAP, I really enjoyed it. And, thanks to a Dogme approach, we had many opportunities to talk about what Dogme can offer EAP and not just listen to me whittering on!
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