Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning
Just before Christmas I had a wonderful long weekend in Brno in the Czech Republic where I led two days of workshops, for PhD students and teachers at Masaryk Uni. I was invited after my BALEAP workshop on Dogme and EAP back in April last year. The BALEAP workshop was unplugged as much as possible; how else could I demonstrate the approach and get across the value I see in it? Libor Štěpánek (Masaryk Language Centre’s Vice-Director) had participated in the workshop and said he’d found the workshop ‘dynamic’, ‘full of energy’ and ‘highly demonstrative without being ‘told”. He suggested that a Dogme approach would be great for the academic speaking skills seminars he was setting up. We exchanged emails and it was funny when we realised that I obviously couldn’t send through detailed session plans in advance (I realise that Libor took a massive leap of faith in me and thank you!). This is the first lesson of Dogme: it is good to be prepared but not planned, allowing flexibility and freedom to go where the session takes you. I did not have a pre-determined roadmap of what I wanted to cover (how could I nail it down having not even met the participants?) but I had a variety of pathways that sessions could follow in mind. This sequence of blog posts is to reflect on and share how these workshops went.
As an EAP teacher who works with postgraduates, I could imagine what a generic (is there such a thing?) group of PhD students might want/need from a day of workshops on academic speaking skills: pronunciation practice, presentation skills, functional language for participating in seminars and so on BUT I couldn’t guarantee that this is what this group of PhD students would want/need. I brainstormed types of activities (peer-feedback, exploiting a text, observing, language gathering, simulations, brainstorming races) I could do and scribbled them in a notebook (I actually did most of this on the plane). I sourced useful idiomatic/functional phrases from a list I had gathered over the years and printed 1 set on A3 (I would end up using them both days but in different ways). I put together 3 slides with bits and bobs on it that could be accessed in any order if deemed useful. So I gathered a few potential ingredients together beforehand but had no idea how, or even if, I would use any of them. So I went materials light (should there be luggage restrictions on lessons as well as flights?).
After a quick GTKY activity which energised us at 9am on a Friday morning and also set a dynamic pace/vibe for the day, I handed out some brightly coloured post-it notes and asked people to write down why they had come along and what they hoped to get out of the day. They stuck their post-its to their chairs and milled about reading and discussing their responses, with me mingling and jotting down common themes as well as listening to them talking and noting down language needs. I then fed back to the group on what themes had emerged and we negotiated our content for the day. They stuck their post-it notes up on the wall and altogether this became our participant-generated and participant-centred syllabus for the day’s sessions. This ties in with the DogmeELT idea that not only is the ‘direct route [to learning]…located in the interactivity between the teachers and learners, and between the learners themselves’ but that ‘the content most likely to engage learners and to trigger learning processes is that which is already there, supplied by the “people in the room”.’ (Thornbury, 2005, p.3).
What did they write?
Did it match what I had imagined?
How did the rest of the day go?
You’ll have to tune in for the next instalment!
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