Dogme Series: Introducing Dogme

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I became interested in Dogme after attending a three-day course with Luke Meddings in Brazil in 2012. I like to say that, since then, I have found a teaching philosophy that I truly believe in. After the course, I bought the Teaching Unplugged book and began including many of the activities into my lessons. Also, I wanted to see if a Dogme approach would work with young learners, so I began creating my own activities, too.

I was finally able to share the results of my experience applying Dogme inspired activities in my lessons – it wasn’t possible to teach a whole course based on the approach because the school did not offer that much teaching flexibility – at a teaching conference in Brazil in 2013. To my surprise, Luke Meddings himself attended our talk and gave us some really nice feedback. He also gave the plenary talk closing the conference.

There, he talked about taking steps towards a more humanistic approach to teaching, preached by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1968), who proposes a new relationship between teachers, students and the society, meaning that the class is a place to seek knowledge instead of transmitting it. This is reflected in the view that Dogme has of ‘language learning in a profoundly human way’ (Meddings & Thornbury, 2003).

This humanistic approach reminded me of my own experience as a language learner, where lessons and language items would be more memorable when the teacher personalised the activities, asking about our interests, and really showing that they mattered. That was not the rule, though, as most lessons were very book-centered and only a few teachers were truly interested in what a bunch of children/teenagers had to say.

Dogme also has a strong view on the importance of dealing with emerging language. According to Meddings and Thornbury (2009, p. 8), ‘rather than being acquired, language (including grammar) emerges’ as an organic process and given the right conditions. And, from what I have learned by experimenting with Dogme, it is the most challenging part, especially for teachers who are non-native speakers. However, the confidence to deal with emerging language comes with time, and it is extremely important to take notes of what students are saying during the activities.

Finally, as I have been saying in many of my posts here, I believe coursebooks are a useful tool for teachers, but it concerns me when we become over-dependent on them and leave aside our learners’ needs. The materials-light aspect of Dogme may seem impossible in contexts where teachers must follow a course book, but there are ways of incorporating activities in the lessons. It is a very good way of adding variety to the lessons and to have the students’ needs in mind at the same time.

References:

Freire, P. 1968 Pedagogy of the Oppressed Penguin

Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S. 2009 Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching Delta Publishing

Thornbury, S 2006 An A-Z of ELT Macmillan

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I have been able to share my experience using Dogme with young learners and teenagers in many conferences – there was even one where both Scott Thornbury and Jeremy Harmer were in the audience and I can’t even tell you how many shades of red my face turned during the whole presentation haha – and I have recently brought it to the University in order to see with Spanish teachers if the approach could be used in their lessons, too.

Now, I want to write about it here in a short series of posts just as a way to record my experience and share it with – hopefully – more people. Also, the semester is about to end, and we will have our winter holidays in July, so I won’t have any lessons to teach. Here are the topics I would like to cover:

  • The 3 Dogme principles
  • Dogme activities for Young Learners
  • Dogme lesson plan
  • Dogme posters and portfolios
  • Wrapping up a Dogme lesson
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Learned about London

For many Brazilian ELT teachers, teaching there is / there are to describe places can be a challenge simply because students do not get the concept. In Brazilian Portuguese we use the verb ‘to have’ to do this. So, for example, instead of saying ‘There is a bakery near my house’, we would translate ‘Has a bakery near my house’ (ouch!) – also, sentences without subjects are accepted in our language.

Following the syllabus defined by the course book, I had to teach my students vocabulary related to places in a town followed by the grammar ‘there + be’. Being a Dogme advocate, I decided to bring a ‘London Children’s Map’ to see what they could already do and what would come out of seeing a map of a different city.

10695LondonMap

When I spread the map on the floor and had them sit down and observe it, they had so many questions! Where’s the Big Ben? Where does the queen live? What’s this man doing on the map? Where did you live in London? What’s that thing (pointing to various things on the map)? To the point I had to stop them, and had them take turns to ask the questions. Some of them were so eager to ask things they didn’t even wait for me to finish my reply!

This took almost the whole lesson. However, we did had time to cover some of the vocabulary planned in the syllabus and to say some sentences comparing our city to London using the target language. The class ended with me trying to explain why Kate Middleton couldn’t be queen and why Phillip isn’t a king????? They were very enthusiastic to learn about the royal family.

Even though things were a bit rushed and we didn’t get to record vocabulary items on the notebook or to produce any written language, it was very productive in terms of English culture and introducing vocabulary in a meaningful way.

Image via Google and this is the map I’ve got!