Friday, January 13, 2012

Developing a Picture of Dogme / Unplugged Teaching

This is part of a series on teaching unplugged/dogme elt. Be sure to check out the rest of the blog entries, and stay tuned for more.

I'm running out of "plug" ideas ;-)

At the first glance, Dogme / Unplugged teaching sounds like an English teacher's dream – less prep time, fewer photocopies, and happier students. What's not to love about that?

Before falling in love and living happily ever after with teaching unplugged, I think that it's important to get a better picture of what it looks like in the classroom. What kind of teacher will be most successful with teaching unplugged? What are good unplugged practices? What does a lesson look like?

In the quest for the answers to some of these questions, I came across several quotations that begin to show what an unplugged teacher looks like:
"Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared." (Source: "Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers" on chiasuanchong)
“As a teacher, you need to be able to create relaxed and collaborate learning environments - in contexts where this can be culturally difficult or challenging on account of more practical issues (for example, very large classes of very mixed-level students). You not only need to be able to create the sort of environment where learners will feel they have something to say and actually want to say it, you need to be able to "let go" at the right times and let the learners direct the play.” (Source: "The Trouble With Teaching Unplugged" on English Raven)
"But what I have found in my experiments with Dogme is that it orientates the teacher towards entering the classroom well prepared to, perhaps with the sole intention of, helping learners with what they need here-and-now, not whatever comes next in the book or whatever you happen to have prepared that day. And insodoing, you are really teaching." (Source: "Lesson 11: Exams and Phrasal Verbs" on An Experiment with Dogme)
So, to summarize, to be successful, an unplugged teacher needs to be a good teacher. They need to know about emergent language and how to exploit it , they need to be very proficient in grammar, and they need to have good classroom presence and management. That doesn't really seem much different that the requirements for good language teaching in any other methodology. If the teachers themselves are not so different, then the next area to investigate is teaching practices.

Here are a couple videos of unplugged lessons:


These are the only two lessons I have seen that were explicitly labeled as Dogme or Unplugged, but from them, I pulled a few conclusions about the teaching practices. The first half of the class in both videos is conversation and discussion between learners and the instructor. This discussion is used to build a list of “emergent language” that is initially noted (perhaps on a notepad), and later written on the board for students to see.

The two teachers approach the second half of the class differently, but there is a common sense to both styles. Martin Sketchley introduces “language that I heard...” and then works with the students to expand and refine the examples, followed by drills, and later by note-taking. Jason Renshaw uses an info-gap-like activity where students create questions to ask their classmates, and later, without the notes, report back. The commonality is the language modeling. In both lessons, the incorrect emergent language is corrected, and through out the course of the lesson, the language is repeated various times.

Both of these lessons make use of authentic interaction between students, whether through the agreement/disagreement game or the question-and-answer activity. Actual communication about real-life issues that affect the students is emerging in the class, and the teacher, in both cases, highlights some of that language.

I don't know if this is part of the Dogme/Unplugged methodology, but I noticed that, although good language examples were modeled and bad language examples were corrected, there wasn't a whole lot of repetition of correct language models by the students. I'm not sure if the idea is to increase the exposure, and hope that the exposure will be salient enough, or if this is just a feature that isn't addressed in the video portions of the lessons.

In another video, Jason Renshaw offers some good ideas to follow-up the discussions with the new emergent language that we saw in the first part of each video. I think that these activities would address the issue of student repetition, if they were incorporated into the lesson, somehow. Some of his ideas are to find relevant videos or content passages, create role plays or scenes in groups, do a poster activity or web quest to explore the issues, do a classroom survey, write “agony aunt” columns (a.k.a. Dear Abby columns) and reply, do a review based quiz show, or journal writing.

Later, I will address some of my own criticisms and some old criticisms of Dogme/Unplugged teaching, but as far as the basics go, it seems that what has been said many times – that Dogme teaching is just good teaching – is true on several levels.

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