Monday, February 20, 2012

Dogmexperimentation and Reflections

I decided to give my Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged blog-quest a rest so that I could reflect on what I learned after my first three posts and the Dogme experiments in my own teaching. Like I mentioned earlier (here, here, and here, to be exact), Dogme ELT seems like the perfect solution to teaching.

There are very strong pro-Dogme views, mostly centered around the evilness of text books and the benefits of student-centered learning (ideas that I totally agree with!). However, there are also very strong anti-Dogme views. (I thought that Phil Wade at EFLthoughtsandreflections did a great job of rounding up some these criticisms of Dogme ELT / TeachingUnplugged and providing nice responses)

Overall, however, Dogme seems to come out ahead. So, if it's so great, why is it not a widely accepted strategy?

Experiments and Lingering Concerns

Over the last few months, I have been trying to implement pieces of Dogme ELT into my teaching. I am one of those teachers who (in 90% of my courses) is bound by administrative policies to a text book and a lesson plan. I believe this to be a disadvantage to my students and to my teaching, and I consciously try to add more authentic communicative activities whenever I can.

During this time of “Dogmexperimentation,” I have noticed that I am more willing to let the lesson “flow,” and more willing to change the activities to address learner needs on the spur of the moment than I was before. I have also had a lot of success using a Dogme-like approach to eliciting topical vocabulary and phrases. However, in the lessons that I have tried to create a more Dogme-like environment, I have been mostly dissatisfied with the outcomes. Perhaps it is my lack of training in emergent language techniques, or maybe it is my communication-over-grammar emphasis—I'm not sure. What I do know, though, is that I have some concerns about Dogme.

My concerns are mostly questions, and maybe the future will bring answers. I want to know what the research will say about Dogme ELT. How is the long-term learning? Dogme provides nice situations for conversation and practice, but in the big picture, how much language information do students actually acquire through this teaching method/approach/attitude? Is Dogme merely whole-class tutoring or language consulting? How do we incorporate the issues that the students don't know they don't know? What is the relative “learning weight” of (semi-random) learner-fronted content vs. a progressive syllabus that covers important language functions? In other words, how important is immediate relevance really? What about graded grammar items? On the side of motivation and attitude, will students prefer this approach? Regardless of the possible benefits, is there a way to make this approach/method/attitude appear to be the same caliber of teaching as a textbook provides?

So, What's the Solution to the Dogme Question?

In my opinion, there is no solution, but not in a “OMG it's totally hopeless” sense. There is no solution because there needs to be no solution—right now. The critics need to keep being critical and the extremists need to keep being extreme. We need Dogme extremists to bring swing pendulum away from the set-in-stone, material-based trend we've gotten into, and we need anti-Dogme critics to bring us back towards reality, so that we don't go head-over-heels and forget about the lingering questions and problems. Now that both sides are doing their jobs, we can watch, and then we can catch the pendulum in the middle. 

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