Dogme with Young Learners

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog. You can read my answer to the previous challenge here.


Been thinking quite a lot about dogme recently, and it has just struck me that I am applying it in my young learners classes without even having noticed it. The quotation with which Karenne has opened this new challenge is:

The teacher’s primary function,

apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic

conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy

is to optimize language learning affordances,

by directing attention to features of the emergent language;

learning can be mediated through talk,

especially talk that is shaped and supported

(i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher.

According to Wikipedia “Scaffolding Theory was first introduced in the late 1950s by Jerome Bruner. He used the term to describe young children’s oral language acquisition . Helped by their parents when they first start learning to speak, young children are provided with instinctive structures to learn a language… Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task. “

With my second grade students (they are between 7 and 8 years old), we always start the class with a set routine. It consists of completing a calendar that we have hanging in our classroom with the date, month and weather; establishing who would be the teacher assistants on that day and finally, the dogme part, talking about their news and problems.

I devote quite a long time to this part of the lesson and my students love it. They all want to participate and tell the rest of the class about their news and problems. They talk about birthday parties, problems at home, their illnesses, their trips, or whatever comes to their mind. They sometimes even make up some stories and they retell them as if they have really happened to them. As they are not very proficient in English yet, they say whatever they can in English mixed with a bit of Spanish. They come up with something similar to: “Yesterday, I went to the park and played in “las hamacas” (“the swings”).

And this is the point that reminded me of Bruner’s experience.  There are some things that they don’t know or they don’t remember how to say in English. They need help, and it is provided by the teacher or by their peers. Sometimes,  I just  repeat what they have just said with the English word they need, and in general, they repeat it after me and incorporate it in their sentence without giving it too much thought. They are more concerned with the message they want to get across. There are some other times, in which they don’t remember a word we have previously seen in class, so they are helped by their partners or by the posters we have in the classroom. I believe that students are greatly helped by visual scaffolding.  As Stuart  Ewen said ‘… if you really want to move people, don’t use words, use images’.

I have been doing this for a long time, and I haven’t realised it was kind of a dogme class till last Monday 18th. The previous day had been Mother’s day here in Argentina and therefore, I asked my students to share with the class what they had given their mothers as a present. Most of them had given them clothes. As they had never seen clothes vocabulary before, I taught them the items of clothes as they needed to use them and made some drawings on the blackboard for them to remember. When we had already repeated T-shirt a thousand times (most of them had given a t-shirt to their mothers apparently!) one of my students said: “We have repeated this word so many times, that now I remember it!”. That was one of those magical moments for a teacher! Learning was taking place now and there!  I’m sure they will never forget that v0cabulary as they will always associate it with Mother’s Day!


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Posted on October 25, 2010, in Reflections on Tefl/tesl, web 20 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I love these “aha” moments, when we realize we’ve been doing something well without even noticing! That was a very nice description of scaffolding Sabrina :-)

  2. Hi Sabrina
    Have you heard of Community Language Learning? I have never see it in action, but I the theory and techniques sound similar to what you did. There were times when mixin languages was very frowned upon, but I think it allows a learner to be much more fluent in an exchange. It was a nice lesson you did.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_language_learning
    David

    • Hi David! Thanks for sharing this information. I have never heard about this approach before. It makes sense, whereas I don’t like the fact that they call the learner a client. It reminds me of a saying in Spanish that goes “The client is always right”. I believe that is great to teach having our learners in mind and taking into account their needs, likes, dislikes, etc. However, I believe that we also have to teach them some things that they may not like, they may not see the reason for learning, but that we know would be useful or necessary for them. We should find a balance. Maybe I was a bit prejudiced against the word client. jajaj Thanks for sharing and let’s keep on learning together.

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. I agree with you that kids love this kind of lesson. They love being able to use English to talk about themselves and I too always look to help them add extra phrases and/or words they need to know to tell the class more. Just today, we were looking at weather words. The book only had a few (sunny, windy, rainy, snowy and rainbows) but the kids were curious about much more so we covered many more words, most of which came from individual students and were then shared with the whole class. They talked about places and seasons associated with different kinds of weather and we learned a lot more vocabulary when doing that as well. After that, they were able to complete the exercises in the book in just a few minutes!

    • Hi David! Thanks for passing by. Yeah, apparently the solution at least in the near future seems to be a hybrid approach with young learners.
      The same usually happens to me in my classes. We go quite a lot beyond what the coursebook proposes. I may be wrong, but I believe, that in general YL coursebooks tend to underestimate the children’s abilities. They sometimes propose exercises that are extremely easy. What do you think?

  4. Wow, I really enjoyed this post – thanks so much Sabrina, I really felt your aha moment, they’re incredibly special and teach us so much about what we’re doing and your storytelling was great: I could literally hear your students’ joy and excitement!

    Karenne

    • I’m glad you liked it! I enjoyed writing it as it has made me reflect and have a look at this old activity from a new perspective! Thank YOU for having started and promoted these reflections!

  5. This sounds like a great lesson routine. Possibly some of the students rehearse what they want to say in their heads before the lesson, knowing that they will have an opportunity to speak, which is fantastic!

    • Hi Richard! Thanks for your comment. I haven’t thoght about that possibility. That may be true. When I arrive at school, lots of my students come to say hello and they remind me that they have a news or problem to comment in class.

  6. Have just found your blog via Kalinago. I’ve just come from my first attempt at a lesson based on student input with a small class of 9 year-olds, which was a total failure BTW ;)

    I’m going to try out your ideas next week. Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Alan! Don’t worry, practice makes perfection. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes. Would you like to share with us your experience? Maybe, we can find out why it didn’t turn out well. I would love to hear about your experience with the ideas presented in this post. Let’s keep in touch and learn from each other.

  7. Dear Sabrina,

    It was with great interest that I read your post about dogma teaching to young learners. I say that because I have worked on this line for a long time, being extremely influenced by the work of Roger Hunt and specially Bernard Dufeu.

    I believe that language should be learned with emotions and that happens when we give children the words they need to talk about what is important for them, their passions, dreams, fears, and whatever they want to say.

    By giving them the precious language they need, we replicate interactions that happen in their first language acquisition in which parents support their children’s expression by paraphrasing, scaffolding, and making children succeed.

    The most important thing in my opinions is that in these interactions that you have described the language is really being used as a real means of communication, they are talking about the presents they gave their mothers and how they liked it. Language is embedded in emotions, which are the ones that fuels their memory. Last, but not least, all involved are able to free themselves from the student-teacher personas that lock people in very limited roles.

    Here below I share some quotes from Bernard’s “Teaching Myself”, which are aligned with holistic language learning:

    “Students have something to say, they just lack the words”.

    “The educator should respond to a demand of the student, instead of demanding responses from them.”

    “When the words are yours, it can be your language.”

    “Language and life should relate to each other in order for an alive language to be born.”

    Let’s continue exchanging about our work with young learners!

    All the best,

    Juan

    • Dear Juan,
      Thanks for your kind words. I just loved the quotes you have included, they couldn’t have been more appropriate. Language is a tool for communication, so the thing that should matter most in our classrooms is what the students have to say. Let’s keep on learning together.
      Sabrina

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