Fear of the unknown!

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

As I have mentioned in my previous post we should always have our learners in mind when we deliver our classes (even if we are using a coursebook).  Our students’ concerns, interests, desires and needs should always be taken into account. We should avoid feeding our students with units of grammar and vocabulary without considering their own learning needs and styles. Up to here everything seems fine and possible, because we are talking about the teacher’s role… But when it comes to the learners’ role, things become a bit more complicated…

Learners should have a very active role in our classrooms. They are meant to take ownership of their learning and share responsibility for what is being taught in the lesson. Language should emerge as a result of the interaction between the learners and the teacher in the classroom. As Karenne said in the quote that appears in her blog:

“If learners are supplied with optimal conditions for language use,
and are motivated to take advantage of these opportunities, their inherent learning capacities will be activated, and language – rather than being acquired – will emerge.”

It would be ideal to create a classroom atmosphere in which students are motivated to take control of their learning and be ready to interact in the classroom so that L2 emerges naturally, without the necessity to force its appearance. However, I believe that  for this to happen, students should be intrisically  motivated to participate. A lot of work is expected from them. So, what happens if they are not willing to take such a huge responsibility?  For example, those  students  who come to our classes because they have to, and not because they want to…  Will they be motivated to take such an active role? Will they be able to let language “emerge”? Are all students willing to have such an active role?

I have come across some students that expect and demand their teachers to use a more traditional approach. They like their teachers to be the ones who posssess the knowledge. Maybe, it makes them feel secure and it is easier and less demanding for them. They are used to working with language as an external subject distanced from themselves and they don’t want to change.  They are not used to student-centred lessons, and expect the teacher to provide them with ready-made “grammar/lexis McNuggets”. Too much student autonomy makes them feel uncomfortable and left uncared for by the teacher. How can we overcome these students’ antipathy for dogme? Should we overcome it  or should we respect their preferable  “way of learning”? Is it real that they prefer to learn like this or is it just fear of the unknown? I guess, we’ll never find the right answer to this.


Posted on October 15, 2010, in Reflections on Tefl/tesl, web 20 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. That’s a very difficult question

    Too much student autonomy makes them feel uncomfortable and left uncared for by the teacher. How can we overcome these students’ antipathy for dogme?

    Just before popping over here I read a dilemma from a teacher in Poland who has students who have chosen “their own levels” and somewhere else a German teacher mentioned that he feeds back to his ready-made grammar sheets so that they don’t feel like they’re not learning(sorry, not sure of the link/who said it).

    Personally, I have always found it really necessary to talk to the students about dogme, what it is and briefly talking about things like autonomy, mastery and purpose (which I got from Daniel Pink)…and then try to get them come up with their own reasons for why it (can) work for them too.

    So I think that you are right, basically, that it is the fear of the unknown, however by talking through things you can conquer this!

    Take care, can’t wait to read #3


    • Thank you Karenne for sharing your views on this one. Of course, I agree with you. We should always inform our students of the reasons and methodology behind what we are doing in class and also make them reflect about how useful it would be for them. However, I think that this would be effective with adults. When I was writing the post I was also thinking about teenagers. I believe that with this age group it would be more difficult to overcome their resistence to a “dogme style” class. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case with all the groups of teenagers but, when they are set against something it is extremely difficult to make them change their mind. Apart from that, some of them may be very shy and they may not like to take such an active role in class. They may feel too exposed (precisely what they are trying to avoid). I know that you are not teaching teens at the moment, so maybe you haven’t thought about this. In spite of that, I’m sure you would have a sensitive advice to give…

      • It depends. I started dogme way before I even knew what dogme was and in Ecuador I worked with teenagers – we were getting them ready for a year abroad in the US – and we worked with a book for the first few months but each year as we got closer to the time they were going to the States, the more we abandoned the book and focused on what would be going on there – talking about their new “families” / expectations / fears and worries. Other times we just talked about things they liked in general in their lives…

        Sometimes I think the problem is that we, as teachers, worry about accountability of the time we’ve spent in class i.e. will they pass a test of random selected vocabulary and grammar and that becomes the centralizing point of their learning instead of equipping them with the tools they need to communicate.

        It’s the fear of the unknown as you titled your post :-))

  2. Good post, and I agree with your observations and identification of what is — I think — a very common challenge.

    And glad to hear you think my recent post showing a *hybrid* approach at coursebook level may in fact be a potential road towards a solution!


    – Jason

    • Dear Jason,
      Yes, I believe we shouldn’t leave out any method, style, approach, etc. to teaching. Everything will be useful in one situation or other. I think that we should mix all the different styles and approaches to make a new and unique approach personalised to the learners we have in front of us.
      In the particular case you’ve presented in your blog I believe that by using both a traditional and a task based approach we will be fulfilling our students’ demands (using a traditional approach) and at the same time presenting them with a new way of doing things. In that way, they will be able to overcome their fear of the unknown by getting used to the new approach and learning to obtain the benefits from it too. The new approach won’t be pushed on them, it would be introduced gradually and this would make them feel secure.
      To sum up, YES, I believe it to be a practical and feasible approach to incorporate new methods/styles alongside the more usual ones in coursebooks, creating options. And as you said we may end up finding that one supports the other in ways we haven’t really thought of yet.

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