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Heeeeeeeeeeelp!

We have finally got to Dogme Challenge Nº 10 , and Karenne has invited us to ask questions. I will grab at this opportunity, as I’ve been having this question at the back of my mind since I read about dogme for the first time. So please, my wonderful, supportive and encouraging PLN can you help me in this one?

PLEASE!!!!!

I have been thinking a lot about dogme recently, and it comes natural to me when I have to “teach” writing or speaking, but what about as regards reading and listening? I don’t have any clue as how to go about these skills doegmecly. Could you write some tips about this? What do you do in your classes?

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Critical Thinking, we aim at it…

Writing in answer to Karenne’s challenge Nº 9 after having read Diarmuid Fogarty’s contribution: This is a critical update, seems to be more like an impossible mission. What else can I add? Anyway, I will give it a try… Here’s my humble attempt at it.

Let's start thinking out of the box...

 

I believe critical thinking to be one of the most important aims of education. As I have already said in this post we should not be just English teachers, we should become EDUCATORS. As @ddeubel pointed in his  post: Teachers- who needs them?: “After hearing the line the film, it dawned on me that it should be updated to, “I just thought it was a big waste of money for something I could learn online”.  The internet has allowed us, the amateur, to prosper.” I’m not saying that we should do away with schools, but a paradigm shift is peremptory.

We, teachers, cannot continue being just transmitters of knowleadge (encyclopeadic information). The internet will always defeat us, if  we choose that path. Today, information is everywhere, we can acces it quite quickly (and more complete and thorough that what we get at school). Maybe, we should start teaching/guiding our students on how to access that information, what to do with all the information we have in our hands, how to be critical with what we read, how to create their own content online, how to learn collaboratelly, and so on and so forth. To sum up, we should show them how to use internet to its full potential and not eating up everything they are told.

But what does it mean to be critical? Can we achieve it? Obviously, we cannot in every single class (we are human beings after all), but it can happen… According to @thornburyscott in Dogme: nothing if not critical a critical pedagogy:

1. is transformative, and seeks social change
2. foregrounds social inquiry and critique
3. challenges the status quo and problematizes ‘givens’
4. devolves agency to the learner
5. is participatory and collaborative
6. is dialogic
7. is locally-situated, and socially-mediated
8. is non-essentialist, i.e. it doesn’t reduce learners to stereotypes, but rather legitimizes individual identities
9. is self-reflexive

It happened to me once, that with my business students we were reading a text about the role of women in society. We end up discussing weather things are equal or not between men and women. They all had quite a traditional point of view around the issue: (should point out at this moment that they were three men and ME =) ) we are all for equality, but at the end of the day, I want to go back home and have everything spotless clean and the children ready to play with me, of course I may HELP with the dishes. Does it sound familiar?

I won’t define myself as a feminist, but I go for choice. It is ok is some women choose to be devoted housewives, but what if that is not their choice? I started posing them lots of questions, to make them realise that we are far from being equal. What happens if a couple agrees on the woman being the breadwinner and the man staying at home doing the housework and looking after the children? Their first reaction was, I would feel guilty if that was my case. They looked at me even with greater astonishment when I played the devil advocate and said: “I’d love to have that kind of agreement. I hate cleaning, cooking, etc. And I love my job” Why isn’t that possible? Who decides that? Not happy with that, I retorted: what happens when a woman says she doesn’t want to be a mother? Why is it ok when a man says that and we cannot accept it in a woman?

We concluded that there is nothing wrong with traditional families and we can take our own decisions, however, we shouldn’t criticise other people’s choices. My students left the room wondering. At least I have shown them that there is not one-fit-for-all answer for certain issues, and we should become more tolerant and respectful. Is this what you would call critical thinking? What happens in your classrooms?

Invisible Technology

I have already exploded the first myth in this post, and now I will try to explode myth nº 2: Dogme ELT = no technology?, as an answer to the Dogme Challenge Nº 7.

Again, as in my previous post I will continue writing from where my fellow bloggers have left. In this case, I really recommend you to read Mike’s and  David’s post. David concludes that:

“It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.”

Technology at its best (specifically the internet) offers the chance to break down the classroom walls and bring the real world into our schools. At its worst, it leads to another pile of meaningless language practice activities. As teachers, it’s our job to ensure technology is used at its best to support the needs of our learners.
I totally agree with his statement. Technology allows us to open the classroom and let the real world in. It is a great source of authentic material: newspapers, videos, movies, cartoons, supermarket catalogues, you name it, the sky is the limit. You can find absolutely everything. Is there a better way of catering for students likes and needs?
However,  I believe that we have to use technology as a solution to a problem, and not just because we want to start using it in our classroom without a clear purpose. As Tyson answered me in this comment:

So many teachers I’ve seen use technology in class meaninglessly (ie. to kill time, impress students, feel obliged, etc). Really, the biggest factor contributing to this use is a lack of direction. It takes thought in order to determine how to best integrate the technology into lessons. Without this thought, its use comes off perhaps impressive at first go, but progressively as a weak attempt at being cool.Twitter (and many other sites) not created specifically for language learning offer functions that can facilitate our lessons with a little creative thinking.

That’s the key I believe: Creative Thinking. Using the tools we have at hand in a creative way to do things better than if we do them without technology. I think that Tyson’s use of Twitter is a perfect example of this. Relating to my own experience, last year I had a teen course that had lots of problems with writing. They were not really that interested in it. They would never hand in a composition, and I knew that writing is an important and necessary skill to develop. For that reason, I created a blog for them, in which they were going to be writing with the focus on communication and not on accuracy. Writing became meaningful for them, they had a real audience and most of them were motivated to take part and WRITE!
To sum up, as Ana Rossaro pointed in her blog technology should become invisible (The following picture is part of a power point presentation created and done by Ana Rossaro, I have just translated it into English. You can see the original version here) :

It all comes down to PASSION

The Dogme Blog Challenge Nº6 is out, and even though at the beginning I thought it was going to be rather controversial, up to now they have all got to the same conclusion.  In Cecilia’s words:

Being an effective teacher – whether in an unplugged setting or not – is not about being (or not) a NEST.

Henrick Oprea and Richard seem to agree with her, and me too of course. They have clarified perfectly well the differences between the NEST and NNEST and what each of them brings to the classroom. I am not going to go more deeply into this topic in order not to be repetitive.  To me, it doesn’t matter whether you are a NEST or a NNEST, what really matters is wether you are passionate or not about teaching. Here, you can see a graph of what the main elements that an EST, with or without N =), should have are:

Passion is the key element for happiness in life, and it is even more necessary if you are in the teaching field. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you wouldn’t mind getting up early in order to go to school (even if you are a night owl like me!), you would learn how to live on low salaries, you would do your job with a smile on your face (most of the time, at least, we are not walking clowns after all), and the most important of all, you would care for your leaners. You would listen to them and not just hear them as Ceci pointed out in this post. This is one of the Dogme premises: build your class catering for your students needs, interests, passions. How can you aim at this if you don’t pay attention to your students? You would also sympathise with their insecurities and problems, and therefore, know when to stand firm and when to apologise. You would really try hard to move your students beyond their comfort zone to challenge their confidence so they can become more confident.

Apart from that, passion is the motor that pushes you to become better. It encourages you to try harder in order to become a better educator (and not just an English teacher), to take risks and try new things. You wouldn’t be giving Dogme a try if you were afraid of risks.  I’m almost sure both NEST and NNEST find the idea of giving students more control and more class plans flexibility totally scary at the beginning.

Furthermore, Passionate educators are not afraid of  making mistakes, as they can learn a lot from them (the most useful inventions resulted from mistakes!). And most important of all, they have a good attitude towards students mistakes. Smart, self-motivated, hard-working, wide-awake students don’t need to be taught. They are the other ones that need always to be taken into account. Good teachers always reflect upon their teaching, and wonder especially, what they did wrong for those one or two students who are demotivated or at a loss in their class.

Finally, Passionate teachers are always busy, and this is not because of the amount of classes they have to teach. They prefer to be busy and know that the work of good teaching expands to fill every moment they can give it. When they are not writing in their blogs, they are planning classes, marking exams, interacting with their PLN, and so on and so forth (does it ring a bell?).

Let's explode the myth

 

Summing up, and trying to answer Karenne’s questions:

What do you think? Are Non Native English Speaking teachers disadvantaged?

Yes, they are.  But only because we humans beings tend to be prejudiced. Let’s explode the myth “that only native-speaker teachers can feel fully comfortable in this unplanned teaching mode”. Dogme teaching just requires a passionate teacher in front of the classroom. I have already described what are the traits that a passionate teacher has and how why they are necessary in a dogme class.  I really believe these characteristics can be found in both NEST and NNEST teachers. But Unfortunately, not in all of them

Unheard Voices

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

Providing space for the learners’ voice means

accepting that the learners’

beliefs

knowledge

experiences

concerns

& desires

are valid content in the language learning classroom.

In the answers to this challenge we have heard the voices of  two teachers having a conversation , one teacher singing and we have talked and discussed thoroughly about the need to let our students take control of their learning, and the importance of listen to their voices and adapt our classes to cater for their interests, likes and dislikes. However, what should we do when our learners are reluctant to have such an active role in our classroom? What do we do with shy students? Shall we push them to take part or let them be?Apparently, as David R Hall says, students know what their own needs and interests are. So, if what they want is to have a passive role in our classes, why not let them?. I don’t have the answers to these questions, the only thing I can share with you are two examples of this situation that I have in my classes.

Case 1:

I have one student, who speaks very little in her every day life. In the past, she didn’t use to speak at all (obviously she has some kind of psychological problem). However, what really surprises me about her,  is that even though you may think that she is not at all present in class ( one hardly ever gets to hear  her voice), she does all the written activities perfectly well. She succeds at writing letters, doing grammar exercises, passing the written tests, etc. I sometimes wonder if she is happy in her silent world. Shall I leave her like that or shall I try to make her talk? I sometimes even feel sad, because I consider that I’m excluding her in some way, since I don’t ask her questions as I do with the rest of my students, because I believe she will feel unconfortable. Is it right? Or should I have continued addressing her till the moment she decides to interact with me and the rest of the class? Don’t really know.

Case 2:

This is the girl that has refused to take part in the activity I have discussed in my post “The importance of reflection” This is a totally different case from the previous one. She is an excellent student, very good at speaking, very fluent. However, she always place safe. She just answer whatever she is asked, but never enlarge on the topic. She wants to be as unpercievable as possible. For example, once the class had to be divided in different groups and for that reason, we were making a kind of raffle with their names to make the groups. Each student at a time had to take a piece of paper and read the name on it. When her turn came, she refused to take a paper. It was really unbeliavable, as she would not be compromised in any way by choosing one piece of paper. Her classmates tried to convince her, but she didn’t change her mind. If she refuses to “become active” even in the less demanding activities, how can I expect her to express her ideas and interests in front of the class? Or is it that she is being an autonomous learner and expressing the way in she wants to learn (with a more traditional approach, in which she is not required to take such an active role)? Difficult question to answer.

Well, as you can see I have too many questions and no answers at all. So I decided to conduct some research and stumbled upon a piece of advice that @thornburyscott was giving to an EFL teacher on the issue  at Onestopenglish. Scott gave some practical tips and finally concluded that:

If all else fails, you can take heart from a piece of classroom research conducted by Dick Allwright several years ago, in which he observed a class for a term and noted that, despite the highly interactive nature of the lessons, there was one student who hardly ever participated in group or class speaking activities. However, at the end of the course she scored as highly, if not more highly, than her peers on several measures of proficiency, including speaking! Allwright concluded that “for some students at least, learning a second language is a spectator sport”.

What do you think? I’m not totally convinced, but who knows… maybe those unheard voices are claiming us to let them be.

Everybody can paint!

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

I will start this post by thanking my students for having inspired me to write it, and I would like especially to thank Gisela for being so generous as to share pieces of her life with us every class. One of those was this photo, and a moving retelling of her mother’s 60th birthday.

Cake prepared and decoarated by Gisela (one of my students)

You may be wondering what is the relationship between this picture and Karenne’s challenge. By the way, talking about the challenge, the quotation for this week is:

Dogme is about teaching
materials light.
I have to admit that on the day in which Gisela brought this picture to the classroom, I had entered it material heavy, as I had prepared a lesson based on an article from The Guardian newspaper. However, as soon as I entered, I noticed one of my students had come carrying a burden too. Of course, as you can imagine, everybody (including me) was more interested in her burden than in mine. So I let things flow in order to see what came out of it. She opened her rucksack and a magical element came out of it:
Not only was she going to impose her own agenda in my class, but she was also going to obligue me to plug it, when the whole TEFL blogosphere is all the rage for unplugged teaching! How cheeky of her! (jajajaj) No, seriously! At that moment I realised she had been well-trained. What an honour to have a student in my class who was  becoming autonomous and getting in charge of her own learning. And what’s more, without having realised it.  She said, unaware of  my enthusiastic thoughts,  “I’ve brought  the pictures of my mother’s birthday. Remember I’ve told you about it?”. Yes! Of course I remember!
She started going through the pictures and telling us about what was going on there. She even showed us a video. Everybody was looking at the screen, asking questions, happy to finally put a face to  Gisela’s daughters. While we were discussing the pictures, I wrote some things on the blackboard. We revised how to make questions, I introduced them to vocabulary to talk about people’s personality, and so on and so forth. Time flew and  it was almost time for ending the class.  My students realised they had learnt lots of things without having noticed.
Gisella told us that her mother loves painting and that’s why the party had been  thematic, art had been everywhere! The guests before leaving the party had to paint a little part in a picture that had been started by her mother’s teacher. I loved the idea. Everybody had to paint a bit as a gift to her mother, no matter how good or bad at it they were.Here you can see the final product:
And what I loved the most about it was the metaphor… everybody needed to paint for the picture to be concluded. Does it ring a bell? The teacher had started the picture, but then, everybody followed their own path. I’m very happy because this resembles what  happens in my classroom. My students are the ones that come material heavy to my classes. They are the ones that are painting the picture in whatever way they like. I’m just their assistant. I’m there for whatever they need, but they are the ones who give the orders. We can all paint, and all of us should paint!

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!


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.

What really matters: OUR LEARNERS!

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog


I have heard about Dogme very recently. Therefore, I’m not a specialist on the subject. However, I believe that some of the ideas supported by this methodology / approach (?) to TEFL make a lot of sense, as they are down-to-earth, common-sense ones.

When we have just graduated and we are teaching our first classes, we get so engrossed in trying to make our lessons as complete and interesting as possible; we are so worried with time limits and afraid of running out of activities; that we forget the most important element in a teaching-learning situation: THE LERNERS! They are the main protagonists and they are not taken into account. We don’t leave any space in our classes for them to take control of their learning and work on their interests, likes, needs and so on and so forth.

But Why do the lives of the learners matter? Reading some of the bibliography that Karenne has provided, I have came across an answer to this question that I’ve found quite satisfactory.  In the Delta Publishing blog it is said: “… Not just because they are interesting; not just because their exploration yields language that is of immediate relevance and value. But because without space for them in the teaching process, space to establish and express the identity they want to bring to the classroom (real or virtual), they will be disenfranchised. And they won’t learn the English they need…”

After all, as it is said in Karenne’s quotation “Learning is a dialogic process,  where knowledge is co-constructed rather than transmitted or imported from teacher/coursebook to learner.” The teacher is not the one who possesses the knowledge and transmits it to his/her students. Learning should be constructed as a result of the interactions between the teachers and the students. As we cannot plan in advance what the students are going to say or propose in our classes, we should leave space in our classes that will be filled with what comes out in our lessons on the spur of the moment . We should react to our students’ needs as they appear in the classroom and a coursebook cannot cater for that.  It is an indirect route to learning as the book doesn’t cater for our own students’ needs. It is not personalised.

To sum up, I believe that there is a great temptation for using a coursebook in our classes. We tend to think that it simplifies planning and we feel more secure. In general, we don’t trust so much in our ability for creating our own activities and lesson plans to cater for our students’ needs and interests. But it is unbelievable what wonderful things we can do, if we just give it a try. Believe me, once you tried it, you wouldn’t like to go back to teaching with a coursebook anymore. You would feel constrained by it.  What do you think? Share with us your opinions and experiences.