Unplugged or Dogme?
I’ve been reading lots of excellent posts about teaching unplugged, dogme, coursebooks and others in the blogosphere recently. There are also a couple of challenges around that I’m looking forward to having the time to participate in. One of the things that called my attention was the focus that people have given to the name dogme. All right, I’ll have to admit that the very first time I heard the name it didn’t really strike me as something I’d be dying to get to know. The immediate association I made was with the word “dogma”, most specifically a religious kind of dogma. Needless to say, my initial reaction, prior to learning about the rationale behind it, the word dogme wasn’t exactly appealing. It’s also true that I hadn’t heard of the Dogma movement by Scandinavian film-makers, and if that had been the case, I’d probably have looked at it from a different perspective.
However, I don’t think we should judge a book by its cover – how about giving at least the very first chapter a chance to fend off any initial preconception? So, I did decide to give Dogme a chance to defend itself, and it was then that I decided to become an “active lurker” (is there such a thing?) in the Dogme Yahoo Groups. I must say that what I found enthralling about it was the discussions taking place regarding how to best cater for our learners need. This was what stuck me as the most interesting thing in dogme discussions – and not the current (heated) debate regarding coursebooks. I’ve already talked a bit about coursebooks in the previous post, and there are lots of great comments there in case you’d like to take a peek.
I have to confess that until a while ago I had only thought off doing away with coursebooks for private classes, or classes with very few students. You see, the thing is that I’ve always been taught by means of a coursebook. Looking back, many teachers did use the coursebook only as a resource, but it was always there as a reference for me, as the student, to feel a bit more comforted that if there was anything I couldn’t really grasp in a class with 50 other teenagers, I always had the coursebook author to enlighten me with his wisdom. It was in language classes, with fewer people in class, that I felt things were slightly different.
First of all, there’s the reason why we choose to study a foreign language. This has always been the same reason why the approaches and methods to language teaching have changed throughout the years. The minute it’s easier for people to actually travel abroad and engage in real conversation with foreigners, the more apparent the need for an approach that goes beyond reading and understanding what you’ve read. And so it’s been until we reached what’s known as CLT, and this is what still guides us in many of our principles relating the field. Where are we at right now? Well, if I had to choose anyone to quote from right now, I guess I’d go with Brown and say we’re headed towards an era of an ecclectic approach to teaching.
What’s the most important thing here? Is it the name or the set of beliefs that teachers have about language teaching and learning? I see language as a way to communicate, and I liked it when Jeremy Harmer cited both Karenne and Petra in his workshop in São Paulo (Braz-TESOL) when talking about what makes us feel that we can speak in the target language. how do we know we’re ready? When is it that we know that we’ve learned the language? I agree with the point mentioned regarding an urge to speak. This comes from within, when we’re exposed to certain situations that instigate us and makes our brain cogs rotate. This is why it is so important that classroom activities have some intrinsic communicative value. If I ask a Brazilian to talk about skiing, he might just answer it automatically using chunks from the book that will soon be forgotten once the lesson is over. On the other hand, ask pretty much any Brazilian to give their opinion about the national football squad during the World Cup and you’ll see a group of engaged people trying their best to get their message across and, why not, persuading the other people in their room of their opinions.
To be fair, I’ve said here that I like to think of myself as a dogmeist many times. This doesn’t mean I’m in favour of labels, nor does it mean I’m against technology, coursebooks and any other thing like that. I definitely don’t see Dogme as a solution to all that’s bad around the globe in the ELT world. It’s important for us to keep an open mind and a watchful eye for everything that’s taking place around us. Stephen Bax once mentioned that we should abandon CLT in favour of CBT – Context-based teaching. This makes a lot of sense, and I choose to take in whatever is good from that article and incorporate into my teaching. Nonetheless, what this shows is that we’ll always see people bashing current methodologies, pointing out flaws, and offering suggestions – and there’s no other way to evolve if this is not the case. If proper teacher training is something we should work on, then teaching teachers how to reflect upon their practices and also how to think critically about what they read should be at the top of the agenda.
Dogme, teaching unplugged, teching with technology, an ecclectic approach, CLT, the Lexical Approach, Audiolingualism, you name it. The important thing is that teachers really, I mean, really learn about these methods and are capable to keep an open eye to what’s going on in the classroom. There’s something good that can be used in any classroom at any given moments. I learned to like the word dogme, and I identify with the socio-constructivist view behind it. I also agree that language is conversation driven, and there are many different forms of conversation out there. I believe that being materials light means a lot more than coursebooks or no coursebooks. What I’ve noticed more often than not is that less is usually more when it comes to learning.
What really matters to me is that I know why I’ve chosen to do a certain activity in the lesson. And, yes, I don’t equate unplugged to unplanned. Much on the contrary. Planning means thinking about your learners needs and the lesson outcomes. The most important part of planning for me is thinking about objectives and reasons. WHAT do I expect them to learn, and WHY will I do / did I do this in class. Planning doesn’t necessarily mean having lots of handouts ready, and all activities sorted out before you actually meet the students. But carefully thinking about your learners and your learning objectives definitely help me teach unplugged and focus on emergent language a lot more easily than if I just come to the classroom completely unprepared.
Finally, I kind of learned to like the word dogme, but it’s not the label, it’s the rationale behind it that I find appealing. Has it always existed before the word was ‘coined’? To be honest, that doesn’t really matter to me. Does it have sound arguments to support its points? That’s what I care about. Is the the final answer to everything we may come across in a language classroom? I really doubt it. The real answer we should look for is for this question, “What is your personal view of language learning and teaching?” It is only upon answering this question that we can start unfolding other possibilities.