What are your bare essentials?
The dogme discussion group on Yahoo says that the list is for educators who are in favour of “a pedagogy of bare essentials”. I’ve been following the list for quite a long time (more than 7 years now), and even though I’m still waiting for my copy of “Teaching Unplugged” to arrive, I can say I agree with pretty much all views put forth there, and I consider myself a dogme-ist. I also advise all English teachers who are not participating in the list, to join asap – you’ll certainly find some interesting points of view there. Anyway, I don’t really wish to talk about Dogme – as I mentioned before, Karenne has written a fantastic piece on it here – instead, I’ll focus on the idea of “bare essentials”.
Some of the people I’ve talked to about dogme seem to believe it’s all about not having anything ready and simply walking into the classroom unprepared. You go to the classroom armed with nothing and all you do is have a conversation with your learners about whatever it is they want to talk about. “It’s just a conversation lesson,” I once heard. The idea that teachers can actually use language that emerges in the classroom seems to be far-fetched for some when in reality all it really takes is truly listening to your learners and responding appropriately. I don’t like any extreme ideas – there’s strength in balance. One shouldn’t strip oneself of all that’s available just for the sake of it. However, one must learn to understand the context into which one is inserted, and then respond accordingly.
Instead of trying to figure out how to teach without a coursebook in a school/system that forces you to use one, instead of coming up with ways to bend the system, it’s much easier for us to ask ourselves one single question: “What are the bare essentials of my teaching context?” Once you can figure out the answer to this question, things will hopefully run much more smoothly in the classroom. What does this mean?
If you’re inserted in a context in which all of your learners are tech-savvy and always come to the classroom with their 3G phones which they obviously use to connect their laptops to the Internet, it’ll do you or them no good to ask them to put their gadgets away because you want to teach your class. Just the same, it’s pointless to try to introduce a myriad of technological tools using web 2.0, PowerPoint classes, screencasts and what have you if your learners couldn’t care less about such things. If you are fortunate enough so as to have as much time as you want/need to teach your learners what you’re supposed to and also teach them how to use technology, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. This is not what I have, so I end up having to choose.
I once spent one full class talking to my students about Twitter. They were really interested in learning about it and asked me to help them create their accounts at that very same moment. They asked questions, took notes and as soon as they left the classroom, they started using it and incorporated it in their lives. The same thing happened with pretty much any new web 2.0 tool I tried using with them. It simply worked. On the other hand, there was another group with students – just as young as the ones from the aforementioned group – who couldn’t care less about twitter or anything else I tried using with them. Their answer was always the same, “I simply don’t have time to learn how to use this and, to be honest, I’m not interested in doing so. As a matter of fact, I don’t even check my emails regularly, maybe once a week.” Students from both groups are born at the same time and are supposed to be the digital natives, but this idea of digital natives is a topic for another post. What mattered to me was knowing that both groups needed to be taught differently.
I guess what I’m trying to say is teachers should be able to respond better and faster to people who are different from them. As I said in previous posts, teachers must be resourceful. We should be able to understand what makes our students tick and use it at our advantage. It’s just to easy to expect them to adapt to us. “Hey, this is web 2.0 and you have to use it” or “Hey, don’t touch that computer in class or you won’t learn a thing” are not sentences to be uttered. As I said, I don’t believe in extreme points of view. Finding some middle ground is key, and so is responding to your learners. Next time you walk into a classroom, don’t go with any preconception of what works and what doesn’t work. Ask yourself what your bare essentials are in that particular context and be prepared to use it to the benefit of learning. Your students will thank you for that.