Dogme through students ‘eyes – Part One

This is part one of Christina Rebuffet-Broadus’ paper on her experiment with Dogme that she carried out in 2012 for a semester. She has kindly donated this paper to the blog and for this I am very grateful. Due to its length it has been necessary to break the paper up into a series of posts. For more details about Christina, please click on the contributors page and check out her excellent blog, iLoveTEFL.

BACKGROUND OF THE EXPERIMENT

Before looking at learners’ feedback on Dogme, it is important to establish the context from which the feedback was generated. As part of my Cambridge DELTA module 2 (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) I chose Dogme for the Experimental Practice (EP). According the Cambridge DELTA handbook, completion of this assignment requires candidates to research and implement “a specific lesson approach/teaching procedure/teaching technique with which [he or she] is unfamiliar,” (52).

I wanted to choose an EP that could potentially impact my way of being a teacher. Having taught for seven years prior to undertaking DELTA module 2, I felt an in-depth experiment with Dogme would give me the opportunity to explore the “linguistic, learning, and social possibilities of unplanned classroom interaction.” (Cadorath and Harris 1998: 192). While spontaneous unplanned interaction was certainly no novelty, consciously opting for unplanned interaction was; constructing whole lessons around such interaction even more so.

A secondary aim of the EP was to explore the possibility of basing at least half of a course around unplanned interaction and to measure how students reacted to the approach. We would conduct the first six weeks of a twelve-week semester in Dogme conditions and then decide together whether or not to continue for the second six weeks.

To create conditions favorable to unplanned interaction, the EP revolved around “full Dogme” as defined by Luke Meddings in his article “Dogme still able to divide ELT”–a classroom where “learners are bringing their own material because they know they can and…nobody knows precisely what will happen when they walk through the door” (Meddings: 2003). In my experiment, concretely, this meant:

  • No pedagogical materials (coursebooks, cut-up grammar games, etc.)
  • Extremely limited or no planning. Any planning was limited to finding a “lesson catalyst”—something to jump start the conversation
  • Objects as stimulus such as a student union poster, a set of fiction books, a newspaper, etc. were allowed
  • Routinely negotiating lesson content and activities with learners
  • Allowing students to bring in texts to share if they volunteered to do so

Implemented during a semester, these conditions offered the opportunity to experiment with sustaining the approach. Trying full Dogme beyond a single class session would also help begin to understand learners’ feelings about learning in such “extreme” conditions.

LEARNER PROFILES AND SETTING UP THE EXPERIMENT

Two groups were asked to take part in this experiment. Their profiles are presented below.

GROUP A

GROUP B

13 learners

12 learners

1st-year university students

2nd-year university students

French nationals (monolingual class)

French nationals (monolingual class)

Majoring in biology and chemistry

Majoring in art history

Tested and grouped at A2 level

Not tested—mixed levels

English course is optional

English course is required

The groups were similar in number of participants, age, and nationality. They differed in terms of subject background, homogeneity in language level, and obligation to enroll in the English course.

In this paper, we will look at the two groups together rather than at each group separately, in the sake of presenting a global view. However, in a future study, it could be worth looking at how feedback differs between groups to see if factors such as group homogeneity, obligation to enroll in English courses, and main field of study play a role in learners’ perception of Dogme.

These groups were chosen for several reasons. First, the teacher had total control over course content and evaluation methods, the only administrative requirement being a mark at the end of the semester. Second, I was sure to work with these students for the entire duration of the semester, which was key in carrying out the experiment. Third, experimenting Dogme with groups seemed more challenging than with one-to-one classes.

It is also important to note that prior to this course, learners in both groups had had 7-10 years of English classes in the French academic system in which many high-stakes English exams (including the French baccalauréat) consist of a text in L2. Learners must summarize and comment on the text through written essay, in L1 or L2 depending on the students’ field of study.  Pre-university English courses thus spend a considerable amount of time preparing students for this type of exercise, sometimes to the detriment of learners’ oral skills. For both groups, a full Dogme approach radically differed from their past English courses.

Throughout the experiment, feedback methods were identical for both groups and consisted of 3 questionnaires, presented further on.

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