Initiating the experiment
Jane Zeni discusses guidelines concerning ethics and action research, noting that subjects normally are protected from risk and pressure from authority figures such as teachers “if they are first informed…of the general nature of the study and what is expected of them” and “they give informed consent” (Zeni 2006: 15) It thus seemed ethical to inform students of the nature of the proposed experiment.
Although I was aware that this could modify the teacher-student relationship, I felt that it would build rapport and contribute to creating a “psychological climate of…mutual respect and trust” (Shoemaker 1991: 10) beneficial to the experiment. In the pre-course surveys, the positive notion of teacher-as-learner was present in 80 percent of the feedback, comforting my decision to inform students of the course’s experimental nature. This also allowed students to provide informed consent to participating, all of whom did.
During the first lesson, students were introduced to the notion of Dogme ELT through a guided discovery activity. I distributed two sets of cards, one with the cut-up definition of the Dogme 95 film movement the other with that of Dogme ELT, both from Teaching Unplugged. Here it is sufficient to present the definition of Dogme ELT:
A teaching movement set up by a group of English teachers who challenge what they consider to be an over-reliance on materials and technical wizardry in current language teaching. The emphasis on the here-and-now requires the teacher to focus on the actual learners and the content that is relevant to them. (Meddings and Thornbury 2009: 6)
Students reconstructed the definitions and were asked “How can this relate to you and this semester?” This led to discussion and language work based on the students’ questions and emergent vocabulary, making this the group’s first Dogme-style lesson.
Involving the students in setting up a Dogme classroom in this interactive way seemed important for several reasons. First, it put the students at the center of their learning about Dogme ELT. They learned about a language classroom model different from previously experienced models by working it out on their own and coming to the teacher as needed. In the learners’ initial impression of Dogme, they seemed to pick up on this; 68% of the comments compared the approach to a more traditional approach with the most common comparisons being “more interesting,” “more interactive,” and “allows better progression” (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2012).
Second, it allowed them to understand Dogme by doing it. On the surface, a Dogme lesson may look unprepared and improvised—“winging it elevated to an art form,” some critics have said. In the French educational system (and it is certainly not unique in this aspect), students often expect a strong teacher-fronted approach where the topic, the exercises, and the pace of the lesson come from the teacher. If they do not adhere to this model, the students risk feeling cheated, that the teacher is unprepared, or that he/she is too lazy to prepare lessons.