Dogme through the students’ eyes – Part four – Halfway through

Halfway through

After six weeks of full Dogme, both groups were again surveyed on the characteristics they felt defined a Dogme classroom and their opinion of the approach. To find out what students particularly enjoyed or disliked, specific requests for this information were included. The groups were also asked for permission to continue the experiment. To this last question, 90,90% of the students gave unconditional permission, 4,55% said yes but suggested including more games, and 4.55% said yes but suggested more video or a student-created film project. No one objected to continuing the experiment. Note that only 20 students responded here as five students had either left the course or were absent.

Positive mid-course feedback

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As illustrated in the chart above, the main characteristics of a Dogme course according to students were the use of learners’ own subjects as the basis for course content, more student involvement in the lesson (perhaps thanks to a heavy reliance on group work), and the opportunities to correct their mistakes. It is interesting to note that only one characteristic, “interactive, more involved and convivial,” remained in the top three from students’ first impressions of the approach. This characteristic also shows up at the top of all positive feedback, suggesting that creating a convivial classroom where students can interact and feel involved is of primordial importance to learners.

Although the necessity of creating an environment where students interact is hardly a new idea in language classes,  it begs the question “What differentiates Dogme lessons from others in terms of conviviality and student involvement in such a way that students consistently cited this as a top characteristic AND quality?”

One may consider the other various ideas students mentioned to help answer this question, as they contribute to making a lesson convivial and encouraging student involvement. The fact that classes are based on topics relating to and chosen by students and that a conversation-driven approach obliges students to express themselves orally (both cited as characteristics and qualities of the Dogme approach) motivate students to participate. As Dörnyei states, “one of the most demotivating factors for learners is when they have to learn something that they cannot see the point of because it has no seeming relevance whatsoever to their lives” (2001: 63).

In contrast, motivation breeds motivation. If the subjects interest students, if they feel confident and comfortable, and if they feel they are progressing, they will be more likely to contribute to the lesson, leading to a more involved interactive experience. A virtuous cycle, in sum.

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In the two preceding charts, conviviality and interactivity dominated the overall opinion of the approach and what learners liked about it.  Halfway through, students had an overwhelmingly positive opinion, with 98% of the opinion comments being positive.

It is also interesting to note that when the learners were asked what they liked and disliked about Dogme, they provided 43 “like” comments, whereas only 23 negative “dislike” comments were identified (of the 30 “dislike” comments provided, 4 stated there was nothing they disliked and 3 were left blank, representing 23.10% of the total “dislike” comments). Students thus found nearly twice as many positive things to say about the approach after six weeks. The negative mid-course feedback is presented in the chart below.

Negative mid-course feedback

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The biggest issue with Dogme in this experiment was pacing and the slow rhythm of the lessons. In both groups, this was the most frequently recurring criticism. Goldsmith’s definition of pacing seems appropriate for this discussion, as it corresponds to the specific pacing problems mentioned by students:

The rhythm and timing of classroom activities or units, which includes the way time is allocated to each classroom component and the process of how one decides that it is the right moment to change to another activity, sub-activity, or sub-sub-activity. (2009:33)

Within this experiment, the teacher often called upon the students to help decide what type of activity to do to practice a specific language point. This indeed meant that part of class time was spent deciding what to do next or how to practice language. In the mid-course feedback, the comments on pacing were general such as “sometimes it’s a bit long,” and “maybe we could go faster” (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2012) but in the post-course feedback, learners identified specific pacing problems to address.

Although learners often said they appreciated the opportunities to correct their mistakes, they appreciated peer corrections less. Several surveys of students’ appreciation of peer correction (Amador, 2008; Nettman, 1997; Sultana, 2009) noted some student anxiety regarding peer correction, either because they preferred teacher correction for its certain validity or because they felt embarrassed and inferior when corrected by a peer.

However, half the feedback on peer correction in this experiment stated they disliked it because it wasn’t always clear; no learners mentioned the affective aspects. This suggests that peer correction may still be a useful tool in the Dogme classroom, but it may be worth dedicating some time to showing learners how to correct their peers’ errors in a clear and efficient manner.

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