Dogme through the students’ eyes – Part five – Post course

Post-course

The last day of the course, students completed a questionnaire again asking for positive and negative aspects of the approach but also how well they felt they had learned compared to a traditional course. In order to know what each student understood by “traditional course,” they were also asked to define it.

Positive post-course feedback

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The chart above shows post-course positive feedback. As was the case halfway through the semester, the quality most often mentioned concerned interactivity, conviviality, and student involvement in the lessons. The fact that Dogme encouraged lots of speaking also continued to rank as one of the strongest positive aspects of the approach. After a semester, however, the fact that students could choose the subjects became less important compared with other remarks at the end of the semester. Without further information from the students, it is difficult ascertain why. Perhaps they had become used to doing so, meaning this aspect of Dogme stood out less than at the beginning of the course.

 Once the semester had finished, many more comments (16.98% post- vs. 2.33% mid-course) stated that Dogme allowed students to progress more in L2. Nearly 10% of the post-course feedback also mentioned that speaking had become easier over the course of the semester. At the end of the semester, students were surely in a better position to evaluate their own progression, however informally, than they were halfway through the course.

 Negative post-course feedback

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In post-course criticism, the response “no negative remarks” again ranked high, but it is more pertinent to look at the criticisms learners did provide. Pacing problems and slow class rhythm remained the biggest drawback of Dogme in both groups. However, this may not necessarily be due to the approach itself.

Remember, this experiment was part of my DELTA Experimental Practice assignment. Throughout the observed DELTA lessons, my tutors mentioned pacing as one area in which I could improve. This means that the pacing problems identified by these groups of learners were surely partially, if not totally due to pacing issues in the teacher’s own practice.

In an informal poll of 9 teachers on common problems encountered when using Dogme with groups, pacing as a problem was mentioned only 4 times (as was “learners feeling lost at times” and “learners lacking vocabulary to participate in conversations”), whereas the difficulty for learners to get used to Dogme was cited 5 times and the idea that success of the approach depends on student motivation came up 6 times, more than any other (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2013). Informal as this poll may be, it does suggest that the pacing problems identified by the students in my experiment were possibly due more to my teaching than to Dogme itself.

Interestingly, a lack of grammar exercises was also prevalent in students’ criticisms of Dogme. During each class, some time was spent looking at grammar that had emerged either in the form of mistakes, questions from students, or something that became needed in conversation. As the experiment was full Dogme (no imported materials on the part of the teacher) grammar was covered in guided discovery board work and student-created exercises. Traditional grammar exercises such as worksheets, texts as linguistic objects, coursebook grammar drills, etc. were absent, but learner feedback seems to suggest that these would have been a welcome pedagogical tool, helping to vary the channels through which learners manipulate new or developing language.

Another option would have been spending more time on grammar through more learner-generated activities. In many contexts, spending a certain amount of time on grammar lends face validity to a course—it is what students expect. Failure to meet these expectations (and possibly genuine needs) can lead to negative feedback. Again, even in a full-Dogme course, it is possible and desirable to offer students as much or as little materials-less grammar practice as appropriate to give them ample time to focus on form.

Quality of learning

After the course had ended, students were asked how well they felt the Dogme approach had helped them learn English. Of the 21 students present the last day, the responses were as follows:

Learned better with Dogme than with a traditional course 18 out of 21 students (85.71%)
Learned as well 2 out of 21 students (9.52%)
Learned less well 1 out of 21 students (4.76%)

Admittedly, this data has its limits as it is based solely on learners’ perception of how well they learned but we accept that learner perception and feelings play an important role in quality of learning. Jane Arnold edited an entire book on the subject in which Hansen points out that “Negative emotions typically lead to defensive reactions which include the passive…as well as the aggressive. Positive emotions have the opposite effect, opening the mind—to learning, among other things,” (1999: 214). Judging from students’ feelings about how well they learned with Dogme, it seems their positive feelings of the approach did indeed open their mind’s doors to learning.

The teaching approach cannot be the sole factor responsible for quality of learning however. Variables such as learning styles, group dynamics and rapport, teacher adaptability, topic/language/task addressed, etc. all enter into the effectiveness of a teaching or learning technique. That being said, there is support for the non-linear learning that Dogme encourages. Larsen-Freeman (151-152: 1997) drew a parallel between second language acquisition and complex nonlinear systems occurring in nature. She noted that the chaos of learners’ evolving interlanguage is self-organizing and given feedback and continued input, will remain as an open, developing system. Again, larger-scale experiments in Dogme would be required to test this theory.

What is a “traditional course?”

In order to know what we were comparing Dogme to, students were asked to define a traditional course. Twenty-one students gave their ideas, ranging from explicitly negative to mixed feelings. Since some ideas showed up in different categories, I did not look at the ideas globally as in the previous analyses. It seemed more interesting to provide the idea as well as the general tone of the comment in which the idea appeared. However, some comments that were explicitly negative about traditional approaches may also include factual ideas. For example, one learner provided overall explicitly negative comment but also simply noted that a traditional course included vocabulary work; one can hardly argue that including vocabulary is a bad thing.

“What is your definition of a ‘traditional course’?”

Comment Explicitly negative(12 learners—54.14%) Negative undertones(4 learners—19.05%) Unbiased factual description(4 learners—19.05%) Mixed feelings(1 learner—4.76%) Total Percentage (of all 44 ideas provided)
Content comes from teacher

4

4

1

9

20.45

Based on grammar explanations

3

1

3

1

8

18.18

Boring

5

1

6

13.64

Includes tests

2

1

1

4

9.09

Learners copy lesson to learn at home

3

3

6.82

Always the same format : text + questions

3

3

6.82

Includes vocabulary work

1

2

3

6.82

Lessons learned by heart without necessarily understanding

2

2

4.55

Lack of real participation

2

2

4.55

Doesn’t address learners’ real needs/difficulties

2

2

4.55

Mostly based on writing

1

1

2.27

Includes written exercises

1

1

2.27

Speaking (but about a topic of teacher’s choice)

1

 

2.27

Unsurprisingly, the majority of comments stated that the course content comes from the teacher. Probably few teachers have the freedom I enjoyed in these courses and in similar contexts, the subjects may be imposed on the teachers who then impose them on the students to meet program requirements or prepare learners for specific tests.

The second most cited characteristic of a traditional course was the prevalence of grammar-based activities, cited three times more than reading work and nine times more than written work. Interestingly, no students included listening in their definition of a traditional course; only one student mentioned speaking, also pointing out that it was on teacher-chosen topics.

In the positive feedback, speaking, interactivity, and student-chosen subjects were the most appreciated aspects of Dogme, contrasting directly with students’ definition of traditional courses. Taking into consideration both the positive and negative feedback in this experiment, it seems that we can identify several things for teachers to keep in mind when planning to unplug, especially over a longer period of time such as a semester.

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