Dogme with False Beginners?

As I participated in the most recent #eltchat I realized that I haven’t had much experience with beginners in the last few years. The topic of the week was focused  on “False Beginners” and it brought me back to a previous teaching job. (Here is a summary of the chat

For reasons that were never completely clear to me I decided to take a job teaching employees of a major South Korean shipbuilding company in early 2005. Since I was the youngest and least qualified (the only one without an MA) I was assigned to teach the beginner’s class. (The reasoning behind this decision is another thing that has never completely clear to me either.) I think my students were about as close to real beginners as you could find in South Korea in this day and age. I will never forget Mr. Kim telling me on the first day, “Book closed 30 year” which I later determined to mean that he hadn’t studied English or anything for 30 years.

My 6 students were on a three month leave of absence from their jobs and were tasked with “learning English” in the three months they were away. If my memory serves, just over half of their 30-hour study week was with me. They also had classes for grammar and listening.

I remember being thrilled with their improvement . When they came they seemed to have major difficulties getting anything out in English. By the time they left, after just 3 months they were producing English quite freely. Sure, they still made mistakes and errors but they were able to produce English quite fluently and confidently. Speaking of produce, at the end of the course we also produced an English guidebook for foremen in the shipyard. I have very fond memories of that time!

During the #ELTchat I was trying to think about what we had done and why I remembered it as being so successful. Just as I was scanning my memory @lelioaraujo wrote:

“As for methodology, do you think #Dogme would work when it comes to teaching (false) beginners?”

I responded:

IMO n experience #dogme can be a good option for false beginners. Working with the people in the room where they r!

I was happy enough with this answer, though to be honest it didn’t really say very much!

Then, @lelioaraujo asked: 

Could you please share some #Dogme lesson plans you used to teach (false) beginners? 

 I can’t imagine I had many lesson plans at that time and I am sure that they wouldn’t  really be worth sharing. I was certainly very much into dogme with a “winging it elevated to an art form” mindset.

My answer to this question was much less satisfying. I wrote:

It was quite a long time ago but…Every Mon we would take about what was new and what happened on the weekend…
N with practice N time and gestures N a safe environment they were telling me and each other their real stories

I was not satisfied with my answer for quite a few reasons but mostly because I didn’t think I did justice to what we actually did in class. What we did surely went beyond chatting on Mondays about what we had done on the weekend (although we did this for sure). So what did we do? From my memory there was:

  • Lots of talking
    They were constantly using what they knew in English to communicate with me and each other. There was often thinking time built in but there was also a lot of spontaneous talk as well.
  • Lots of review/recycling
    We were continually going back to what we had talked about on previous days
  • Lots of moving around.
  • Lots of creating (posters, dialogues, brochures, top 10 lists, “how to” guides).
  • Lots of sharing real life stories.
  • Lots of joke telling.
    Many of these jokes were not exactly “clean.”
  • Lots of talking about ships, seaweed, drinking, and shipbuilding.
As a teacher what did I do?
  • Seized “dogme moments” as they came and tried to focus on the language that they wanted/needed.
  • Created and exploited natural information gaps in the class.
    (Often as simple as having one person be in charge of sharing one piece of information with the rest of the group)
  • Tried to find and use topics of interest/need for the students.
  • Tried to create a positive and mistake friendly atmosphere.
  • Took notes on what I heard and what I guessed they wanted to say. I shared these and built future classes around them.
  • Tried to create opportunities for success in order to continue building confidence.
  • Avoided lengthy grammar explanations and didn’t worry about “grammar McNuggets
  • Used the textbook sparingly and with purpose.
  • Recasted error ridden utterances sometimes. Other times I ignored error ridden utterances.
  • Asked “real questions” about things I wanted to know about.
  • Participated as a member of the group.
I hope the above points paint a clearer picture of what I did. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk down memory lane. It was great to remember the remarkable progress of these students. Maybe it was the 5 hours a week of grammar that did it! I can’t say everything we did would be considered “pure” dogme but I don’t really think that is the point.
Recounting the time helped me to see quite a few things a bit differently. Perhaps these thoughts will be part of a future blog post.
Finally, to see some “dogme-type” things I did with another false beginner class, check out the blog that I used for the class. 
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14 comments

  1. Aurelio

    Hi Michael!

    First of all thank you for replying to my question about Dogme to teach (false) beginners.

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post and it provided me with the answers to what I had asked.

    I reckon these #Dogme moments in the language class are the moments in which the students feel empowered and are empowered, indeed. I have been doing this with my groups and such ‘moments’ have proven to be very effective as my students use the English they have already learnt and some of them even take risks while expressing themselves. Not only that, I have noticed is that they produce and use language in a more authentic and freer way, though there are some errors and mistakes, which I do not correct on the spot since the aim is to get students talking about something they consider to be relevant.

    Once again, thanks a lot for sharing this forthcoming reflection.

    Best regards,
    Aurelio

    twitter.com/lelioaraujo
    facebook.com/aurelioaraujo

  2. mikecorea

    Aurelio,

    Thanks so much for the comments. I also thank you for the question. I am very happy that the post answered your question(s). I felt quite hampered by the 140 character limit on Twitter!

    As you have probably seen, I am also a big believer in “dogme moments” and I think that seizing this when possible can be magical. I also share your emphasis on authentic and freer production when possible.

    Thanks again!
    I am looking forward to sharing with you.

  3. Pingback: Was I a better teacher in 2005 than now? « ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  4. Marián Steiner

    Great tips! And I can only agree – Dogme works, even with (False) Beginners, as your experience nicely shows. Although I haven’t actually taught beginner classes in a context, where we wouldn’t share L1, I insist on using English with my learners, straight away, accompanied with gestures, miming, whatever is necessary..
    Even though I don’t fully mention Dogme in my post, our approaches are very similar.

    The more I reflect on my teaching approach, the more I see that it has always been rooted in Dogme principles, even before I ever heard about it (thanks to a certain @LukeMeddings on Twitter;).

    Thanks for sharing!

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments. I really enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between our posts and experiences. One thing that I noticed was really missing from mine was the aspect of setting goals (which you captured so nicely). I should have included that in my next post about things I would do differently! :)

  5. Pingback: Re-re-revisiting 2005 « ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  6. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

    It’s nice to see different approaches to dogme teaching. I’m doing a semester of experimental dogme with 2 groups of French students, and the approach is quite similar. We’ve done 3 classes so far and at the end of each class we do a feedback session, and they really like it. Also, I like that they feel comfortable enough to tell me when an activity was a little less interesting. I think that says a lot, because here in France students can be very passive and just take what the teacher gives them.

    Also, we always start the next lesson with a little discussion about the language from last lesson, as they’re homework nis to note language they liked and language they still have difficulties with, then try to write a text with all of it. That gives us something to build on and gives a sense of continuity, I think.

    How did your group of Koreans respond to the approach at the end of their training session? I’m sure it’s quite different from anything they’re used to!

    • mikecorea

      LATEST BLOG RESPONSE EVER

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks so much for commenting. I somehow missed this comment and noticed it lately when Ava commented. (Perhaps it was before I had figured out how to see comments via email) Sorry! My non response has been bugging me for a month or so (and not the year or so since you commented. I enjoyed reading about your dogme experiences with your students.

      You asked about the response from my students. It was extremely positive! I think because some of them had been out of schools for some time they were pretty open to trying different things. I also think their relative lack of success with English to that point made them pretty open-minded about things. Also, it was paid for by the company and they were company men through and through so I think there was a bit of automatic/easy buy in there. What else? I also think the fact I tried to talk about their lives and the English that was relevant for them was also a help. I’d say it was a great exprerience and the feedback was great. **I think there were a bunch of factors in my favor. Some i just listed and others include the loooong hours they were there each day and the incompetence of the management (meaning the didn’t know or care what was going on).

      Wow before I turn this into another blog post I just wanted to mention that I think your mention of the feedback from students (them mentioning when activities are less interesting than others) is excellent and really important and helpful. When I have some distance and perspective I can always say it is great to know and that is not really about me and is just about the activity i did (or how i delivered it) and I can always do something different.

      Thanks again for the comments!

  7. Pingback: The ‘Don’t Know Mind’ and Teaching | Throwing Back Tokens
  8. Ava Fruin

    Thanks for this post, you capture beautifully that feeling of looking back on previous classes and the fond memories they bring :) i appreciate the lists of things you did in the class, many I have used, a few which I havent, (and now intend to!), as well as the list of the things you did to support this approach. my students and i do lots and lots of talking, sharing stories, cultural discussions, jokes, etc.. but I have never had them do top 10 lists or how-to guides and am particularly taken with that idea. think i may try it out this week, thanks for the inspiration!
    Ava

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the lovely comments. I am glad that you enjoyed reading my memories of that class. I still can’t believe it was almost 8 years ago…I feel like I learned a great deal that year! Please do let me know how it goes if you use a top 10 list or a how-to-guide.
      (A brochure for Berkley might be nice too!) Take care and talk to you soon!

  9. Pingback: Dogme with False Beginners? | TEFL iDEAS | Scoop.it
  10. Hana Tichá

    Hi Mike,

    I can see you wrote this post quite a while ago, but I think it’s still worth reading (and commenting on). I must admit that I’m fatally attracted this dogme approach. I’ve never been a fan of thorough, minute-to-minute planning; partly because my lesson plans have always kind of fallen through, but also because I don’t believe they are necessary for me – the best lessons have always been those I didn’t plan in detail (at least I think so). However, I need something concrete in my hand while teaching so I base my teaching on texts. I believe texts are vital because they provide the input and without input, there’s no learning. Later my students can play with what the text offers and expand on it using their previous knowledge – this all happens spontaneously and in an ‘emergent’ way.

    Like you, I don’t quite get it why less qualified teachers should teach less advanced students. On the contrary, the more experienced and qualified you are, the better for beginner classes. With beginners (especially young learners), you often need to think about the methodology (and the language) more carefully than when you teach a group of advanced adults.

    Back to the present. Good luck with your teaching – at whatever point it is now :-)

    Hana

    • mikecorea

      Hi Hana!

      I was so happy to see your comments on this, especially because it was an old post. I like your emphasis on texts here.
      Thinking back to 2005 there might have been a fair amount of texts flying around the room (many of which were created by students). It wasn’t till a few years later that I become more of a text fan (as it sounds like you are). I thought this quote was noteworthy, ” However, I need something concrete in my hand while teaching so I base my teaching on texts.” I also enjoyed your statements of beliefs about texts.

      I am glad you mentioned the inexperienced teachers “being stuck” with beginner levels thing. It happened to me a lot earlier in my career and then sort of became a preference for a while. (Although my present teaching is mostly filled with crazy high level students but that is another story). In the particular 2005 case I described in the post I don’t think they really thought it through. I have no idea if they expected teachers’ English ability got better with experience so they needed to put me at the lower level until I was better at English? Weird. Anyway, yes I think you make some great points regarding what is required to teach at different levels.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful and thought provoking comments. Much appreciated.

      Cheers,
      Mike
      PS- You might enjoy this post on materials light reading tasks:
      http://eltstew.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/material-light-reading-tasks/

      PPS-It is quite old but here is something about my history with lesson planning: http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/about/reflections-on-teaching-learning-and-lesson-planning-2/

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