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Dogme: A teacher's view

by Jo Bertrand, Teacher, Materials writer, British Council Paris

In this article one teacher gives us her view of how the ideas and principles of a new approach to teaching have shaped her classroom practice.

Dogme is...

Dogme is a teaching philosophy. It goes beyond the standard pedagogical methods that we are so often used to hearing about.

Scott Thornbury is the main force behind this revolutionary movement. He and his colleagues realised that too many classes were being invaded by lesson plans, textbooks, workbooks, tapes, transparencies, flashcards, cuisenaire rods, tapes and other such gimmicks that the students themselves were no longer (assuming they once had been) the focus of the lesson. By inventing Dogme they've put the learner back into learning.

There are Dogme rules that can be followed but in true Dogme style they are there to be bent and moulded to your own teaching context. Here are some of the main ones:

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My Dogme classroom

The students aren't seated behind desks. It's much harder for them to express themselves in this artificial setting. There's no reason why they can't have some paper and pens but definitely no textbook. I always have a paper board or white board for them to use, if possible some comfy chairs or with larger classes a comfy floor space and cushions, and some music playing in the background. In a 'pure' Dogme classroom though there wouldn't be music unless produced by the students themselves. The atmosphere should definitely be relaxed. Once the students understand the concept of autonomy and controlling their learning I find they are far more willing to participate, lead the sessions and discipline almost becomes a thing of the past. They soon enter the classroom brimming with ideas and enthusiasm while you sit back and facilitate the learning process rather than drown it.

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Learner objectives

Before looking at the detail of a lesson itself I always begin the year by looking very closely at the students' objectives. With younger students the linguistic objectives are more likely to resemble each other, but the older they get the more aware they'll be of why they're learning English and what areas they need to work on. However this is not always the case and spending time on this before you launch into a course makes so much sense to the learners themselves as you progress through the year. The advantage of doing this is that each lesson the students can refer back to their personal objective sheet and relate everything they choose to do in class to at least one of their objectives.

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The lesson plan

I always start a lesson by putting the class into three or four smaller groups. How you organise this stage of the lesson will obviously depend on the number of students you have in your class.

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The Dogme file

I do find it helpful for students to have a file of what they learn and I advise on ways to record their work. It is of course up to them how they organise their files but it's useful to guide them on the various possibilities in the beginning. I do say though that they should keep it a monolingual file as much as possible.

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Pros

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Cons

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Conclusion

For me, the Dogme classroom is far removed from the preconceived idea of a lazy teacher, not having prepared their lesson, walking in and saying "So what do you want to talk about today?". It's so much more than an open conversation class. It involves a hidden structure which allows the students to become autonomous in their learning and gives them complete control over what they learn and how they learn it. You are there to guide the process and watch your learners bloom into enthusiastic English speakers.

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