Dogme and the First Day of a New Class

 Recently, after teaching a group of teachers with another teacher, I had some not-so-great feedback:

"The 2nd teacher didn't give us no papers. I didn't learn with her."

Despite that she got a solid 2hr lesson of intense speaking practice with me and her group, three times a week, based on subjects they all chose at the beginning of the course, she was unhappy.   And although the feedback from the other students/group ranging from happy to very happy, it was her feedback which taught me the most.

Because I failed.  

Not in teaching her, but in properly communicating what was actually happening in the classroom.   I learned a very valuable lesson and thought I'd share it with you and that is if you're going to teach with minimal resources then for many students, especially if you're teaching adults,  you do really need to do the following:

1.  On the first day of class, explain what dogme is and tell the students ahead of time why you will not be providing photocopied sheets of paper or why you aren't using a textbook.

Discuss the benefits of a student-centered curriculum.  Talk to them about why you need them to be doing the work - what the reasons are for asking them bringing in the real-life emails and documents they use or need to understand.  

Don't forget that many people, across a wide range of cultures, have grown up with the viewpoint that the classroom is a place to be spoon-fed, so do make sure that they understand that you are going to be treating them like the adults they are!

2.  Do do a very thorough "wants" analysis.  i.e. find out exactly what their needs are before creating your course curriculum around these.  Add dates for on-the-spot flexibility.  Type it up as an outline to ensure they understand your professionalism and hand this out to your students - the more they know that you are on top of things the better. 

The more they know that they are on top of the content of their learning, the better. 

Go back to this sheet/table often during the course - get them to think about where they are at different intervals and ask if they are still happy with the direction they are heading in or if they would like to make any changes to their goals and learning targets.

3. Do a "what are your personal expectations" exercise - i.e. encourage them to write a paragraph about the level of English they expect to have by the end of the course.  

Whenever you are reviewing your outline at various steps, ask them to also review their own expectations at the same time.   Obviously, set aside time for a discussion about this at the end of the course.  (This is what I'd failed to do!)

If not, if they haven't realized by the end of the course, that they have in fact received what they needed and wanted to learn and that they have in fact, significantly improved their speaking and listening skills, that their notebooks are now chock-filled with contextual emergent vocabulary and language... then you may wind up with a few folks in your class who think you were just winging it.

Keeping all adult learners happy isn't an easy task by any means but good communication is one of the tricks to making it a little more so!

Do you have any other tips for the first days/week when running Dogme classes?

Useful links related to this posting: 


photocredit: Wikimedia Commons, Manjith Kainickara

Speed Dating as Vocabulary Review

Speed Dating
This fun and useful exercise really works well as a filler or after you've taught a number of lessons and want to check your students have learned the vocabulary taught - either the emerged lexis if you're a dogme teacher, or with items from textbook exercises.

If you're teaching a group of regular students who are coming back after a long break, this activity works as a nice warmer-upper.

Ask your students to write down 5 - 7 words that they've recently learned.   

Instruct them that they shouldn't write the explanations or translations on this paper/ phones/ laptops - however they should know these - so as they write, do allow them to use (e)dictionaries. 

If you've been working with a textbook, you can also get different students to go through different units. If you're working dogme, then get them to go through their notes.  If you've been working online, get them to browse through their blogs/flashcards/

Set up the classroom's chairs like this:

Give students around 5 minutes to tell each other the meaning of the words they wrote down.   After this time (using a buzzer or bell), get your students to switch pairs/mini-groups.  

Continue doing this until each student has talked to a maximum number of other students.

Once you have your students back in the room/ back to the original classroom set up, ask each to tell you the most interesting word(s) they learned and to also create a sentence using this word.

On a nice day, it's really fun to do this activity outside/ in another area of your school/ courtyard or on rainy days in the hallway and obviously they can also do it while standing up!

Useful links related to this posting: 
What does it mean to know a word?
What do you do with emergent language?
Complicated Vocabulary, Make Cartoons!
Powerpointing me


Have you ever done this activity, how well did it work?   Have you got another variant or perhaps an extra suggestion to add - please don't hesitate to let us know your ideas on how to expand this.   If you like, don't hesitate to print this exercise out/email it and share it with colleagues- see the buttons below.

Pocket Money Writing 4 Pearson ELT

SOS Tick - I ain't afraid of no tick!
The other day, while eating lunch, I asked a fellow teacher what she would do about all this Pearson trouble... what she'd do if she'd just worked for over 400 hours yet after receiving a series of simply unacceptable clauses in a long awaited, finally received contract... would she fight back after her project had suddenly been aborted post completion of the entire first draft of the actual work...? 

She said,

"It wouldn't ever happen to me because I wouldn't do all that work without being paid."

I was paid.   Or was I?  Does less than minimum wage count as being paid?

I guess so, huh.

After about 4 months into the project, after several phone calls and sending urgent reminders (I had a tax bill to pay) and then sending demanding emails, I did receive a cheque of £1000 as part of the  "advance" - but technically, as they so oft reminded me, not paid - because, for those of you who don't know this, "an advance is not a payment, it is a loan against earnings - you have to pay this back to Pearson through your royalities." 

I was told this several times because I was simply shocked that anyone could imagine anyone writing for such a low fee.  And that was before realizing how much work it would all be.  And that was post negotiations to get the double of the initial offer.

Now, if all had gone according to plan and I had been a good girl who would agree to everything they wanted, then I would have received a further £1000 for finishing the first draft and another £1000 if the book had been published plus 6% in royalties.

But now it won't come to even that mere pittance...* 

And although my question to my colleague centered around the hours I have lost, to the sheer incredible creative effort I have lost - I simply don't know if I am brave enough or have enough strength left to turn this work into an e-book... the fact is that it wasn't 400 hours of work.   Without sounding like a pity-me girl, whining away on her blog to anyone who might care enough to care, the truth is that the energy that I poured into this project while staying away from writing on my blog, breaks down into this:
  • 10-15 hours in emails and negotiations for a contract which they wouldn't give me or let me see up front because "their legal department was busy, you do have to understand, don't you..."   Said by a seemingly kindly grandfatherly type editor who'd gotten on the phone to appease my fears "We're Pearson." he said. You can trust us, he implied.  And well, when a company gets to that size and you never hear about any trouble, you think why would there be trouble with me, I can write.
  • 80 hours in developing an agreed upon outline based on an agreed upon target group *which as I mentioned in the previous post, changed dramatically to a) IT students who don't have access to computers and b)... the addition of a further target group - more on this in the next posting on this theme.
  • 320+ hours in writing
  • 50+ hours in research 
  • ?+ hours finding photos for the copy (you have to submit suggestions and have a list of cultural things to watch out for. Not easy).

BUT... I guess you're probably wondering, why on god's green earth, did I say 'yes' to such a ridiculous low offer?  After all, as you know I don't even like textbooks... Well, it's not because I like working for nothing - payment is sometimes not only financial...

a) I met the first editor at the BESIG conference and I felt he knew what he was talking about.  He'd been an editor of Business English materials in the past - a series I liked -  so I trusted him and his opinions.   The book was to be an ESP material, which meant they would be a good deal more research into needs.  (Ha* if these were done they weren't shared with me despite asking for this.) 
However, unfortunately, my very nice, very experienced editor was then transferred to another country and replaced by someone who has very little if any Specialized English teaching/ textbook knowledge.   
Someone who despite demanding a unit every 2 weeks took over a month to send me back feedback, thus not telling me until unit 4 that my reading texts were too long...
you'd think by now, as course books vary so much that they'd have a "standard" list or some copy guidelines to follow, pre-written up, wouldn't you?

Did what she asked though.  However the real problem: she had next to zero knowledge of IT, no idea exactly what was wrong with her suggestion to change my realia description to this... 
 an OHP.  Not a Smartboard? Not BlueScreen?  Not on Youtube?

b) The Series Editor assigned to the material was someone whose work I do respect - I felt extremely motivated by his in-depth requests during the process of creating the outline - wanting always much more -  things like specific vocabulary lists, grammar and functions, topics for each sub-section and I  was happy overall with these and felt that his criticisms could only be beneficial to the project. 
I was strongly convinced that I would be able to learn and develop from working with someone of his experience.  I had no idea that he would soon be 'hands off' post this stage and soon I would  left to deal with someone who thinks that:
"people in social media don't talk to people they don't know." 
adverbs of frequency idea (cc)

I had no idea then that items to this agreed-upon-outline could be added magically post termination of the first draft of the work or that elements we had agreed upon could then be decided on as not belonging without any discussion with me directly.  Na ja.

c) Even though Pearson would be taking 94% of the monies made from the book, I calculated that, given the size of the global IT market I could probably break-even within 6 months after publication - especially given that I had received such a ridiculously low advance - and probably within a year make back the money I had lost in giving up classes.  Post that, I would get an income that would help me financially with the 2nd year of studies in my UK Masters.
It seems, what educational book publishers like Pearson seem to forget is that an author's time writing doesn't come from nowhere but is, in fact, a loan from an author to the publisher, that in this "gentlemanly" educational business you don't take a risk like this based on "air and love" -you do anticipate that you will be treated with respect and fairness... that you will earn an income from your work.  And that it's very obvious that if you take this much time off to write then you are not earning the same income, from teaching, during this period.

And okay, let's face it...

I thought I'd be able to add a voice to this market.  Ego, reputation.   It was tempting. Lots of voices, why not add mine in an area I know a lot about: IT?  Alas, that be the dreams of a silly girl who should have known better.

Pride falls.

Anyway, finances, huh...  I guess a company that makes 3,075,000,000 in profit has really got to get this from somewhere... so why not from naive authors - after all, yachts and chauffeurs do really need to paid for.

No point in crying over spilt milk, no point in feeling



A little lost.


Doubtful of my abilities to write.



At the end of the day, I guess, I was the one who agreed to do the work without having a contract to sign prior to work,  something binding them to pay me...
for their failures, for their lack of research or knowledge regarding the target market and for their total and complete project mismanagement...

I thought they'd do me right when I told them as early as possible that my new editor wasn't capable...  and when it came to digital rights...

C'est la vie.

p.s. as I'm aware that many of my readers are global and 1000 pounds might sound like a lot of money...  so you can work out what this means in your own currency- add up your rent, health insurance and bills for one month.  1000 is less than that.

Learner Autonomy in Language Learning: A Myth?

Unicorn & me (4)
Does language learning have to be teacher-led in order to work?

Is the very concept of learner autonomy simply a very fancy way of describing will-power, and thus, limited to those who have already have this - i.e it's not something achievable by the mere masses of students which go through our hands but instead belongs to an elite body of super-motivated learners? 


Is it theoretical possibility... but not realistic probability?  Hmm....

Can a teacher ever "teach" it? 
Can a learner ever "learn" it?

What do you think?

The sin of assumption: motivation in adult learning

I've really been meaning to post up this presentation, done at TESOL Spain earlier this year, and finally have had a chance to run through the slides and update them slightly so that they make sense - without my voice giving instructions or explanations!

Here they are:

To scroll through the slides, use the arrow keys at the bottom of the presentation:

What do you think?

  • Are textbooks too pedagogically based?
  • Is it important to design materials that take in the differences between adults and children? Why?
  • Do you think that children can also benefit from an "andragogical* approach"?

Do let me know what you think, and/or don't hesitate to ask questions if you have them!


p.s. one of my teacher-trainees in a professional development course last week thought that the term shouldn't really be called andragogy because it really means "man-leading" and instead should have a term that refers more to "adult-age-learning/leading." Google and Wikipedia haven't been too helpful on finding sources for these differences however - thoughts, ideas?


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