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

13 Responses to “Dogme and the First Day of a New Class”

  • Mike Harrison says:
    August 30, 2011

    Good tips, Karenne, which I'll definitely bear in mind. I think explaining is a key thing to do, but I'm not sure it has to be in huge detail. I mean, not much point me telling my elementary ESOL students that it was Scott and Luke ('Sorry teacher, who these two men in glasses are?). But asking them what they want, nay need, to do, where they want to go *has* to be done, especially with ESOL students. Sometimes they'll know, but you also have to be ready for the fact that some learners will have NO idea what they want to do with English.

    August 30, 2011

    True Dat! :) I think it really does depend on why they are learning English - and like you say, in ESOL, it is pretty much a case of survival! And yep, I have had the "no clue what I want" folk too but they are super dangerous, because they are often the complainers. I reckon it's important to push a little at various steps along the way e.g. so, now we've learned how to order pizza, do you also want to learn how to order chinese or would you prefer to practice going to the dentist?


  • Natália Guerreiro says:
    August 31, 2011

    hi. unfortunately i've never taught a dogme class, but it seems to me that u could have benefited from recording them on the first and last day of classes, so that they could see their progress. plus, if ur students have smartphones, it's materials light: they have the only technical resource needed.

    August 31, 2011

    Natália, that is an excellent suggestion! And I have a flip cam so it is technically feasible! I have done that with other classes but I didn't think about it with this one. Thanks so much for the top tip and reminder.

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    August 31, 2011

    Dear Karenne,
    It sounds like you're in your own way.
    I'm going to differ with you here after spending a month teaching in pre-intermediate learners in Spain, where I don't speak the L1: Classes need research into the issues students have when they speak and write, and in subsequent lessons they then need structured and staged input based on their previous output. That means, in between lessons, doing research into the emergent issues that came up, and creating materials based on those needs. The subsequent lesson should in addition have plenty of breathing space for further emergent language, of course, so we can again go out and prepare.
    The language acquisition theory I've found most applicable is Merrill Swain's "comprehensible output", but as Krashen has criticized, you can't jump in right then and there as students speak or write to help them adjust - especially not when you're having a real conversation, and exploring the meaning behind the words. Teaching and learning needs to focus on selected areas, in steps. I got a lot out of my Diploma course showing me how to stage input so it is comprehensible and useful to the learners.

    August 31, 2011

    Hi ya Anne - we're not really differing in some places, in others very much!

    I think knowing what they need to practice ahead of time - e.g


    in this case (but in other classes it might be report writing or sending emails or dealing with survival level English) is super important.

    The dogme part flows from that need - so if the students say that their objective is to improve their level of speaking and they can tell you that what they want to be able to discuss i.e.. football... then you can work with that framework - but there is still the very necessary "white space" to deal with their emergent issues.

    One of the two places where we do differ is in the teacher creating the materials... I do believe in taking in some "relevant materials" at certain stages - if and only if it cannot be created or brought in by the students themselves...

    ...with regard to exploring the meaning of the words, when they come up - of course it can be done, it depends on how much there are or what sort of emergent language has come up... and obviously, it can be done post-direct-conversation.

    The other place we differ is in the idea that language has to be learned in steps or stages... I will say that all students and all teachers are different - but the idea that English is math and you have to learn to add before you can subtract or whatnot is bollocks!!!

    Most people's brains simply do not work linearly. It's a comforting notion to both teacher and learner however it's not the way language is received or outputted - as anyone who has truly mastered a 2nd or 3rd language can tell you!

    August 31, 2011

    ...I want to add a little more, Anne... in that the key to language learning is not about staging input - it's not that it is not good to do this - it doesn't really matter post a certain point.

    Language learning is about

    * interest - do I need this word
    * repetition - how often have I heard this word
    * use - how often have I had to use this word

    What too many books do is that they present a word in "generated context" but there is nothing to say that that context has anything to do with the learner's need. If it does, super, and the word will be received and potentially learned. If it does not it will hit the brain's garbage bin.

    What too many textbooks do is that they do not adequately repeat language (other than the HFQ words). It is simply ridiculous to expect students to take in words that are not seen more than 2 times (presentation and practice).

    What too many textbooks do is that they don't provide adequate re-use. In some cases the word may come with a vocabulary exercise which is really an exercise in memory or ability to read an above passage - but it is not use. In the cases where an activity is offered, it is done the once - that specific vocabulary is not required in the following unit.

    Steps or stages can only work if they are building blocks and that is where the focus on conversation in dogme language teaching excels.


  • Anne Hodgson says:
    August 31, 2011

    Hi Karenne,
    I'm with you about acquisition not happening in stages. But lessons are a different ballgame. They have a very specific purpose in the life of a learner. Just think how we have about 18 years to learn our own language, and they have a couple of hundred hours, maybe, in lessons. So that very unusual situation needs setting up. Learner centered teaching means that the learners are the drivers seat, having agency, as the lesson unfolds. To me this means material to work on and explore. I didn't stage input before I took this course, but have found to my astonishment that I did have to plan very carefully so I could indeed really step back and let them do it. The feedback I got from my tutors when I didn't stage input was that my class wasn't particularly learner centered. That really gave me food for thought!!

    September 01, 2011

    That is food for thought! Thanks, Anne

  • JR says:
    September 06, 2011

    I agreed with you when you said:

    What too many textbooks do is that they don't provide adequate re-use. In some cases the word may come with a vocabulary exercise which is really an exercise in memory or ability to read an above passage - but it is not use. In the cases where an activity is offered, it is done the once - that specific vocabulary is not required in the following unit.

    In fact, even my favourite textbooks fail when it comes to repeating learned material. It's, therefore, necessary to supplement them with conversational exercises and follow-ups.

    I appreciated reading your tips - they are valuable ones, excellent reminders for everyone!

    However, I have to mention one thing in regard to the dissatisfied student you described in this entry. There are, unfortunately, people in this world whom you simply can't satisfy - no matter how good the service you are offering is and no matter how hard you try. It's par for the course and the world of teaching is no exception. So, while you have to take all feedback seriously, you have to keep the overall picture in sight....and, in this case, it's all of the other students who left that classroom feeling good about the time they had spent with you.

  • me says:
    October 09, 2011

    Hi Karenne,

    Fantastic blog!

    One thing I found really useful in DOGME influenced lessons was to bring my mobile in with me everyday and snap a picture of whatever emerging language came up and was recorded on the board. I either printed it out or emailed it to them afterword and I think this may have covered the need for them to "get something" like a piece of paper, etc. I think it's still in the DOGME spirit as the language they receive in the end is that which they and their peers provide, with of course, some reforming and refining in collaboration with yours truly :)

    I found the circular syllabus idea in the back of the DOGME in ELT book to be quite useful for pre-intermediates in terms of mapping their journey while providing a DOGME experience. For me it demonstrates the language points we're traditionally expected to cover will get covered anyway in our own order, even when we take a step back or two!

    October 18, 2011

    Hi JR,

    totally agree!

    October 18, 2011

    Hi Stephen M-E
    That's a top tip, using the phone's camera to provide some paper-feedback, as much as we all hate the photocopier we have a generation of folks who are used to leaving a classroom with something in their hands.

    Now that I'm a student again, struggling with BlackBoard, I appreciate this sentiment!

    I like the concept of a circular syllabus as I'm not terribly happy with the slow winding road of uncovering grammar, especially with regard to adult learners. I think, based on their own internal grammar, it is very difficult and frustrating for them to know that there "must be" a way to say what they cannot say because they haven't learned it because it was deemed out of their "level."

    Personally I have ripped this concept apart in my classes and when I hear a student having difficulty constructing a particular sentence structure that is emerging from them but they are not sure what to do next, I have no qualms in providing that answer without a full-on grammar explanation.

    I have also witnessed this then becoming a part of their own language - without the explicit explanation.

    p.s Thanks for commenting!


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