Dogme ELT

At our meeting last month, I mentioned Dogme ELT and people wanted to know more about it. As I understand and use it, it’s less a method than a philosophy: always put learning and learners first. The Dogme ELT “movement” started as a reaction to what Scott Thornbury felt were overprepared lessons, where teachers had so many materials and photocopies that there wasn’t any room left for the students. Here are the main principles (copied from the Wikipedia page):

  1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
  2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
  3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
  4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
  5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
  6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
  7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
  8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
  9. Relevance: materials (e.g. texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
  10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases.

Initially, Dogme started with a “vow of chastity”, where teachers promised not to use any pre-prepared materials at all but only what students brought in with them. This led to some negative reactions and I don’t think it’s necessary to reject materials to use it. Rather, I try to give learners and their questions and input at least as much value as the materials that we’re using–I really try never to interrupt someone’s story just for the sake of completing a few more exercises.

Dogme ELT has an active web community and there’s also a book explaining how to incorporate Dogme into your classroom.

Teachers as workers

I recently joined a Google+ community on this very topic. The founder of the community page, Paul Walsh, wrote this about his and Nicola Prentis’ rejected proposal to set up a Teachers as Workers IATEFL SIG. One thing he said particularly resonated with me:

A lot of us are fully-paid up members of The Precariat, a term first coined in a book by Guy Standing in 2011 to describe a new class that has little social protection, low or unsecured wages and no trade union representation. This precarious work  leads to precarious life, with individuals unable to form stable occupational identities.

If you also feel that we need to do more to make ELT teaching a sustainable career path, I recommend signing up for their newsletter, following them on Twitter or joining the Google+ group.

The many stakeholders in an in-company class

One sometimes-overlooked fact about private language teaching, and especially in-company classes, is that the instructor must be aware of a much broader set of needs than just the students’. Of course, as teachers, we always pay attention to the learners’ needs (or what we think they are) but sometimes we can lose sight of the other stakeholders.

The learners

Obviously, we need to acquaint ourselves with the needs of each learner in a group. We want to know where and how they use English, what problems they have and why they decided to take the course (among other things). This will help us choose materials, design a syllabus that covers their needs and keep them motivated.

The teacher

We are stakeholders in our classes as well! We need reliable scheduling and location information as well as something more general which is related to stakeholders 3 and 4: we need to get paid.

The company HR or training director

Many times the course objectives will be shared by the learners and the training department who is paying for the lessons. But it is our responsibility, as the leader of the class, to be sure that this is actually the case. If we do not provide good value, as defined by the person who pays the invoices, and if we do not know what that is, we’re going to run afoul of stakeholder 4.

The school

The school needs to sell courses to stay in business, and they especially want to get repeat business. The only way they can do that is if the courses meet the needs of all the other stakeholders. The school administration should certainly keep you informed about the company’s needs and requirements, but it’s our responsibility to get in touch with our admin if we are unsure about anything. If I lose a client because I didn’t provide the value they wanted, I’m probably not going to be trusted with too many more clients. Whether I like it or not, there is definitely a customer service aspect to teaching in-company classes and I need to be a team player if I want to get more hours with my school.

Conclusion

It’s not always easy to keep everything in harmony, but sometimes we have to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good and give the students good lessons in order to give them more lessons.

Have you had any problems with groups like these? Tell us about it in the comments!

ETAS PD Day

Do you feel like you work to live? Or do you live to work? I often get caught up in the trap of working to live, which is to say, I count the Francs instead of the experiences. In the end, this just makes me greedy, jealous, and unhappy.

On the other hand, when I get to the end of the day and count the “aha” moments that my students had, the improvised activities that went off perfectly, the diligently planned lessons that accomplished all the objectives, or the communication strategies that really helped, it feels so right that I do what I do.

This feeling is magnified after an ETAS event like the one I went to this weekend in Sargans. It was the professional development day for the English Teachers Association of Switzerland. Attending a talk, or participating in a workshop that teaches me about second language acquisition, grammar, corpus studies, classroom management, new technology, or teaching strategies reminds me why I love teaching English.

ETAS events also lets you acquire things that will directly lead to increased job performance and earnings. The networking opportunities might lead to your next great job. The publishers will give you books that make your prep-time shorter. The workshops will give you activities that bring new life to your classroom.

For one woman I met, who had arrived in Switzerland 24 hours prior, the take-away was probably more intangible. The day started with me asking her to volunteer to go up on stage for a presentation of the new website. It was a surprise for her, but helped break the ice. Throughout the day she got inspiration and connected with people like her. What was her take-away? Well, only she can say, but from the glow in her eye at the end of the day, I’d say she felt a big boost of confidence in the start of her professional life in Switzerland.

So in the end, if colleagues complain that they have to do professional development workshops and conferences on their own time, or that they can’t afford to pay the fees, I think maybe they’re forgetting that life is not just about money. Meeting motivated, like-minded people, learning from top figures in the field, and sharing experiences completely convinces me that it’s not about counting francs. It’s about gaining richness!

Were you at PD Day in Sargans? Or another ETAS event? Share your experiences below!

Who are we? What is this site?

We’re a group of teachers who meet about once a month in Bern, Switzerland. We’ve also developed a peer observation process for teachers. During group meetings, we come with an idea we want to share, or a question we want to ask and try to touch on all the topics. After meetings, we’ll post an update here.

The peer observations take place in the classroom. It’s a process aimed at providing professional development to teachers, and is an opportunity to grow professionally in a mutually beneficial, friendly and inclusive learning environment.

The idea is to share information and start discussions–not to pretend we have all the answers! It’s also a time to meet people and relax. We want to learn more about all aspects of teaching, and this site is part of that journey. Check the calendar below for the date of the next meeting, then check the blog closer to the date to find out the topic and what material we will be discussing.

You can also add ELT Springboard to your own calendar by clicking this link.

Get in touch with Ben or Dave if you want to join us!