28 March–ELT Springboard’s Next Meeting

Hi again everyone! I’m looking forward to our next meeting in two weeks and I think I’ve got something everyone has an opinion on: TEACHING GRAMMAR. It’s an old article, but many of the issues in Grammar, Power and Bottled Water (Thornbury, 1998) are still with us. Some questions for you to consider while you read:

  • Who “owns” the teaching material we use in our lessons? Academics? Publishers? Teachers? Students? What difference does it make?
  • To what extent have things changed in the last 20 years? Are your coursebooks structured by grammar, notions, tasks, other?
  • How do you structure your lessons when you don’t use a coursebook?
  • How far do you agree with Thornbury’s characterisation of the teaching in the section “Class struggle”?
  • Have we arrived in “Post-grammar”? Do you teach grammar in your lessons? When and why?

I look forward to discussing these topics and others with you on 28 March at 8pm in The Fitting Room (right next to the Bern train station). Please leave a note in the comments to RSVP. See you soon!

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.