a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
As a TEFL trainer, I’ve noticed the effect that TEFL training can have on a teacher. There are, of course, many positive habits that newbie teachers pick up from their TEFL/CELTA course, but then you realise that these courses end up producing very generic teachers. They’re all the same; they even make the same mistakes. Before you shut me down with howls of uproar, I’m not dissing the courses. I think they’re very necessary and they provide good guidelines to transform ordinary people into teachers in a very limited amount of time.
My problem is one that I have spoken about before: those damn coursebooks. Walk into any EFL classroom anywhere in the world and you’ll find a lot of tea or coffee cups, paper paper paper, and a queue for the photocopier. Take out the photocopier and there will be a lot of grumpy people in the room. Totally unnecessary.
Of course, I’m not the first person to think about this. It started bothering Scott Thornbury in the 2000s and he and a few others brought the element of Dogme to the ELT world’s attention. Not surprisingly, I find that more experienced teachers naturally incorporate Dogme elements into their lessons. What it did for me was prove that I wasn’t the only one concerned with the over-dependence on coursebooks.
So here’s a summary for those of you still in the dark:
Dogme can be conceptualised in just a few principles. Language learning should arise from language needs, not from what the coursebook stipulates is the next necessary structure. How you figure out what exactly your learners need is to get them to talk. Conversation and communication are the essential elements of language use, so why not use them – and not random sentence activities – as learning tools. These conversations should focus on the reality of the learners rather than celebrities or stories that have no relation to anyone in the room. Further, conversation does not require worksheets, so step away from the photocopier. Dogme is materials-light and pro-authenticity.
Essentially: real topics, relevant language needs, few materials, lots of talking.
Sounds easy in theory and it isn’t, but it makes sense to try incorporate some of those ideas into your lessons. Understandably, there are rules and regulations which need to be followed – exams to be prepared for, coursebooks to be “finished” – so it becomes necessary to perform a balancing act with the coursebook on the one hand and your original ideas on the other.
If you’re a teacher and reading this, I’d love to know if you use Dogme and if it’s been successful or not. I’m a big fan but I struggle to pass it on to my trainee teachers and I’d love to figure out why.