Is this a problem? Does this mean some trainees will miss out? How can we deal with this differentiation?
A – We can’t train them in the same way we expect them to teach.
B – Why not?
This little conversation shows a lot about the beliefs which underpin the two speakers’ attitudes to teacher training, does it not? One of them thinks training should, at least in part, exemplify how teachers should behave with their learners. I.e. as people. The other thinks these things are unimportant, perhaps because the trainees should be expected to know this already? Or because what we do as trainers doesn’t translate into the classroom?
This is part of a conversation which was overheard at a recent conference and I think it is interesting to analyse it further.
Teacher as tester/torturer.
I believe that we should treat our trainees with the same respect and understanding as we treat our students. Dishing out huge amounts of input on grammar at the start of a course surrounded by a discourse of “difficulty” and “stress” is only going to lead trainees to the belief that language learning should be painful, that grammar is hard and is to be suffered.
Surely it is better to introduce trainees to the idea that grammar is not the be-all and end-all of language learning from Day One of their course (or perhaps even before in the pre-course material?). It took me a while to learn this lesson and I so wish I had been guided their from the start of my career, because once I had learnt that grammar is not the only path, I became a much more effective teacher.
On some pre-service courses, language awareness is measured via an assignment, whereas some use a test. Setting an assignment shows a different attitude to assessment than testing: it allows for a more open approach to learning about the grammar of the English language, I.e. not cramming for a test under high pressure conditions, but learning and analysing and learning to analyse. Surely what we, as teachers, need to do, and need to do well? I have worked on courses which use both methods, and I can happily say that I would prefer my trainees to develop their own research skills whilst writing an assignment than getting stressed about sitting a test.
When trainees who are following the testing route are planning their lessons, they will have the memory of the test in mind, and they will plan accordingly. They are likely to come out with comments in class such as “This is hard, isn’t it?” and thereby compound this belief for the learners. When they go out into teaching world once they have completed the course, they will be more likely to teach according to a grammar syllabus, whether from a course book or self-created.
This, in my opinion, is leading them in the wrong direction because Second Language Acquisition research shows that language learning is not linear, as grammar syllabuses are, and we all know that grammar is not the be all and end all of language teaching.
That is not to say that I think, sorry B thinks, that grammar knowledge and language awareness is not in the domain of a teacher, or a teacher trainee, or a teacher training programme. Of course it should be. But how we go about introducing our trainees to this area needs to be considered in light of what we know about language acquisition.
You can lead a bull to water?
So why not train how we teach? Surely leading by example is a good thing, even if the trainees don’t follow our lead, which they are entitled not to. However, acting as if we are the font of all knowledge and holder of all power, and that grammar precedes all else, at the end of the course we are not likely to end up with teachers who are student-centred and who view learning as more important than teaching. We need to view our training courses, and our explicit and implicit training strategies carefully in order to ensure that we are setting the clearest example of what language learning and teaching is all about.
B has her work cut out for her.
As teachers, as trainers, as people in this world, what are we to those around us? Are we there to guide? To lead? To tell? To insist?
It’s a dangerous assumption to make that we, as educators, are here to mould those we work with into our own vision of what makes a good teacher or a perfect variety of English, or even the best type of learner.
I have written about this before, about this element of control which we must be so careful not to take advantage of in our work as teacher educators, but I have been brought back to thinking about this once again, and I find it hard not to get passionate about my belief that we are definitely not here to control, but to guide, to aid development, to enable, not to proscribe, prescribe or insist.
As a language learner, we need to be shown how to construct language in order to be understood. There are many arguments and opinions on the best way to do this, as we all know. In my opinion, Top-Down, teacher-centred, uncommunicative teaching leads to students being afraid of the Third Conditional and totally obsessed with the Present Perfect.
As a trainee teacher, we need to be guided towards options of how to teach. We need to be allowed to try things out that maybe our tutors wouldn’t ever do themselves, but can see that it might work for us. Our tutors need to be open to our suggestions, because we do have them, we can have them and we need to have them in order to grow. What we don’t need is too much rigidity, we need space. We need trust from our tutors. We need to be able to become the best teacher we can be, not the best teacher our tutors want us to be.
As a member of teaching staff, we need to have the respect and trust from those who manage us. We need to be supported in what we are doing in the classroom, guided towards development opportunities that work for us in our context. Allowed to test things out, to suggest new ideas and have them listened to, to be able to take part in the development of not only ourselves, but our colleagues too, safe in the knowledge that we have the backing of the management team.
We are all different, and that’s what makes this world so exciting, so as educators, let’s embrace those differences and allow them a place in our classrooms, on our training courses and in our schools.
Without this space to be who we are, we are destroying the vast array of opportunities that the world makes possible, and what a shame that would be.
On Sunday I wrote about a couple of the themes which emerged over the course of the week at IATEFL. Here I will continue!
Demand More, Be More!
How much do you challenge your students? Do you get them to think in class? Like, really think?
When you have been a learner of something, be it a language, an instrument, a dance move, what gave you more motivation and made you more excited about what you were learning -
- a) doing something easy and boring?
- b) doing something challenging that pushed your abilities?
And which of these taught you more?
I would hazard a guess that b) is the answer.
This was the call to arms which Jim Scrivener set out in his talk on Demand High ELT, a concept he and Adrian Underhill have been discussing for a while. The belief behind this is that teachers have become too “nice”, too “Well done, Maria! Fabulous, Muhammed! Brilliant, Marcus!” when doing so-called “feedback” on tasks.
I say “feedback” because this isn’t really giving them any information except that their teacher seems to have some form of extreme-adjective-Tourette’s, is it? How is it helping them grow if we just accept answers and move on to the next one? What about exploiting the opportunity to use what language is already in the room to push the learners’ thought processes more? Make them think, make them all think, not just the ones who always answer the questions, but the whole class?
Questions lead to answers lead to learning.
So, how should we do this? Jim gave us a few suggestions of what you could do with a sentence from a typical course book exercise of “Correct these sentences.”. Here’s the picture I took of his slide (Sorry for the poor quality!):
These ideas ask the students to engage with the language more, rather than just rushing through the tasks in the book. Now, some of you may be thinking “I do this already!”, but I reckon there are probably quite a lot of missed opportunities in a lot of our classrooms to get the students to think more and engage more with the language, thereby learning more.
Being a Dogmematician myself, I feel very strongly about dealing with emerging language and issues, and how this can help students to focus on aspects of the language which are present in the classroom at the time. I can’t imagine anything more boring and undemanding than working through a coursebook simply by “do number one, get the answers, do number two, get the answers, etc…”. It goes against everything I have come to believe as a teacher and a learner.
The Curse of the Coursebook?
For me, the argument for Demand High ELT, which I think is a brilliant concept, is actually a response to how teachers use coursebooks as a basis for the whole lesson, rather than removing the ideas from the page and making the students get the language to work harder? So is the problem here that teacher training revolves too heavily around the use of coursebooks, that schools are set up to promote the use of them, that students come to expect them, and that teachers don’t actually know how to use them? Over the course of the week at IATEFL, I spoke to quite a few teachers about using coursebooks in class. There were many comments about the fact that their students have been given the book, or that they expect to use it, so the teacher feels obliged to do so.
So how can we rectify this? Well, for a start we can begin to use less of the coursebook page in class. I often see on teachers’ record of work that they have done pages 34 – 38 in class in one 90 minute lesson. Without setting up a super-sonic treadmill in the classroom, I have no idea how that is even possible!
Here’s Jim’s list of ideas for making our students work harder -
And here’s some of my own ideas on how to stop rushing through coursebook pages at an inhumane pace. (I wrote these in about two minutes over breakfast before my first cup of tea of the day. If I can do this that quickly, surely we can all come up with many ways to exploit what we take into class, eh?)
- Select smaller parts from the book and think about how to exploit them.
- Take the idea from the book off the page and get the students to make the language themselves by asking them to discuss the topic in the book, noting down what they say, focusing on some of the examples that came up, feeding in some of your own (or the ones originally in the book), ask the students to write their own examples, then let them have the conversation again with a new partner. Perhaps ask them to work in threes and the third student notes down uses of the language, then they discuss this together after the task is complete.
- Photocopy texts, cut them up, get the students to put them back together in the right order then create questions for the text to give to other students or answer questions you have prepared dealing with discourse/genre features.
- Create an information gap activity by dividing the class in two, dividing the material in two (be it a text, a grammar explanation, a gapfill, etc…) and get the students to work together to gather the knowledge their partner has.
- Use guided discovery approaches, either orally or on paper to get the students engaging with the language more.
- Be ready to ask questions about the material yourself but also -
- Create a culture of questioning in your classroom to develop the students’ ability to question both you and each other. Let them talk on their own about things, don’t be a part of every second of the lesson, they are adults, they can do it!
The key quote I took away from Jim’s talk was -
“We need to get our hands dirty.”
So come on guys, let’s throw away the wishy-washy soap, and let’s get down to some hard graft, or better – let’s get our learners down to some hard graft! What are we afraid of?
I’d love to hear any of your ideas about how you make the language, material or students in your lessons work harder, so please feel free to comment below.
Dogme has been getting a lot of coverage recently. Yesterday it featured highly at the IHDoS conference, which I and many others followed on Twitter thanks to those attendees such as @shaunwilden and @chiasuan who did a fabulous job of tweeting the event as it happened. (You can also read a great summary from @mcneilmahon of the day’s events here.)
Unsurprisingly, not everyone sees this coverage as a good thing, and there are many people out there who harbour reservations towards Dogme / unplugged teaching. One Tweet I saw expressed the hope that Dogme wouldn’t dominate the panel discussion at the end of the day. This is, of course, absolutely justified. We don’t attend (or ‘tweetend’?!) conferences to only hear about one subject. That’s boring, unhelpful and can often seem like preaching to the converted whilst the others leave the room to make a cuppa.
That said, when there’s a new kid in town, especially one who is seen as fairly controversial or simply a fraud, I believe we should lend some time to its analysis, break it down and see what it’s made of, challenge it, confront it, test it, question it. Without this process of enquiry, how can we know if what we are dealing with is worth its weight in board markers, or is in fact not the game-changer its proponents would argue, but rather an existing method/technique/attitude that has been given a (new) label.
But what does it mean?
I have read and been part of many conversations online about what Dogme really is. The first issue seems to be whether we call it a method, an approach or, as I believe Anthony Gaughan first said (correct me if I am wrong here…) an attitude.
“A method is a system for the teaching of a language that is based either on a particular theory of language or on a particular theory of learning, or (usually) on both.” (Thornbury, 2006:131)
“Approach —> Method” (Thornbury, 2006:14)
So let’s, for arguments sake, take these as one and the same, because, as I perceive it, the idea of attitude is where the interesting distinction lies.
As there is no entry in the A-Z of ELT for “attitude” in terms of teaching, let’s take what it says about learning -
“Your attitude to language learning is the way you feel about it”. (Ibid:20)
Change learning to teaching, and perhaps this provides the reason for Dogme as an attitude?
In light of this, I can see Dogme as a method/approach in that it is based upon the theory that the people in the room should be the centre of the action, that an overload of material can stifle learning, that the learners’ interests should drive the lesson etc.. However, I also see it as an attitude in that I feel differently about my teaching, and about the learning which takes place in my lessons, than I did before going unplugged. By this I mean that I don’t start my lessons with the thought “We’ve got a lot to get through.” I don’t get annoyed when the topic changes course and takes us down another path. I am open to suggestion, to interpretation, to ideas, to change. When I was attached to a bunch of photocopies or a book, however much I would like to believe that I was student-centred, I strongly think I am much more so now.
Scott Thornbury defines ‘Dogme ELT’ as
“the name of a loose collective of teachers…” (Ibid:70)
But surely it’s more than this now? Or is it? Does it need to be more than this to be worth the time spent discussing it?
So what does Dogme mean in the classroom then? Beyond it being student-centred, materials-light and conversation-driven? Surely this can be done when using a range of other methods? (Is that what makes it an attitude then…?)
There have been many conversations online, and I am sure in staffrooms, pubs and corridors, about what a true Dogmetician does that makes them so different. The actual catalyst for this blog post was a reply to a comment I made on Neil McMahon’s blog last night.
“Whether this means I’ve done Dogme or not I really don’t care.”
Who does care what we do in class is called? Why does it need to have a name at all?
Labels enable discourse. We can’t go around using long-winded terms such as “teaching without coursebooks and dealing with emerging language whilst …” etc.. etc.. This would be like referring to Audiolingualism as “teaching using habit-formation, lots of drilling and a strong focus on accuracy”. A name helps us categorise, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so dogmatic about it.
Surely, just as a teacher using Desuggestopedia may decide not to use posters on the wall that make the room conducive to that method’s beliefs about learning, a Dogmetician can enter the room with some paper once in a while? If not, why not? Who says?
Is Dogme being criticised and scrutinised more than we do other methods? I mean, if we look at so-called Communicative Language Teaching we see this idea of student-centredness often realised as a cover for rather uncommunicative classrooms where the book leads the way and teachers often exclaim things like “I just can’t get them to speak!” So this label of “communicative” is actually false, no? Therefore, why insist that Dogme teaching has to be something so tightly defined that no one can put their own stamp on it? Are we, in this world of ELT, too caught up on labels, terms and definitions? I would hazard a guess that yes, we are.
Dale Coulter commented in his IaskU interview with Chiew Pang recently that Dogme is what the teacher interprets it as. Adam Beale, Chiew and I recently discussed this topic on Adam’s blog because he was worried that his (very interesting) Dogme experiment wasn’t actually Dogme anymore.
Shouldn’t we be intent on providing the best we can for our students, in their context, with their needs, rather than jumping around pigeon-holing things to the point that good teachers become worried about what it is they are doing?
I have rambled, now it’s your turn…
I look forward to what transpires below…
Thornbury, S. 2006. An A-Z of ELT, Macmillan.
Firstly, Happy New Year!! Welcome to 2012!
I’m back in Germany after a gloriously long Christmas break back in the UK and am ready to look forward to what 2012 will hold for me.
“During cold-weather months, underneath the bustle of the holidays, the Earth is preparing in the northern hemisphere for a long period of inner stillness before the rebirth of spring. The closing of the year elicits contemplation: What has transpired? Where are we headed? What is left undone?”
In this post I plan to tackle the last two questions in this quote.
So, to continue – Where are we headed?
I see 2012 as a year of big changes. I have been looking for a new job back in the UK as a teacher/teacher trainer and my hope was to have something organised by IATEFL-time.
Moving back to the UK could seem to some as a step back to a previous life, but for me it means returning to a context that I find preferable to the one I am currently working in. I started my career in the UK working with multilingual classes in a private language school. The students’ sole reason for being there was to learn English (and to lap up some English culture/party!). They were therefore free of the distractions of the pile of work on their desks, or their phone ringing during the lesson and having to deal with a sudden work-related issue, or simply being knackered after a long day of work and a rush-hour journey to get to the school on time, which is the reality for most of my current students.
Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching in-companies or business clients who need English for their jobs. I also know that there are other distractions specific to the types of learners you find in such UK-based classes. But I also miss teaching groups of learners who are in the school every day for at least a few hours. This continuity and the amount of face-to-face time you get with the students enhances progress and therefore, as a teacher in this context, I found it more rewarding. I think it’s one reason why I have loved teaching on the Celta so much, because you see the trainees everyday and you work closely with them, albeit for just one month.
I hope to find a new position where I can continue to develop and learn from my colleagues as I have been so fortunate to do over my career so far. I hope to be able to take on responsibilities in helping my colleagues develop too, by giving more TD workshops and perhaps being part of a mentoring scheme. I thoroughly enjoy giving workshops and helping colleagues out. Sharing ideas with my existing colleagues helps me to expand and define my knowledge and ideas, much like writing this blog and being on Twitter does.
It has also been great to see some of the Celta-graduates from recent courses become my colleagues and see our working relationship develop as they attend my TD workshops as teachers, rather than trainees. Or to have staffroom discussions with them as colleagues, free of the different pressures of the Celta course.
And finally – What is left undone?
What a question! SO much. Here’s a couple of things nearer the top of the list -
1. A Master’s. There’s been some interesting discussion going around recently about whether it’s “worth it”. I think it depends on the reasons for doing it. There are some great bloggers out there who discuss their master’s courses and seem to be getting a lot from it. E.g. Dave Dodgson and Tyson Seburn to name but a couple. For me, if I were to do the Applied Linguistics Master’s, it would be to increase my working knowledge in order to improve my classroom practice. I am aware that it is unlikely to make me more employable, but it would hopefully make me better at my job. A master’s in TESOL would mean the possibility to move into a more managerial role, which is not where I want to head just yet, but perhaps I will later down the line?
I have also been harbouring an interest for Forensic Linguistics for a few years. (If you aren’t sure what that is, Scott Thornbury usefully included it on his blog late last year – read the post here.) A master’s in that would quell my desire to learn more about it, but would I really want to ever do it as a job?! I’m not sure that I would ever want to completely exchange the classroom for a life spent at a desk analysing text.
2. I had just started to write that I felt I need to do more reading. I then realised that by “reading” I was thinking purely of published work, such as books and journals. However, I do read a lot: I wouldn’t like to guess how much time I spend reading the blogs from my PLN, but it’s a lot. Sometimes (such as now after the Christmas break), it can be overwhelming how much there is to read! Yes, published work has its place, but I feel I can engage more with what you guys out there are saying and sharing. (That’s one thing ticked off the list already! Excellent.)
3. Speak at a conference. Yes, I want to. No, I have never put in a proposal. Yes, that’s silly of me. 2012 may change that. I just need to think of something to talk about…! Watch this space.
And that’s my self-centred ramblings completed. Thanks for reading this far, and, again, thank you for being part of my professional development. I look forward to working with you and hopefully meeting some of you over the coming year.