Through my first year of teaching I tried everything I could think of and then some. I was inexperienced, but full of vim and vigor and damned determined not to submit to failure and start playing hangman (which, as I’ve learned recently does not always have to be a total waste of time).
Every week I spent time mulling over activities and games I could to use when teaching the small part of the book’s chapter I was assigned. Every week I changed my approach. I wanted to be new and exciting and interesting. I thought that’s what the kids would want and they’d respond to it. I also had my heart set on doing Dogme style classes.
While learning the art of TESOL at the University of Maine I was shown the benefits of Dogme. Problem is, I learned and practiced that method with ideal class sizes and highly motivated students (who had to learn English in order to enter the University). Needless to say things are a bit different in a middle school in Korea.
I worked as valiantly as possible, but more often than not (which is generous… really it was pretty much every class) my lessons failed, I ended up doing most of the talking, and it was impossible to elicit even the most basic of answers from the class.
What can we do when we have large class sizes, unmotivated students and minimal time in class every week?!?!?! (ie. I get 45 minutes a week with a little more than 600 students)
Is Dogme a good idea? Most definitely yes! Is it the only method that can achieve the goals of interest, learning and all the good stuff? Most certainly not.
How to do it in your class
Number 1 ….CONSISTENCY!
I spent so much of my time the first year worrying about what I was going to do the next week I forgot to analyze my class and see what, if anything, actually worked, and then build on that.
Students learning language NEED consistency, especially at the lower levels of learning. When they know what to expect they can focus of what you’re actually doing and saying instead of trying to figure out what you will want from them. And you know what? It is NOT boring. My students have responded opposite to how I expected them to. They are engaged. My lowest level students will hang in there with me longer because they have a clue. Students begin to use their own creativity to spice up the activities we do.
OK, here are some specifics. I wanted to have an activity where EVERYONE had to speak, at least once in my class, every class. I realized that I had a co-teacher that could be utilized and did so. I begin my class with something of review.
-What is your favorite __________
-I get upset when ________
-What do you find __________
-If I were you I would _________
-If it were ________ then I would ________
-Over summer vacation ______________
Any chunk of language can be made to work. I spend five minutes reteaching if necessary and then brainstorm with the kids about how we could use said chunk of language. When enough answers are out there I choose a student to read aloud in front of class. This used to cause the student chosen to shake their head vigorously and sink in their chair in horror. However, with all the examples present even the lowest level student feels comfortable to read verbatim what is on the board. I’ll choose a few students this way and encourage them to change their sentence from the previous one. After a couple students read aloud I have boys get up and make a circle and the girls get up and make a circle. Then with my handy mini soccer balls (I give one to the other teacher) I join a circle. I begin by asking a question and throwing the ball. They answer. Ask. Throw. And so on until the circle is finished. Then back to their seats.
Now, what have I accomplished? I have had everyone in class speak. I have reviewed and recycled previously learned material. They have gotten up and moved around. They have had a chance to express themselves, be creative, and be heard. And I have 35 more minutes to teach students who are geared up and ready to go.
It takes about ten minutes. However, the first time I did it, it took nearly 30 minutes. Yikes! I had to teach what a circle was. I had to teach that this wasn’t play time. I had to teach that this was speaking AND listening time. But, the next week was a little better. And the next? Better. Now, students know how class will start. They know it will start with something they have already learned. They know they will HAVE to speak (and so listen just that little bit better). They know that I will lead them to the finish line and that they can do it.
Bonus? I get to know my students and their abilities just that little bit better and I get away from the teacher talks you listen atmosphere that dominates some classrooms. Also, students now know what is expected when I ask them to get up and move around. I have seen a marked improvement in participation and effort when doing other Dogme activities in class.
Now I know most of us have textbooks, and demands from our overlords at school. Every time I hear a presentation about, or tell someone about, Dogme the first thing I hear is, “that won’t work in my classroom.”
I would like you to remember one thing, consistency. With consistency I believe this method could work in almost any classroom. And think! The beauty of Dogme is it’s fantastic malleability! No computers, no worksheets, no PPT needed! Just you and students and creativity!
—- In my next post I will discuss —-
How to do it in your class
NUMBER 2 – Your students.