Dogme with large middle school class, good idea? Part 2

In part 1 I discussed dogme in an English language classroom full of middle school students and how one might be successful in implementing it. Due to my verbosiness I found that it would probably serve my argument better to split my findings into multiple posts. So without further ado…

Dogme, how to do it in your class.

Number 2: Your students

Dogme as a teaching method focuses on the teacher and his or her students. The material needed for a rich and successful learning environment stems directly from the knowledge and experience of those in the classroom. It demands a teacher release some control over the classroom. It also demands students take more charge of their learning than in a traditional classroom. All this can seem pretty scary and downright nonsensical to someone who teaches large groups of prepubescent teenagers. Allow me to assure that, done incorrectly, this most certainly will prove to be so. However, if the teacher is consistent in what he expects of the students, clear about the goals of the class, and has enabled success by setting an open, safe space for students to step outside their comfort zone, success with dogme will follow. As will laughter, learning, and a whole gambit of other great things all teachers want to give their students.

So, how to create that safe space for students to step out on a limb? How can we connect with students who have a different L1? When their basic, minimal English is far better than your attempts at saying hello in their language?

Everyone knows that “knowing your students” is important, but there is little out there on how to actually go about it when in a situation like the one described above. Indeed, there is not always a lot of discussion about how important or why its important. I’ll leave those questions for the greater community at large to answer. Here I would like to share some personal experiences of what has worked for me and how I have gone about making that connection with my students.

To begin, here’s what not to do. Do not sit in your office every minute you do not have to be in class. Do not set yourself up as “the man with the answers that must be listened to”. Do not disregard students interests because you find them banal or without merit. All in all, do not be an aloof stranger that only makes demands of your students when seen in the classroom. All of these mistakes were made to a greater or lesser degree in my first year of teaching. Certainly not out of malicious intent, more a general ignorance. I sat myself in my office the first semester because I wasn’t sure of how to act at my new job in a new school and new culture. I was not sure what was expected of me and what leniency there was.

I hate K-pop. In fact, i truly dislike almost all pop of any sort or another. However, that does not mean that it cannot be used for the benefit of students learning. Judgement is not part of a teachers necessary repertoire.

OK, so don’t sit in your office, great, but what the hell should you do instead? Following are a few things I have done that, while small, have proven invaluable to connecting with my students and helping them learn about me outside of the teacher-student relationship.

1) Walk around! I go for a walk every day at lunch. Sometimes i get a bunch of “hi teacher”, sometimes students come up to me wanting to ask questions or talk about something for a minute before they can run away giggling with their friends that they just talked to John teacher. I smile and chat for as long as they want to. It’s important to remember what middle school is like. Gossip runs around faster than a nasty flu bug. The minute you spend speaking to Minsu about your family, hometown, likes, whatever, is a minute immediately amplified and spread throughout the school. Because of this I have a new friend. He is in the red class (I do not teach the red class, they are the lowest level students). During speaking tests red class students struggle to understand the questions much less answer. We rarely say anything aside from hello, but every time he sees me he gets a big smile and winks while he points a finger at me, and I do the same. Will he suddenly love English and want to improve his score to be in my class, probably not…but it couldn’t hurt.

2) Go to class early. Most of my students struggle to find their way to class on time even after the 10 minute break. However, a fair few do, and they feel much more comfortable talking to you one on one when your walking around smiling before class starts rather than in front of 30 of their peers during class. The kids want to play catch with me and my mini soccer balls. They ask me what we’re doing today. They ask to see the picture of my nephew again. I never correct language, just model, and goof around with them.

3) Show the kids you care. Don’t run out of school as soon as the bell rings, if you can help it. Especially here in Korea, students will be milling around school before and after school.

3b) Learn their names. OK, not every name. We all know that that is not always possible, but learn at least one or two for every class. The response I have gotten to this most often is, “teacher! what’s my name? why don’t you know my name?” To which I respond, Min Su talks to me in the hallway everyday. I have lots of students, but I see him and talk to him everyday. To which they respond, “My name is ______ and I want you to remember me!” And so I say, talk to me everyday and I will! And then I make a concerted effort to do so! I see kids in the hallway, they say, “Hi John teacher! and I say “good morning Hyeong Seok student!” We both laugh. Little has been shared in the way of language, but that student now feels infinitely more comfortable with me.

4) Find common ground. After my first semester I was determined to change tact and get involved with these kids. So one day i brought my football boots to school and a change of clothes and joined the boys for a lunchtime football game. Within five minutes every student in school (it seemed) was either in the stands watching or hanging out of the myriad windows “oooooing” and “ahhhhhing” anytime the ball came with 10 meters of me. I did not teach the third grad last year and none of them even acknowledged me before that day. After it, I was accosted in the third grade hallway anytime i ventured through there. The girls enjoy hearing about my family and loved my ambiguous answer to the question “teacher, do you have a girlfriend?”. My answer, by the way, was a wry smile and a maybe. (PS, that facade came crashing down this year when a student couple caught me and my girlfriend out for a walk on the beach. A fact that spread so fast from that Sunday night that I had three questions from students before the end of first period on Monday). All in all, find ways to share bits of your life that you are comfortable sharing. They eat it up like you would not believe!

5) This could be considered 3c as it shows students you care, but It’s a little less general so I gave it it’s own point. Create something that will bring the students to you. Last year I started a daily trivia quiz as a last desperate attempt to get students to voluntarily come see me. I gave out a piece of candy for students who did come. Within two days I had to make it a competition because I could not afford to keep buying candy at the rate I would have needed to! This semester I introduced John’s Pizza Party Question of the Day. I put a question up everyday and students who came to answer were given a check mark for that day. The top ten students in the two grades I taught were then invited to a pizza party at the end of the semester. This, by the way, was a HUGE boon in helping me to learn names and faces of my students as well as an additional helpful factor in getting to know them and making them comfortable with me. At the end of semester the top 10 in each class each had over 35 days of answers. I asked about 60. Two students came every single day school was in session. It may not seem like much, but that one minute a day helped. Within the semester I saw improvement (not extraordinary improvement, but improvement nonetheless) among almost all of my kids.

Recap. Don’t be aloof. Do get involved. Don’t judge. Do show you care. Don’t forget children are children regardless of where they are from. Do remember to play and smile and enjoy the little things. Don’t constrain your relationship to the classroom. Do share yourself (not everything, but the best part is you don’t have to. You get to choose what to share. It makes you human to them and the students will love you for it).

So there are 5 things I have done and found incredible amounts of success with. What have you done that works? I know there are more! Join in the conversation and help the community at large!

***Seeing as how I managed to make this post even longer that part 1 I will cut it off here. I hope this has given you some things to think about…..things I would love to hear about! wink wink nudge nudge!!!

Watch this space for

Dogme in large middle school classrooms, good idea? Part 3



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